Saturday, April 14, 2007

Bush and Our Messed up Military


- Gen. Barry McCaffrey

  I am not even going to comment on this as I could not do it justice.

   Here is a look at what the Bush people have done to our military, and this comes crossposted  from  Daily Kos

    James Kitfield is more than a war correspondent or Pentagon  or national security reporter.  He's lived and breathed military issues for many years.  No one except Kitfield has won the Gerald R. Ford Award for reporting on national defense issues more than once - he's the only two time winner in the award's history.  So, when Kitfield writes a lengthy and well sourced article on the readiness of the U.S. military, people listen (except for, naturally, the obvious tone deaf non-readers in the Bush administration's chain of command).

Why do I need to give you this introduction?  To preface the diary by credentialing Mr. Kitfield - because the story he tells isn't brought to us by some far left cassandra - and it ought to be leading every news broadcast and frontpaged above the fold in every newspaper...

This past Friday, the National Journal published Kitfield's latest article, "Army Strained to the Breaking Point".  It's a humdinger. (Note: National Journal is a paid subscription website, but the entire article is available at the above link.)  

The article is nothing short of a shocking expose of how the Bush regime has broken the Army during the regime's relatively short time in office.  Kitfield's experience in writing about military affairs has allowed him to, for perhaps the first time, conduct interviews with current and former military officials, and to actually cut through the glossy verneer that's been painted on the term "military readiness" by the Bush administration.  It's frightening.

There are a number of components that comprise an overall view of how military ground forces are ready and capable of dealing with hotspots (and potential hotspots) in various corners of the world.  In short summary, it boils down to a few categories:

Personnel recruitment, retention, and training

The support system and framework for dealing with the personal issues that all military families face

Equipment readiness

Civilian leadership and support

In every one of these areas, Kitfield's investigation concludes that the U.S. Army is exceptionally broken - and will take years, if not decades, to repair.


In the runup to the 1980 presidential election between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Time Magazine published an article titled, "Point Man Harold Brown", in reference to Carter's former Secretary of Defense.  The first sentence of the article tells you everything you need to know about how much things have changed in the subsequent 27 years (or maybe, remained the same):

Has the Pentagon chief become too political?

...Brown himself has become something of an issue. Indignant Republicans charge that he has painted far too rosy a picture of the state of U.S. defenses...

The article goes on to (essentially) champion Ronald Reagan as a savior of the U.S. military.  Even Carter's own Army Chief of Staff, General Edward Meyer, was unusually candid in his assessment of military readiness as he spoke before a congressional subcommittee:

Meyer testified that he was seriously short of trained troops that could be quickly moved to Europe in case of war. Because of the lack of manpower, Meyer declared, the U.S. has a "hollow Army."

Flash forward 27 years.  Kitfield uses Meyer as a jumping off point in his article by asking Meyer the question - "Is today's war-weary Army hollow?"  Meyer responded:

"I absolutely see similar challenges confronting the Army today as we faced then in terms of stresses being placed on the force," retired Gen. Meyer told National Journal in a recent interview. "And in terms of the National Guard and Reserves, the force is even more stressed today, because in the past they were always sort of the backup we had available in case the active force got overly engaged. Today the Guard and Reserve are almost as busy as the active force. So I think the Army is stressed at this point more than in all the time I've watched it since at least the end of the Cold War."

Remember, this is the former presidential adviser who publicly took Jimmy Carter (who is a military veteran) to the woodshed for not fixing Nixon and Ford's sins fast enough.  Yes, George Bush, another Republican, has given America another "hollow army".  Kitfield notes:

If anything, equipment shortages are arguably worse today than in 1980, when the Army was recovering from Vietnam. Judging by their recent actions, Iran, North Korea, and other potential adversaries have taken note...

It's not just equipment issues, though.  Based on my own military experience, overall personnel readiness is as much an issue of "quality of life" as anything - in other words, when dad (or mom) is deployed repeatedly for long stretches, the entire family undergoes unimaginable stress.  Perhaps that's why Kitfield summarizes some rather shocking numbers:

Fort Hood is also seeing a sharp increase in demand for marriage-enrichment counseling for spouses who cannot understand why their partners are willing to leave them for a second, third, or even fourth combat tour. An Army survey revealed that soldiers are 50 percent more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress if they serve more than one tour.

Reliable figures are not available for the mental stress put on soldiers in the 11 Army brigades that have served three or more yearlong tours in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. However, according to a Pentagon health study released in January, the rate of binge drinking in the Army ballooned by 30 percent between 2002 and 2005, and the increase in illicit drug use nearly doubled between 1998 and 2005.

The number of soldiers who killed themselves in Iraq and Kuwait from 2004 to 2005 nearly doubled, rising to 22 from 12. Because of the strains of multiple yearlong deployments, whispers about affairs and divorces are also heard frequently at Fort Hood...

To be honest, things have changed significantly for the better since the time I served - soldiers in the field now have internet access, and can at least have occasional video conversations with their families.  Long gone are the days when someone like myself either had to pay outrageous commercial phone charges ($10 / minute or so for an international call) or wait in a long line for a limited 2 minute phone call home on a DOD line.  Even so, the stresses of being gone for very long stretches in repeated deployments wrecks families (and the distant soldier's frame of mind).  Is it any wonder that the divorce rate among military families is skyrocketing, and that military family support groups are a cottage industry?

One hole in Kitfield's piece is a summary of the number of domestic violence and suicide reports after soldiers have returned from the battlefield.  ASZ has documented quite a few of those incidents, but perhaps Kitfield didn't research these numbers, at least as a metric of military readiness, because many of these incidents have occurred after personnel have left the military.

Recruitment and retention are another topic that Kitfield addresses in some depth.  In terms of military readiness, it's a mixed bag (at least as he portrays it, but more on that in a moment).  Here's an interesting viewpoint from retired General Barry McCaffrey:

"Despite all of those gimmicks, young battalion commanders tell me that recruiting standards have slipped terribly due to waivers; drug and alcohol abuse have increased dramatically; the word has come down not to flunk anyone out of basic training; and we've increased the age limit to allow 42-year-old grandmothers to enlist in the Army," McCaffrey said. "And still there is a sense of denial of the problem in the Pentagon that I find utterly beyond belief..."

One apparent bright parameter in Kitfield's otherwise depressing article is the retention rate of personnel.  While he calls out ongoing issues with recruiting as a problem (quantity, and particularly quality), Kitfiield cites a relatively glowing appraisal of retaining trained and combat hardened veterans by Col. Larry Phelps:

Phelps acknowledges that he constantly asks himself at what point such a breakneck pace will begin to seriously damage the Army. "Is it the third tour? The fourth? I don't know," he said. "But the one metric I follow most closely is retention, because you're talking about troops who have already endured the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune during combat deployments. And yet our retention levels are the highest I've ever seen."

When I read this sentence, I had to ask myself: Did Col. Phelps ever consider why retention levels are so high?  There are two reasons - stop loss, and exceptionally high bonuses for reenlistment.  It's the Army's carrot-and-stick approach.  The fine print in any enlistment contract states that the soldier's enlistment can be involuntarily extended at any time, for any reason, at and for the convenience of the government.

Armed with that knowledge, at the end of an enlistment period, many soldiers are being given two choices: re-up for another two years and take the money, or face an indeterminate stop-loss extension anyway (and not receive any compensation).  For many soldiers living on the financial and emotional edge, it's not even a choice.  It's a WTF moment.  They sign the papers, cash the check, and head back to their units for another two years.

Sacrifice.  It's something that George Bush has never done himself, and after the events of 9/11/2001, never asked sacrifice of any American in prosecuting the global war on terror - except for the military.  

James Kitfield writes:

Senior Army officers, active and recently retired, accept part of the blame for this predicament. But some also speak of their resentment of President Bush for not putting the full force of the Oval Office behind an all-out effort to get the public to understand that it has to sacrifice to keep the wars going.

Brigadier General Stephen Mundt puts it more succinctly:

"The U.S. is not at war.  The military is at war."

As of this writing, more than 3200 men and women in uniform have been killed in Iraq.  Many, many more have been severely wounded, and will require a lifetime of care.  Yet, Donald Rumsfeld, Doug Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, George Bush, Richard Armitage, and many others in the Bush regime felt that the Iraq battle could be fought on the cheap, and be over in the blink of an eye.  Ergo, no sacrifice was required.

Certainly, Halliburton / KBR, Blackwater, Custer Battles, and many other private contractors have sacrificed nothing (except, again, for their employee's lives in some cases).  It's a win-win for the Bush regime, Big Oil, and the contracting firms who have profited handsomely from participating in the engagement.

Sacrifice?  Get the public to understand that it "must sacrifice"?  There are no Rosey Riveters in the GWOT.  There is no gas rationing as there was in WWII.  There is no seriousness to the situation at all.  The only thing that 9/11/2001 brought to the table for America was a missed opportunity - or rather, many missed opportunities that a true leader would have exploited for the long term benefit of everyone.

And that's the most tragic failure of the GWOT - America's army has once again become hollow, because of the policies of profiteering over diplomacy and actual, true, battle engagement at all levels in the chain of command.



In the past two days, it's been announced that the National Guard will be called upon once again to supply an additional level of staffing for the war in Iraq, and that the tours of 15,000 soldiers already in the field will be extended significantly.  

While the Bush regime continues to rearrange the deck chairs on their middle eastern Titanic, more military personnel continue to die in Iraq.  As I noted the other day, the past week has been particularly bloody for U.S. forces, yet the regime continues to roll out apologists to spritz perfume on their pet pig.

There is no good ending to this story.  The Bush regime is in the process of breaking the U.S. military (if it's not already broken).  At this point, Kitfield's article is no more than well-researched and sourced documentation of issues.  As Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and the director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington said:

"He also bet that the Iraqi security forces would be able to shoulder a much larger share of the burden by now, yet it's clear that they are still not ready for prime time. Meanwhile, the canaries in the mine shaft of Army readiness are dropping right and left. It's the classic dilemma for military leaders: How much calculated risk can you take with the force in order to achieve the mission and succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan, without breaking it in the effort?"

Mr. Krepinevich, some would say that the bet is already lost.  And we're all going to be paying for that losing bet for years, maybe decades, to come.

                                                                                                                     Originally posted at All Spin Zone...