Troubles with the Army
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By jank - Last updated: Tuesday, August 12, 2003 - Save & Share - 3 Comments

Granted, Paul Krugman’s usually “smoking crack”:http://home.pacbell.net/weidners/jottings2/krugman_index.htm, IMO. But “today”:http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/12/opinion/12KRUG.html he’s finally got a couple of decent points about troubles with privatizing parts of the military.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this. One of the reasons that the US Armed Forces are head and shoulders above the rest of the world is that we let our defense industry continue to innovate by running much of the R&D as a private enterprise, and allow advances to trickle down to the public at a pretty rapid rate. We also don’t have strict control on profits of defense contractors, which provides an incentive for them to make better products. And, as one of the few industries still maintaining strict controls on US Ownership and content, these profits are poured back into the US economy.

However, I am disturbed by the trend to allow contractors to play a part in combat operations, or combat support operations. It is possible to put a dollar value on human life, and folks watching corporate bottom lines are likely to do so. This is the last thing I’d like troops worrying about while they are extended in defense of freedom, whether it be for Americans, Iraqis, or anyone’s.

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3 Responses to “Troubles with the Army”

Comment from etrigan
Time August 12, 2003 at 5:40 pm

heh.

It’s funny you posted this and I didn’t read it until now. I found this story earlier and wasn’t sure how to post it. Apparently, you can place a political value on human life and human injury, too.

I wanted to do a whole new entry about being angry that the so many military-types still support Bush and his administration after the cuts to veteran benefits and the Bush/Cheney pre-announced veto of increased benefits and the Bush/Cheney desertion/deferment issue and the troops still not coming home — I know Bush made another statement suggesting they would come home soon, I can’t seem to find it though.

I’ll just spew all that here, though.

Comment from Jank
Time August 13, 2003 at 6:36 am

Not all military retirees will vote against Republicans, of course. Some, like retired Air Force Lt. Col. Gene DiBartolo of Tampa, will vote for Bush again gladly.

Though he believes his fellow veterans have a just complaint, he said the government simply cannot “do everything.”

As for Bush, he said, “he has restored honor and dignity to this nation …

“It would take a lot more than this issue to dissuade me from my support of this man.”

That last bit about honor and dignity carries a whole lot of weight with most of the vets I know. I’m not nearly ready to throw support behind GWB in ’04, mainly due to huge disappointment at the growth in social spending under his watch, but I’m by far in the minority as far as my brothers- and sisters-in-arms go.

Here’s the deal – The military is not nearly so monolithic as civilians are lead to believe. Even though it’s got a solid command and control structure, in general its policies and the views of the soldiers, sailors, and airmen are easily as wide as that of the country in general. You’re much more likely to go into a room and find a half dozen honestly different opinions, freely expressed, on any topic than you are in a corporate boardroom or a university classroom. You’re also likely to hear reasonable discussion on divisive issues instead of just shouting other folks down. Living closely together and going through difficult times grows respect for diversity of opinion.

The above is not to imply that the military is anywhere close to a democracy. It is run from the top down, with few questions asked when actual orders are given. However, while poop may roll downhill, bitching flows back uphill.

– As far as soldiers wanting to come home: No crap.

I guarantee you that in every other conflict in history, US or anyone else, that the majority of folks away from home wrote back “It sucks here and I wish I were home.” Missy could show you a box of letters I sent home from the boat, and the longest I was gone consecutively was six months (Feel free to call me a whiner).

The difference is the instant communication and rapid replication available to nearly every member of the military.

They paint a vivid picture of US army life that is a world away from the sanitised official version.

It’s tough to see a macro picture from boots on the ground or a watch station at sea, and extremely easy to focus on unpleasantness. It’s especially difficult when you’ve grown up middle class in a small town, and haven’t actually experienced a whole lot of discomfort in your life. Trust me, I’ve been there as the bitter sailor.

But I’m proud, in hindsight, to have held the line. Something that I’m sure the folks over there are going to say when they’ve had a couple of months at home. To be sure, those who have already been killed would much rather their comrades finish the job that has been started, so we are not contemplating another decade of negotiating with tyrants.

I’d also like to make a modest proposition: Let’s avoid calling Iraq a quagmire until at least a year after the invasion, or until the 1,000th US Casualty (which, of course, I pray every day does not occur). Expecting to rebuild a country the size of California’s infrastructure and political system after a decade of embargo and 30 years of murder and repression in less than six months is unrealistic and trivializes the task.

– Inability to plan for deployments is par for the course as far as the Navy’s concerned. Again, I know firsthand the personal pain involved in a schedule which is continually in flux, of homecomings pushed back for operational reasons, and of just plain not knowing. But the price of freedom has always been sacrifice by a few.

Part of the issue is reduced force size. The boats I supported in OIF, only in the Fifth Fleet Area of Responsibility (Read: Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Persian Gulf) represented more than the usual number that are deployed worldwide in the 90’s, with no reduction in other obligations. The boats that were surged or extended are going to have to have reduced training cycles and less time at home. There are similar issues facing units in all branches of the service.

– A couple of things on ‘cuts’ to Veteran’s benefits: One of the things which will be offsetting these is a revision to the retirement plan that will benefit many more soldiers, sailors, and airmen than it will hurt. Historically, military retirement was an all-or-nothing proposition. Either you did 20 years and got pension, health care, etc, or you did up to 19 years, 364 days and got a hearty handshake on the way out the door.

Last year, the government made a version of ‘Thrift Savings Plan’ available to service members. It’s essentially a 401K, and it’s portable, which means that everyone who serves will have the opportunity to leave the military with a retirement nest egg, regardless of how long they were in. Let me tell you how much I wish I’d had this available when I was on active duty.

Cutting funding for military housing is not necessarily unpopular with the troops, either. Here’s how it works – When a servicemember gets transferred to a new base, he/she will immediately get put in base housing, if any is available. If not, they are given a housing allowance that they wouldn’t get in base housing and sent on their own to find a house in town. The housing allowance is indexed to the local cost of living, and usually is more than enough to pay a mortgage. Again pulling an ‘I’ve been there, you haven’t’, most of the folks I knew preferred living in town instead of on base. Melissa and I were thrilled, since it let us live close enough to another town for her to have a great job and not put her career on hold.

Additionally, the military has just finished one of the biggest base housing building sprees since WWII. Most posts (at least in the Navy) have completely renovated housing and barracks that hadn’t been touched in decades. Additionally, lots of new units have been added. They’re going into maintenance mode instead of construction mode, which doesn’t take nearly as much money.

Sometimes just following dollars doesn’t give a real picture.

Comment from etrigan
Time August 18, 2003 at 9:19 am

I’m not the only person that continues to question this.

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