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Shelton Warns Congress of Readiness Problems

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 1998 – The members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress Sept. 29 the U.S. military could return to the "hollow force" of the 1970s unless readiness and modernization concerns are addressed.

"Our forces are showing increasing signs of serious wear," Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He assured the senators the U.S. military can still execute the national military strategy of fighting two near- simultaneous major regional conflicts. Front-line forces are ready, but at the expense of the rest of the force, he said.

Shelton said anecdotal evidence initially alerted the chiefs to readiness problems. Now, he said, measurable evidence backs up the contention "that our readiness is fraying and that the long-term health of the total force is in jeopardy."

Several unanticipated factors, he said, have hurt readiness:

  • The U.S. military has been busier than was anticipated 18 months ago in the Quadrennial Defense Review.
  • Second, higher operational tempo has meant more wear and tear on equipment.
  • Third, DoD officials planned personnel and base reductions that could not be carried out.
  • Fourth, Congress changed priorities and money in the defense budget.
  • The good U.S. economy has meant shortfalls in military recruiting and retention.

"If these trends and constraints continue into 1999 -- and some undoubtedly will -- we will certainly face some difficult decisions again in balancing current readiness against modernization, against the maintenance of our operational infrastructure and against taking care of our people," Shelton said.

The chairman said that if he had to choose the area causing him the greatest concern, it would be taking care of service members. "The best tanks, the best planes, the best ships in the world are not what makes our military the superb force that it is today," Shelton said. "The most critical factors for both current and future readiness [are the] men and women that we are privileged to have serving in uniform today."

Shelton recommended Congress apply more money to fixing the military retirement system established in 1986. He recommended Congress approve a retirement system that provides 50 percent of average basic pay upon completion of 20 years of service.

The chairman also recommended more money to close a "substantial gap" in pay between comparably experienced and skilled military members and civilian workers.

"We must act soon," he said, "to send a clear signal to the backbone of our military -- our mid-grade commissioned and noncommissioned officers -- that their leadership and this Congress recognize the value of their service and their sacrifices and that we have not lost sight of our commitment to the success of the all-volunteer force."

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