If We Are Going to War, Let’s At Least Do It Right


The latest bombing in Manchester England only reinforces how increasingly dangerous our world is. These terrorists are going to continue what they have been doing in recent years and, I fear, with increasing regularity. It is only a matter of time before such a tragedy strikes the United States, again. Remember the Boston Bombing. The United States is a lot of things, but security against such attacks is, unfortunately, unreliable. I do not say that our law enforcement people will not do their utmost to defend against such an eventuality, they will. What I am saying is that there is just so much they can do and a committed terrorist, such as just struck in Manchester England, is virtually impossible to protect against.

My liberal friends, and even my conservative ones, might find it surprising for me to make the following statement but I feel it is one which must be said. The United States needs to increase its ability to fight a land war. But as we stand now, we are woefully unprepared to do so.

According to the Heritage Foundation, the U.S. Army will be at a strength of 460,000 by year’s end, the navy will have 272 ships which falls short of the 308-ship battle force it needs. The Marine corps will have 182,000 active personnel. Finally, the Air Force a little over 5,000 air craft of all types. It has 76 B-52H aircraft, 62 B-1s, 20- B-2s, almost 600 F-15s of, a little over 950 F-16s, and 182 F-22s. The last B-52H, the latest model, was delivered in 1962 giving the average age of that aircraft over 55 years old. The B-52 is the only long range heavy bomber in our arsenal, a key component to any strategic fleet. The average age of its F-15 fleet, the backbone of its fighters, is approaching 30 years. Equally as bad is that the majority of the Air Force’s long range refueling aircraft, the KC-135, a Boeing 707 variant, is also over 50 years. It does have much newer KC-10s but only purchased 59 of this aircraft.

The Heritage Institute, which studies military preparedness, rates the Army’s and Navy’s preparedness at “weak to marginal,” the Air Force was rated “marginal” in 3 out of 4 categories, only in “capacity” did it score “very strong.” The Marine Corps was rated “marginal” in 3 of 4 categories, and “weak” in capacity. What can we derive from all this? The United States Military forces are overextended, overtaxed, and under strength.

It is likely we will soon be engaged in another protracted land-war. Given the various terrorist organizations and the state of the middle-east, it seems almost inevitable. But it is a sin to send our troops into modern battle in antique aircraft, sparse support organizations, and an overtaxed cadre of men.

The signs of battle fatigue were first noted in WW1, more so in WW2 and by the time the Vietnam war was over, medical science had come up with a name for it, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is worse now than ever. How can we tell? The rate of suicide in the military is at an all-time high per capita. I was a Vietnam era vet and the promise made to us, and kept, was that if we were put into a war zone, such duty would be required of us one time only. And the Defense Department kept its word on that point. Still, the horrors of war proved too much for some.

Today, it is common practice to send soldiers into a war zone 3 times or more. The reason? We simply do not have a large enough force to guarantee the soldier that one war zone tour my generation was granted.

A mentally tired soldier is a soldier more susceptible to being killed or wounded than one with top mental acuity. The answer is a simple, albeit expensive, one. We need to increase the size of our active and reserve forces first. Then we must put our airmen in the most modern aircraft we can build. Such an action will easily cost trillions of dollars, but sending men up in aircraft that should only be seen in museums is nothing short of criminal.

We face an enemy who seems impervious to our high-tech warfare. Why? He is spread out in small units which can move on a moment’s notice. He can outsmart the smart bomb simply by moving from one place to the next. As advanced as we are in the art of war, we still do not have an adequate replacement for the infantryman, and this is not likely to change anytime soon. Simply put, we need to reactive many infantry divisions which have been retired over the years. The 5th ID, 7th ID, 24th ID, 26th ID and 2nd Armored Division. This would add as many as 90,000 infantrymen and tankers and greatly bolster our troops.

What this is going to take, more than money, is our politicians finding the courage to face facts and then be truthful with the American public. The public in general will probably not like the news, but properly presented, they will accept it. It is in all our best interest that we stop pretending we can fight a war with just the men and equipment we now have. We cannot.

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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


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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.

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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.

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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.

America’s Politicians Are Compromising Its Future


Winston Churchill said, Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”  He was repeating what George Santayana said in 1906.  Churchill’s reference is more compelling because he said it as the result of the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939.  It seems, however, that this bit of wisdom has fallen upon deaf ears when it comes to the Congress of the United States.  Democrats in particular, but some Republicans too, are hell-bent on reducing the size of our military.  The concern is the size of the defense budget.  What is being forgotten is America’s security.

After World War I the United States entered into a period of isolationism that proved disastrous.  When it came time that we had to go to war against Germany and Japan, our military was in a very sad state of affairs.  But that was where it had found itself just prior to Word War I as well.  Why?

Then, as now, the price of freedom is steep.  The guardians of our freedom is our standing military.  It is their readiness and ability to quickly go into action that keeps us strong, safe, and free.  After World War I Americans, with a complicit Congress, thought the size and price tag associated with it was far too steep.  There was a huge reduction is equipment and personnel.  When the United States was drawn into World War II in 1941, it was extremely undermanned, poorly trained, and poorly equipped.  But after WWII we seemed to have learned our lesson.  The United States, particularly with the cold war, kept a well-equipped, well-trained, and reasonably sized force until the mid-1980s.  Then, during the Reagan administration, it was decided that we needed to close out-dated and redundant military installations.  With that, it was felt we could achieve a budget savings that was needed.  It was a truly good idea in theory but in practice it has been a political boondoggle that defies logic and common sense.

The Base Closure Commission was first convened in 1988 to consider the necessity of the 3800 military installations then in existence.  On December 29, 1988, the first base closure commission (with its 12 members appointed by the Secretary of Defense Carlucci) issued its report. It recommended the closure, in part or in whole, and realignment of 145 bases. The commission projected that this would improve the effectiveness of the base structure, and would save an estimated $693.6 million a year in base operating costs.  Considering the total defense budget for 1989 was $427.7 billion this was fairly insignificant.  The first base closed was Pease AFB in Portsmouth NH.   But as usual, members of Congress fought tooth and nail to keep every single proposed closing that impacted their state removed from the list.  This, of course, lead to the back-room deals which resulted in the closing of bases that left both the Pentagon and those knowledgeable in military affairs scratching their heads.

For example, during the second round of base closures Fort Huachuca Arizona was scheduled to be closed.  Its men and facilities would be moved to Fort Devens Massachusetts.  Fort Huachuca was the home of the Army Communications Command along with a number of other smaller groups.  Fort Devens was home to the Army Security Agency and several other groups.  The Army Security Agency was responsible for the security of military communications.  With Massachusetts’ nation leading technology base it seemed a match made in heaven.  Its operations and those as the nearby Hanscom AFB, an air force research and development installation engaged in many of the same activities as the army’s security agency.  It must have made too much sense.  But Hanscom AFB has also been a target for a base closure.  To this day it is my belief that Sen. Ted Kennedy made a back room deal with Sen. John McCain in which he secured the future of Hanscom in exchange for closing Fort Devens.  Fort Huachuca remains open today.

To put a dot on this i, if you look at the history of base closures you will find that the majority have come in states where Democrats either tend to be in power or hold great sway.  Large bases which probably should be closed, but have consistent avoided that bullet, remain open and all are in states that are strongly conservative.  Large bases like Fort Sill Oklahoma, Fort Jackson South Carolina, Tinker AFB Oklahoma, and others which probably should be closed remain open because of their location over their mission and cost.  I mention these things just to show how much of a political football our military is.  Political expediency reigns supreme over military needs.  This is exactly how it went right after World War I.

I would like to suggest that one major area of savings can come from reducing our military presence abroad.  Korea, for example, is home to some 50,000 troops.  Why?  The South Korean military is large, very well-trained, and very well-equipped.  Whatever threat exists from North Korea is something they can deal with themselves.  I would suggest removal of all troops from Korea save a small contingent at a joint US/Korea facility at Osan AFB which is an excellent staging area in the case of an emergency.

Then there is the US presence in Japan.  Following World War II, Japan signed an agreement that it would maintain only a defense force, no capital ships or large tactical army allowed.  But in the 75+ years since that treaty was signed Japan find its power in its industrial might, something it always wanted anyway, and shows no interest in being a military power.  I suggest that like Korea all U.S. troops save a very small contingent at an air force base be removed and that Japan be allowed to grow its own military.

The same is true for Germany.  After World War II it was required to sign a treaty that allow only for a purely defense military.  Like Japan, Germany is no longer a state that has any interest in the militaristic tendencies of its past.  Here again we could easily remove all troops save the small contingent and allow Germany to raise and maintain its own regular military.  There is absolutely no reason to believe that Japan and Germany would not continue to be anything but wonderful allies.  And this in turn would greatly reduce the cost of military forces abroad.

One of the things our military has become extremely adept at is quickly deploying to anywhere in the world in response to foreign threats.  We are better served by having a highly mobile and quickly deployable force located in the United States than at most of the locations overseas.  This would mean, however, increasing the number of available transport aircraft but that cost is greatly offset by the savings realized from removing forces overseas.

Key to this is keeping enough men and material available to respond to any emergency.  The proposed cut of 100,000 troops is entirely contrary to good military standing.  We are already too small in the size of forces.  Our soldiers are forced to endure too many overseas deployments to meet the nation’s needs.  Military effectiveness relies upon good troop morale.  A good way to undermine that is to send the same soldier over and over again into harm’s way.  We learned, supposedly, in World War II the dangers of that and during Korea and Vietnam soldiers were not required to serve more than one tour of one year in a combat zone.  That could not be further from the truth today.

We must get our Congress to work smarter and put aside their selfish political agendas.  Democrats have to give into the idea that the entitlement programs desperately need reigning in and controlled.  Republicans have got to understand that the only way our government gets revenue is through taxes.  They have got to put an end to corporate welfare and give in to the hard reality that we all may have to pay a little more to continue our way of life.

The large land wars of the past involving multiple nations at once seems unlikely.  But we can no longer afford the cold war deployment model either.  What we need is to listen to the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and their aides as to the present and future needs of a well-trained, well-equipped, and properly manned military force.  Politicians really need to get it out of their heads that they both understand and are sensitive to the real needs of the military.  Don’t build ships that naval leaders do not want.  Don’t build aircraft that air force leadership doesn’t want.  Address their real concerns and you will show, finally, that you do remember our history.

Why Can’t Hollywood Understand the Military?


I have just started watching the Showtime series “Homeland.”  The premise of the series is irrelevant to this except to say that one of the central characters, Marine Sergeant Brodie, was a prisoner of war during the Iraq War and was freed in 2009.  Sgt. Brodie is played by Damian Lewis who was 40 years old when the series started.   And that is the start of my problems with Hollywood.

Lewis plays a marine infantryman who was captured in 2003.  His rank is sergeant, the lowest non-commissioned office rank.  In the military, regardless of service, there is a policy called “up or out.”  Simply put, that means you must attain a certain rank within a set number of years of service.  A marine can expect to make sergeant in 2 to 4 years.  A marine who is full-time infantry can expect that rank in minimal time.  But this is complicated by who enlists in the service.  The marines, by far, are toughest on their recruits and, as any service, prefers recruits in boot camp who are no older than 20.  The reason is simple, as you get older you ability to perform physically decreases.   The character, Sgt. Brodie, would have been close to 30 at the time he entered the service.  It is likely the marines would have dissuaded him from enlisting in their infantry, and would have put him into a combat support role at best, supply, signal, etc.

All military organizations are conservative by nature.  The marines are the most conservative of all.  They live to fight and look good, and they do a really good job of each.  Marines, all, have one idea of a haircut.

The man above typifies what a marine haircut looks like.  They not only do it as a matter of personal pride, they do it because it is expected of them.  They do not make exceptions.  In the series, Sgt. Brodie looks like this:

His haircut would not only have been unaccepted to the Corps but to himself as a marine.

What kills me about Hollywood is that the military is really pretty easy to understand, if you take the time.  Uniforms do not change very often or very much.  Even so, each service has a regulation covering uniforms, easily obtainable, called “fitting and wearing the uniform.”  Not only that, there are thousands and thousands of veterans from every service and from every war for the past 80+ years who can expertly analyse such situations.  Why is it so difficult for Hollywood to find and employ such people?  Most veterans would be thrilled the help out so Hollywood could get it right.

Hollywood loves to use Army Special Forces and Navy Seals like they are in the thick of the fighting everyday.  That just is not the case.  Each of these groups has a very narrow mission each time it takes the field.  And that mission has a very short life as well.  That is part of what makes them special.  Most of the “action” in a war zone is conducted by regular infantry troops, armor, and artillery.  In “Homeland,” Sgt. Brodie is recovered by special forces which, while not impossible, but unlikely unless they knew beforehand they were seeking a particular target and need to get in and out quickly.  Otherwise, he would most likely have been discovered by a regular infantry group, army or marine, in the course of their normal duties.

While particular operations within any branch of the military are frequently classified, their day-to-day affairs, how they operate and what the look like doing so, is not.  I would really like see Hollywood, for a change, pay a little more attention to detail and get it right.