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WASHINGTON — Army officials hope that more predictable deployment schedules for active duty soldiers, reservists and guardsmen will lead to a better-trained force with quicker response times.

Under a plan unveiled to Congress on Wednesday, active duty soldiers could expect two years at their home base after a year of deployment. Reservists would see five years of “dwell time” after each year in active duty service, and Guardsmen would have four to five years at home between deployments.

Army Secretary Francis Harvey said that plan likely won’t go into effect until at least 2007, when other major training and force adaptations are complete. Officials want to shift the service to a brigade combat team focus over the next two years, growing from 33 brigades to 44.

But Harvey said more predictable deployment schedules will create a better quality of life for soldiers by reducing stress on their families, which in turn will result in a more focused fighting force.

Of the 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, between 40 percent and 50 percent are from the Guard and Reserve. The figure is set to drop to 30 percent for the next rotation, beginning this summer, because many combat-ready Guard units are tapped out.

Last year, Congress mandated a temporary increase of 30,000 soldiers to address those personnel concerns.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said that about 20,000 of those new soldiers have been recruited, and officials will hire 2,000 new recruiters in the coming year to reach the 30,000 goal and keep the personnel numbers steady.

“You can cut down 300,000 trees in no time, but it takes longer to grow 30,000 back,” he said, noting that the Army dropped its active duty numbers by hundreds of thousands of soldiers after the first Gulf War.

Members of the House Armed Services Committee praised the overall force upgrades, but House Democrats criticized Army officials for what they called a short-sighted 2006 budget proposal that could leave the war on terror undermanned and the postwar Army poorly equipped.

“Frankly, looking at this budget, it occurs to me that we could win this war but come out worse for it if we’re not careful,” said Rep. Ike Skelton, Mo., ranking Democrat of the House Armed Services Committee.

He warned that, unless permanent funding sources are found for new soldiers and equipment repairs, the Army could go back to “the hollow Army of the late 1970s and early 1980s … when soldiers could not train because their equipment was so poor and spare parts were scarce.”

The service’s 2006 budget proposal, a $98.6 billion plan that sets goals for training and upgrading the brigade system but does not include costs associated with combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Harvey acknowledged that will be paid for with a supplemental budget request, to be unveiled later this month. The supplemental will also be used to pay for the 30,000 new soldiers.

Harvey estimated that supplemental budgets will be needed to pay for equipment maintenance and other war-related expenses for at least two years after the Army withdraws from the Middle East.


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