"Thousands of soldiers nearing discharge learned last week that the Army was extending their tours of duty to keep them with their units in Iraq or Afghanistan. That's another clear sign, if Americans still needed one, that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon disastrously underestimated the number of troops and the amount of time it would take to secure these two countries. The men and women of America's volunteer Army are being required to bridge the gap.
The Bush administration now talks about maintaining large numbers of American ground troops in Iraq through at least the end of next year. Most of that burden will fall on the Army, with limited help from the National Guard and the Marines. That is more than the Army, at its present strength, can handle without paying a heavy price in future combat readiness and re-enlistment rates.
The Army can comfortably station no more than about one-third of its 33 combat brigades in front-line zones. Today, some 18 of those 33 brigades are on front-line duty — roughly 14 in Iraq, 2 in Afghanistan and 2 elsewhere, including, at least for now, Korea. To field those nearly 7 extra brigades, discharges are being delayed, troops sent back to combat faster, and training exercises skipped.
Simply expanding the Army to the point where it could easily handle current demands would be neither practical nor wise. It would require having more than 50 combat brigades, as the Army did at the end of the cold war. Such a buildup would take at least two years to complete and would cost tens of billions a year at a time of record and unsustainable deficits. Reinstating the draft, which almost no military professional favors, would not shorten this timetable or substantially reduce the cost."
... they knew the job was dangerous when they took it, Fred.