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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
The war in Iraq is putting huge strains on the U.S. Army. Congress heard that warning today from the Army Chief of Staff General George Casey. He told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Army could not confront another military challenge if one came up. So Casey said he wants to increase the size of the active duty Army beyond the current goal of nearly 550,000 soldiers.
NPR's Guy Raz reports.
GUY RAZ: The war in Iraq has achieved its own share of milestones, the third longest in American history, soon the second most expensive, and now, the first prolonged war since the American Revolution that's been fought by an all-volunteer military.
It's no secret that the Army is too small to face the current demands placed on it by its civilian leaders. By 2012, the Army, which is the largest of the four service branches, will grow its active duty component to about 550,000 soldiers. A size that - according to Army Chief of Staff General George Casey -may still be too small.
General GEORGE CASEY (Chief of Staff, U.S. Army): I believe that the 547,000 active that we're building here is a good milestone. I believe it's probably not big enough.
RAZ: Casey went to Capitol Hill this morning to update the Senate on the current state of the Army. The news isn't good.
Gen. CASEY: So Mr. Chairman, as we look to the future, we do so with an Army that's already stretched by the impacts of six years at war. And while we remain a resilient, committed, professional force, today's Army is out of balance.
RAZ: The Army chief of staff now says if the U.S. Army was needed to take part in another conflict somewhere around the world, it might not be possible.
Gen. CASEY: The current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply. We're consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight and are unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as necessary for other contingencies.
RAZ: Lately, the Army's boasted of strong recruiting and retention numbers. But peel back the layers and you find that standards are dropping, and some of the best soldiers are getting out.
Right now, the Army faces a shortage of about 3,000 majors and captains. By 2010, that number could double. And close to 58 percent of the graduates from West Point's class of 2002 no longer serve in the Army. It's a record number. More than half, 50 percent, of the Army's total equipment is either in Iraq or Afghanistan. Half of the Army's fighting units — Brigade Combat Teams — are not considered ready to deploy. And the Army, stretched to the breaking point, can't maintain a strategic reserve of troops at home that might be needed to protect the U.S. or U.S. interests abroad should that need arise.
To make things slightly more complicated, the military now faces a potential crisis in funding. Last night, the House passed a bill that would send $50 billion to the Pentagon to continue funding the war. But the president says he won't sign it because the bill calls for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters at the Pentagon this afternoon that if that money doesn't come soon, he'll direct the Army and the Marine Corps to start planning for cutbacks.
Secretary ROBERT GATES (U.S. Department of Defense): It is a fact of life that even if we receive a $50 billion bridge now and the president signs it, it will fund war operations only through about the end of February, and so we would be back in this situation immediately after the Congress reconvenes in late January.
RAZ: If that money doesn't come soon, Gates warned, as many as 100,000 civilians working at military bases across the country could face temporary layoffs.
Guy Raz, NPR News, the Pentagon.
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