Recruiting New U.S. Troops a Multi-Year Process

President Bush said Wednesday that increasing the size of the military is essential to fighting the war on terror. Retired Maj. Gen. Bill Nash tells Steve Inskeep that newly recruited troops wouldn't not be available for any near-term plans to bolster security in Iraq.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Let's look at the practical side of a plan proposed by American generals and their commander in chief.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: 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.

INSKEEP: That's President Bush speaking yesterday. He told reporters that he asked the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, to study adding more troops. His statement came after a top general warned that the strain of the Iraq war is breaking the Army.

This morning we've called retired Major General Bill Nash. General, good morning.

Mr. BILL NASH (Major General, U.S. Army; Retired): Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Where do you get more troops, given that the military has had trouble meeting its recruiting goals now?

Mr. NASH: Well, you get them from the men and women of the United States, through volunteers that are recruited by the Army and the Marine Corps with necessary incentives provided by the Congress of the United States.

INSKEEP: When you say incentives, since we're not talking about a draft, I assume we're talking about higher pay and that sort of thing.

Mr. NASH: Well, you're talking about pay, educational opportunities, bonuses, cash bonuses for certain - and very high, 10, 20,000 dollar bonuses for those who serve in essential skill areas.

INSKEEP: If you're going to add 70, 80, 100,000 troops, which are some numbers that have been bounced around, how much does that cost?

Mr. NASH: Well, they say that - the estimates that most people use is about $1.2 billion per 10,000 soldiers.

INSKEEP: So we're talking about $12 billion then.

Mr. NASH: It could be that much. The fact is, though, that I think the numbers as they will turn out will be a little bit less - maybe 30, 40,000 to the Army, and 10, 15 maybe to the Marine Corps.

INSKEEP: Is that affordable?

Mr. NASH: Well, I mean, the basic answer is yes, but at a cost. You know, there's healthcare issues, there's farm subsidy issues; there's all sorts of different things that may be the opportunity costs that would be paid for a larger military.

INSKEEP: Hm. How long will it take to reach higher numbers?

Mr. NASH: Well General Schoomaker, the chief of staff of the Army, estimated the other day, before a panel examining this question, that he could recruit an additional 6,000 or so, maybe 7,000 a year. So any significant increase would take several years. Therefore, the immediate impact on any operations in Iraq or Afghanistan would be negligible.

INSKEEP: Really? So when people talk about surging troops - sending more troops to Iraq now - this proposal wouldn't necessarily help that.

Mr. NASH: That's right. The troops that would be surged were those that were currently serving in organized, equipped, and trained outfits that are prepared to go off, if so directed. But increasing the size of the Army won't have impact for several years, and that's kind of why the question probably should have been raised on the 12th of September, 2001.

INSKEEP: Hmm. General Nash, you mentioned General Schoomaker, the chief of staff of the Army, who quite dramatically testified before Congress that his force was in deep trouble. He was pounding his hand on the table and saying that he needed more troops. Do you think the generals have been more vocal in the last couple of weeks?

Mr. NASH: There seems to be an opportunity to speak up, occurring here lately. And I think everybody has been much more forthcoming, which reflects, of course, on the previous secretary of defense, but it also reflects on the generals that they've now decided to speak up.

INSKEEP: Do you think, based on your contacts with people still in active duty, that the generals are saying what they believed all along but felt unable to say in past years?

Mr. NASH: Well, in a way. I think on this particular issue, though, there's been great concern by the Army leadership - and I won't speak for the chief, but by the leadership in general - that a temporary increase in end strength would be more destabilizing, over time, than the advantages gained. But now that this has gone on for so long, and there is no end in sight, the fact of the matter is, is that adding more folks is seen as a long-term plus.

INSKEEP: Oh, okay. So the generals' thinking actually has evolved here.

Mr. NASH: I think it has evolved. I'm not necessarily think it's a - that the negatives before, were rightly balanced, but I think we're starting to approach the fact that the nation needs a larger Army, with or without Iraq on our doorstep.

INSKEEP: Retired Major General Bill Nash, of the Council on Foreign Relations. General, thanks very much.

Mr. NASH: Thank you, Steve.

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