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Pentagon: Military needs more money to keep troops in top form

U.S. Army troops
U.S. Army troops  
September 14, 1998
Web posted at: 9:15 p.m. EDT (0115 GMT)
From Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pentagon officials are seeing more signs that the U.S. military is overworked, underpaid and unhappy.

That's what President Clinton will hear Tuesday at his annual meeting with top military commanders: that post-Cold War budget cuts, coupled with more and longer deployments in places like the Persian Gulf, Bosnia and Haiti, are taking a toll on the armed forces.

"Over the last few years, we have seen decline in the readiness rates in the United States Air Force," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mike Ryan. "We've seen it particularly in the stateside units."

The evidence is mounting that the world's best-trained, best-equipped fighting force is losing its edge.

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CNN's Military Correspondent Jamie McIntyre reports
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  • In the Army, training is suffering. In a memo obtained by CNN, an official writes that "we can no longer train and sustain the force." "Funding," he says, "has fallen below the survival level."

  • In the Navy, recruiting is in a tailspin. Navy recruiters came up 7,000 sailors short for the year that ends this month.

  • And in the Air Force, pilots are bailing out in record numbers for cushier, higher-paying jobs as commercial pilots. Four years ago, 81 percent re-enlisted. This year, only 26 percent took improved bonus pay to stay.

Pentagon officials say privately the simplest solution would be to add several billion dollars to the $250 billion Pentagon budget, but that would require breaking the balanced budget agreement reached between the president and Congress in 1996.

F-22 fighter
The F-22 fighter  

"Its premature to discuss that at this point," said Defense Secretary William Cohen. "We are looking at all the readiness issues."

Critics say the Pentagon could afford pay raises and other morale-boosting incentives, if it canceled expensive weapons programs such as the next-generation F-22 stealth fighter or the Navy's new attack submarine.

But military commanders argue those new weapons are cornerstones of the Pentagon's strategy to prepare for 21st-century warfare.

Pentagon officials say they won't directly propose boosting the defense budget. Instead they'll present, both to Clinton and Congress, a dire assessment of what will happen if more money isn't found.

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