Retired Army General Wesley Clark (search) criticized a Pentagon proposal to close some schools on military bases, calling the idea an example of the Bush administration "gouging away benefits" owed to U.S. troops.

"To be talking about closing these schools when we're in the fix we're in now really shows a lack of sensitivity. It's petty, particularly given what's going on in the U.S. Army," Clark said in an interview hours before joining other Democratic presidential candidates in a debate here.

The Army Times reported in Monday's editions that the Defense Department (search) is completing a study on whether to close or transfer control of 58 schools it operates on 14 military bases in the continental United States.

Clark compared the proposal to making reductions in veterans hospitals and commissaries, where military personnel can shop cheaply.

"It's the same old sorry story of gouging away benefits and fundamental elements of what makes the military such a great place to work and live in," Clark said in telephone interview while campaigning in New Hampshire.

Clark also sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, complaining about the proposal, especially while U.S. forces are fighting in Iraq.

"Our armed forces and the United States Army (search) are under enormous stress," Clark wrote. "Sacrifice will no doubt be demanded. Surely, the department must know better than to recommend such a proposal in wartime."

Clark served in the Army for more than three decades, retiring as a four-star general.