Since the end of combat operations in Iraq, the proposed cuts to active duty end-strengths, and some recent developments in the Defense Department we should carefully examine where and how the military budget is cut so as not to repeat the mistakes of a post-Vietnam military.
Post-Vietnam there was not a lot to be happy about. Morale was at an all-time low. Deployments were more tedious due to lack of funding and un-filled personnel billets. Logistic support was poor if non-existent . Those of us serving at the time were still dedicated to our service and our oath so we pressed on.
During that period we depleted the military of hard to develop skill-sets, outsourcing to defense contractors, and eventually chose the option of investing more heavily in technology instead of people and contractors vs active duty. Paraphrasing President Eisenhower, who needs soldiers if you have B-52’s and the A-bomb.
Since the first Gulf War we have developed the most mobile and diverse active duty and reserve ground force on the planet. Yes it seem we are doing it again. We have been stretched thin, dealt double and triple duty, been repeatedly asked to sacrifice, and in many cases just told to “do without,” all the while maintaining superior performance, and dedication to duty.
Naval forces also stretched thin continue to excel providing littoral, ground, sea and air support for ground forces but are already loosing skill sets in; at sea interdiction, anti-submarine warfare, surface to surface warfare, at sea logistic support and technical self-sufficiency. Programs like Enlisted Retention Boards (ERB) and Perform to Serve (PTS) have sent many young productive sailors to the door. In many cases to the astonishment of peers and superiors alike. They worked hard, served well and were qualified but may not have fit the “cookie-cutter” computer model for retention.
We ask our military to serve in times of conflict under arduous conditions and they answer the call. Long and repeated deployments in harm’s way, and they answer. Family separation, both temporary and permanent, and they answer. All praised by the civilians they leave behind, and the politicians that usher them off to war, waving flags and vowing never to forget their service.
“We are proud of you”; “thank you for your service”; “I’m sorry for your loss”, all become epithets when we incline our military to cut personnel, training, and operational resources. Then, we tell qualified, squared-away military members that they are no longer allowed to re-enlist.
Since 1791 we as a nation have been on a roller-coaster of mobilization and de-mobilization. Post conflict we assume that technology, or diplomacy, or the bitter taste of armed conflict would preclude the necessity to conscript in the future.
We cut our military forces post conflict until the next expeditionary force is required to “win the peace” and then must pay dearly to fill the ranks with qualified and dedicated men and women. It’s a poke in the eye of a solider, sailor, marine or airman when we ask them to serve in the most dangerous of times but as soon as the dust begins to settle we usher them to the door without much of a prospectus for the future. Emulating the corporate worlds bum shuffle type buyouts to save money, or as in most cases, just point them to the door without any severance.
The future for those remaining on active duty also become somewhat tenuous in that morale, esprit de corps, and the desire to do one’s best all are put in jeopardy.
There is no peace dividend in force end strength reduction unless there is a subsequent re-modeling of both Selective and National Service to maintain readiness, training, and military bearing. The old paradigm of mobilization and de-mobilization must be broken if we as a nation are to maintain a strong mobile active duty military. All the technology on the planet will not serve our country without Military men and women on active duty to operate, deploy and maintain force material assets.
Some would outsource military responsibility to contractors or other agencies within DOD or the confines of K Street, but when tactical operations need to be accomplished spur of the moment, one cannot and must not be bound by a civilian contract to act. Mercenary forces no matter what their given name are still mercenaries. If military action is required it should and must be conducted by Active Duty Military and not a contractor.