Chief Concerns

Chief Concerns
January 28th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Chief Concerns

Chief Concerns
National Journal's CongressDailyAM
January 28, 2008 Forward Observer
Adm. Michael Mullen, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has three big objectives as he starts this year's wrestling match with Congress.
His first objective is for the chiefs to take a united stand on any major changes the lawmakers demand in the new military budget President Bush is scheduled to send to Congress next Monday.
Mullen told me he has a commitment from the chiefs to take this unified approach to budget issues rather than have each service lobby its case directly with lawmakers to save this or that program.
In this presidential election year, Congress almost certainly will redistribute Bush's defense dollars, either out of conviction or to make political points.
Lawmakers are likely to eye cuts in such expensive programs as the Air Force F-22 fighter plane, now priced by the Pentagon at $355 million a copy including research and development costs.
And the ailing national economy is bound to resuscitate the guns vs. butter argument that until now has been eclipsed by the Iraq war.
Political pressures will thus test the unity of the chiefs that Mullen has forged.
Besides fighting the battle of the budget, Mullen will be under the gun as the Pentagon tries to obey congressional orders, inserted in the FY08 defense authorization bill just re-passed, to take a new and extensive look at the division of labor among the services to see if it still makes sense given the changed threats of the modern era.
House Armed Services Chairman Skelton championed these marching orders that require a reappraisal of the roles and missions of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps every four years.
One life or death question the chiefs and civilian defense executives need to address in any serious role and mission reappraisal is which armed service or agency should be given the lead role to prevent terrorists from attacking the United States with a nuclear bomb?
Another less significant, but still contentious, question waiting to be addressed is whether the Air Force should be put in charge of unmanned aircraft or whether each service should operate its own.
"The roles and missions of our military services are largely unchanged since the Truman administration and the Key West agreement of 1948," Skelton said in stating his case for the agonizing reappraisal.
"After almost six decades it's time to once again analyze the Defense Department's roles and missions, identify the service's core competencies, discover the missions going unaddressed and examine possible duplication of effort among the branches."
As one who has watched the Pentagon undertake during both Democratic and Republican administrations the congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Reviews of what the armed services are doing and why, I fear the new roles and mission exercise will end up being a similar self justification of what the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps are already doing rather than anything approaching a bold blueprint for restructuring.
Unless Congress demands specific answers, the generals, admirals, captains, colonels and civilian defense executives will go through a mountain of paper, hold hundreds of meetings and then issue a molehill of a report, as has been the case with past QDRs.
Perhaps Mullen will find a way to get the military establishment out of its defensive crouch, but I doubt it.
I have fewer doubts about him achieving his two other big objectives: caring for today's servicemen and women not only when they are in uniform but afterward and fixing the Army.
"I have very comfortable quarters near the State Department," Mullen told me, his voice rising. "I look out and see homeless men and women lying in the street. I realize I served with some of them in Vietnam. We cannot let this happen again to the men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm paranoid about this."
He has publicly vowed to focus while chairman on the needs of the wounded and on the mental problems of present and former soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
"We're going through a tremendous time of change with respect to traumatic brain injury," says the new chief. "We have to be much more aggressive in dealing with it."
As for the Army, it is indeed surprising to hear an admiral who has commanded photogenic Navy warships to be pleading the case for the lowly grunts.
But Mullen says another problem that has "kept me awake at night" is a fear of breaking the Army through over-deploying its people.
He says he is working toward the goal of giving soldiers two years at home for every year of deployment overseas.
"The U. S. military remains the strongest in the world," says this top military officer in the land and principal military adviser to the president, "but it is not unbreakable."
Mullen is a sailor who never expected to rise to the military's top job. But now that he's got it, he strikes me as a skipper who is not afraid of the rough water ahead.
--George C. Wilson

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