Army to shift soldiers' roles
Lack of infantry, other specialties taxing deployed
WASHINGTON - The prospect of combat in Iraq for at least another four years is prompting the Army to realign its forces to prevent a small slice of soldiers who are shouldering much of the fighting from wearing out.
Pentagon records show a fifth of the Army's active-duty troops have served multiple tours of war duty while more than 40 percent haven't been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
That disparity is behind the Army's plans to shift some soldiers to high-demand wartime specialties that could ease the burden on combat forces.
The Army announced this month that it plans to maintain its current force level in Iraq through 2010. There are about 105,000 soldiers in Iraq, 15,000 in Kuwait and 16,000 in Afghanistan.
The Army is moving soldiers from specialties such as artillery and air defense to high-demand roles: infantry, engineering, military police and intelligence, Special Forces, civil affairs and psychological operations, said Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, deputy chief of staff for Army personnel.
The Army has more soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan than the other services combined. It has sped up the realignment that started in 2001 and is expected to end in 2011, Rochelle said.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged this week that the Pentagon is sending active-duty troops overseas faster than it wants to.
About 41 percent of the Army's 500,000 active-duty soldiers have not deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. They include about 80,000 fresh recruits, most of whom are being trained. About 90,000 soldiers are deployed elsewhere around the world.
More than 90,000 others are in the so-called institutional Army, those who train, equip and manage soldiers.
By 2011, there will be 50,000 more troops available for deployment than in 2001.
More than five years of fighting have put the Army on the verge of wearing out its most vital soldiers, said James Carafano, a retired Army colonel and military analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
The Army is still structured to fight Cold War foes, which prevents it from deploying more troops, Carafano said.
"It's not a usable force in terms of mix and composition. It demonstrates how we need to have a larger, more usable force."
Special operations forces have been deployed often, including one soldier who has been to Iraq and Afghanistan nine times.
That's a "pocket of stress that we need to be concerned about," said James Martin, a retired Army colonel and an expert on military culture at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.