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16 Dec 02. This year’s Defense Appropriations Bill and Authorization Act fund a fourth Stryker Brigade, 650 Comanche helicopters and pay increases for soldiers.

One of the things that the Army requested was to close the pay gap between soldiers and the private sector, officials said. Congress responded with a pay increase of at least 4.1 percent with targeted increases of up to 6.5 percent for mid- and senior-level non-commissioned officers and a 5.5 percent increase for majors with between eight and 14 years of service.

The Army also asked Congress to eliminate out-of-pocket housing expenses for soldiers and their families. The last legislative session saw progress there as well by reducing the average amount of expenses paid by service members from 11.3 percent to 7.5 percent, with the intent of eliminating the out-of-pocket expenses by Fiscal Year 2005.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki has repeatedly said that the Army needs six Stryker Brigade Combat Teams. Congress responded by authorizing $788 million to purchase 332 Stryker vehicles, enough for a fourth brigade, with an additional $150.9m for further research and development.

The first two Stryker Brigade Combat Teams are at Fort Lewis, Wash. The third is in Alaska and the fourth one will be at Fort Polk, La., Army officials said.

The Army’s transformation from the Legacy Force to the Objective Force was also supported with $1.9bn for science and technology programs.

On December 16th the first Stryker Brigade Combat Team units underwent company exercise evaluations this month in the woods of Fort Lewis and Yakima Training Center.

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment were evaluated on their ability to deploy and fight as SBCT companies. Observer controllers kept an eye on and documented every stage of the Tomahawks’ battles against a “Red Force” manned by the Gimlets from 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment.

Company exercise evaluations are the third gate on the road to the initial operational capability for the brigade, officials said. This series of exercises allows the SBCT company commanders the ability to evaluate their soldiers before they are tested as a team at the Joint Readiness Training Center, at Fort Polk, La., next May.

“Those are Lt. Col. (Kevin) Hyneman’s soldiers out there,” said Lt. Col. Len McWherter, commander of 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment. “They like to fight, too.”

The exercise brought together all the small-unit training into a protracted scenario that tested each unit’s skills and proficiency as well as the battalion’s command and control systems.

From traffic checkpoints – in and out of towns – to forcefully taking control of a small village, every aspect of the battalion’s role in the Stryker Brigade Combat Team concept was challenged.

The Army’s budget has increased, but so has its requirements, officials said. Manning for Active-Guard-Reserve soldiers was increased 2.2 percent over FY02, but the request for 100 percent remains, officials said.

The Army’s request to procure 819 Comanches to improve the ability of Army aviation reconnaissance and attack formations to operate on the battlefield was partially granted. Congress authorized $910 million for development, but Department of Defense only supported the procurement of 650 Comanches.

President George W. Bush signed the Defense Appropriations Bill, which is nearly $335bn, and the Military Construction Appropriations Bill, which adds $10.5bn for building and upgrading military installations and family housing at the White House on Oct. 23. The Defense Authorization Act was signed at the Pentagon Dec 2.

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