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Stresses still high on U.S. military

Bush announced Thursday that Army tours will be cut to 12 months.

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Army leaders are quick to say that morale remains high. But there are multiple signs of the emerging effect of this pace on the nature of the all-volunteer force. Captains – crucial midlevel managers of the Army – are choosing to leave at a substantial rate. The percentage of recruits who enter the Army with waivers because of past misconduct has more than doubled since 2004, to 13 percent so far this year.

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In 2001, 91 percent of Army recruits were high school graduates. Last year that figure fell to 79 percent.

With only 12 months at home between tours, active Army units do not have time to do much else but rest and gather themselves for their return to Iraq.

"Our Army is out of balance," said General Cody.

The Army's long-term plan to restore balance includes increasing in size by 74,000 troops. That has been approved by the Bush administration, but construction of new units – not to mention recruiting the extra personnel in a time of war – takes time, and the target date for the expansion is 2011.

Meanwhile, the strategy for Iraq, per General Petraeus, involves no further drawdowns after July. After that, force reductions would await an improvement in conditions – or a different political situation in the United States.

To some experts, Cody's statements about the stresses in the force are a direct comment on Petraeus and the current course in Iraq.

"[The Army's] complaints are significant – they show a rift is developing within the military over the current strategy," says Loren Thompson, a military expert and chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va.

To others, they may represent the expectations of the Army's leadership that it can operate in a time of conflict as it typically has in peacetime.

Today's Army is far smaller than it was in, say, Vietnam. The fighting in Iraq understandably has strained it, says William Martel, author of the recent book "Victory in War" and an associate professor of international security studies at the Fletcher School at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

"But in a war military, you have to cut corners to meet objectives," he says.

Mr. Bush's announcement that he is cutting the length of new tours in Iraq is a minor adjustment, adds Professor Martel, but also a welcome one.

It is intended to signal the military leadership that the Oval Office is at least listening to their deployment concerns, and to show troops that something is being done to ease their burdens.

"Progress comes in small doses," says Martel.