Editor’s note: Eilhys England contributed to this column.
The most important element in war is the soldier. Everything and everyone else must play second fiddle to the guy on the ground who digs the enemy out with the point of his bayonet. This remained the case in the Cold War missile age, and – like it or not – it’s even more so in the nasty hit-and-run fights of today and those down the terrorist track.
Because of “shock and awe,” Napoleon’s time-honored principle “God is on the side of the strongest battalion” no longer applies in conventional war. But it sure relates to the wars of insurgency our grunts are presently engaged in around the globe.
And here’s the rub: The Marines and the Army are stretched well beyond the breaking point – we simply don’t have enough mud soldiers in the ready rack to win these crucial ground campaigns. Without immediate relief, I worry that we’ll soon see a replay of what went down during the Vietnam War: Many of our top soldiers will hang up their rifles and hit civvy street – where the chances of living longer and easier come with the territory, and spouses are infinitely happier because they’re not sweating out every knock on the front door.
If this situation isn’t fixed ASAP, it could result in the finest professional ground force – active duty and Reserve – this nation has ever mustered becoming a mirror of the disenchanted, drugged-out, late Vietnam War crew that was more into fragging officers and smoking dope than fighting the ‘Cong.
The brass must deep-six conventional thinking and organize appropriately for the war at hand with Islamic radicals that will probably drag on for decades. Both the Marine and Army active duty need at least a 20 percent immediate increase, bringing the Marines to 200,000 and the Army to 600,000. Not only do our armed forces have to gear up for the long haul, more Special Forces groups are needed as well. And tough more-sweat-on-the-training-field must become SOP rather than the kinder, gentler drill that Army recruits are now served to maintain the low attrition that ultimately raises the casualty rate on the battlefield.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have also broken the Army Reserve and National Guard. More than one-fourth of the troops serving in these theaters are part-time soldiers – many serving a second tour, and some looking hard at tour No. 3.
Yes, these needed changes will cost billions of dollars more per year, but not to worry. If the irrelevant gold-plated Cold War weapons systems – such as obsolete multibillion-dollar ships and trillion-dollar fleets of fighter aircraft designed to shoot down the Soviets, who went down in flames years ago, plus the Marines’ flying albatross, the V-22 hybrid helicopter-airplane, which after more than 20 years of costly development does only two things well: crash and burn – were all canceled, the Pentagon could easily pay for the new boots on the ground from its own hide. And the only losers would be the weapons merchants themselves and the self-serving politicians who have their hands in their friendly local war racketeers’ pockets.
Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve, recently stood tall and blasted the Pentagon for its “dysfunctional policies.” He said his 200,000-man unit of part-time soldiers is “rapidly degenerating into a broken force.”
Enlistment and re-enlistment in these two important reserve elements are falling off the charts. Helmly said his Reserve Command is being placed in “grave danger” of not being able to meet future missions and, if nothing’s done, soon won’t be able to meet “requirements.”
Today, the regular Army has about 100,000 non-deployables out of a 500,000-man regular force. The Reserves and Guard dud ratios are even higher. Any civilian corporation that allowed too many slackers, deadwood and deadbeats would belly-up. Since pregnancy, disability and too many single spouses with kids who cannot deploy are a large part of this problem, the Army needs to understand once and for all that we’re at war and can no longer afford the luxury of social experiments.
While Congress studies long-range problems like Social Security, the force that defends America is going down the drain. It’s about time that body got its priorities straight and paid more attention to a higher security – our national security!