From USA Today -

This doesn't bode well for our so-called "War on Terror" These are guys with such specialized training that simply hiring someone else will not do.

U.S. elite forces face shortfall
Updated 7/2/2006 11:34 PM ET E-mail | Save | Print | Reprints & Permissions | Subscribe to stories like this
A team of U.S. Navy SEALs fires on insurgents from a rooftop in April in Ramadi, Iraq.
Enlarge By Todd Pitman, AP
A team of U.S. Navy SEALs fires on insurgents from a rooftop in April in Ramadi, Iraq.
By Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON The Army, Navy and Air Force face shortages of elite special operations forces that are playing a leading role in the war against terrorism, military records show.

The shortfall of Army special operations, Navy SEALs and Air Force combat controllers persists as the Pentagon seeks to expand the forces by 15% over the next four years to bolster the anti-terrorism campaign.

One reason for the shortage is the intense training. The Navy says only 35 of 166 candidates will qualify as SEALs.

Retention also is a problem. Some veterans can make $780 a day as civilian security contractors in Iraq, says Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee that oversees special operations troops. Bonuses as high as $150,000 have helped stanch that loss, he says.

The shortfalls affect:

The Navy. It has 2,352 SEALs but is authorized for 2,684, says the Naval Special Warfare Command. Another unit of special warfare combatants has 563 people; it is authorized to have 653.

The Air Force. It has filled 504 of 616 jobs for combat controllers who direct airstrikes; rescuers of wounded troops behind enemy lines; and combat weather forecasters.

The Army. It has acknowledged a shortage of troops but won't give a precise number. The Army Special Operations Command said this year that it would take a few years to return "Army special forces units to full strength." The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, reported in 2005 that the Army had filled only 2,922 of 3,834 spots for sergeants in four Special Forces categories: intelligence, communications, engineering and medical.

The U.S. Special Operations Command says it has about 17,000 troops.

Pentagon officials say they can overcome the current shortfall and achieve the planned additions, the largest expansion of elite forces since the Vietnam War, with more trainers and more recruits.

"These are specialized skills and units that will be grown over time and in such a fashion that ensures they retain the highest quality and capability," said Bryan Whitman, a Defense Department spokesman.

Michael Vickers, a former Army special operations officer, agreed. "There's always a risk of diluting quality, but there's pretty elaborate selections and training process to prevent that," Vickers said.

Lt. Taylor Clark, a spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare Command, said it won't be easy to find more SEALs. The lures include a $40,000 bonus for graduates and adventure.

"Instead of an office job where they might have a cubicle and do the same job day in and day out, you ... will be a part of an elite team that travels the world looking for the bad guys," Clark said.

There have been some early signs of success. The Army's Green Berets had hoped to have 750 graduates per year by 2006. It exceeded that goal by 40 soldiers in 2005.

In 2005, the military began offering bonuses up to $150,000 to 19-year veterans with special operations experience who sign up for six more years. The Army gave the bonus to 118 soldiers last year and 99 this year, the Pentagon said.
Posted 7/2/2006 11:29 PM ET