06 December 2008
More change ...
The Marine Corps is on pace to expand its force by tens of thousands more than two years ahead of schedule, a rare bit of good news for a military stretched thin by the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senior commanders once estimated the growth to 202,000 Marines from 175,000 would take until 2011, but they now hope to reach the target in early 2009.

Marine officials hope their recruiting success -- which they attribute primarily to marketing and advertising -- will give them a leg up in political battles over Democratic moves to cut defense spending and halt the growth of the armed forces. "It would not be a question of stopping us before we get to 202,000. It would mean reducing the force," said Maj. Gen. Robert Milstead, who runs the Marine recruiting command.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is keeping his post under President-elect Barack Obama, announced plans last year to add 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines by 2011 to ease manpower strains. President George W. Bush endorsed the idea. But in recent weeks, Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha, a central player on defense-budget issues, surprised Pentagon officials by asserting that the expansion plans need to be scaled back or canceled.

Mr. Murtha, a Marine veteran, said in a recent interview that money slated for more troops should instead go to repairing equipment worn down by the long wars, taking care of existing troops and buying weapons systems.

Aides say Mr. Gates is sticking to his pro-expansion position, meaning the issue could become an early test of whether defense policy will be set by Congress or by the executive branch in the Obama administration.

The rest of the story ...

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