Ground Forces Sag Under Combat Load

"We are consuming our readiness as soon as we get it," Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff, told lawmakers Wednesday. If a hotspot such as North Korea exploded into combat or a major terrorist attack occurred, the Army and Marines would have a very difficult time responding. "I think it would be very difficult, challenging -- I don’t think there is any question about it," Gen. James Amos, assistant commandant of the Marines, said.

With the Army and Marines facing increasing readiness risks, it is critical that Congress pass the latest emergency supplemental spending bill by July 1, the Army’s vice chief of staff told the Senate Armed Services readiness and management support subcommittee today.

The Army needs the money in the supplemental by “payday 1 July,” Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff, said Wednesday. While that will be of interest to those who follow the money, the bigger story was the sobering assessment Chiarelli and Gen. James Amos, assistant commandant of the Marines, delivered about the readiness of America’s ground forces.

“We are consuming our readiness as soon as we get it,” Chiarelli told lawmakers.

If a hotspot such as North Korea exploded into combat or a major terrorist attack occurred, the Army and Marines would have a very difficult time responding. “I think it would be very difficult, challenging — I don’t think there is any question about it,” Amos said, adding that it would “emasculate all our strategic reserves.”

Both generals said the country’s ground forces can cope with the load they are bearing, but cautioned lawmakers that the organizations they help lead are showing serious strains.

For the Marines, the toll of the last seven years of combat is clear. Amos said the service has had to sacrifice its traditionally vaunted capabilities in combined arms operations and large-scale amphibious operations to be the excellent counterinsurgency force it has become.

Altogether, the Marines need $20 billion to recapitalize their forces, of which $12 billion is already forthcoming, Amos said… The stress of combat and the greatly increased use of air and ground equipment are beginning to affect the availability of “critical” equipment, he said.

For example, the Corps had had to pull 14 percent of the equipment needed for the 2nd MEB headed to Afghanistan from non-deployed units and 51 percent of the equipment for the brigade rolled right off of production lines to the Marines, not from inventory.

Marine aircraft “are flying at utilization rates far beyond those for which they were designed. We are nearly tripling the utilization rates of our workhorses – the F/A-18C and D; the KC-130 cargo and aerial refueling platform; our EA-6B electronic warfare aircraft; and even the new MV-22 Osprey,” Amos said in his prepared testimony. To keep deployed squadrons fully equipped the Corps has cut aircraft and parts to non-deployed squadrons. In all, the service is short 248 aircraft.

Sen. Richard Burr, the top Republican on the subcommittee, asked Amos about the effects of contractors on the Marines’ readiness. Amos said Honeywell provides 100 contractors who man the main logistics hub in Iraq’s Anbar Province who do triage on vehicles and other major systems. “They are critical to our combat support in Iraq,” Amos said, adding that contractors such as Honeywell will only grow in importance in Iraq as the number of Marines there declines. “If they are not there then Marines wearing cammies will have to do the job,” he said.

Part of the Army’s readiness current difficulties lie in the fact that it supports increasing numbers of soldiers — 10,000 — who cannot be deployed, Chiarelli said. And the force sees “increased numbers of soldiers struggling with substance abuse and mental or behavioral health issues, such as depression, post-traumatic stress, and other types of anxiety disorders, as well as an increase in the number of suicides across the force,” Chiarelli said in his prepared testimony.

On top of all that, the Army is still coping from the effects of the surge in Iraq, Chiarelli said. The last combat brigade won’t be out until June and the last combat support unit won’t be out of Iraq until September.