How Third Way Helped Prevent the Collapse of the Army
In 2005, it became clear that the US Army was being stretched to its breaking point. The incessant demands of two punishing ground wars were taking their toll, and our troops and their families were paying the price.
With too few troops to send into battle, the Army couldn’t rotate soldiers through proper rest and training cycles. That meant they weren’t spending enough time recharging at home or training for the wars’ ever-changing demands before going back into war zones. The active duty forces were exhausted, and the Army struggled to recruit and retain service members, further compounding the problem. Beyond that, the Army was leaning heavily on the National Guard and Reserves and using emergency stop-loss rules prevent some soldiers from retiring.
At Third Way, we opposed the Iraq War. But while we knew we couldn’t change the fact that we were already in Iraq, we knew that we could address the strain on our ground forces. At a packed press conference with then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and General Barry McCaffrey (USA ret.), we released a study showing that the pace was unsustainable and that the Army’s ability to meet future sudden threats was deeply imperiled.
Next, we put together a campaign to demand that Congress increase the end-strength of the Army by 100,000 troops and persuaded a group of leading senators to introduce legislation supporting it. We orchestrated the press conference for the introduction of the US Army Relief Act of 2006 with then-Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman (D-CT), a leading expert on military affairs, as well as Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), now the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking Republican on Armed Services, also signed on.
Because of the high-profile co-sponsors and our report on the nature of the problem, the bill made a huge splash. Within months, language increasing Army end-strength by more than 80,000 became law as part of the Defense Authorization Act. This eased pressure on our soldiers and dramatically improved their rest and training schedules—and not a moment too soon: A number of high-ranking retired generals said that without the increase, the all-volunteer force would have quickly and resolutely unraveled.
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