Push for Larger Military Is Turnaround for Bush

President Bush says, "I'm inclined to believe that we need to increase in the permanent size of both the United States Army and the United States Marines." This is a striking reversal of the president's policy, which has insisted there is no need to increase the services' size.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

After years of resisting, President Bush is now acknowledging that the Army and Marines need more men and women. The forces have been stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As NPR's Tom Bowman reports, the White House has reversed course and wants to recruit more troops.

TOM BOWMAN: It was nearly three years ago that then Lieutenant General John Riggs broke ranks with his Pentagon bosses. Riggs told a reporter the Army had to be larger by at least 10,000 soldiers.

And the reaction?

Riggs got a gut punch from General George Casey, then the Army's vice chief of staff, now the senior officer in Iraq.

General JOHN RIGGS (Retired, U.S. Army): Oh, I got an immediate phone call from General Casey, who basically informed me that we had sufficient soldiers in the Army for a prolonged global war on terrorism, and that I should stay in my lane. And his second question was essentially when I was going to retire.

BOWMAN: At the time, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also brushed aside calls to boost the size of the Army and the Marine Corps.

Mr. DONALD RUMSFELD (Former U.S. Defense Secretary): What is critical is not always the number of troops. Rather, it's the capability of the force.

BOWMAN: Rumsfeld's philosophy was that technology could quickly find and destroy any enemy. More soldiers were not needed. Under pressure from Congress and the retired military, the Bush administration relented somewhat in 2004, a temporary increase in the Army by 30,000 troops.

But the calls continued for more troops. Soldiers were heading back to Iraq for second, even third tours. Retired Army General Barry McCaffrey was among those raising the alarm as he did in this interview with MORNING EDITION in April 2004.

General BARRY McCAFFREY (Retired, U.S. Army): There is no significant reinforcement to send. We have shot the bowl. It's over. We can't have the smallest Army since 1939 maintain this muscular international presence.

BOWMAN: Finally, last week, the Army's top officer, General Peter Schoomaker, changed the debate. He told Congress the Army should make that temporary increase permanent. He also said the Army should add another 7,000 soldiers each year.

General PETER SCHOOMAKER (Chief of Staff, U.S. Army): We're at a critical point in generating Army forces for the long war. In my view, our nation should continue to grow the Army.

BOWMAN: To reach those higher numbers, the Army's had to bring in less qualified recruits - low scores on aptitude tests, those without high school diplomas, others with minor criminal records. It's a challenge to recruit during wartime. As one Army general at the Pentagon put it, the best way to boost the number and quality of recruits is to start winding down the war in Iraq.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, the Pentagon.

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