By Tech. Sgt. Adam M. Stump, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 24, 2007 – U.S. troops have played a critical role in advancements made in Afghanistan over the past few years, and the Defense Department is working to increase the number of personnel in some services to better handle challenges posed by the war on terrorism, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told servicemembers here yesterday. "It's pretty darn impressive what you all do every single day, and I've seen remarkable changes here in Afghanistan in almost six years since I started coming here," Navy Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani said during a dinner with troops. The admiral has been visiting deployed servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past few days.
Giambastiani said he made his first trip to Afghanistan on Dec. 7, 2001. The Taliban had been pushed out of Kabul and here just 10 days earlier. At the time, the admiral was serving as senior military assistant to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He accompanied Rumsfeld to Bagram during the first daylight C-17 flight here to meet with Hamid Karzai, then a tribal leader and now the president of Afghanistan.
At the time, most of Bagram had been destroyed. Now, the base is thriving, along with the local area, the admiral said.
Hard work in Afghanistan is being accomplished by all the services, but "the Army, of all the services, is stressed the most," the admiral said. He added the goal is to get Army soldiers on a more comfortable rotation of time deployed versus time at home, and to do that, the Army has to get bigger.
"That's why we're putting additional people in the Army," Giambastiani said. "That's why we're building more brigade combat teams. That's why we're building more support brigades."
The admiral said the Army will go up to 48 active brigade combat teams in about four years. He said the Army had 32 a few years ago and is at 39 right now. To do this, the admiral said the Army will have to bring in an additional 7,000 soldiers each year to increase the number of people by 62,000. The National Guard is also in the process of rearranging brigade combat teams to have a final count of 34.
The increase in brigade combat teams was an important part of the admiral's message, said U.S. Army Spec. Chris Mignacchi, an intelligence analyst here. He said the increase is important to him because he looks forward to spending more time at home with family.
Giambastiani said the Marine Corps will also receive a substantial increase in numbers, going from 174,000 to 202,000 over the next few years. The Marines will need to bring in an additional 5,000 people each year to make that goal, he said.
Part of the reason for the increase is the different force structure that has evolved over the past few decades. The admiral said when he first came in the service, about 70 percent of the force was unmarried. Today, that number is now around 30 percent.
"It's important for us to make sure we keep you in a rotation that allows you to spend time with your family, upgrade your skills, get promoted, get training, and the rest of it, while at the same time we have you out doing the Nation's business if it's in Afghanistan or Iraq or somewhere else," he said.
Part of the Nation's business right now is manning and running provincial reconstruction teams, which are playing a major role in transforming the culture of the Afghan people through building schools, getting running water to people, and helping the people with other quality of life improvements.
"I think provincial reconstruction teams are going to be around for a while," Giambastiani said. "The concept started here in Afghanistan and has worked so well that we brought it over to Iraq."
PRTs play a major role in the life of Petty Officer 2nd Class Jorge Martinez, who works as a liaison officer for a team. He said he thinks the teams are important because they're transforming life for Afghan children, who are getting more access to education. Martinez, who has a school-age nephew in the U.S., said it is gratifying work to help children have a more promising future.
While the military has a large role in PRTs, Giambastiani said the workload is going to have to be shared.
"Regarding the PRTs, I believe we'll transition to more and more civilians manning them," he said.
The admiral said during the 1960s, the U.S. had around 18,000 government employees who worked for the United States Agency for International Development, which employed people with specialties like agriculture and economic development to aid foreign countries. Today, that organization has about 2,000 people. He said the U.S. needs to increase the number of employees and keep that capability built up.
"We're only going to win at every one of these locations by working with the populace and bringing them over to understanding that these other people are either trying to intimidate them, kill them or change their way of life to what the Taliban and Al Qaeda want to do as opposed to what the people want to do," the admiral said.
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Adam M. Stump is assigned to the Joint Staff public affairs office.)