Fixing The Military

Fixing The Military
May 18th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Fixing The Military

Fixing The Military
New York Times
May 18, 2008
Pg. WK11

The United States’ military is the world’s best. It is also in need of substantial repair. Two wars — the war of necessity in Afghanistan and President Bush’s disastrous war of choice in Iraq — have worn out soldiers and equipment at an unprecedented rate. So alarming is the deterioration that many military commanders say the country is unable to sustain the current operation in Iraq let alone face down future threats.
The next president’s most pressing challenge will be to plot an orderly exit from Iraq. The challenges will not end there. The turmoil Mr. Bush unleashed in Iraq, and the failure to defeat Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, have made the world more dangerous. Extremists will continue to threaten this country and its allies. The next president will also have to grapple with an increasingly powerful Iran with nuclear ambitions, a rising China, an assertive Russia, and a raft of unstable countries, from nuclear-armed Pakistan to Somalia.
What the country does not need is a military ready to refight the cold war or even the Iraq war. It needs a force that is both strong and flexible enough to meet a host of very different challenges.
Even after American troops come home there will be no peace dividend. But after wasting more than $600 billion in Iraq, the country cannot afford to keep writing the Pentagon blank checks. The next president and Congress will have to resist the demands of service chiefs and the blandishments of defense lobbyists and evaluate real needs, including canceling expensive programs that do not meet today’s threats or tomorrow’s.
How broken is the military? Let us count the ways:
Repeated, long deployments have put unsustainable stress on troops and pose significant risk to the all-volunteer military. Some 1.6 million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001; many of them have deployed to the war zone for three or four tours.
Fifteen-month combat tours, followed by only 12 months of home leave, put incredible stress on families and make it hard to train for the next mission.
President Bush and the Congress favor expanding the number of ground forces. The Army has already had to reduce its standards to meet recruitment quotas. In 2007, only 79 percent of recruits had high school diplomas, down from 92 percent in 2003. The Army is also granting an increasing number of so-called “moral” waivers — given to recruits with criminal histories ranging from marijuana use to felony convictions.
Retaining the best and most experienced war fighters is getting harder. The Army has only 83 percent of the majors that it needs. It has offered bonuses of up to $35,000 to keep captains from leaving, promoted junior officers at an unprecedented rate and allowed senior officers to serve beyond mandatory retirement dates.
Nearly one-fifth of the troops — some 300,000 men and women — have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan reporting post-traumatic stress disorders; only half have sought mental health treatment, in part because many feel it will derail careers, according to a study by the RAND think tank. That leaves countless service members susceptible to depression and suicide.
With roughly half of its equipment deployed in Iraq under punishing conditions, the Army will need billions of dollars to re-equip its troops. The National Guard, whose primary task is to protect the homeland and respond to disasters, has only about 61 percent of its equipment because the rest is overseas.
The Pentagon’s acquisition process is so flawed that dozens of the most costly weapons program are billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule, according to a recent study by Congress’s Government Accountability Office.
What will it take to fix the problems? Congressional leaders estimate it could take $240 billion just to replace war-damaged equipment. Fixing the military also will require a serious analysis of current and future threats, and a more rational procurement process. A recent study by the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan think tank, said it will also mean ensuring that the military has a greater range and mix of capabilities, including more capacity for psychological operations, civil affairs and the training of foreign forces.
With two wars to manage and other crises on the horizon, the next president, and the nation, cannot afford a prolonged policy review or to keep going blindly in the same direction. Americans need, right now, to hear the candidates consider and debate these difficult issues.

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