By Major General Jerry Curry, USA (Ret.)
The United States Armed Forces seem to be reverting back to the condition they usually revert to when a Democrat is elected Commander-in-Chief. I remember those days well. The military didn’t have enough repair parts to keep its motor vehicles running, its ships plowing through the oceans and its planes flying. Combat units were instructed to selectively cannibalize non-running equipment to keep the remainder as operational as possible.
The military budget couldn’t sustain the force at its authorized strength levels and there was always a chronic shortage of experienced leadership at the middle and lower unit levels. Captains were doing major’s and lieutenant colonel’s jobs. Sergeants were filling in for lieutenants. Lieutenants were filling in for captains and majors.
At the top of the flag pole only flexible, amenable flag officers got the top jobs. I recall one four star who was called over to the White House for interrogation by the President prior to being offered a top job. When later asked how the interview went he said he had failed his “orals” and would not be getting the job.
The military represents about a fifth of the national budget. The deficit reduction deal worked out by the Administration, House and Senate is supposed to find a long term solution to the nation’s fiscal problems by restructuring the military services and redefining their missions. In plain language this means cutting the military budget and reducing the number of people on active duty. As it is, there aren’t enough soldiers to sustain maintaining an adequate combat force, so that units can be rotated on a reasonable, lifesaving basis.
Supposedly this summer the Congress will lay the entire federal budget on the table and take an ax to it. If they can’t come into agreement, the Department of Defense will be forced to swallow one half of the total national deficit. This will gut our armed forces for years to come. Unfortunately, the White House and the Democrats have and have had no intention of coming into an agreement with the Republicans over the deficit; all along they have intended to make draconian reductions in the nation’s military budget.
It is easy to lay this mindless idiocy entirely at the feet of the Democrats. But the truth is the Democrats in Congress are merely the instigators and observers of the rape of our armed forces. The Republican controlled House calls the financial tune. The Democrats can do nothing unless the Republican controlled House approves. So far they have approved, selling the military’s soul to the Democrats for a cold bowl of bipartisanship.
In this supposed search for the finding of a solution to the nation’s budget and fiscal problems, everything is supposed to be on the table. Well, everything should not be on the table, especially the military budget. National Defense and National Security should not be lumped and dumped in together with entitlements.
The Army Chief of Staff said recently that because the Army’s budget is being so drastically reduced, the reserve forces will have to be enlarged and kept at a much higher level of readiness than they historically have been. This is wishful thinking; it is time we learned our lesson. When the budget goes down; readiness goes down. There are no exceptions!
History tells us that when available funds dry up and bases are closed overseas and troops are returned back to the United States, they are not reassigned to U.S. military bases. They are discharged from the army and the other branches of the service and their units are disbanded, which reduces the military’s size and power and makes room for creation, equipping and training of the President’s civilian national security force.
Our soldiers deserve better. They deserve to serve in full strength, well trained units. Their equipment should technologically be the best, supported by an abundance of repair parts and maintenance personnel. And they deserve to have their lives treasured, respected and protected, and to have the full financial support of the Congress, Administration and the American people.
Inattention to the needs of our military is only the beginning of their troubles. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Administration are already working on ways to ease our soldiers out of future pay raises and retirement benefits.
Panetta has been told by the Administration to come up with a plan that embraces technology and de-emphasizes “boots on the ground.” I remember when President Carter took us down that same road. He declared that in the future, intelligence and spying would be done by technical means such as satellites, not people on the ground. He and his minions then went about systematically destroying the nation’s human intelligence, spying resources and capabilities. After all these years, we have yet to fully recover from that abject stupidity.
The current Administration is guessing that our strategic interests are shifting away from Europe and NATO and moving toward the western Pacific, East Asia and China. But no one can say with any degree of certainty that our next military crisis or challenge will be in the Asia-Pacific area rather than in the Strait of Hormuz, the Middle East, Africa or South America.
Over the centuries our strategic interests have coincided more with Europe than with Asia because our history, religion, principles and beliefs have evolved from Europe. No matter in which direction we reorient our foreign policy, our history will not change.
The Vatican, seat of Catholicism, will not suddenly relocate itself to Asia. Shakespeare will still be taught in college literature courses. La Scala will still be the foremost opera house in Europe. True, our strategic involvement with China and Asia may increase, but we will still be Americans and our heritage and history will still have a European flavor.
In whichever direction fate beckons us, we must guard against allowing our armed forces to deteriorate as they have been allowed to do in some past Administrations. We are a great country whose challenges will always require a large, well-trained, well equipped military.