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Association lauds push to recruit U.S. troops


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POSTED: Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The decision by the Pentagon to increase the size of the Army temporarily by 22,000 troops was welcome news to one of the country's largest veterans organizations.

Retired Vice Adm. Norbert Ryan, national president of the 375,000-member Military Officers Association of America, said yesterday he was “;very pleased”; with Defense Secretary Robert Gates' decision to immediately recruit new soldiers.

Gates said the increase is needed to meet what he called the “;persistent pace”; of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, raising the size of the Army to 569,000 active-duty soldiers. Currently there are about 130,000 American troops in Iraq and about 60,000 expected in Afghanistan by the end of the year.

Although there is a scheduled reduction of close to 80,000 troops in Iraq, most will not start to come home until after March. He said the persistent pace of operations in the two wars has meant an increase in the number of troops who are wounded, stressed or otherwise unable to deploy.

“;The Army and the ground forces are badly out of balance,”; said Ryan. “;We have too much demand and not enough supply.”;

Ryan, who held two command tours here before retiring, is in the islands to deliver the keynote address of the Hawaii chapter's golden-anniversary banquet tomorrow at the Hale Koa Hotel.

He also took issue with a recent report by the Government Accountability Office that said Congress does not have to rush to provide more benefits for National Guard and Reserve soldiers because of the increase in pay and other programs.

Ryan heads the fourth-largest veterans organization, which is working this week with U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman on amendments to the Pentagon's 2010 spending bill to bring relief to thousands of military personnel, some of whom are on their third or fourth combat tour in seven years.

“;With the economy the way it is,”; Ryan said, “;70 percent of the unemployed since the recession began are people below 30. The Army, the Marine Corps, the Army Reserve and the National Guard are having no problem recruiting. This younger generation wants to serve, and they need a job. Why not give them a great job that will give them educational benefits and the leadership training? This is a win-win thing for the country.”;

He added, “;If this country can spend trillions of dollars on people who didn't perform who were bankers and investment advisers ... can't we spend a measly $6 billion or $7 billion on the one group that has performed for this country—the half-percent of the population that is carrying the other 330 million of us on their shoulders?”;

The Post-9/11 GI Bill, which Ryan said is “;long overdue,”; allows service members to transfer tuition benefits and living stipends to a spouse or a service member's children. However, Ryan said there is still a lot more that needs to be done for the National Guard and Reserve members, such as providing:

» Better health care benefits, especially during the “;gray area”;—the gap beginning when a reservist retires and when his is eligible to collect pension and health benefits at age 60.

» Retirement credits for any active-duty periods served after Sept. 11, 2001, allowing reservists to collect a pension before age 60.

Ryan and his twin brother, Vice Adm. John Ryan, are both P-3 Orion sub-hunter pilots and served in Hawaii at different times. Norbert Ryan commanded Patrol Wing 2 from 1988 to 1990.

 


The New York Times contributed to this report.