WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2008 – The U.S. Army remains ready to engage and defeat America’s enemies despite experiencing strain after seven years of wartime deployments, the Army’s top civilian and military leaders told a Senate panel here today. “Our Army is stretched by demands of this long war, but it remains an extraordinary Army,” Army Secretary Pete Geren told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It is the best-led, best-equipped and best-trained Army we’ve ever put in the field.

“Today, we are an Army long at war,” Geren continued, noting U.S. soldiers have fought in Afghanistan for seven years and battled in Iraq for about five years.

The war against global terrorism is the third-longest war in American history, Geren said, behind the Revolutionary War and the Vietnam War. It also is the longest U.S. war being fought by all-volunteer forces, he added.

The Army currently has 250,000 soldiers deployed to 80 countries, Geren said, including those deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan “are our top priority, and we will never take our eye off of that ball,” Geren emphasized.

The nearly $141 billion allocated for the Army under the fiscal 2009 defense budget and supplemental funding “ensure that our soldiers have what they need, when they need it,” Geren said.

The budget contains money for the Army to put its 64,000-soldier expansion on the front burner, Geren noted. “We have accelerated the 64,000-man growth in the active-duty Army from 2012 to 2010, with a commitment that we will maintain recruit quality at no lower than the 2006 levels,” he reported.

These added soldiers will assist in meeting wartime requirements during a period of persistent conflict that is challenging the Army’s soldiers and their families, Geren said. “But, our Army remains strong,” he emphasized. “It’s stretched; it is out of balance; but it is resilient. Those who seek parallels with the ‘hollow Army’ of the late ’70s will not find it.”

Despite the challenges, the all-volunteer Army continues to meet its recruiting and retention goals, Geren said. “They’re volunteer soldiers; they’re volunteer families,” he said. “They’re proud of who they are, and they’re proud of what they do. We all are inspired by their service and humbled by their sacrifice.”

The National Guard and Army Reserve also have made heavy contributions to the war effort, Geren said, noting that 184,000 reservists and 270,000 National Guard members have been activated for service in the war against global terrorism since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Reserve-component members also stepped up during humanitarian relief missions in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Geren said, as well as helping fight forest fires and patrol America’s borders.

“We are one Army; the active component cannot go to war without the reserve component,” he said.

The current Army budget proposal addresses the transformation of the reserve components into an operational reserve. The new Army budget, which contains $5.6 billion for new Guard equipment and $1.4 billion for reserve equipment, continues a pattern of steady investment for the reserve components, Geren said. To illustrate, he noted that the National Guard possessed 290 trucks of modern design in 2001. Today, the Guard has more than 9,000 such trucks. Today’s National Guard force also has more than 82,000 modern tactical radios, Geren said, which is double the number of such radios it had in 2001.

And, over the next 24 months, Geren said, $17 billion worth of equipment, representing more than 400,000 new items, will enter the National Guard’s inventory.

Other funds will go to improving care for wounded warriors, and to increase the quality of life for soldiers and their families, Geren said, including better barracks, housing, health care and family support networks.

The Army also will continue “to grow our knowledge and improve the care and treatment” of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, Geren said.

The new budget also will be used to develop transformational war-fighting technologies such as armed reconnaissance helicopters, light utility helicopters, unmanned aerial- and land-based vehicles, and joint cargo aircraft.

During today’s testimony before the Senate committee, Casey noted that he told the committee in November that the United States’ military would be involved in “persistent conflict” over the next decade.

The next 10 years will witness “protracted confrontation among state, non-state, and individual actors who are increasingly willing to use violence to achieve their political and ideological objectives,” Casey told committee members. Global trends that likely will exacerbate this situation and prolong this period of unrest include: increased globalization and technology, overpopulation in developing countries, competition for resources, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and safe havens for terrorists in ungoverned areas of the world.

The Army must continue to adapt itself to become more agile and expeditionary to confront such future challenges, Casey pointed out.

However, “the cumulative effects of the last six-plus years of war have left our Army out of balance (and) consumed by the current fight and unable to do the things that we know we need to do to properly sustain our all-volunteer force and restore our flexibility for an uncertain future,” Casey said.

Despite the challenges, today’s Army “remains a hugely resilient, professional and combat-seasoned force,” Casey said.

To put itself back into balance the Army must sustain, prepare, reset and transform, the general said.

“First and foremost, we must sustain our soldiers, families and Army civilians,” Casey said. “They are the heart and soul of this Army and must be sustained in a way that recognizes their quality of service.”

Second, the Army must continue to provide proper training, equipment and other resources required to defeat enemies that they face in Afghanistan, Iraq or anywhere else, Casey said.

Third, the Army needs to rest its soldiers and repair or replace damaged or destroyed equipment after repeated deployments to dangerous and harsh environments, Casey said.

“Frequent deployments are taking their toll on our soldiers and their equipment,” Casey said. “In my mind, resources for reset are the difference between a hollow force and a versatile force for the future,” he added.

Finally, the Army must continue to transform itself into an agile expeditionary force to meet security needs of the 21st century, Casey said.

“For us, transformation is a holistic effort to adapt how we train, modernize, develop leaders, station forces, and support our soldiers, families and civilians,” he said.

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