Dallas Morning News: The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are putting a terrible strain on the U.S. armed forces -- and their families -- and there is a growing realization that the all-volunteer force is approaching a moment of reckoning.
Extended Middle East deployments are wearing down soldiers and equipment. Earlier this year, the Army Reserve chief warned that his troops were "rapidly degenerating into a broken force." Military families are feeling the financial and emotional stress; divorce rates have doubled, even tripled among officers, in active-duty families.
Given the price paid by soldiers and families and the lack of clear progress in defeating the insurgency, it is unsurprising that the Army, which is doing most of the fighting, is suffering from a disastrous recruitment crisis. Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, told a Senate committee last week that 2006 "may be the toughest recruiting environment ever." Said former Army secretary and retired Gen. Thomas White, "We're on the brink. We are in a situation where we are grossly overdeployed, and it is unlike any other period in the 229-year history of the Army."
What to do? Forget the draft -- for now. Nobody wants it. Instead, the government could, and should, offer substantial recruitment bonuses, which are now under consideration. The Army is also lowering its standards, accepting high school dropouts and others it previously would have turned away -- and why not? Did it take a high school diploma to shoot Nazis in World War II?
President Bush should accelerate efforts to bring more NATO soldiers to Iraq. Though a hard sell, Europeans must understand that their national security depends on a secure Iraq. Finally, Washington should mobilize more State Department and other civilian personnel to take over administrative nation-building tasks now borne by the military.
Even so, that might not be enough to give the Army what it needs to win a war America cannot afford to lose. In Iraq, we face a military conflict that can only be won through politics.
We face the same problem on the home front. What are our politicians willing to ask of the rest of us? What are we willing to ask of ourselves?