Rumsfeld's Other Reforms

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is wasting no time in pursuing a profound transformation of the United States military following victory in Iraq.

Since taking office, the secretary has argued that the US armed forces are still configured to fight a tank war in Europe. What's needed now, he argues, are lighter, more-mobile strike forces that can move faster than an enemy can respond.

Army generals, in particular, have been less than enthusiastic. They prefer to overwhelm the enemy with massive armor and ground forces. The rapid military victory in Iraq, which relied on speed, interservice coordination, and Special Operations forces, has given Mr. Rumsfeld's ideas a boost.

Many in the officer corps are equally unenthused about Rumsfeld's most recent proposals to Congress. They concern the Pentagon's personnel system, retirement practices, and military assignments. On the secretary's wish list:

• Remove the four-year limit for generals and admirals serving in top leadership and command positions.

• Allow some high-ranking officers to retire early without losing benefits.

• Create two levels in the reserves and National Guard - one for long deployments; the other limited to weekends and two weeks each summer.

• Raise the military retirement age from the current 62 years.

• Move as many as 300,000 military jobs into the civilian sector, freeing more uniformed personnel for combat duty.

• Allow military personnel to switch to reserve status, for family or education reasons, and then return to active duty.

Career officers worry that the reforms would stunt promotions and leave officers for years in lower-ranking (and lower-paying) positions. The early-retirement provisions would answer that concern in part.

A two-tiered guard and reserve would ease the strain on those who thought they were signing up for occasional duty but instead have been mobilized for months or years at a time, at great cost to their families. Allowing qualified people to switch between active duty and reserves would help the military hold onto trained personnel it might otherwise lose.

In structuring the US military, Congress's first consideration must always be the security of the American people. Yet the nation asks a good deal of its military personnel - including, sometimes, the ultimate sacrifice. In addition to guaranteeing the national defense, changes in the personnel and promotions structure should ensure that a military career remains attractive and satisfying to intelligent and ambitious men and women.

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