MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
The cost of war has gone up again. The U.S. Army is asking for an extra $25 billion to replace war worn tanks and other equipment that's gotten heavy use in Iraq and Afghanistan. Army officials say the price of not getting the money is the safety of American troops.
NPR Pentagon correspondent John Hendren reports.
JOHN HENDREN: Just as five years of war has taken its toll on the soldiers of the Army, it's also worn down the tanks, trucks and weapons of the nation's oldest armed service.
Army equipment programs typically have a life of around 25 years during peacetime, but wars on two fronts have run down armored personnel carriers and Humvees at five to ten times that rate. Then there's the cost of training for troops before and after each tour in Iraq and Afghanistan and other personnel costs.
The result, as Army Chief of Staff General Pete Schoomaker told reporters recently, is that vehicles bound for battle wait idly for repairs.
General PETE SCHOOMAKER (Chief of Staff, U.S. Army): You know if you take a look at our depo backlog, we have five depos, you know, over 600 tanks unfunded backlog with almost 1,000 (unintelligible) vehicles, 2,500 wheeled vehicles that are sitting in depos right now that if we had the money, we'd be doing it.
HENDREN: So Schoomaker withheld the budget plan he was supposed to send to Pentagon managers last month. He's now asking for an additional $25 billion for 2008. That brings the Army's total budget request to $138 billion, which exceeds the cap set by Pentagon budgeters. A Pentagon spokesman says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has not yet seen the request. He's waiting on an analysis by the comptroller's office before making a decision.
Those close to the Army say General Schoomaker is taking a stand to fund an Army that is fighting two wars with too little funding. Former Army Secretary Tom White, who was fired by Rumsfeld in 2003 after a dispute over a weapons program, gives Schoomaker credit.
Mr. TOM WHITE (Former Army Secretary): Well, I believe that the Army is not being allocated sufficient resources to refurbish their equipment base as this war in Iraq and Afghanistan continues. And he obviously views it as a critical situation, so God bless him for stepping up and laying out what the requirement is.
HENDREN: Schoomaker's in a strong position to ask for more. Rumsfeld passed over all the sitting generals in the Army and plucked Schoomaker from retirement in 2003. White says the cost of heavy equipment wear and extensive training has been foreseeable for years.
Mr. WHITE: All of us saw the fact that if we had a sustained combat operation, particularly in difficult terrain, that the operations and maintenance bills of the Army to do a decent job of refurbishment were going to be very, very large and there is always historically a reluctance to pay those bills. So it's not at all surprising that the Army finds itself in the position that it is today.
HENDREN: Lieutenant General Paul Kern was head of the Army's material command until 2004. He says Rumsfeld has few options.
Lieutenant General PAUL KERN (U.S. Army): It's clear that they have to make some hard choices. One, they either go back and ask for an increase to the top line of the Defense Department, or they reallocate resources within the defense budget, which means that the proportions for the Air Force, Navy, minus the Marine Corps, would be impacted.
HENDREN: The Army isn't just asking for more money in 2008. Army budgeters expect to ask for billions more in additional funding for the next several years.
General KERN: It is time that we really do come to grips with the resourcing of the ground forces. I think it's out of proportion with the current operations. One must always plan for the future, which is an unknown so you can't just put everything under one. But it really is time to decide that we want to have a well equipped, well trained ground force for the future.
HENDREN: The Army described its stretched budget on a day when its troops were stretched even thinner. Four thousand soldiers from the 1st Armored Division were told today that they will stay on in Iraq beyond their current 12 month tour. As one former senior Army official said, these are desperate times. Just how desperate remains to be seen.
John Hendren, NPR News, the Pentagon.
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