On June 14, the Army observes another birthday with the majority of its forces in war zones, on their way to the fight or recovering from another challenging tour on freedom's frontier. Dramatic progress is reported in Iraq and Afghanistan, and timetables for force reductions may reduce deployment requirements before another Army birthday rolls around. There's much to celebrate on this birthday: The Army remains strong, its soldiers and leaders are among the best to grace its ranks in its long, proud history, and the public's respect for our soldiers is unflagging.
The celebratory mood is tempered, however, by concerns over an uncertain future. Our politica] leaders agreed to "fund" the ongoing wars (and a number of other programs) primarily by increasing the deficit. The slow economic recovery has kept tax revenues relatively low, the deficit has grown alarmingly and our political leaders are now seeking major budget cuts. The Army's budget inevitably will be affected.
As the Army observed its birthday 20 years ago, similar budget reductions were on the horizon. The great Desert Storm victory was barely complete before political leaders came looking for a big "peace dividend." The Cold War had ended, a regional aggressor had been put back in his place, and many perceived a world in which the U.S. Army could be much smaller and much cheaper. Some reductions in end strength made sense - we no longer needed two full Army corps in Europe, and some paring back in the training base could be a natural accompaniment to sustaining a smaller force. Asking the question "How low can we go?" elicited plenty of disagreement, especially since the post-Cold War world turned out to be far less benign than we had hoped. The 1990s were marked by numerous deployments, and the challenges after 9/11 inevitably led to modest increases in the Army's strength.
As war zone cornmitrnents decrease, we will witness the traditional debate over end-strength reductions. The savings that will come from shedding a few thousand soldiers, however, will not generate enough funds to keep the Army strong in its "postwar" world. Twenty years ago, the Army was coming out of a very short period of active operations that had negligible impact on the institutional Army -recruiting, the schools, the acquisition community, the depots and the major headquarters. …