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Soldiers: Army Needs Better Training

October 22, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ The war on terrorism has demonstrated that the Army needs better basic training, more people and better benefits, a group of decorated soldiers told Army Secretary Thomas White on Tuesday.

White told the troops the Army probably would not get any bigger but promised to look into enhancing training and benefits.

``We’re a hardworking Army,″ White told the 11 soldiers, all but one of them enlisted troops. The quick tempo of operations will continue for the foreseeable future, White said.

White held the round table at the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army in Washington. He asked the soldiers _ selected by Army officials from those decorated during the war on terrorism _ what the Army could be doing better.

The responses ranged from better cold-weather training to matching contributions for retirement stock funds to a bigger Army to lighten the load on overworked units.

Staff Sgt. Andrzej Ropel, who earned a Bronze Star with a 10th Mountain Division unit in Afghanistan, said the Army needed to ``put more time into soldiers’ individual skills,″ like marksmanship and basic movement techniques.

Staff Sgt. Miguel Fabbiani, a Special Forces soldier who also earned a Bronze Star in Afghanistan, said that while his unit’s training was excellent, the soldiers could have used more cold weather experience.

If the Army added more soldiers to the 10th Mountain Division, ``we’d be able to have a break,″ said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Abbott, another Bronze Star recipient.

White said he didn’t foresee a larger Army but said he was working to eliminate unnecessary management positions.

``Every space we can spare at HQ, we’re putting it on the line,″ White said.

All military members will get a 4.1 percent pay raise in January and the Army is targeting other pay raises to specialties that it has a hard time filling, White said. Some soldiers in the panel complained that bonuses being directed to enlisting soldiers or senior noncommissioned officers were leaving out those in the middle.

``We need to do something to keep these high-speed chargers, these well-trained soldiers,″ Fabbiani said.

White said he would look into the issue, adding that he wanted to find a way to reward the 4,000 or so soldiers in key specialties forbidden to leave the Army during the war on terrorism.

``When we disrupt somebody’s life ... we ought to give them some special recognition,″ White said.

Spec. Craig Tenzer of the New York Army National Guard said guard units’ equipment was substandard. Tenzer, a medic injured helping people in the World Trade Center, said his unit’s ambulance has been cobbled together from three different Humvees.

White said the National Guard’s plan to jettison some tank units in favor of more lightly armed, faster forces would make it easier for Guard units to maintain their equipment.

Despite their gripes, the soldiers said they were ready for any possible military action in Iraq or elsewhere.

``We’re good to go, man,″ Abbott said.

___

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