Monday, March 21, 2005

Decimating the Military

Two in-depth reports have run over the past few days regarding the current state of the U.S. military, and how what's happening to / with today's troops will affect military readiness in the future. Neither story paints a particularly hopeful picture.

On Saturday, The Guardian ran a ubiquitously titled special report, They can't train you for the reality of Iraq. You can't have a mass grave with dogs eating the people in it. No pun intended, but that's a mouthful.

The Guardian report focuses on a growing movement among military men and women who are refusing to return to Iraq. What's surprising is that so few are fleeing (or have fled) north of the border to Canada. Most are choosing to stay stateside and fight their battles legally, or accept their lumps in military prisons. Some of the resistance is moral, some ethical, and some is just downright motivated by self preservation.

...Soldiers' advocates and peace activists believe the first signs of opposition within the military could slowly grow - as it did for Vietnam - turning disgruntled soldiers and their families into powerful anti-war advocates. A number of Iraq veterans have begun to speak out. The root causes for more widespread dissent are there...

Regardless of the reason, it's hard to imagine that the increasing number of incidents of pre-deployment desertions are not going to even further adversely affect military morale and combat readiness.

The second story, from the Washington Post, leans more in the direction of the service branches not meeting recruiting goals - hell, not being within a country mile of recruiting goals - and the lack of equipment as well as manpower.

...The unexpectedly heavy demands of sustained ground combat are depleting military manpower and gear faster than they can be fully replenished. Shortfalls in recruiting and backlogs in needed equipment are taking a toll, and growing numbers of units have been broken apart or taxed by repeated deployments, particularly in the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.

"What keeps me awake at night is, what will this all-volunteer force look like in 2007?" Gen. Richard Cody, Army vice chief of staff, said at a Senate hearing last week...

To give you an idea of how hard hit the Army is, they actually pulled 2,500 recruiters out of their slots and shipped them out with combat units. In civilian terms, that would be like GM pulling nearly half of their sales force off the street and putting them on the production line. Not only would quality likely suffer, but so would the ability to sell cars. And the endless spiral starts - less sales personnel mean less cars sold, less cars sold means the production line get the idea.

And the military keeps playing musical chairs with limited equipment:

As it rounds up troops for deployments, the Army has had to allocate limited equipment. It has shuffled thousands of items from radios to rifles between units, geared up new industrial production, and depleted the Army's pre-positioned stocks of tanks, Humvees and other assets to outfit units for combat.

Army stocks in Southwest Asia are exhausted, and those in Europe have also been "picked over," one U.S. official said. Roughly half of the Army and Marine equipment stored afloat on ships has been used up, the official said. Refilling the stocks must wait until the Iraq war winds down, Army officials say...

Add to the mix the fact that many members of the "coalition of the bribed / duped / blackmailed" are deciding to pull out of Iraq, which will leave gaping staffing holes, particularly in areas South of Baghdad, border-to-border.

What's especially galling to me is reading statements like this from Bush Department of War officials, in publications whose target audience is military personnel:

Although the war in Iraq has hurt recruiting, Harvey noted that retention in the ranks is high.

“The retention is a good story and that’s important because it’s end strength that counts,” he said. “It’s a combination of recruiting and retention.”

Why is retention a good story? Quite simply - "stop loss" orders - when a soldier's enlistment is extended involuntarily "at and for the convenience of the government". In other words, they can't get out anyway, so a lot of soldiers are being sold on taking the next best option - grabbing some bonus money - and committing themselves to another few years because they figure they're still going to be there anyway.

Our government is whistling past the graveyard - heaven forbid if another country were actually to challenge our ability to respond either now or in the near future. Our armed forces would have a hard time meeting the challenge, at least with conventional troops and weaponry.

Update, 7:10PM - I meant to add this earlier...another sign of how bad things are getting is that the enlistment age for the Army Reserve and National Guard is being raised five years, from 34 to 39. This is for first-time enlistees only.

Now, I don't know about you, but I figure if someone hasn't decided what they want to be when they grow up once they hit 39, and then decide to play GI Joe for the first time, I'm not sure that's the person I want covering my back. Certainly there's exceptions to the "fit for duty" rule, but honestly there's just not a lot of folks approaching grandparenthood age that should be considering joining the Army. This is another example of how damn desperate the military is getting for warm bodies, and another indication of just how much the Bush cabal has broken the armed services.