WASHINGTON – President Bush met Wednesday with outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff amid reports the Army will have to rely more heavily on National Guard and Army Reserve forces to meet extended troop commitments in Iraq.
The requests are expected to come despite the fact that the active duty army is growing by about 30,000 troops to 512,000 soldiers, according to recent numbers.
Bush, who spoke with reporters after the meeting, did not address specific troop levels, but said, "The men and women in uniform are always on my mind."
"Oh, I know there's a lot of debate here at home. And our troops pay attention to that debate. They hear that I am meeting with the Pentagon or the State Department or outside officials, that my national security team and I are working closely with Iraqi leaders. And they wonder what that means. Well, I'll tell you what it means. It means I am listening to a lot of advice to develop a strategy to help you succeed," Bush said.
Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker is expected to address a congressional panel Thursday, repeating recent sentiments that he believes the Army is at a critical point in fighting the War on Terror, and will outline three options he believes the Army now is facing: Reduce demand for troops, increase the size of the force, or give active-duty Army increased access to reserved forces.
Assistant Defense Secretary Thomas Hall said Wednesday there is a delicate balance in meeting demands for U.S. forces.
"If we do anything which would move the pendulum to put an unnecessary burden on the backs of the active duty forces, then there's going to have repercussions. If we shift that over and put an unnecessary burden on the Guard and the reserve, that will have repercussions. I think somewhere in between, sharing that is what we have to do rather than driving either the active or the Guard and reserve into the ground."
The Marine Corps also is expected to ask for an increase in the size of its overall force. Commandant General James Conway told reporters last month that he's looking to expand the Marines beyond 180,000 in an effort to build for a long war against terrorism.
FOX News' Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.