WASHINGTON – The Army's chief of staff told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that the military is not prepared for an unforeseen disaster.
“I am not comfortable. We could not respond as rapidly as we would like to,” Gen. George Casey said.
The committee questioned Casey about the military's readiness and its ability to perform in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We cannot sacrifice our future preparedness and readiness,” Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher,D-Calif.,said.
Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett,R-Md.,said the military must be ready to meet any challenges in Iraq and around the world.
“We need to address this challenge,” he said,adding that the Army could reconfigure or reduce its forces posted overseas to allow troops more time to rest and prepare for battle.
Although unprepared for some tasks,no one is sent into combat without training,Army Secretary Pete Geren said. The Army is being “reset” so soldiers have the tools they need in future deployments,he added.
“We are out of balance,” he said. “We need a full spectrum of readiness.”
Although soldiers receive additional training to handle new missions,they aren't always fully prepared,Casey said,adding that it takes about 18 months to train soldiers. Because people serving in the military only have 12 months off,there isn't enough time to teach them everything,he said.
Adding to the military's challenges is the anticipated withdrawal of the surge troops from Iraq,Rep. Walter B. Jones,R-N.C.,said.
Casey acknowledged the obstacle and said the Army will deal with it.
“They Army is not going to break,” he said. “Out of balance is not broken.”
Adopting new technology is one way the military is preparing for the unknown.
Among the gadgets Casey and Geren brought with them is an unmanned vehicle that can travel into alleys and look around corners,a robot that can diffuse explosive materials and a sensor that allows a soldier to view a site remotely. Body armor that can be quickly removed also is being issued to soldiers – helpful if it catches fire or is damaged.
To develop more technology and plan effectively,the Army could use an increase in its budget,Geren said. He said more predictable funding would help Army officials decide where to allocate money.
“We are always having to tweak budgets on the margins,” he said. “The lack of predictability has posed some of the greatest challenges in managing our resources.”
It would be handy if the committee had some kind of timeline for the war in Iraq for planning budget policies,Rep. Neil Abercrombie,D-Hawaii,said. A projection of the military presence in Iraq must be created,otherwise people on the ground in Iraq are guiding foreign policy,he added.
“It's almost every hearing we have,we are beginning our transition,” Abercrombie said. “At a certain point,it gets to be a crying wolf situation.”
Meeting the needs of troops overseas is a game of supply and demand,and the more tools the troops have,the better their chance of success,Geren said.
“Our best defense against getting it wrong is full spread readiness,” he said.