A Candid General's Parting Shot
The Army boss on the rising cost of the war-and the necessity of not giving up
As head of the U.S. Army, Gen. Peter Schoomaker has voiced increasingly blunt warnings over the past year as the strain of ongoing deployments to Iraq has mounted. "I'm very concerned about the stress on the force," he told U.S. Newsduring a wide-ranging farewell interview before he returns to civilian life on April 10. To those who wish he had been even more outspoken earlier, he says: "I am very confident that my conduct, my performance, my advice, my candor throughout this entire process will stand the test of history. ... I am not saying I'm perfect," he adds, "but I have done the best that I can do-and everybody knows the candid nature of my personality."
In an unusual move, General Schoomaker came out of retirement in August 2003 to lead the Army at the request of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Schoomaker had retired in 2000 as the head of the Special Operations Command after a career spent largely in the counterterrorism unit commonly known as Delta Force. He was reluctant to accept the offer, but coming from an Army family with a father who served in three wars, he felt duty bound to put his Army greens back on. So he abandoned an incipient ranching venture and turned his pickup truck toward Washington.
The plain-spoken, powerfully built, 61-year-old general has broken a lot of crockery over the past year. In June, he decided to fight his civilian superiors over the guidelines he'd been given for preparing the next Army budget. "In good conscience I could not go forth and continue to do this," he says. Arguing his case before Rumsfeld and White House Budget Director Rob Portman, he came away with a $130 billion budget request that is now before Congress. After Rumsfeld resigned in November, Schoomaker also won a permanent increase in the Army's manpower of 65,000 additional troops. And early this year he won a controversial policy change to mobilize the Reserves more frequently to ease the pressure on active-duty troops, who are getting only a year off between deployments to Iraq and elsewhere.
Army's price. "We have increased the capacity of the Army," Schoomaker says, "but it is being consumed as we build it." He likens what is happening to "dropping coins in the top of the piggy bank and at the same time taking them out of the bottom and using them." The end result is more wear and tear on the Army. "Who pays the price? The price is paid in personal recuperation and time with families," he says. There are also shortages of equipment, which is shipped to Iraq and not available for troops to train on at home, and the ever present danger that recruitment and retention rates could seriously erode. Schoomaker also worries about what he calls the lack of "strategic depth"-the risk that another major crisis could find the United States without sufficient troops ready, rested, and fully equipped.
The one battle that Schoomaker lost was over the decision to "surge" 21,500 more troops into Iraq this year. He expressed concerns over the proposal, but once the decision was made, he saluted and went forward. Schoomaker says the surge can be sustained, "but there's a price." If it is continued next year, the next rotation will have to be drawn largely from Reserve and National Guard units, which make up 55 percent of the Army's total manpower. Of the debate over Iraq, Schoomaker says: "This is not academic for us. This is personal." The children of 140 Army generals are currently serving in uniform. His own daughter, a former all-state volleyball player, is en route to one of the combat zones this year. His son-in-law, nephew, and brother are also in the Army.