- September 15, 2006
In the summer of 2003, then-retired Gen. Peter Schoomaker received a call from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office asking him to return to duty as the Army's 35th chief of staff. Schoomaker thought an old friend was playing a joke on him so he made an obscene comment and hung up. It wasn't a joke. Before he retired in 2000, Schoomaker had served in uniform for 31 years. As a young major in 1980, he led a Delta Force team during Desert One, the failed Iranian hostage rescue. That failure gave impetus to the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act and to establishment of the Special Operations Command in 1987, which Schoomaker rose to command before retiring. On Aug. 1, 2003, he returned to duty as th e Army's top soldier. Government Executive Editor Timothy B. Clark spoke to Schoomaker on Aug. 23 about the challenges facing the Army today. An edited transcript follows:
- Q: By all accounts, Gen. Schoomaker, you were happily retired. Why did you take this job?
- A: Sometimes that's a question I ask myself. I think that it's one of those opportunities and responsibilities and duties that you have, you know, at a time like this in our nation's history. I will admit that I took it with a great deal of reservation, but I think it was the right thing to do. My father spent 32 years in the Army, and as you said, I was commissioned 37 years ago. I have a brother in the Army. We now have our children in the Army. There's a sense of responsibility.
- Q: In some ways, your career is rooted in the military's first and failed attempt to respond to the kind of terrorism that spawned Sept. 11, and that was the taking of hostages of Iran. I read that you keep a photograph of the carnage of Desert One on your desk to remind you to never confuse enthusiasm with capability. What lessons did you learn from that experience?
- A: Well, exactly that. There's a tendency to confuse what looks good with what is good. I learned a long time ago that if you say you could do something, you better have prepared yourself to do it. And Desert One was one of those events. It was a watershed event. It was probably one of the darkest days of our lives, those of us that were involved in it. And I saw then, at a very early age, that just because a country is wealthy doesn't mean it can fulfill the potential that is there. And we have to make the investment not only in dollars but investment in preparation. And we didn't. There were people who said they could deliver us to the target but couldn't; there were machines that people touted as capable that weren't; and there were all kinds of other problems in terms of leadership, command and control and the rest of it. So it wasn't for the want of the people that are on the ground trying; it was largely a failure of investment. We can repeat that event on a grander scale if we're not careful. And that has driven me throughout my career.
- Q: You've been very vocal about some of the shortfalls the Army is experiencing. What has compelled you to speak out now?
A: I think I've been talking about this consistently. People are starting to listen-a big difference. Historically, the Army's been a Cinderella service. We paid the lion's share of the so-called peace dividend in the 1990s. We had a $100 billion shortfall in investment in the 1990s. We cut the Army by 500,000 soldiers-active, Guard and Reserve. Defense Department investment was $1.89 trillion between 1990 and 2005. And the Army's share of the pie was 16 percent. One thing I'm very careful to say is I do not look at the Navy or the Air Force [to correct the imbalance]. We need strong navies and air forces and armies.
In 2001, the percentage of the Army budget that was encumbered by people was about 73 percent. In 2008, we'll have 81 percent of our budget tied up in people. The only place you can go to escape the tyranny of the people costs, you have got to modernize and transform.
- Q: Thirty-six percent of Defense investment from 1990 to 2005 [went to the Air Force, 33 percent to the Navy and 16 percent to the Army]. What are the consequences?
- A: You cut 500,000 soldiers out of the Army and then try to grow 30,000 back-it's a little like trying to grow oak trees. They're easy to cut down, but it takes years to grow them back. The second impact is what we've known throughout our history. As George Marshall said in World War II, "Before the war, I had all the time in the world and no money. Now, I've got all the money in the world and no time." Regardless of whether people like it or not, we are moving in a very dangerous direction in the world, and America's going to be called upon to fulfill some duties and responsibilities that go with the power that we have. And we must make the investments to do it.
- Q: You have said that the Army went into Afghanistan and later Iraq with a $56 billion equipment shortfall, thanks to the procurement holiday of the 1990s. Can you give us some specific examples of how that shortfall was felt in the Army?
- A: Everybody knows the Guard and Reserve had serious equipment shortages; not only that, they had serious modernization problems-Korean War era trucks, shortages of aircraft, wheeled vehicles, older versions of tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The active force also had serious shortfalls. We had six active heavy divisions. None of them were the same because of the various degrees of modernization, the various degrees of organization. When you go to war with a $56 billion deficit in equipment, you have to aggregate that equipment and push it forward to the war, which means that on the backside, you now have issues in training, you have issues in reconstitution and reset. That is the challenge that we've been dealing with. If you take a look at our depot backlog, we have over 600 tanks unfunded. Almost 1,000 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, 2,500 wheeled vehicles are sitting in depots right now that if we had the money, we'd be repairing them faster.
- Q: As I understand it, less than half of the $56 billion shortfall has been made up.
- A: Part of the reason is you don't get well on supplemental funding. On average, about 10 percent of the supplemental money actually went to fix the root problem. The rest of it is used to pay for the cost of the fight, because we're the executive agent for most of that.
- Q: What are the challenges of getting that money into the base budget, the Army base budget, and are you making any progress on that?
- A: The current level of operation exceeds the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review strategy, which exceeds the level of [funding]. You have to fix the delta between the QDR strategy and the level of resourcing with the base budget. The base has got to pay for the strategy. The supplemental has got to pay for the difference between the planned strategy and the level that we're operating at. And in both cases right now, those things exceed the level of [funding].
- Q: Preparations are under way for submission of the 2008 budget to the Office of Management and Budget. The Army has not yet submitted its program to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Some reports suggest the Army is $20 billion short of what it needs in Defense guidance.
- A: I won't mention the numbers, but I will tell you what we have done. There's no sense in submitting a budget that we can't execute. And so for two months now, we have been in constant dialogue with the OSD team, and we have opened the books. And what the secretary of Defense and the secretary of the Army agreed to, and I was present at this, is that we would agree on the facts. And so for two months, we have gone through our books, and OSD and the Army now agree on our facts on what the cost of the Army is. And the cost of the Army is higher than they thought.
- Q: Why hadn't that been done last year or the year before?
- A: Well, we've always tried. But it got to a point that I felt strong enough about it that this had to be looked at. This [war] wasn't the spike everybody thought about. This has been a consistent deal, and we performed very, very well. But there are forces that are under stress, and we must develop the capacity to take the stress off to maintain the all-volunteer force as we go forward and to meet the requirements that are out there that any reasonable person can see we must prepare for.
- Q: The Army has been fielding units in Iraq and Afghanistan at the expense of the units remaining behind, and those units are suffering from personnel and equipment shortages. How serious is that problem?
- A: We know that we're preparing [troops] to go over and do the things that we're now doing. But what else is out there that we might have to do? Therein lies my angst. There is not only that uncertainty, but there is the pressure that's on the current force to maintain the rotations. The modular force we're building will be able to rotate the 1st Calvary Division on top of the 4th Infantry Division's equipment because we now have standard formation. That one move means that we will gain seven months in reset, which is a readiness issue, and provide us a cost avoidance of almost $1 billion in transportation and all the rest. But you know, we're operating on the margins with this, and what we must do is develop the depth in equipment and units that are required for us to meet the strategy as it's laid out.
- Q: And that kind of rotation is where you want to be heading as you develop the Future Combat Systems?
- A: A lot of people, when you talk about making an Army lighter, just think that you're going to make lighter vehicles, and the reality is you're really talking about becoming lighter afoot, and you're really talking about strategic agility. When you can do this kind of motion globally, it gives you a tremendous amount of agility we didn't have before. This is transformation.
- Q: How far along are we?
- A: I think we probably will have ourselves in the kind of condition we'd like to be by 2013 to 2015, something like that. It takes a while. The active part of the Reserve forces will be there much sooner. But when you're talking about the entire active, Guard and Reserve construct, you're talking about 70 brigade combat teams and 211 other brigade organizations that are logistics brigades, fires brigades, engineering brigades, things like that. So it's a big thing to do.
- Q: What lessons do you take from the Israeli-Hezbollah war?
- A: One of them is you never underestimate your enemy. Money doesn't solve everything, and neither does armor and neither does a lot of things flying around the air and floating in the sea. Ultimately, this is a test of human wills. I can tell you that the kind of warfare we're in here, the military component is only a piece of it. You know that from Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. We have to balance what we call the kinetic, which is the trigger-pulling stuff, with the nontrigger-pulling stuff that ultimately affects the people, the masses of people that are the prize. We have plenty of people to kill and capture and, you know, that need killing and capturing. But the real prize is not gained only through military means, and so what we have to do is make sure that we're useful as part of the broader system of national power.
- Q: In Lebanon, a fairly clear lesson seemed to be that airpower can't win the war. Would you agree with that?
- A: I believe in airpower, and there's nothing like having somebody on the other end of the radio when you need something done in a hurry. But to overstate what's possible with airpower is easy to do, and people have a certain tendency to love things that go fast, make noise and look shiny. Like I told you, never confuse enthusiasm with capability. It takes a team. I wouldn't denigrate airpower at all, but anybody who thinks that you can win these kinds of things in one dimension is not being honest.
- Q: You just returned from Iraq. What were your observations?
- A: I think there are some incredibly dedicated people over there who are working this. But you find out that with the exception of the uniformed military, there's no place you can go in our government and direct any employee to go to Iraq and work. So what you tend to have is kind of an opt-in/opt-out at inconvenient times. There was a lack of cohesion at one point. I think it's becoming much better, but we've got a long way to go.
- Q: You've lowered your recruiting standards. What does that tell you about the ability to recruit a really capable all-volunteer force?
- A: We're being very careful about who [we bring in]. We are meeting the OSD standards for [entrance exam scores]. Having said that, we've got the finest noncommissioned officer corps that we've ever had in history. And if you take a look at the senior NCOs in the Army today, and you go back [you discover they were held to lower entrance standards than today's recruits].
- Q: How confident are you that you're going to be able to field the Future Combat Systems as you have currently planned it, and how amenable is the Army to modifying the current approach?
- A: FCS right now is on schedule and under cost. We have 3 percent actual cost growth in the program. This is really not just a program of record, it's a strategy. We have already either terminated or adjusted 126 of our programs in the Army to do the things we have to do. I'm fairly sure that we ought to play hardball on FCS, and that's what we're doing.