Growing concerns with the U.S. having enough Army and Marine Corps land forces to react to potential unforeseen crises overseas are drawing attention on Capitol Hill.
The concerns come as lawmakers craft fiscal 2009 defense bills and eye post-Bush administration budget-making, keeping in mind the looming potential for a significant number of troops operating in Iraq for years to come and the strain that deployments so far have placed on the volunteer U.S. military.
"We have had 12 military contingencies in the last 31 years, some of them major and most of them unexpected," House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) said at a recent hearing.
"We must have a trained and properly equipped force ready to handle whatever comes. But my strong concern is that our readiness shortfalls and the limitations on our ability to deploy trained and ready ground forces have reached a point where these services would have a very steep uphill climb with increased casualties to respond effectively to an emerging contingency," Skelton said.
Skelton made the remarks at an April 9 hearing with the four-star vice chiefs of the Army and Marines, both of whom admitted that they were not satisfied with their respective service's so-called strategic depth to respond to crisis scenarios like the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan.
Army Gen. Richard Cody testified that the Army remains "out of balance," repeating what has become a common official Army phrase referring to the need to recruit, station, train and equip soldiers for more than just counterinsurgency operations.
"The current demand for our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds the sustainable supply and limits our ability to provide ready forces for other contingencies," Cody said.
"Overall, our readiness is being consumed as fast as we build it. If unaddressed, this lack of balance poses a significant risk to the all-volunteer force and degrades the Army's ability to make a timely response to other contingencies," the Army vice chief said.