ARLINGTON, Va. — The long war in Iraq may be testing the all-volunteer Army, but the service is “a long way from being what anybody would call dire straits,” Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army’s chief of staff, said Thursday.

“We’re a heck of a long way from breaking the Army,” Schoomaker told reporters at a press roundtable in Washington. “I was in the Army in the late ’60s and ’70s … and I remember what a dispirited Army looks like.”

Despite problems in making recruiting goals earlier this spring, the active Army made its numbers in June and July, and “we think we’ll exceed [the August goal] by a couple of hundred” recruits, Schoomaker said.

The active Army’s fiscal 2005 recruiting goal is 80,000, but Schoomaker said he and his generals are predicting that the service will be “a couple of thousand short” when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

That shortfall can be absorbed without affecting the Army’s operations, Schoomaker said, because it only takes 72,000 new recruits to sustain the force.

“What this really means is that we’re not building the 30,000 [increase] as fast as I’d like, Schoomaker said, referring to the Army’s ongoing effort to boost its end-strength from 480,000 to 510,000 by 2007.

But when it comes to judging the Army’s health, it is the Army’s continuing success at keeping soldiers, not bringing in new ones, that is the service’s true “report card,” Schoomaker said.

All 10 of the active Army’s divisions have met 100 percent or more of their retention goals, Schoomaker said, with the highest re-enlistments posted by units either in combat or freshly home from Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Army is doing “what we have to do” to win defend the nation and win the war on terror, Schoomaker said.

“Now what we want is continued help from the nation here,” Schoomaker said.

He blasted media coverage of Iraq protesters, some of who are calling for immediate and full withdrawal, and others who are saying Congress or the Bush administration should establish a schedule for troops to come home.

“The negative drumbeat that we hear is not helpful,” the former Special Forces soldier said. Soldiers “don’t have a choice about which wars we’re willing to [fight]. Our army responds to the political leadership of this nation, and that is what we are doing.”

Duty aside, “I personally believe this is a very important undertaking; it’s very important to the future security of the nation that we be successful” Schoomaker said. “And I think we’re being very short-sighted if we don’t understand that.

“I have been involved a great deal of my life fighting these cats (terrorists), and this is real,” he said.

“This is a dangerous time. And it’s going to get more dangerous as we move forward.”

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