Armed Forces News

A conference committee still has not met to hammer out the final version of the fiscal 2005 defense authorization bill. In addition to issues of pay, medical care, retiree benefits, reserve and Guard benefits, and survivor annuity equity, the committee must resolve differences over end strength increases. The House version calls for 30,000 more soldiers and 9,000 more Marines, while the Senate has opted for 20,000 soldiers. Meanwhile, the Defense Department is opposed to any permanent change in end strength, citing costs of $1.2 billion per year for each 10,000 more soldiers. DoD secretary Donald Rumsfeld has taken alternative steps to bolster Army ranks, including imposition of stop loss, recall to active duty of individual ready reservists and extension of deployments for National Guard and reserve troops. The appropriations bill, although already signed into law, depends upon the authorization bill before it can be implemented.