Military manpower

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(Host) Commentator Bill Seamans reflects on what steps the Pentagon may take to avoid a military personnel shortage.

(Seamans) There are several words in the Iraqi war lexicon that have been muted in Washington by the debate over President Bush’s now-famous “16 words” suggesting that Saddam had a nuclear weapons capability. The words you don’t usually hear spoken by officials close to Bush are – Mission Creep and Quagmire – which open up politically dangerous memories of Vietnam. But another sensitive word, Manpower, is a now-problem demanding more and more attention as a result of our dilemma in Iraq caused by the unexpected guerilla war.

Published figures from Pentagon sources that are usually buried in other reports really tell us an amazing story if we bring them into focus. An example would be the little known fact that out of an active army duty force of 491,000 troops, 370,000 are now scattered overseas in 120, yes, 120 countries…and President Bush is about to land more Marines in Liberia in addition to the platoon already there protecting our Embassy.

We know that promised return dates of battle-tired outfits like the 3rd Infantry Division have been delayed causing morale problems for both the troops and their families back home – our forces have been stretched thin fighting the guerilla ambushes now taking American lives almost every day.

It’s no secret that Mr. Rumsfeld and his top brass are in deep discussions considering possible manpower solutions. First, they could call up more National Guard and Reserve troops causing a negative social and economic impact at home. They could transfer as many troops as possible from administrative jobs to combat units.

They could privatize many military support functions – contracting out to civilian management mess halls, vehicle maintenance, mail service, certain training activities, and so forth, to release more troops to the frontline combat divisions.

The Army already has hired a Halliburton Corporation subsidiary to feed and house up to 100,ooo troops in Iraq – a 200 million-dollar contract.

The ultimate possibility was reported by the New York Times last week, which said if all else fails, Rumsfeld is considering asking Congress for money to enlarge our military forces to adequately fulfill the long-term missions President Bush has taken on.

But the big question is, if the American death toll in Iraq – and perhaps other countries – discourages adequate voluntary recruitment, where would the new troops come from to enlarge the army? Dare anyone in the Bush administration mention resuming the Draft?

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and Bureau Chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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