Military Preparedness

This month, June 2013, the Department of Defense announced it will be reducing the size of the army, both active and reserve, by 14%.  The reasoning is dual: budget cuts and peacetime requirements.  The problem with this thinking is simple: the army was already too small.  It is relevant here to remind readers of the maxim that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

When Thomas Jefferson took office in 1801, he saw the Federal Government saddled with what he viewed as an unwieldy debt.  Jefferson’s idea was to completely eliminate the regular army but “settled” for reducing it by 1/3.  He cut the army’s budget by ½ and stopped all naval ship building stating that a “big boat” navy was unnecessary.  It was, in fact, the will of the people he carried out but it nearly proved our country’s undoing.

Curiously, however, it was Jefferson who founded the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1802.  Jefferson, like other founders of the country, was aware of the vacuum of professionally trained military officers in America.  Washington himself was an exception, but by and large the leaders of the Revolution had been either political appointees or voted into leadership in their state’s militia by their fellow townspeople.  But Jefferson’s view of the future, even with a home grown professional military establishment, he viewed peacetime military needs to by small.

The War of 1812 happened because of the impressment of American commercial sailors being impressed, forced into service, in the British navy.  America did not have the navy to protect its interests.  Although England had no desire to reign over America, it did carry the battle forward was it was engaged.  America was so shorthanded that it was not until 1814 that it was able to raise a force sufficient to repulse the English, and even then a combination of luck and help from the French was needed.

That done, however, America once again fell into a military morass, keeping just enough troops to fight on its western frontier, and the occasional skirmish with Mexico.

The Civil War did nothing to change the American mindset.  The entire war, on both sides, was fought with each state’s militia.  Even though these forces were large they were also quickly and easily disbanded at war’s end.  Heroes like George Armstrong Custer, who rose to the level of Major General, 2 stars, during the war, was returned to the grade of Lieutenant Colonel after the war since he had been a part of the Michigan militia.  To this day, such practices are still common.

The next engagement of any size, the Spanish-American war, did not seriously challenge the state and size of the military to any great degree.  And when America finally entered World War 1, April 1917, its entire army, active and reserve, consisted of about 300,000 men.  Worse, those who were in the regular army, were poorly trained and poorly equipped for the most part.  The American army had no serviceable aircraft with which to counter the German air corps, and no tanks either.  So poorly prepared was America that it was a full year before the first American troops saw action.  Fortunately, American patriotism ran high and once America committed itself, recruiting soldiers in large numbers was fairly easy.  But as anyone familiar with the military knows, from enlistment to the completion of initial training takes a good six months, and then you have green troops.  Thrown into action, green troops are likely to suffer a high casualty rate.   General John (Black Jack) Pershing, a man with considerable experience, knew this only too well and was able to forestall the introduction of American troops into battle until he was satisfied they were properly trained and properly lead.

But World War 1 left such a bad taste in the mouths of Americans, the hideousness of the trench warfare and the liberal use of gas, brought home the horrors of modern warfare.  Americans dubbed it as “the war to end all wars.”  The felt justified in using the draconian doctrines of handling post-war Germany that they were unable to see that it not only destabilized the entire Western Europe, but sowed the inevitable seeds for a second world war.  To be fair, the French and English demands upon reparations from Germany for actual costs of war were so heavy that the economic bankruptcy of Germany was insured.  America, for its part, was happy to simply walk away and be done with it all.

The war over, America once again reduced the size of its military to a level that put the country in jeopardy, although Americans were wont to see or understand this.  Funding for development of new weapon systems, particularly the military aircraft, was cut to nearly nothing.  The allies had forced upon the defeated German people, and itself, a tonnage limit to the number and size of naval forces.

During his court martial in 1925, General William Mitchell warned America against the military complacency it had not only embraced, but demanded.  He warned the cost in American lives at the outbreak of hostilities, a foregone conclusion in his estimation, would be great.  No one listened.  On July 1, 1941, a mere 5 months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the active army forces stood at 151,000.  Once again, too many of those soldiers were poorly trained and poorly equipped.

After WWII, Korea and Vietnam provided enough inertia for America to keep a sizeable and adequately supplied military.  In the late 1980s, during the Reagan-Bush administrations, the Base Closure Commission was tasked with closing and combining unnecessary and redundant military facilities.  This was actually a good idea.  But with it came the incessant reduction in the size of the active duty military, those who are not a part of either the reserves forces or the National Guard.

When the first Gulf War happened, the reliance upon National Guard forces increased more than at any time since the Civil War.  To be clear, the American National Guard, while partially federally funded, fall firstly under the command of each state’s governor and then as a secondary reserve force to be activated, brought on active duty, during periods of national emergency.  The primary mission of these citizen soldiers had always been primarily to ensure the security of the individual states.  The Vietnam War did use National Guard troops but it was more the exception than the rule.  Today, that had changed.  Also during the Vietnam War, those National Guard troops used in the war were assured of a single tour and nothing more.  That too is no longer true.  Entire National Guard units have experienced 2, 3 and 4 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This has led to the states being consistently short-handed in National Guard troops to conduct necessary state activities.  And yet, these short-handed states, will be asked once again to reduce the size of their force.

My concern is a simple one.  The extensiveness of our next altercation is an unknown but it is a sure thing.  If, for example, North Korea decided to invade the south, we would be hard pressed to provide the additional forces South Korea would need to protect itself.  To its credit, South Korea possesses one of the largest and best trained military forces in the free world.  But even so, it is not nearly as large as it northern neighbor and would require our immediate and substantial support.  I am not certain to what level we could meet that commitment.

That part of the world which would love to take America down is only encouraged by our continued reduction in force.  They know our ability to respond is reduced and it gives them confidence to do their mischief.  You must remember, there is a certain percentage of the military which cannot be deployed to a war zone simply because of our requirements at home, and in other countries.

I believe that if anything, the size of our active duty army needs to be at around 1 million men, or a little more than twice its present size.  Similarly, our reserve forces, to include the National Guard, should be at last another 1 million men.  And this is over and above active and reserve naval and air forces and their respective reserve components.  Yes, it is expensive but it is also the cost of our peace of mind in today’s world.  While we may never fight another war like World War 2, we also cannot entirely dismiss the idea.  We do so only at our own peril.


What Do Government Employees Do?

There are three levels of government; federal, state, and local.  I am going to focus on the federal level as that is where my experience of 30 years is, 11 years on active duty in the Army and another 19 years for the Department of Transportation.  The group of employees I am addressing are the civil service workers, not the political appointees.

Every member of the military is a government employee and I do not think that needs any explanation.  But behind them, in the Department of Defense, are tens of thousands of civilian employees who support them.  This sort of employee exists in every federal agency.  They are managers, engineers, lawyers, inspectors, researchers, office assistants and a host of other jobs.  The overwhelming majority of federal lawyers spend little to no time in the court room.  Theirs is the world of assuring that the various activities of the particular agency they work for are proper and legal.  They are the overseers of contracts, employment activities, interagency agreements, agreements with the private sector, and anywhere else their agency’s business takes them.  One of the largest portion of the Defense Department’s civilian employees are support services.  These are people assist in the development and fielding of equipment that our troops must use.  They are engineers, inspectors, supply experts, logistics experts, etc.

There are at least two places that the entire American public relies upon on a daily basis.  All food and medications are inspected by employees of the Department of Agriculture.  Because of this we have the safest food supply in the world, and this includes our water supply.  Everyday there are inspectors who go around checking to see that the food entering our stores meets certain federally mandated qualities.  They make sure the medications we buy at the drug store, not just prescription medications but over-the-counter as well, also meet certain high standards.  In this our country is also second to none.  When epidemic possible diseases are detected it is the federal government in the form of its employees who are on the front lines figuring out what those diseases are exactly and what we can do about them.

Every time you get in any sort of vehicle on any public road the standards for those roads and the vehicles that cover them, are set by the federal government.  Government inspectors are constantly inspecting large trucks and the roads they travel over.  In this same vein, all of aviation falls under the purview of the federal government.  The regulations that cover every commercial aircraft, and their inspections, are federal mandates.  So strict are these mandates that if the same standard we used on our private cars, a large portion of the public could not afford to own the vehicle.  The federal government maintains a database of every aircraft in the air today, of every pilot, of every commercial airline regardless of the sort of business they do, and holds each to a very strict level of standards.  It takes a lot of people, government employees, to complete such work.

One of the false notions that people have about government employees is that they have it easy and do not do much work.  I can assure you that at the federal level, at least, nothing could be further from the truth.  Most government workers work in excess of 40 hours of work but most do not get overtime pay for their efforts.  Furthermore, government employees pay 50% of the medical insurance, pay into their retirement, and pay social security medicare taxes as well.

The federal government employs approximately 2.5 million people full-time, and another 250,000 part-time.  If there is fault to be found in these numbers, that is looking to reduce those numbers, people must consider from which department the reductions are going to come.  If, for example, people do not understand what the Department of the Interior does and want reductions to start there, they need to know that all National Parks come under the Interior and it is those people you are looking to reduce.  Anyone who works at a military research facility is part of Defense.  And so it goes.

You may think you do not know any federal employees, but chances are you do.  But even if you do not, you count on their existence for your personal happiness and safety.   Most government employees are very well-educated and dedicated people who work hard and turn in a full day’s work.

Reduce the Size of the Federal Government

This may sound like a strange thing coming from someone who has voted for Democrats his entire life but it is something we really do need.  The most recent increase came with the establishment of Homeland Security as its own cabinet post.  I was particularly incensed at its formation, not because we did not need such focus, but because it disregarded an existing agency entirely.  That agency is the Department of Defense. I will explain.

By definition, homeland security has always been the domain of our armed forces.  But there have been certain restrictions with regard of how those forces could be used.  This restrictions are a part of our federal laws.  That meant we can use our armed forces as a police force only in times of martial law.  But the solution to that was not to create an entirely new agency, but to change the laws to make it possible.  There is not a single thing the DHS does today that our military could not have accomplished.  The most visible of all DHS is at our airports.  The idea of people in military uniforms was at the airports was undesirable.  The solution was to simply create a special uniform for those who were put into such situation so they did not look like other members of the military.  These people would specialize in just these sorts of duties.  But the duties would be easily transferable to the more traditional military duties.

That would have eliminated an entire agency as it exists today.  But I certainly would not stop there.  I think certain agencies can be folded into other existing agencies.  The Department of Energy can be fairly easily split between Commerce and Transportation.  The Department of Justice can absorb duties now assigned to the Treasury and Homeland Security.   Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services can be combined.  The Departments of the Interior and Agriculture can be combined.  And the list goes on.

I was a federal employee for 30 years, 11 active duty in the U.S. Army and 19 at the U.S. Department of Transportation.  I worked at one of the more lean portions of the government.  Even there, however, there was an overabundance of senior civil service employees which could have been easily reduced, even more than it had been.  Because of that, I certainly believe that this is true of every other agency.  That means there needs to be a definition of how many people at a minimum senior manager must have in order to retain their pay grade.  It would also give definition to how many of any particular pay grade can exist within the entire government.  It would not surprise me that people of the pay grades GS-15, SES-1 and higher have as few as 5 people working under them when a minimum of 25 or more should be observed SES grades and 10 or more for GS-15.  People in these grades typically jealously protect their fiefdoms.  They are wonderful at rationalizing the status quo but are poor when pragmatism is called for.  Additionally, minimum education requirements need to be observed for these pay grades, another thing that frequently does not exist today.  I knew of one SES person who had nothing more than a high school education.  He ruled over people holding master degrees and PhD.

I want to caution people about one thing.  A small  government is not a guarantee to a reduced level of funding.  At the federal level, payroll is a relatively small portion of the entire budget.  But to be sure, a smaller government will make it much more manageable.