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CAMPAIGN 2000

Despite Bush Comments, Army Is Prepared, Gen. Shelton Says

August 05, 2000|From Reuters

The Defense Department's top officer insisted Friday that, contrary to charges by Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush, all Army divisions are ready for combat duty.

Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged during a speech in Beverly Hills that the armed forces had "some readiness shortfalls" that could not be fixed overnight but that all 10 of the Army's divisions were ready to carry out wartime missions.

Bush, in accepting the nomination Thursday night at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, charged that President Clinton and his administration had allowed U.S. military readiness and morale to slip badly.

"If called on by the commander in chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report: 'Not ready for duty, sir!' " Bush said.

In a later interview with CNN, Bush repeated his charge and said he did not necessarily accept a rebuttal statement made earlier by Pentagon spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon.

Shelton, speaking to the Town Hall of Los Angeles public affairs group, said the two divisions referred to by Bush had reported not being ready for war four to six months ago--partly because of commitments to missions in Bosnia and Kosovo--but that the Army had "jumped right on top of that" and brought them back to combat readiness.

"But that doesn't mean that everything is the way we would all like to have it," he said.

Shelton said that Congress awarded the Defense Department $112 million last year to replace low supplies of parts and equipment, and "that took care of our most critical readiness needs."

He acknowledged that the money was not enough to bring the armed forces to a level where he would like them. "Once readiness starts down, you don't just turn it around overnight," he said.

Shelton said the Army is being asked to do more with less, a mission he said is being accomplished.

Bacon said that military pay and benefits have increased under Clinton's watch and pointed to increased retention of soldiers as an indication that morale is high.

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