Ten Questions With Peter Schoomaker

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Two years ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld talked Gen. Peter Schoomaker, into coming out of retirement and leading the Army as its Chief of Staff. Since then, Schoomaker, a former Delta Force commando who's fought all over the world, has been busy creating what both men want: a completely reorganized ground force with smaller more versatile fighting units. Schoomaker, 59, sat down with TIME's Sally Donnelly and Douglas Waller to explain the challenges of changing the Armyand working for a very demanding boss.

TIME: How are you transforming the Army?

Schoomaker: We are developing a modular Army force that gives us much more rapidly deployable, much more capable organizations that cover a broader spectrum of the conflict. What you will have is a team of pentathletes. I want a whole basketball team of Michael Jordans who can play any position. What we must do is be able to have this pentathlete team better organized, better led, better trained, better equipped, and more strategically agile.

TIME: Where are we in the global war on terror?

SCHOOMAKER: I don't think I can answer that. What I can tell you is that we're making progress. One of biggest steps we've made is coming to realize that this is a real war, that this is a really serious national security issue. It is bigger than individual acts [of terrorism].

TIME: Why should Americans think the situation in Iraq is getting better and not worse?

SCHOOMAKER: Gen. John Abizaid [head of the U.S. Central Command] and Gen. George Casey [the top commander in Iraq] believe that they're making progress. The soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are there engaged in it every day believe that they are making progress. That is different than saying that things are over. You're going to ask me, have we turned a corner? I don't know. You have to ask them, but I do believe we're moving in a positive direction.

TIME: Recruiting has been down the last few months. Do you worry about it, and also about keeping people in the Army?

SCHOOMAKER: Our retention is going very well. The 3rd Infantry Division is at more than 250% of [its retention] goal. And they're in Iraq. We're retaining 64,000 soldiers this year as opposed to 51,000 in previous years. The challenge is recruiting. We have raised our recruiting goal to 80,000. It was down around 71,000 previously. We aren't meeting our recruiting goals right now because our goals are much higher. I feel optimistic we will meet our enhanced goal by the end of the year in the regular Army. I am more concerned about the Guard and the Reserve.

I went back and looked at World War II. We had a population of about 140 million people in this country and we put almost 9% of that population into uniform. Today we have twice the population and we're trying to put about four-tenths of one percent of it into uniform. And we're facing a national security situation that is at least as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than we faced in World War II. This nation is who I'm concerned about. It's not an Army problem to recruit. It's a national challenge.

TIME: How do you get the nation behind recruiting?

SCHOOMAKER: I think we have to tell our story. We have to let people know that when the young men and women come into the armed forces, they will stay with us. They find out that they're in an organization that is bigger than they are, doing important things for the nation, and that they have responsibilities and opportunities they've never had before.

TIME: Should we have a draft?

SCHOOMAKER: No. This nation can have a professional armed force. If we had a draft our Army would have to be much, much bigger and it would never be as good as it is now. Not because we don't have good people, but because it takes too long to train people as pentathletes. And with a two-year draft [commitment] you're never getting beyond a junior varsity level.

TIME: Rumsfeld has been tough on his generals, firing some, browbeating others to bend them to his will. How have you been able to stay on his good side?

SCHOOMAKER: I'm not sure I am on his good side. I mean, I don't see it as a good side or bad side. This is big-guy business. Look at who've I worked for my whole life. Guys like Charlie Beckwith [the hard-charging colonel who organized Delta Force]. I don't see this as a get-along deal. What we're doing is working towards common interests. These are big people, they're tough people. This is a tough business. And I don't think you can have too thin a skin.

TIME: What's the secret to gaining Rumsfeld's confidence?

SCHOOMAKER: I don't know. I think you have to produce. You have to stand up for what you think is right. You have to enter the dialogue. I did not know Secretary Rumsfeld well before he called me back. It was a big surprise. I had like four days notice. I was in my truck and his office called me. I entered it reluctantly. It wasn't something that I wanted to do. But the nation is at war. I asked him hard questions about whether he was willing to transform the Army the way I felt we had to do it and create the kind of force we needed. He said he was and so far he's held up his end of the bargain.

TIME: Some have grumbled that the generals and admirals are becoming too timid because Rumsfeld controls their promotions and he hasn't been shy about getting rid of folks he doesn't agree with. Is that true?

SCHOOMAKER: I can only speak for myself. I think we have an honest dialogue. We don't agree on everything. But he's the boss. I'm not the boss. The day that we can't agree on something that weighs deep inside of me—that's got to do with values, principles, right and wrong—I've got my truck with my keys out there. That's easy.

TIME: When have you had to stand up to him?

SCHOOMAKER: Daily. But listen, his instincts are great. He's a tough guy who understands this stuff. And I believe his heart's in the right place. He wants to do the right thing and he needs people to engage him and have the tussle that needs to be done. If you read history, America's way of going to war is ugly. We're always late. It takes us forever to get things going. I am amazed at how fast we've been able to do the things that we've done in this war compared to World War II. America ought to be proud of this Army.