More Than a Fair Share of Sacrifice

The size of the Army appears to be the critical factor in determining how the latest defense budget reduction and potential sequestration requirements will be met. The Secretary of Defense has proposed reducing the projected number of 490,000 to $450,000 or perhaps 440,000. Speculation about that proposal among columnists and other seers identifies 420,000 as more likely. Then there are the oracles who promise that an additional 100,000 or so will not endanger our national security. Our esteemed colleague, U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos, is reported to have advocated an Army of 125,000 if we keep the Marine Corps at adequate strength and buy into the AirSea Battle strategy. That would return the Army to its post World War I condition and the inadequacies faced in 1940. Meanwhile, air-sea strategy will cope with a Ukraine crisis, threats to NATO’s eastern borders, worldwide terrorism, and peer threats to Israel, Korea, Japan or the Philippines, as well as prevent Muslim expansion of control in Africa.

History will tell us how all that will be resolved over the next few years or so. Meanwhile, the impact of decisions to consign another 50,000, 100,000 or 150,000 soldiers to unemployed rolls ought to be drawing more attention. For the most part, they are mature, career-committed, well-trained men and women who will suffer reduction in force notices because the government is reneging on the contracts they thought they had signed. They will be accompanied by thousands of spouses who will lose their jobs at installations, many of which are being downsized so the government will have money to stimulate the economy and pay for job creation measures and unemployment compensation.

The general respect and admiration of the public at large – and the appreciation expressed by senior officials of the government, the clergy and other professions – for our soldiery ever since the first Persian Gulf War and the end of the Cold War have been heart-warming. The rewarding post-World War II aftermath, the post-Korean War lack of concern and the downright post-Vietnam War hostility toward all soldiers make today’s ”thank you for your service” a welcome recognition. Nevertheless, accolades for what you have done sound hollow when one’s future and family welfare are endangered by what might be termed a personal cataclysm.

The news media today are attendant to the problems of equal opportunity for women, sexual harassment and abuse, discrimination and racial profiling, threats to privacy in the cyber world, and demands to curtail the authority of commanders, all to ensure the welfare, equal opportunity and rewarding treatment of all who are servicing – or who have served – in the military. But there is little, if any attention being given to the actual plight of the thousands who are to be affected by the changes now in progress.

The Army, given little choice in the matter, has already planned the strength reductions at various posts and installations and is preparing for a new round of base realignments and closures in 2017. The impact of those projections on local communities has hardly been addressed, but a sizable unemployment figure and other dislocation costs will accompany those changes when the Army announces the ”savings” to be realized as another contribution to managing deficit spending and the national debt.

The Army is also explaining that the reduction will provide an opportunity to weed out the officers and NCOs who do not measure up, and reward those with outstanding records by retaining them. That is completely consistent with the promotion system that has always winnowed its leadership by eliminating a percentage of those who are eligible during each promotion cycle. The magnitude of the coming reductions, however, will far exceed the numbers normally selected out.

The first outcome will probably be the observation that those leaving voluntarily will be the ”best and brightest.” When coupled with the social restrictions already existing (for example, no discharges of HIV-positive soldiers or pregnant women) and others that can be foreseen (such as percentage statistics of minorities, declared homosexuals, self-reported post-traumatic stress disorders) that will generate inquiries, lawsuits and new regulations, the impact on combat readiness of the force and its capabilities will be further degraded.

Personnel reductions and the postponement or cancellation of training are the quickest and simplest way to save money. That they might be applied to other government agencies, Social Security or Medicaid recipients, college tuitions, congressional staffs or government subsidies in politically infeasible, and so, the sine wave of support for the Army heads for the next nadir. The personal and probable military tragedies portended are the next cross for the Army to bear. The reduction of the Army to inadequacy portend a national tragedy as well since we read today of the refurbishing of the Russian Army, the continuing increase of China’s military budget and the spread of Al Qaeda’s influence. The portents are not promising.

Gen. Frederick J. Kroesen, USA Ret., formerly served as Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army and commander in chief of U.S. Army Europe. He is a senior fellow of AUSA’s Institute of Land Warfare and 1st Vice President of the American Security Council Foundation.

Reprinted with permission from ARMY Magazine, Vol. 64 #6. The Association of the United States Army.

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