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WASHINGTON — Members of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday expressed serious concerns about Army readiness and the reliance on reservists and guardsmen in combat operations.

“The Army — and by that I mean active, Guard and Reserve — remains too small and improperly structured to perform all the nation is asking it to do,” New York Republican Rep. John McHugh, chairman of the military personnel subcommittee, told Army leaders testifying before Congress.

“The pace at which we are employing the Guard and Reserve is not sustainable for the long term. And there appears to be an over-reliance on interim measures … to get from one [combat] rotation to another rather than a willingness to adopt a longer term strategy.”

Army leaders insisted they have the numbers and skills needed for continued deployments overseas, but admitted it will be “painful” for some soldiers while the Army adapts to the war on terror.

“We basically had an Army that was set for a full war and not individual conflicts,” said Gen. Richard Cody, vice chief of staff for the Army. “Until we can get the Army fully modularized … we are going to have stress on the force.”

Cody said soldiers have learned to adapt to numerous new jobs while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them tasks they were not necessarily trained to perform. Guardsmen and reservists have also provided vital mission support.

Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, testified that he is confident Guardsmen aren’t being overused in their support role, but “are significantly stretched.”

Members of Congress were less confident in that assessment, saying too often guardsmen and reservists are being used as last-minute specialty replacements, which can hurt unit cohesion.

“Frankly I think we’re putting enormous strain on all our reserve components,” said Rep. John Kline, R-Minn. “The strain is getting very heavy from the continued pressure on the Guard, their families and their employers.”

Cody said he expects training changes to alleviate some of that pressure, though that could take several years. For now, Army officials are pleased with recent improvements in recruiting for active and reserve personnel, which had been lagging last year.

They attributed that to the recent doubling of re-enlistment bonuses available to most troops, and to funding released last year to employ more recruiters.

McHugh said that, despite congressional urging, Army officials had resisted attempts to increase the number of enlisted personnel until last year. Funding for about 20,000 new soldiers was included in the 2005 defense budget, and another 10,000 are expected to be included in the 2006 budget released next week.


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