Army seeks to counter mounting opposition to reserve cuts

Bombarded by strong congressional opposition to Reserve personnel cuts, the Army is trying to gain support for its proposed fiscal 2007 force-structure changes from military groups and veterans organizations, many of which have strong grassroots and lobbying operations on Capitol Hill.

On Friday, the Army's public outreach office distributed a one-page "information paper" to several of these groups, explaining that its personnel plans are "instrumental and essential to having the kinds of current and future capabilities and forces needed across the Army for an indefinite period of global commitments."

But many of these groups, particularly those representing the hard-hit National Guard, have already publicly opposed the decisions over fears that it could further stress the state-run units and hinder future recruiting campaigns.

The National Guard Association of the United States supported a resolution introduced in the Senate last week that asks the Pentagon to consult state and federal lawmakers about the emerging plans. Meanwhile, leaders of the Adjutants General Association of the United States have written Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about their own concerns.

When the president releases his fiscal 2007 budget next week, the Defense Department is expected to ask lawmakers to approve funding for the Army National Guard at 333,000 soldiers -- the current size of the force, but 17,000 troops below its congressionally authorized strength. The Army wants to budget for the Army Reserve's current roster of 188,000 troops, and decrease strength from 205,000 to 200,000 soldiers.

In the information paper, the Army conceded that the country "needs to depend on the National Guard and Reserves more than it has historically. This is needed for sustaining a long war." Guard and Reserve units have played a major role in the war in Iraq.

The Army argues that it must make changes to pay for technology modernization programs, as well as fully manning and equipping Reserve and active-duty units, including $21 billion for National Guard equipment over the next six years. The result, according to the paper, is a "reduction of some strategic flexibility and tougher management challenges, but considerably higher readiness and utility in exchange."

In the paper, the Army emphasized that the personnel plan will not decrease the number of brigades in the National Guard, which will maintain a total of 106 brigades. But the service will create only 28 brigade combat teams, six fewer than initially planned. Instead, the Army will create six additional combat support brigades in the Guard. The Army Reserve will have 58 support brigades, while the active component will have 75 support brigades and 42 brigade combat teams. The service initially planned between 43 and 48 active-duty brigade combat teams.

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