People You Forget to Remember at Christmas

In December 1968 I was in the United States Army and stationed in Korea. I was a green 19-year-old spending his first Christmas away from home.  Korea, of course, is a Buddhist country and does not celebrate Christmas.  There are Christians there but they are such a small percentage of the population.

I the late 1960s Korea was still a war zone near the DMZ. Even though a truce had been called in 1953 the animosity between the two countries was palpable and armed conflict still erupted from time to time.  Sometimes it was in the form of infantry but mostly it was an exchange of artillery fire.  American soldiers stationed on the DMZ became caught in the crossfire and lost their lives.

That was the first of four Christmas I spent away from home while in service to our country. The next three were while I was station in Italy.  Of course Christmas there, as here, is a big event.  But still, we were away from our families at a time when family togetherness is so important.

Christmas of 2015 will once again see 100s of thousands of soldiers and sailor stationed away from their homes and loved ones. Some will be in the warring countries of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Their Christmas is particularly tough as has been true throughout our country’s history for every soldier who found himself on a battlefield at Christmastime.  For this part of my little diatribe, I ask that you take a moment to remember the men and women who have donned our countries uniforms and taken post in faraway places, away from their families.  Their gift to us is insured freedom.

While in Korea I was tasked with visiting an orphanage which was support by the military group I was stationed with. We were a small convoy of a couple of trucks with a jeep mounted with a 50 caliber machine gun in the front and rear of the trucks.  Each of us also were require to take our M-16 rifles along, just in case.  But besides the men who were in the trucks we also brought food and presents for the children of the orphanage.  The exact location of the orphanage was kept secret from us for reasons we were never given.  I do know that it sat right on the DMZ in northwestern South Korea.

We arrived at a single story cinder block building which housed the children and who were looked over by Catholic nuns. I do not think there were more than 25 or 30 children present but my memory them is that of expectancy, wonder, and sadness.

We were told that all the children were of one of two types: those born to prostitutes who of course could not keep them and those who were Asian-American, born of Korean mothers and American fathers. Theirs was the worst fate of all as they would never be accepted by Korean society simply because of their obvious differences.

We were all gathered into a single room where the children were introduced to us and we to them. As I looked around the room my eyes fell upon this one little girl with blond hair and blue eyes.  Her only language, of course, was Korean, and even if all the other orphans had even a slight chance in Korean society, this little girl certainly had none.  It broke my heart to see her and she haunts me to this day.  I wanted more than anything to get her back to the United States where at least she’d have something of a chance.  I actually looked into it but was inform that a married couple would have to be found and then it would be a prolonged affair to actually have her adopted.

The point is, those Korean orphans were all the result of a war. They are the casualties of war that go unreported, are pushed into the background and out of sight.  As I sit here this evening I have no doubt that similar conditions exist in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Orphans in those countries undoubted outnumber the ability of the country to care for them.  You might ask “what can we do for them?”  There actually is an answer, UNICEF, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.  They have a website at and are always in need of donations.

It only seems appropriate at this time of year here in the United States where we have so much that we remember the children who have nothing.


Reflections of a Veteran on Veterans Day

As United States holidays go, Veteran’s Day is one of the newest. As a holiday by this name, it came into being in 1954. Prior to that, Veterans Day was known as Armistice Day commemorating the end of World War 1. World War 1 officially ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Shortly afterward President Wilson declared November 11th a national holiday. Then World War 2 happened followed by the Korean War. As a veteran, President Eisenhower decided that rather than remembering a peace treaty for a single war, the day would be better served by recognizing the service of everyone who had ever served in the Armed Forces of the United States. But there are two additional groups of veterans who did not serve within the Defense Department who are also veterans and they are the members of the Coast Guard and the Merchant Marines. The Merchant Marines were a vital force during World War 2 transporting goods and troops to the European Theater of War. And the Coast Guard, whose primary mission is the protection of the U.S. Coast lines, was deployed to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam among other missions.

I entered the U.S. Army on February 19, 1968 and served on active duty until November 10, 1979. After that I served in the Massachusetts National Guard for several years. My years of service in the U.S. Army are many of my proudest moments in life. I am the son of a World War 2 veteran, my father served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in North Africa, Italy, and France. Two of my daughters are veterans as well. My eldest served as a U.S. Army Nurse in Kosovo and my next daughter has served in the U.S. Air Force in both active and reserve duty. She is still serving.

I am of the Vietnam era which many view as a low point of the U.S. history in war. But this needs to be put into perspective. All military forces, not just American, are a natural extension of a country’s political system and honors the decisions of the country’s political leadership. My experience in the Army is that we never discussed politics except maybe to criticize what we viewed a lack of support from time-to-time.   But I never once knew nor discussed the political persuasions of any of my brothers in arms. Such discussion served no purpose. I know from experience that at the highest levels of the military establishment, politics is very much a part of a soldier’s daily life but below the level of flag officers, generals and admirals, politics was generally non-existent. That was always a good thing.

All soldiers are required to complete basic combat training. Basic training is the great leveler. That is, regardless of a person’s background or appearance, the most important thing is learning how to be a soldier and what it means to serve with pride. It is a unique system found nowhere else in society, not even the police forces which copy many of the training techniques of the military. All members of the military are instilled with the concept of “duty, honor, and country.” That means that each member of the military has sworn to put his life on the line to protect his country from those who would do harm to it. This oath of allegiance has been in place since the Revolutionary War. It is an absolute and cannot be compromised.

Only the Civil War divided this country more than the war in Vietnam. When I volunteered to join the Army I did not say that I would only join if I would not be sent to Vietnam. There is no such option nor has there ever been one. Most veterans never saw combat duty but every veteran was eligible for it. I was sent to Korea in 1968 which was a war zone in those days. It was certainly not as hot as Vietnam but U.S. soldiers were still dying there. Why? Because they were doing their duty.

War does funny things to men. Greatness arises out of some of the most unexpected places. During the Civil War at the battle of Gettysburg, a former college professor from Maine, a very humble man, so distinguished himself that he became one of the first recipients of the Medal of Honor. He was Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. During World War 1, a former blacksmith and pacifist from Tennessee distinguished himself in battle to become a Medal of Honor recipient. Most recently a young man from Long Island, Lt. Michael Murphy, distinguished himself in Afghanistan to receive the Medal of Honor. Each of these men had one thing in common, they joined the service out of a sense of duty and in the worst of conditions their concern was completion of the mission and protection of their comrades. And I can assure you that none saw themselves as heroes. To a man they would tell you if asked that they were just doing their job. And in that sentiment is the common thread for all veterans. We did our job in difficult situations because it was the right thing to do and our sense of honor and patriotism were driving forces.

During my time in Korea we came under the threat of attack many times. The attack never came but maybe that was because we were there. We were enough of a deterrent. I seldom talk of my time in Korea mostly because I do not remember most of the details. But those who served in Vietnam are even more guarded in their speech. If you find a vet who served in Vietnam, the Gulf Wars or Afghanistan you will probably get a lot of resistance from them in the telling of their experiences. Why? Because war is and always has been an ugly affair. People at home hear of the deaths of soldiers and grieve them. Soldiers see the deaths of non-combatants, women and children, and mourn that. My personal experience with that came in the form of a visit to a Korean orphanage where the casualties of the ongoing conflict resided. To say it was heartbreaking is to minimalize the reality.

For 20 years following the Vietnam War the experience of veterans was something no one wanted to discuss. But the Gulf War changed that and the phrase “thank you for your service” came into being. I hope that such sentiment never goes out of fashion because as a veteran I am grateful whenever I hear it expressed. If you know a vet, give him or her a call on this Veterans Day and thank them for their service. When you see someone in uniform on the street where you are walking, thank that person for their service, after all, they have sworn to put their life on the line for you. Finally, most cities and towns in the United States have a war memorial. Take the time to visit it, look at the names listed, because they are the ones who gave their life for you.

Freedom Isn’t Free


On July 5 1776, one day after the Declaration of Independence was made public, our new-born nation was a mess.  Mostly, we had been clashing with the British since April 19 1775.  The Battle of Bunker Hill was the one exception where large numbers of men on both sides lost their lives.  But in truth, neither side was yet prepared for a full out war.  The British troops were the best trained, best armed, and had the best leadership by far.  England had the ability to fund a short war and defeat almost any enemy she desired.  That British confidence of an impending American defeat was high was understandable.  The single thing that kept America viable over the next 7 years was its dogged desire to prevail.  The be sure, the Continental Congress was bankrupt, unable to pay its soldiers as promised.  The new American army suffered through a very high rate of desertion.  Conversely, the British Army suffered virtually no desertions.  Gen. Washington looked upon the British commander, Gen. Howe, with envy.  His troops were well fed, well armed, well trained, and supremely confident.  While the Battle of Yorktown was the finality of the war, it had truly ended long before by greatly diminishing the English war coffers and the distance at which the war was fought.  Also, sentiment in England was of a country weary of a civil war, that being that Americans had previously been viewed by the English public as brethren who had previously been an integral part of their country.  But the cost of that war, on both sides, lingered for decades after 1783.  For the first time, America had to deal with its war veterans and the promises it had made to them.  Some of those promises were not fulfilled until well into the 19th century.

When Thomas Jefferson took office he took offence to the large standing army he inherited and did his level best to entirely disband it, claiming that such an army was entirely unnecessary.  And although his feeling about the American Navy was not quite so draconian, he still reduced its size as well.  But then came the War of 1812.  The war was started over the impressment of American sailors in the British Navy.  And even though the war was started at sea, it was entirely completed on land.  Britain had entertained the idea that it could recapture this country that had slipped its rule only 30 years prior, well within the memory of most in government and power.  But again, the cost of a protracted war at a great distance proved too much.  Britain had actually conceded the war prior to the Battle of New Orleans because of that reason.  But America had quickly reassembled its army but not before the British army lay waste to the new American capitol at Washington and ran with impunity for well over a year.


The American army was relatively stable, well trained, and well equipped until the end of World War 1.  Many called that war, “the war to end all wars.”  It was believed that after WW1, a war which counted its casualties in the 10s of millions, there would never again rise the desire of any country to war upon any other country at such a scale.  The allies, America, Britain, and France agreed upon the size of the world’s navies.  It was believed that only a navy could transport large armies to other countries and by limiting those navies would necessarily limit any country’s desire to do war.  That, of course, proved hugely fallacious  By Americans, gripped by isolationist ideas, reduced its army by such large numbers that had the Japanese attacked the US mainland 1940 with its marines and armies using it large naval fleet, we would have been in serious trouble.  Couple that with its ally, Germany, and an invasion by Germany, American’s 458,000 men in uniform would have been severely tested and, in many cases, eliminated owing to poor training, being poorly equipped, and marginally led.  I mention that number because it was only due to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s belief that the US entry into the European war being eminent, he increased the size of the military to 1.8 million in 1941.  Even so, that military was not particularly well trained or well equipped.


That 1940 number is worthy of note because it is the number at which today’s Army stands.  The total number in today’s military, all branches and both active and reserve, stands at about 1.3 million but declining.  Since 1988 the US Congress has been hell bent on reducing the size of the military, and the number of its installations when there were about 2.1 million men in uniform.  People viewed, and still do, our defense budget as out of control, over-burdening, and unnecessary.  The present day public has this view that we can somehow conduct a war at a distance and with a “World of Warcraft” mentality.  We have smart bombs, high tech aircraft, and cutting edge equipment at every point.  But what the American public forgets is that in the end, it is the individual soldier would fights and wins, or God help us, loses the war.  High tech equipment is rendered useless without men to operate and maintain it.  But even more importantly, and something we all should be intimately aware of right now, is that today’s war, today’s battles, are largely fought and won by the rifleman.  We fight large numbers of enemies who do not wear any uniform, are terrorists who blend in with the local population.  We should have learned that lesson back in the 1970s when in Vietnam we had to fight the Viet Cong who did the same.  But it seems we have forgotten and so we have doomed ourselves to repeating our past mistakes.

Today, the US Army has a total of 13 divisions, 1 armored, 1o infantry of various sorts, and only 2 reserve/national guard.  During the conduct of the Vietnam War, the Defense Department guaranteed each soldier that he would be required to serve in a war zone for only one 12-month period in his career.  Today, soldiers are required to serve 2, 3 and even 4 tours in our present-day war zones.  We have known since World War 1 the hugely negative effects of war upon soldiers and we strived for 50 years to protect our soldiers against such circumstances.  What in World War 2 and Korea was called “battle fatigue” is today known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Most, if not all, our soldiers today who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer for some degree of PTSD.  This too is a cost of war.


We have two choices right now, as I see it.  We can either withdraw all our troops for the worlds battle grounds or greatly increase the size of our military.  Our military is extremely stressed and stretched far too thinly for the mission it has been given today.  Too few are being asked to do too much.  And since I do not see us withdrawing from the world’s battlefields at any time in the near future, it is our duty, an imperative, to adjust the size of our military to fill those needs.  And as distasteful as the American public may find it, the best deterrent to terrorist and like activities in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan is the presence of a large infantry force until that country is capable of defending itself.  Clearly neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is ready to defend itself.  This is exactly what we did at the end of World War 2 in Germany and Japan, and it worked extremely well.  Why is it we cannot commit ourselves in the same manner today?

Americans really need to consider its mindset towards our military and those we serve.  While it has become common practice to thank those who serve, those words ring rather hollow when we do not back them up with actions that show our support.  Americans should insist that soldiers not be forced into harms way more than once in their military service and back that promise up with the dollars it takes to keep that promise.  Americans need to suck it up, bite the bullet, or whatever cliché you care to use, and commit to a force that not only serves our country in general, but those who serve within it as well.  Right now we are asking too few to do too much.

Remember Service Members At Christmas

We have today an all volunteer military.  Every single member chose to be in uniform with the understanding that it would mean being away from their family, and being stationed in places that require their presence through the Christmas season.  Many of them will being working on Christmas Day.  I have a lot of experience with this as I was away from home, my place of birth, for 10 Christmases.  It can be a very lonely time.

Most people know someone who is in the military and serving away from.  We tend to think of those serving in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan but we should also remember those who are serving in Germany, Korea, Japan, and many other locations including at sea.  For them, it has little to do with where they are serving but the fact that they are not at home at a time when families traditionally get together.  That can bring on a profound loneliness for the individual service member.

Most people know someone who is serving on active duty and is away from home right now.  I can tell you from personal experience, having served 10 Christmases in the military and away from home, that one of the best Christmas presents I got was a letter from home.  And that is not just from my family, but from anyone who cared to write.  This is particularly true for the unmarried soldiers but of course not limited to them.

My recommendation is that if you know of such a person get his address and send him a card.  Even if the only thing you can say in the card is that you are thinking of them at this time of year, that will mean more to them than you can know.  Being remembered is always a wonderful thing, and it really costs you nothing more than a few minutes of your time.

Why Is America Always Trying to Disband Its Military?

When Thomas Jefferson took the oath of office in 1801, one of his first moves was his attempt to entirely disband the Federal Military Forces.  Were it not for some powerful opponents who had gone to great lengths to bring a US Navy into existence, he would have succeeded.  Jefferson considered a professional military a luxury, and one the nation could ill-afford.  His successor, James Madison, in 1812 had to deal with the result of his efforts.  British troops encountered little resistance on their way to Washington D.C. and had little trouble in burning down the nation’s capitol building.  The heroes and military leadership of the Revolution were either aging or dead, and were of no use in the War of 1812.  It must be remembered that the war was started over the United States objecting to the impressment of American merchant sailors into the British Navy.  The U.S., however, lacked the force to prevent such impressments.

Some view the Civil War as the campaign of two great armies against one-another.  But nothing could be further from the truth, at least at the beginning.  Even though most of the professional soldiers wore Union Blue at the start of the war, they were largely unprepared and lacked for good leadership.  Conversely, Confederate troops were largely irregulars but were fortunate to have a lot of good and professional military leaders in their midst.

Again, when Japan brought war to our shores in December of 1941, the US Army had a little over 100,000 regular troops.  Had Japan and Germany been able to bring a large contingent of their professional armies to our shores, we most certainly would have suffered far longer before getting ourselves properly positioned.

It seemed we had finally learned our lesson because at the start of the Korean War and then again Vietnam, we had a sufficiently large standing army, at least for the start of hostilities.

Then, not too long before the first Gulf War, a curious thing happened.  President George Bush and congress decided we had too much military, that our country could no longer afford all the men and facilities.  Enter the Base Closure Commission.  It was the mission of this commission to identify duplicate efforts, little needed facilities, and excesses and either close or combine them in the name of economics.  At its heart it was a good idea, but they had a side-agenda that received little to no publicity.  That agenda was to re-organize the American Military into what was termed “leaner” units.  The was political double-talk for troop reductions at all levels.

To be truthful, the American military mission has changed in some respects greatly from World War II.  We fought WWII as a war of attrition meaning we could throw more men and material at you than you could at us.  We could easily overwhelm you, and that is exactly what we did.  But Vietnam taught us that our WWII philosophy was simply no longer efficient.  In spite of our saturation bombing of North Vietnam, we were simply unable to overwhelm them with our might.  The North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong fought in small and dispersed units who used guerrila tactics.  They knew how to kill us using the old Chinese maxim of dying from a thousand cuts.  Afer 1975 we knew we had to fight smarter.  Americans became amused with the idea of fighting a war of technology that used machines for the close-up work and men would largely stay well behind the lines.  The first Gulf War, however, if anything, should have taught us that this view, while fanciful, was unrealistic.

In 1991 we had just enough full-time soldiers to effect a quick liberation of Kuwait and the ability to turn back the Iraqi Republican Guard to behind its own borders.  But at that point we were forced to stop until our logistics could catch up with our lines.  Simply put, there were not enough men on the ground to continue the charge, as it were.  Pres. Bush quickly activated reservists and national guard troops to help fill the breech.  Fortunately our reserves and national guard were at much higher levels on manning than exists today.  Reservists made a single six month or less rotation and were not called upon again.

I think the sign of Washington’s ever-present folly in its thinking came to bear when it was decided during the first base closures to close Fort Ord California.  The 7th Infantry Division of Fort Ord had been deployed to Iraq in 1992 to help win that war.  Not long after its return, the 7th Infantry Division was deactivated and then in 1994 Fort Ord was closed.  Fort Ord’s 28,600 acres comprised the US Army largest maneuver facility in the United States.  That was significant because, as anyone who had served in the military knows, armies need large tracts of land to practice their tactics and work out their problems.  Congress had deprived the American military of its best facility for that.

At the same time the federal government informed state governments that their national guard forces would be seeing a considerable reduction.  How, you ask, can this happen if nominally the national guard serves the individual states first, Title 32 of the U.S. Code, and the Federal Government during times of emergency, Title 10 of the U.S. Code?  Simple, the Federal Government pays for the lion’s share of the equipment the state governments use for their national guard troops.  Congress informed the states that, for example, it would no longer put up $1 billion for their state’s forces, but would now only give $400 million, and the state could make up any differences.  While that is a little over-simplified, it is what basically happened.  By the year 2000 many states’ national guard had been reduced by 50% or more, usually more.

Enter September 11, 2001.  George W. Bush quickly sends America to war with Afghanistan, and not too long afterwards, Iraq.  But America’s standing army is small, and its reserve and guard forces a mere shell of what they had once been.  Why is that important?

During World War II the impact of combat fatigue came to bear.  No one in America had any idea of what it was or how to deal with it.  Even though our active military forces exceeded 2 million troops during the war, our troops were being ordered to stay longer than any had signed up for.  Now in fairness, most enlistees literally signed up for “the duration,” as stated in their contracts, but few understood that to mean 2 continuous years or more of fighting on the front.  Yet that is exactly what happened to too many of our troops.  Post-war the American military dedicated itself to the ideal of requiring any person to serve no more than one tour of duty, one calendar year, in a war zone.  To that end we were entirely successful during and through the war in Vietnam. The only troops who ever served more than one tour in Vietnam requested to do so.  Americans seemed to understand, congress as well, that we needed to have a sufficient supply of active and reserve troops to fill such an objective.

We now live in an age where reservists and national guardsmen are required to serve 2, 3, and 4 tours of duty in a war zone.  It seems to have become acceptable to require part-time soldiers to do the job of a regular standing force.  We seem to have forgotten that our National Guard, originally called state militia, were meant to be called only in times of national emergency.  What, pray-tell, is our present national emergency that such a large percentage of our reservist must regularly be called to active duty and sent to a war zone?

The solution to this is simple yet expensive.  But the American public needs to come to grips with the idea, and the ideal, that a formidable standing force, full-time soldiers, is necessary to guarantee our peace of mind.  At this very moment congress is making plans to yet again reduce the strength of our active duty military.  As the old maxim says, “penny-wise and pound-foolish.”  If anything, we need to increase the size of our active military force as-well-as our reserves and national guard forces.  The type of freedom and liberty we enjoy here in the United States does not come cheaply.  Why is it then we are not willing to put forward the level of funding  necessary to insure our peace and tranquility?

“Those who do not remember their history are doomed to repeat it.”  It is not, therefore, impossible that we could suffer another “Pearl Harbor” or even worse.  Do we really want that?  Have we become so complacent that we truly believe that to be impossible?  For those of you who think the answer “yes,” we cannot possibly have another Pearl Harbor, I entreat you to read a book called “The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell” and see if you cannot find parallels to his warnings of 1925 and the conditions that exist today.


The American Military Crisis

The murder of Afghan civilians by the American Army soldier was not only avoidable, but to some degree, predictable.  In this age of immediately available information it is sad that the American public is so uninformed about its soldiers.  I can tell you from personal experience that being a soldier is like no other a person can experience.  It therefore is the responsibility of the government to inform and the American public to be informed.  Both scenarios have failed.

The last time America fought a war like World War II was World War II.  From that point on warfare has changed dramatically.  Guerrilla warfare was developed by the Japanese during World War 2.  It has been adopted as the preferable form of fighting by small fighting forces everywhere since.  Vietnam was America’s introduction at a large-scale to that form of warfare.  To its credit, during the Vietnam conflict the Department of Defense seldom required a soldier to serve more than a single one year tour of duty in Vietnam.  It relied up rotating in new troops on their first tour to take the place of departing troops.  A single unit, the 25th Infantry Division, for example, stayed involved in the war for much of its duration.  But on a man-by-man basis, replacements were brought in as an individual soldier completed his one-year tour.  That was a formula used at both office and enlisted levels.  The U.S. seemed to have learned that battle fatigue was a real detriment to the effectiveness of a fighting unit.  And anytime a man was returned to the war zone his thinking necessarily made him feel more vulnerable to a bullet with his name on it.

During that era there were always upwards to 1.5 million men on active duty so the ability to rotate men through the war zone without using them more than once was more easily accomplished than it is today.  During Vietnam there were many men who asked to be sent for a second tour in Vietnam, and few who asked for a third.  But in the individual soldiers mind was the knowledge that if he had already been to Vietnam once, he would not be required to go again.  Such knowledge is absent from the soldier’s psyche today.  Worse, those being required multiple trips to war zones are those who volunteered to be reserve troops.  That only happens when the numbers of active forces are too low to meet requirements.

What makes this even worse is that since the government has taken the tack of base closures, it has also reduced the size of the military.  In some instances the size of individual units have been reduced by as much as two-thirds while others have been totally disbanded.  The reason given, as always, is the level of funding.  The problem with such thinking is simple.  It is foolishness in the extreme.

America for over twenty years now has been trying to enforce peace and guarantee the safety of Americans on the cheap.  You cannot properly assess the strength and preparedness of the nation’s military in terms of dollars and cents alone.  History shows clearly that a country’s budget for its military is necessarily large, at least as long as it desires to be fully prepared.

Today, America has 10 active Army Infantry and Armor Divisions and three reserve infantry divisions both of which are a part of the National Guard.    In 1989 there were 19 active divisions and 10 reserve divisions.  Why is it we could afford that level of preparedness then but not now?  Simple math shows that we reduced that part of our defense by over 55%.

During those same years the size of the Air Force and Navy also have been reduced in both active and reserve numbers.  It would seem that our politicians have lost sight of the fact that in the end it is people, not machines, that win wars.  Technology serves a very important part of our readiness but technology is worthless without a sufficient human presence.  But on the battlefield, the place where the ground soldier must operate, even the best technology has its limits.  It should be painfully obvious to all but the most apathetic that the biggest deterrent to an enemy force is the number of men it faces, not their technology.  The Taliban certain respects America’s technology but it does not fear it.  Right now they know they have a superiority of number and are willing to play the game of attrition.  They know they are not going anywhere and can simply wait out America and hope for its resolve to wane.  But were they to face a very large increase in the number of men on the ground, their resolve would necessarily weaken.  They know American does not have such resources, so they simply wait, pick their fights, continue the battle of attrition confident in their ability to wait things out.

This scenario is not going to change in the future even as our enemy does change.  America must increase the size of its military, greatly, and become willing to pay for it.  But the cost of such an increase will reap long-term rewards.  Our military’s ability to keep fresh troops in the field will be enhanced.  It is morally wrong to ask the same small group of men to put their lives in harm’s way over and over and not expect there to be both short and long-term negative effects.  With enough men at its disposal the Army could have looked at SSG. Bales request, or requirement, to be deployed to a war zone for the fourth time in 11 years as the assumption of unnecessary risk and blocked his deployment.  With the shortage of manpower, such as it has, the Army’s hand was forced, and now we have the results.

Reducing the Size of the Military a Big Mistake

I remember some years ago hearing that the 26th Infantry Division was going to be reduced to a single brigade.  The 26th, the Yankee Division, was the army component of the Massachusetts National Guard.  At the time I did not think too much about it.  I recognized the desire of many to reduce the size of the military.  The mistake in my thinking was that the reduction was coming at the expense of reserve units.

Let’s start with the active duty force.  There are about 522,000 men and women in the army today.  During the Vietnam era the army was more than a million men and women strong, to put this in perspective.  After Vietnam, as was true after every other war, the size of the entire military was reduced.  But what is different this time?  The difference is simple.  There was no military build-up during Iraq and Afghanistan.  To meet requirements the burden was shifted to Army Reserve and National Guard units.  And it was early in Iraq that it was realized how unprepared the National Guard units in particular were.  That has changed.  The point is, our active duty force was too small to handle the ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Now our politicians have pressed the Pentagon to reduce an already lean active duty force.

I expect the Pentagon will push back by suggesting how to further reduce reserve and national guard forces.  This is a very dangerous tact.  The reason is very simple.  Regardless of how mechanized, how computerized, how modernized you make our armed forces, it still comes down to soldiers, not computers and machines, to win the wars.

I am certain that the Pentagon will push to keep our reserve forces better trained than they were prior to Iraq.  If there is one thing Iraq taught us, it is that our reserve forces were poorly prepared for extended active duty.  One has to remember, these forces train one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer.  That limits how much training you can do regardless of how hard  you try.  To think you can take these forces from their peacetime reserve status and throw them into a wartime stance as quickly as you can an active unit is absurd.  Short of doubling the training time allotted to the reserves, you are going to need a substantial ramp up period from peacetime to wartime stance for any reserve unit.

I think if anything our active ground forces need to be increased.  I think a 200,000 man increase, to about 750,000 troops is much more reasonable and gives us a much better defense force.  An additional investment into increasing the size of our reserve forces is also called for.

A standing army has always been an expensive item.  People are quick to look at the defense budget and think it is bloated.  I can assure you, nothing is further from the truth.  Another thing Iraq made painfully obvious was how woefully underfunded our reserves were.  They had too much obsolete equipment or equipment requirements that had not been filled due to budget constraints.  Having a well equipped army is not something that we can compromise on.

It is impossible to predict when and where the next conflict we will be involved in.  It is just as impossible to predict how much of a force we will need.  We cannot afford to be penny wise and pound foolish with our military.  We have to be fully prepared to meet the demands on our military in the future.  We can only have that with a reasonably sized military.