Running Out of Fodder

From Holden:

Jenna and NotJenna are still unemployed, maybe they could sign up and help out in Iraq as their daddy is running out of troops.

At the current pace of U.S. deployments to Iraq, the Pentagon may be hard-pressed by next year to provide enough reserve combat troops suitable for the mission, judging from the military services own estimates of available manpower.

The notion of running out of reserve troops would have been dismissed only a year ago, but the strain of fighting a longer, harder war than U.S. commanders foresaw is taking a heavy toll on part-time troops of the Army National Guard, Army Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve.

The problem may ease if, as the Bush administration hopes, security in Iraq improves substantially this year as more U.S.-trained Iraqi troops join the fight against the insurgency. But few inside the Army think they can count on such an optimistic scenario.


The National Guard, with a total force of about 350,000 citizen soldiers, says it has about 86,000 available for future deployments to Iraq — fewer than it has sent there the past two years.

And it has used up virtually all of its most readily deployable combat brigades.

In an indication of the concern about a thinning of its ranks, last month the National Guard tripled the re-enlistment bonuses offered to soldiers in Iraq who can fill critical skill shortages.

Similarly, the Army Reserve has about 37,500 deployable soldiers left — about 18 percent of its total troop strength.

The Marine Corps Reserve appears to be in a comparable position because most of its 40,000 troops have been mobilized at least once already.


The reserves are pretty well shot after the Pentagon makes the next troop rotation, starting this summer, said Robert Goldich, a defense analyst at the Congressional Research Service.


—Of the National Guards 15 best-trained, best-equipped and most ready-to-deploy combat brigades, all but one are either in Iraq now, have demobilized after returning from a one-year tour there or have been alerted for duty in 2005-2006.

—The Army Reserve, with about 205,000 citizen soldiers on its rolls for support rather than combat duty, has been so heavily used since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that, for practical purposes, it has only about 37,500 troops available to perform the kinds of missions required in Iraq, according to an internal briefing chart titled, Whats Left in the Army Reserve?


Its not the absolute number of reservists that poses a problem. Its the number who have the right skills for what is required in Iraq and who have not already served lengthy tours on active duty since President Bush authorized the Pentagon three days after the Sept. 11 attacks to mobilize as many as 1 million reservists for up to 24 months.

A portion of the best-trained reservists are approaching the 24-month limit, and some senior officials inside the Army are considering whether the limit should be redefined so that mobilizations over the past three years would, in effect, not count against the 24-month limit.