Army Considering Expansion to Avoid Breaking

Worried that the current operations tempo will “break” the Army, planners are looking at ways to expand the force and utilize the Reserves more.

The Army, strained by unrelenting violence in Iraq and operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, is considering ways it can speed up the creation of two combat brigades while shifting personnel and equipment from other military units. Under the plan being developed, the new brigades could be formed next year and be ready to be sent to Iraq in 2008, defense officials told The Associated Press. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans were not final.

The Army’s chief of staff, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, told a commission Thursday that he wants to increase the half-million-member force beyond the 30,000 troops authorized in recent years. And he warned that the Army “will break” without thousands more active duty troops and greater use of the reserves. Though Schoomaker didn’t give an exact number, he said it would take significant time, saying 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers could be added per year. Schoomaker has said it costs roughly $1.2 billion to increase the Army by 10,000 soldiers.

Officials also need greater authority to tap into the National Guard and Reserve, long ago set up as a strategic reserve but now needed as an integral part of the nation’s deployed forces, Schoomaker told a commission studying possible changes in those two forces. “Over the last five years, the sustained strategic demand … is placing a strain on the Army’s all-volunteer force,” Schoomaker said during a Capitol Hill hearing. “At this pace … we will break the active component” unless reserves can be called up more to help, he said.


The Army in recent days has been looking at how many additional troops could be sent to Iraq if the president decides a surge in forces would be helpful. But, Army officials say, only about 10,000 to 15,000 troops could be sent and an end to the war would have to be in sight because it would drain the pool of available soldiers for combat. “We would not surge without a purpose,” Schoomaker told reporters. “And that purpose should be measurable.”

Utilizing the Reserve Component to fight ongoing wars is not a rethinking of their mission: That is their mission.

The problem with expanding the active force, though, is that there is a finite size that an all-volunteer force can achieve during wartime and still maintain standards. It would make far more sense to reshape the force so that it is capable of fighting the type of war that we expect to fight in the coming years, not the type of war Army leaders would prefer. This means less armor and heavy artillery and more civil affairs, military police, special operations, and similar forces that are essential to stability operations and the training of indigenous forces.

UPDATE: Much more on Schoomaker’s remarks from the front of today’s WaPo.

In particularly blunt testimony, Schoomaker said the Army began the Iraq war “flat-footed” with a $56 billion equipment shortage and 500,000 fewer soldiers than during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Echoing the warnings from the post-Vietnam War era, when Gen. Edward C. Meyer, then the Army chief of staff, decried the “hollow Army,” Schoomaker said it is critical to make changes now to shore up the force for what he called a long and dangerous war.

“The Army is incapable of generating and sustaining the required forces to wage the global war on terror . . . without its components — active, Guard and reserve — surging together,” Schoomaker said in testimony before the congressionally created Commission on the National Guard and Reserves.

The burden on the Army’s 507,000 active-duty soldiers — who now spend more time at war than at home — is simply too great, he said. “At this pace, without recurrent access to the reserve components, through remobilization, we will break the active component,” he said, drawing murmurs around the hearing room.

The Army, which had 482,000 soldiers in 2001, plans to grow temporarily to 512,000. But the Army now seeks to make that increase permanent and to continue increasing its ranks by 7,000 or more a year, Schoomaker said. He said the total increase is under discussion.

“I recommend we continue to grow the Army so that we have choices,” Schoomaker said, cautioning that it is ill advised to assume demand for American troops overseas will decrease. “Our history is replete with examples where we have guessed wrong: 1941, 1950, 2001, to name a few,” he said. “We don’t know what’s ahead.”


The Army’s manpower dilemma stems in part from current Pentagon policies: Although 55 percent of soldiers belong to the National Guard and the reserve, Defense Department guidelines require that reservists be mobilized involuntarily only once, and for no more than 24 months. As a result, out of the total of 522,000 Army National Guard and reserve members, only about 90,000 are still available to be mobilized, according to Army data. “We’re out of Schlitz,” declared an Army chart depicting the shortage as a depleted barrel, saying this leaves “future missions in jeopardy.”

Compounding the problem, the Pentagon has restricted repeated involuntary call-ups, leading to deeper and deeper holes in Army Guard and reserve units. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, hundreds of thousands of reserve soldiers have been mobilized for Iraq and Afghanistan. So when a unit is called to deploy, the only soldiers who can go are volunteers and new soldiers. The remainder are often drawn from dozens of units across the United States. The result is systematically “broken” and “non-cohesive” units, said another Army chart titled “OSD-mandated Volunteer Policy Stresses the Force,” referring to the office of the secretary of defense.

For example, Army Reserve units now must take an average of 62 percent of their soldiers for deployments from other units, compared with 6 percent in 2002 and 39 percent in 2003, according to the Army data. In one transportation company, only seven of 170 soldiers were eligible to deploy. The other 163 came from 65 other units in 49 locations, said the commission chairman, retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold L. Punaro, who quoted a Marine Reserve officer as calling the policy “evil.”

“Military necessity dictates that we deploy organized, trained, equipped cohesive units — and you don’t do that by pick-up teams,” said Schoomaker, a decorated veteran of the Army’s Delta Force who served in the ill-fated Desert One rescue mission in Iran in 1980. “We must start this clock again . . . and field fully ready units. . . . We must change this policy,” he said, banging his hand on the table for emphasis. He said later that he had detected “some movement” by Pentagon policymakers who have so far rejected a change on the politically sensitive issue.

Again, the RC mobilization policy makes sense only in the context of 1990s style missions, where we have numerous non-combat, peacekeeping interventions that are not in any way connected to the national security of the United States. When the country is in a state of war, RC have to be subject to call-up for the duration and added to the active force. Again, that’s the entire purpose of having a force in reserve.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LJD says:

    New Year prediction:

    IRR call-up.

  2. legion says:

    “We must start this clock again . . . and field fully ready units. . . . We must change this policy,” he said, banging his hand on the table for emphasis.

    Hmmm… perhaps I’m not as clear as I thought on top-level policymaking. Schoomaker is the US Army’s Chief of Staff – the top general. If he wants to change the policy, I think there are only about three people who can say jack about it – the Army Secretary, the Defense Secretary, and the President. All Congress has to do is agree to fund the cost of implementing & sustaining the changes, and making the laws for authorization of manpower, callups, etc. fit what the Army says they need. Am I missing something, or did Schoomaker just ask for permission to do his job?

  3. James Joyner says:

    All Congress has to do is agree to fund the cost of implementing & sustaining the changes, and making the laws for authorization of manpower, callups, etc. fit what the Army says they need.

    That’s a pretty tall order, actually. But, yes, he could have been calling for this all along. Perhaps he was and was getting rebuffed by the Secretariat. Or perhaps he honestly thought until very recently that the costs of upsizing the force outweighed the benefits because he thought, as most of us did, that the demand for a large U.S. force in Iraq would have dissipated long before now.

  4. There’s pretty clear evidence that the army could sustain a much larger number given its size prior to the Clinton draw down. Of course, this would also require a much larger budget as personnel (salaries, benefits, equipment, training, etc) is not cheap.

    As to the force mix, 15% of the Army and Marines sent to Iraq have ‘infantry’ as their primary function. That leaves a pretty large percentage for all the other functions.

  5. kip says:

    Blue Crab has Painer the Great working for him.

  6. Wayne says:

    The Army Chief of Staff like all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are advisors. They do not have any Operational Command. Congress can and usually are a big obstacle when changing call-up policies.

    Limited IRR call-ups have been happening for at least the last four years.

    One of the problems is the rules are binding each other up. Most of the first call-ups were for 6 months with accrual overseas deployment being about 4 ½ due to processing and administration requirements. Then it change to a year with around 11 months in country which was my case. Then they change it soon afterwards to a full year in country with all the admin stuff tack on each side. I couldn’t even volunteer to go back because it would have put me over the two year total limit within a two year between deployment limit.

    The policies need to be change. Also they need to make it very easy for those who have been honorably discharge to get back in.

  7. James Joyner says:


    Sure, you can have a larger force. It will rise and fall in quality, though, depending on the state of the civilian economy and the operations tempo.

    Wars can be good for recruiting, of course. There was a post-9/11 surge. The Iraq War, though, is increasingly unpopular and dragging on longer than Americans would like. That’s not good for recruiting.

  8. LJD says:


    Many have been called, but comparatively nothing comapred to the numbers currently authorized .

  9. Wayne says:

    I’m not sure what % of IRR they have use up under the current policy. The numbers given were for NG and RC and didn’t specify for IRR. The IRR is usually used for filler roles and are very useful in that capacity. There are a great deal more manpower we can put into Iraq but only if rotation or call-up policies are change.

    To create a whole unit using IRR would create many problems. IRR members generally run into many problems during deployment because they have very little admin support structure.
    Many NG and RC who are deployed as small units run into support problems although at least they have admin support back home. Any attach unit usually experience such things but tends to be worst for NG and RC. The military is getting better at addressing these issue but some still exist.

  10. LJD says:

    I don’t know what you’re smokin Wayne, but I didn’t make any of the claims you’re arguing against. As a member of the IRR, I’m well aware of what it is.

    Incidentally, we are just over 110,000. There was one announced call-up of 5,600. From the other information I have been able to gather, there have been a number of other ‘unannounced’ callups to fill specific roles. I would venture a guess that it is nowhere near 5,600.

    It is generally understood that of the 110,000, a fraction may actually be ready for duty after significant training, some not at all. Hence the Army launching its new Individual Warrior category of soldiers that are more mission ready.

    A number of NG and AR units have already been earmarked to fill in, many on their second deployment that would violate their 24 month maximum activation (see article above).

    My prediction is that regardless of how the Army is grown or changed, gaps will need to be filled if 30,000 more troops are going to Iraq. It may not be the ideal situation, but it’s all we’ve got. You fight a war with the Army you have, right?

  11. Wayne says:

    This post is probably too late but what the hell.

    The first paragraph was my only commented directly related to your comments. The rest are statements that make no claim about anybody else making a claim. The second paragraph was to state my concerns that follow the Generals concern about getting cohesive units instead of thrown together units.

    I use to privy on the IRR call-ups but it’s been too long to remember specific numbers. I suspect you would be surprise how many have been call-up. There were a good number that were call up before Iraq war kicked off and were not necessarily per say specific roles (Doctors, CA and such) but fill-ins (staff officers, safety personnel, etc).

    Many NG and AR units have been earmark for activations but the key word is “units”. The policy as stand now gives the troops in those units that have previous been activated an option to not to go. They are trying to change that as of today. Also the 24 months maximum, I believe has change from total activation to 24 months foreign deployed.