By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, July 27, 2006 – Today's Army is the best the U.S. has ever sent into combat, and initiatives under way will ensure it remains that way, the Army chief of staff said in a statement released last night. Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said he's confident that efforts from the Army and Defense Department staffs, in Congress and the White House will ensure the Army is equipped and financed to face "the many challenges that lie ahead during these dangerous times."
Schoomaker, who came out of retirement to accept the Army's top military job, disputed recent public statements criticizing Army readiness. "The Army has been at war for close to five years now and I am extremely proud of all of our soldiers, civilians, and families," he wrote. "We have asked a lot of them, from repetitive combat tours, to transforming the Army, to expanding our training base, to resetting our combat equipment.
"Simply put, this is the finest Army this nation has ever put into combat," Schoomaker said. "Our soldiers' collective efforts have been magnificent." What's needed now is a commitment that ensures the force remains prepared for the future, he said. Schoomaker cited his June 27 testimony before the House Armed Services Committee and reiterated four key requirements needed to maintain Army readiness:
Timely passage of the National Defense Authorization Bill;
Growth of the Army's base budget;
Supplementary funding of $17.1 billion to repair, replace and refurbish Army equipment in fiscal 2007; and
An additional $12-13 billion a year for two to three years following hostilities to repair and replace worn Army equipment, particularly if current operational tempos continue.
"To prevail in the long struggle (in which) we are now engaged, we must maintain our readiness by resetting those who have deployed through a disciplined, orderly reconstitution of combat power," Schoomaker said in his June testimony. "Our soldiers' effectiveness depends upon a national commitment to recruit, train, equip and support them properly."
The high demand of fighting the war on terror has put a major strain on Army equipment, Schoomaker told the committee, pointing to harsh operating environments in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, crews are driving tanks more than 4,000 miles per year, five times more than the expected annual usage of 800 miles, he said. Army helicopters are experiencing usage rates about three times higher than the programmed rate, and trucks are operating five to six times their programmed rate.
"This extreme wear is further exacerbated by the addition of heavy armor kits and other force protection initiatives," he said. "The compounding effect of increasing tempo and severe operating conditions in combat is decreasing the life of our equipment."