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American Forces Press Service

Gates: Relief on Way as Army Resets, Reshapes Force

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 10, 2007 – Relief for the stressed Army is on the way in the form of an expanded force, new and reconstituted equipment, quality-of-life programs and resources, and a reduced military presence in Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today at the Association of the U.S. Army convention here.

Six years of war has left the Army “out of balance,” Gates said, borrowing the term from Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr.

But pointing to a battle-hardened force that has demonstrated “courage, resourcefulness and resilience” in grueling circumstances, Gates disagreed with some assessments that the Army is “broken.”

Soldiers have served “under the unforgiving glare of the 24-hour news cycle that leaves little room for error” and in an organization “largely organized, trained, and equipped in a different era for a different kind of conflict,” Gates said. “And they’ve done all this with a country, a government, and in some cases, a Defense Department, that has not been placed on a war footing.”

Gates noted that challenges facing the military and the high pace of deployments have put a strain on soldiers and their families. While conceding that the war on terror will be a protracted fight, he assured soldiers that “relief is on the way” as the Army resets from current conflicts and reshapes itself for the future.

He pointed to signs of relief:

-- U.S. forces will serve in Iraq “for years to come,” but Gates called it “inevitable” that that troop members will drop. “Most of the serious discussion today is over how and when,” he said.

-- The Army will increase its end strength by 65,000 soldiers. Gates said he’s “prepared to support” Army plans to speed up the process, completing it in 2010 rather than 2012, “as long as we can do it without sacrificing quality.”

-- Tens of billions of dollars have been allocated to reconstitute damaged and destroyed equipment that’s being used at five times its programmed rate in a harsh environment.

-- New programs and resources are coming on line to improve soldiers’ and their families’ quality of life.

The Army was underfunded before the United States entered Iraq and has carried the bulk of the costs of the war, “both human and material,” Gates said. “So resources are needed, not only to recoup from the losses of war, but to make up for the shortfalls of the past and to invest in the capabilities of the future.”

Decisions made today about how those resources are used and investments are made will shape the Army for decades, he said. “We do not get the dollars or the opportunity to reset very often, so it’s vital that we get it right,” he said. “This will call on accountable and visionary leadership across the service and up and down the chain of command.”

Gates urged current and future Army leaders not to repeat mistakes of the past by focusing solely on the current conflict and not on emerging threats. With its current emphasis on unconventional “asymmetric” threats, the Army also must increase its training for conventional “high-intensity” operations, he said.

“It strikes me that one of the principal challenges the Army faces is to regain its traditional edge at fighting conventional wars while retaining what it has learned -- and relearned -- about unconventional wars, the ones most likely to be fought in the years ahead,” he said.

As the Army resets itself and prepares for the future, Gates said, it’s important that it keep sight of its soldiers’ needs. “When one considers what the nation owes the Army, the answer is a good deal. And it starts with gratitude and appreciation for the service and sacrifice of soldiers and their families,” he said.

The country also owes families who have lost a loved one in the conflict “every care and benefit,” he said, adding that the United States has a moral obligation to help wounded troops transition to the next phase of their lives.

Gates praised soldiers whose stories of service and sacrifice “inspire us and make us proud and hopeful about the future of America’s Army.”

Soldiers recognize the importance of their mission and its long-term impact on the United States, Gates said.

“For all that is given up to be in this line of work, our soldiers gain something that few can claim: They know that they are defending their country and shaping the course of history,” he said. “Our country’s defense could not be in better hands.”

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