Help is on the Way (Sort Of)
There is some genuinely good news on the military manpower front. Not only did all of the armed services meet their recruiting goals in Fiscal Year 2009, they also exceeded their projections for the number of troops entering basic training.
According to The Washington Times, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps sent 169,000 new recruits to boot camp in the fiscal year that ended on 30 September. That's 5,000 more than the Pentagon's original projection, making 2009's training total the highest since 1973, the first year of the all-volunteer military.
More troops in training means eventual relief for units stretched thin by constant deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. We stress the word "eventual," because some of those recruits only recently reached their first duty assignments, after completing basic training and required technical schools.
Meanwhile, many of their comrades are still in training. It takes more than a year to train a military pilot, and technical training for some enlisted specialties are nearly as long. For example, a prospective Chinese linguist who just signed in at the Defense Language Institute won't graduate until late 2010, and more training will follow at their first duty assignment. A running joke among airborne linguists (who fly on USAF RC-135 and Navy EP-3 platforms) is that the end of upgrade training coincides with their eligibility to re-enlist.
Obviously, it takes time for any new military member to gain experience and proficiency, regardless of their rating, MOS or AFSC. A grunt who's been through the required training is qualified to go on patrol, but developing the so-called "strategic sergeant"--vital to counter-insurgency operations--is a process measured in years, not months. And, it takes even longer to produce the platoon leaders and company commanders who direct small unit operations.
Groundwork for the current surge in recruit training was laid in early 2007, when President Bush announced plans to expand the size of the Army and the Marine Corps. Under that proposal, the Army would gain an additional 65,000 soldiers, while the Corps would add 27,000 new Marines. The expansion was slated for completion by 2012, although the original timetable is somewhat in doubt, as far as the Army is concerned. Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed another 20,000 troops for the Army, meaning the build-up will take even longer to complete.
Put another way, the military is about half-way through the original build-up plan, recruiting (and training) the personnel that will expand the ranks of the Army and Marine Corps, while maintaining existing force levels in the Navy and the Air Force. Predictably, it will take longer for the new recruits to reach desired experienced levels. That's why real relief--for some military organizations--is still a few years down the road.
And for others, it may never occur. Ask anyone assigned to a "low density/high demand" units (special forces; AWACS and airborne SIGINT, to name a few). They've been on the deployment treadmill for more than a decade, with little relief in sight.