Troops Ready For The Long Term?

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, December 12, that has been edited for clarity.

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SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DONALD RUMSFELD: To the extent we need more in strengths, needless to say, we'd ask for it and the Congress would give it. And it's expensive. So if you do it, you've got to not do something else.


BRIAN WILSON, GUEST-HOST: That was Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld answering questions about whether the United States military, specifically there, he was talking about the Army, is large enough. It is a question being asked up on Capitol Hill these days.

One member of the House who believes our military may be stretched a bit too then, is Representative Heather Wilson, a Republican from New Mexico who joins us from studios in Albuquerque.

Thanks for being with us.

REP. HEATHER WILSON R, NEW MEXICO: It's good to be with you Brian.

B. WILSON: I want to point out this. You know a lot about this because you serve on the Armed Services Committee. You also served in the Air Force. You are a Rhodes scholar, so we hope that you can help us get some answers here. What are you concerned about most?

H. WILSON: I'm most concerned about burning out the Guard and Reserve. We're using our Guard and Reserve units at a much higher level than since the Vietnam War (search). And they are actually going to increase the percentage of forces that are Guard and Reserve in Iraq. So I'm worried that we may see an exodus of mid level people from the Guard and Reserve. And that would be devastating to our military.

B. WILSON: Well, you are back there in your home district right now. What are -- are you hearing about this issue from people who are going through it right now?

H. WILSON: Well, I do. I hear about it from families of Guard and Reserve members. And New Mexico has always served disproportionate to our size. We have lot of folks that are veterans here, and a lot of folks who are concerned about the military. And I -- you know, the military ended the last fiscal year 28,000 people more than they are actually authorized. I think we are going to have to increase in strength in the military and recruit some of the divisions we disbanded in the 1990s.

B. WILSON: So, you were among those that signed on to the letter sent to President Bush by my count 77 House Republicans and 52 House Democrats, suggesting that the -- perhaps the base size of the United States military -- specifically you want to talk about the Army, may be need to be expanded. Tell me about that.

H. WILSON: Well, Jim Cooper of Tennessee -- a Democrat from Tennessee and I actually organized that letter. And I think we were both surprised that the number of members of Congress that are concerned about this. And I think we are all seeing the same thing. The Army went from 18 divisions down to 10 in the 1990s. And we have not increased the size of the military at all since the war on terrorism began. And this is a long- term thing. This is not going to be a crisis that we can surge from and then recover. We need to be able to sustain the war on terrorism over the long term.

B. WILSON: Well, now when you hear Rumsfeld talk about this, today he said they are looking at it, if they make the recommendations, we will go to Congress. But he has a lot to say about how those recommendations come down. And he has been on record as saying perhaps we don't need a larger military, what we probably need is to use the military we have more effectively. What say you?

H. WILSON: Well, we need to plan and we need to -- you know, there's been talk about some positions we could turn from military into civilian. That still has a budget impact. You still have to pay for the people. And you can't take a mid level guy who has been an admin. officer and make him a security policeman overnight. There has to be a plan for relief. And I think many members of Congress believe we have to address this in this next fiscal year in the budget that we will be working on when we go back to the Congress.

B. WILSON: Well, the letter that you sent over points out that the Army Guard is not going to meet its targets for recruitment this year.

H. WILSON: That's right.

B. WILSON: And then the question comes, then if you go back to expanding the size of the regular Army, what makes you think you can actually fill those slots?

H. WILSON: The problem -- one of the problems with the Guard is the rate of use of the Guard and Reserve is so high they are having trouble getting high school kids to commit to come in the Guard. We need to move some of the forces that are in the Guard and Reserve now, to active missions. And possibly even vice versa. There are missions put in the Guard and Reserve after Vietnam so that the country could never go to war again without mobilizing the Guard and Reserve.

As a result we have got a lot of security police units for example, military police, in the Guard and Reserve. And they have been almost constantly mobilized since September 11. And we need to rethink that decision.

B. WILSON: Everybody understands it is a great sacrifice when you go overseas and serve your country in the Guard. But there are those who say they took the check, they knew what they were getting into. And now all we hear is a bunch of whining about it.

H. WILSON: No, I don't hear too much whining from those serving and they are doing a fantastic job. The real question is, are we asking too much of them. And when they come back from this deployment and get the to- do list fridge and you know, the banner comes off their garage, what state is their career and family life in? And will they choose to leave the Guard or Reserve? Are we asking too much? And could we face a hollow force in the Guard and Reserve, which would be very difficult to recover from.

B. WILSON: From a national security standpoint are we in trouble here?

H. WILSON: I think we are stretched very, very thin. And I think that we need to be very, very careful that we -- we are going to be rotating divisions in and out of Iraq. And then trying to get notes divisions back here in the United States, get their equipment fixed and their training up to date and all those things. And their readiness will go down. When a super power is overextended, is when we are most vulnerable to terrorism by other powers in the world. And we need to be very, very cautious about that.

B. WILSON: Some would suggest that is perhaps what happened when we kind of had the negotiations with North Korea. We were so extended we knew we couldn't take on another threat.

H. WILSON: Potentially so. And I think, you know, at times like this when we are on the brink of exchanging divisions, is when we are most vulnerable. We always need to make sure that anyone who would ever challenge us or threaten our national security, our national interests knows that they won't be able to do so.

B. WILSON: Very quickly.

H. WILSON: There's never a moment of opportunity.

B. WILSON: Very quickly. Do you think this will be a big issue when Congress returns this January?

H. WILSON: I do believe it will be. It will be a major issue for the next year's budget. There are large numbers of folks who will be mobilized in this case year, Reserve and Guard folks from every community across this country. And they have our support and they will get our support. But we need to plan medium and long term for what we will do to prevail over the long term in the war on terrorism.

B. WILSON: Representative Heather Wilson, thank you.

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