By MATTHEW D. LaPLANTE
Salt Lake Tribune
August 25, 2006
The legion's bid for more service members comes as the U.S. Marines are preparing to recall thousands of troops who have left active service.
"We've been very concerned about the drawdown of our military," American Legion national commander Thomas Bock told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We've had more and more reliance on the Guard and Reserve and now the Individual Ready Reserve. When you're reaching back like that, that's an indication that we do not have a big enough force."
The Individual Ready Reserve comprises troops that have left active-duty service but are still required to return if called to duty.
Defense Department officials confirmed Tuesday that President Bush has authorized the Marines to call up to 2,500 at a time.
While the Army, which has suffered significant recruiting troubles, has been relying upon the ready reserve for several years - about 5,000 have been called, the majority since mid-2004 - the Marine Corps hasn't had to make a similar dip into its pool of prior-duty personnel since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
In part, that is because the Corps hasn't suffered the same recruiting woes as other services. And in past years, the smallest branch of the U.S. military has been able to rely upon combat-duty volunteers, rather than resort to involuntary call-ups.
But with many active-duty Marines serving their third and fourth tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and thousands of regular reservists having already received call-up orders, things are beginning to change.
Col. Guy A. Stratton told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday that "volunteer numbers are on a downward trend."
Mike Duggan, the American Legion's director for national security, said his organization does not take a position on whether or not troops are being used responsibly by the president and Congress.
"Once a decision is made, we support that decision as we support the troops and their families," he said.
And that, Duggan said, means lobbying to ensure that troops aren't subjected to unreasonably long and repeated deployments.
"There is nothing wrong with having a goal of having a smaller, quicker, more technically oriented force," Duggan said, referring to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's efforts to overhaul the military into a more nimble fighting machine. "But we now have a force which is really too small, trying to do too much for too long. And let's just hope the rubber band doesn't snap."
Rumsfeld is slated to be in Salt Lake City for the convention this week, as are Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Legion officials say they expect their proposal to put as many as 200,000 new soldiers and Marines into uniform will be taken seriously by the assembled leaders.
Duggan said a military buildup would not require a draft, which he called "not politically viable," but rather would rely on volunteers.
Duggan denounced reports that recent decisions to lower the standards for new recruits were resulting in a less-skilled military.
"These people are physically,
mentally and psychologically capable of doing it," he said.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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