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U.S. Military Suffers Equipment & Base Shortfalls

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For the last quarter of 2006 United States Army bases stateside face a funding deficit of $530 million while troops active in Iraq and Afghanistan will not see the promised replacement levels of military equipment previously committed. Additionally, payroll for active-duty troops is short $1.4 billion while the Army Reserve and National Guard face a $500 million deficiency.

The Installation Management Agency is responsible for overseeing the funding for 117 Army posts in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Garrisons of the posts administer the services the post receives such as mail delivery, garbage removal and firefighting while contracting services for dining halls and grounds maintenance. In order for many services to be provided, both temporary and term personnel are sub-contracted by the garrisons. However, in early June 2006, Installation Commander, Col. Kenneth O. McCreedy, mandated major cuts in services on all Army bases at least until September 30, 2006, when the 2006 fiscal year ends.

The reduction in services includes a 100% civilian hiring freeze; the release of temporary and term employees as quickly as possible unless vital for the support of life, health, safety and the Global War On Terrorism; development of spending plans by commanders for Fiscal Year 2007 based upon such reduced services; cancelling or reducing contracts until October 1, 2006. Garrisons have also reduced vehicle usage by as much as 20%, and cut cell phone and paging services.

However, other costs simply cannot be deferred or eliminated such as electric bills. Fort Sam Houston of San Antonio, TX has not paid its monthly $1.4 million electric bill since March 2006, with many of its administrative buildings receiving disconnect notices. Fort Bragg in North Carolina has a moratorium on buying pens, paper and other office supplies and equipment. Fort Knox, Kentucky closed one of its eight dining halls. Other bases shut down swimming pool facilities, due to chlorine costs, used for training and exercise by troops and their families. Even pest control has been considered a non-essential expenditure at some posts.

President Bush signed the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terrorism and Hurricane Recovery 2006 on June 15, 2006, in the amount of $94.5 billion for such emergency spending. Although it provides the Department of Defense with $66 billion, most of it is allocated for military expenditures for the ongoing costs of the War in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Out of the defense funding in the supplemental act, $43.5 billion is for military operations, with $17.6 billion designated for replacing worn out equipment on the battlefield including night-vision equipment, vehicle armor, mortar and rocket jamming devices and other counter insurgency measures. Heavy trucks and Humvee replacements are to be factored in as well. $4.9 billion is for the training and equipping of Iraq and Afghanistan security forces, $1.6 billion is for strengthening the Iraq and Afghanistan economies, $66 million is for promoting democracy in Iran and $393 million is for peacekeeping efforts and humanitarian aid in South Sudan and Darfur.

Also included in the authorized supplemental spending is $19.8 billion in aid for the U.S. Gulf Coast rebuilding effort, $2.3 billion goes to anti-avian flu programs and $1.9 billion is for border security including sending 2,500 National Guard troops to the southern border by August 1, 2006. But what was not clear when $1.9 billion was allocated for border security was that $1.6 billion of it was taken from funds specifically reserved for military equipment replacement.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requested the change upon such directive from the White House but without consulting the Army or the Marine Corps. In a last minute amendment sponsored by Senator Bill Frist (R) TN and Senator Judd Gregg (R) NH, $1.9 billion was transferred from the emergency war supplement to the Department of Homeland Security. However, not realized by most in Congress is that the $1.9 billion is to be reimbursed by the Pentagon's very own budget for the war. That very funding was earmarked for the replacing of trucks, jammers and radios on the battlefield as dictated not by the Pentagon but rather the OMB.

For the Marine Corps alone, yearly costs in Iraq are about $5 billion. But the Marines will get little help in the $11.7 billion in "reset" costs to restore all of the equipment which has become worn out or lost over the past four years. According to its records, in order to replenish its equipment to pre-9/11 levels even if all of the costs were provided in 2006, would take over two years to do so. The Marine Corps over the past three years, has seen its war reserves depleted, however, necessary in order to keep deployed troops fully equipped.

The Marine Corps has lost 3,500 pieces of ground equipment as well as 27 aircraft in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Iraq, trucks and Humvees age four to nine times faster than during peacetime. Roadside bombs, heat, and weight of the Humvee armor kits all contribute to vehicle aging. And lack of equipment has left little in reserve in order to properly train deploying troops on weapons, on types of radio devices to the very vehicles they will actually drive upon reaching the battlefield. That puts U.S. troops at far greater risk.

At present, the Marine Corps is in need of more than 3,000 trucks, 5,000 high-powered jammers, 3,500 radio sets and 1,000 armor kits. And that does not include the needs of the Army which has the largest number of troops deployed. But due to the large amount the Army spends on personnel, making up 24% of the entire Pentagon budget, it leaves less and less funding for weapons.

There are plenty of reasons for costs restraints, starting with the growing cost of fuel, lower exchange rates on the U.S. dollar, bonuses and incentives to attract new recruits and discourage officers from retiring. In addition, more healthcare costs have arisen for more and more disabled troops returning home and Veterans' escalating healthcare costs. Costs incurred due to the mandated and ongoing reorganization of the Army into a smaller, more flexible force with more frequent deployments adds to the shortfalls. And the proposed closing and reorganization of National Guard and Reserve bases is expected to cost billions of dollars with some of those costs realized starting in 2007.

The Congress in both houses has postured that fighting a war while simultaneously maintaining combat readiness throughout the armed forces through a series of supplemental emergency funding bills cannot go on much longer. For in fact such bills usually include other areas of government spending which have nothing to do with funding supposed emergencies. And side deals or amendments to legislation arising at the 11th hour when most of the Congress is not aware, is no way to treat troops when lives are on the line.

Mere belt tightening is not the answer in the middle of a crisis, such as a war, with other hot spots and threats to the U.S. across the globe. And the U.S. Congress is far from a good example of abiding by budget constraints. The time for addressing shortfalls is not after men are dying on the battlefield and suffering from equipment shortages, nor when it just happens to be politically expedient, but on a timeline which mitigates the loss of life by proper preparation for the long term. Perhaps if we had a more modular Congress these shortfalls would be far more uncommon. And perhaps emergency supplemental bills would be reserved for what they were intended: true emergencies only.

Copyright ©2006 Diane M. Grassi Contact:
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Diane M. Grassi is an investigative journalist and reporter providing topical and in-depth articles and analysis on U.S. public policy and governmental affairs, including key federal and state legislation as well as court decisions relative to the (more...)
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