Tallying up the cost of more troops

KAI RYSSDAL: The president didn't say this morning exactly how many more troops the Pentagon needs. He'll be thinking about it, he said, over the next couple of weeks. Listening to his new defense secretary and his commanders on the ground.

We thought in the meanwhile it might be nice to have a handle on what it costs to put a new pair of boots on that ground.

So . . .

One pair of combat boots.

COST APPRAISER: $94.

A uniform.

COST APPRAISER: $74.

A helmet.

COST APPRAISER: $265.

Body armor.

COST APPRAISER: $3,145.

One night vision device and accessories.

COST APPRAISER: $3,240.

A combat radio.

COST APPRAISER: $7,100.

There's more...of course. According to the Wall Street Journal, the grand total for one fully equipped American soldier is:

COST APPRAISER: $24,280.

Figure 10,000 or maybe 20,000 of them once the dust settles. You're talking real money. And that's only for gear and equipment. Throw in pay and initial training costs to get them ready for combat...its another couple of billion before any new troops get close to Iraq. Never mind what a business might call....follow on costs. To get some idea of what those might amount to we've called Gordon Adams at the Wodrow Wilson Center in Washington... Mr. Adams . . . welcome to the program.

GORDON ADAMS: Thank you.

RYSSDAL: Let me ask you if we aren't perhaps making a bigger downpayment here if we get more troops than we might think we really are.

ADAMS: We are getting a bigger downpayment. One of the things that people have to keep in mind is what drives the size of the army, what drives the size of the budget, is the number of people in it. So when you add a contingent of people — 10,000, 20,000 for a division, say, 20-25,000 — you're gonna find that downstream, you're having to train them, you're having to equip them, you're having to buy weaponry for them to use, research the next generation of weaponry, and in the end you're gonna have to retire them. And the retirement benefits alone add expenditures well out into the future. So every additional troop is dragging you into a very long tale of expenditure.

RYSSDAL: Do you have any idea what, how big those numbers might get?

ADAMS: Well I can tell you that the best estimate for addign two divisions to the army between now and ten years from now, including training, equipping, doing the imput end of their retirement pay — that's the accrural in the army puts int he fund for them to get later when they retire — that totals around $80 billion for two divisions between now and 2015. It's an extraordinary amount of money, people will tell you it's not even a quarter, you know, 20 perecnt of the current defense budget we do annually. But when you get out in the future, of course, all those dollars get inflated, and it's gonna look like a very big price tag indeed. It's very hard to avoid that price tag once you've got all those people wrapped up in the service.

RYSSDAL: What's wrapped up in there? It's not just the soldiers, it's their family, and family services, it's veteran's administration care, it's disability payment for those who were injured.

ADAMS: It is all of those things. When you bring out a soldier on board, you're really investing in a long-term future. What you're saying is, we bring you on board, we're willing to house you, we're willing to feed you, we're willing to train you, we're gonna give you your arms, we're gonna send you out on exercises...you are buying a continual renewel of the equipment that they are going to use to fight. And when you retire 20 years out or so, we're going to give you a very nice retirement package, and continue that until you die. So it's a very long-term investment in an individual person. You know, we've budgeted already about $450 billion for the war in Iraq, over 500 for all of our anti-terror operations. All of those are on top of the individual investment you make in the soldier. When you use the soldier, you have to pay an additional amount of money in combat.

RYSSDAL: Gordon Adams is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He's also an occasional commentator for us here on the program. Mr. Adams, thank you for your time.

ADAMS: Thank you, Kai.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, the most widely heard program on business and the economy in the country.

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