Image: Jim Miklasszewski
By Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/9/2004 7:04:03 PM ET 2004-03-10T00:04:03

Two hundred MPs from the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division back from Afghanistan only six months are saying goodbye again.  “It never gets any easier doing this,” one soldier said.

They’re headed for Iraq.  It's their third deployment since 9/11.  “You know we’re going for another year or so.  I mean, I don’t know.  It’s today’s Army,” said Sgt. Anthony West.

Today’s Army is under enormous stress.  With ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and dozens of other military missions worldwide, there are more than 320,000 Army troops alone deployed in 120 countries overseas.  That’s more than 60 percent of the entire Army.

Former Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who commanded U.S. troops in the first Gulf War, says the Army is being pushed to the breaking point. “We’re running these people ragged,” he said. “Many of them are being deployed three out of four years.  They’re not going to stay.”

After repeated deployments, Spc. Raheem Campbell can’t wait to call it quits. “When I come back, I’ll have six months left in the military, and I’m being a family man after that.”

And that’s what worries many of the military’s top brass at the Pentagon — that the increase in the number and length of deployments could create a crisis in recruiting and retention. “We have stressed our reserves and National Guard to the point of it will break and some of it is breaking,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., of the Foreign Relations and Select Intelligence Committee.

The Pentagon is currently using emergency powers to force soldiers whose enlistments are up to stay in the military and to temporarily add 20,000 soldiers to the Army’s total force.

Some in Congress want to add at least 30,000 permanently.  “Today the Army presently has 419,242 soldiers serving on active duty.  This means, on an average, the Army needs 8,000 more soldiers each day to accomplish this mission than Congress has authorized and budgeted for,” said Sen. John F. Reed , D-R.I., of the Armed Services Committee.

But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday the stress on the force may be only temporary and there’s no need for a bigger force long-term: “We can use the emergency powers. We have been for two years.  We’re doing it very successfully, and things are fine without an increase.”

And while MPs from the 3rd Infantry say they’re proud to serve — they’re already thinking about coming home.

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