Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

More than "Willie and Joe 2005"

Today's Des Moines Register carried a Washington Post story about the head of the Army Reserve warning officials that the readiness of his troops was breaking down.
In the memo, dated Dec. 20, Lt. Gen. James R. "Ron" Helmly lashed out at what he said were outdated and "dysfunctional" policies on mobilizing and managing the force. He complained that his repeated requests to adjust the policies to current realities have been rebuffed by Pentagon authorities.

The three-star general, who has a reputation for speaking bluntly, said the situation has reached a point at which the Army Reserve is "in grave danger of being unable to meet" its operational requirements if other national emergencies arise. Insistence on restrictive policies, he continued, "threatens to unhinge an already precariously balanced situation in which we are losing as many soldiers through no use as we are through the fear of overuse."
The part of the article you didn't get to read because the Register's publishers secured a half-page ad for page 3A discussed reaction on Capitol Hill, which the piece, by Bradley Graham, said was filled with "surprise and alarm."
"By consistently underestimating the number of troops necessary for the successful occupation of Iraq, the administration has placed a tremendous burden on the Army Reserve and created this crisis," Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
Startling news. But what is even more startling is that the discontent felt by Reserve units, as well as the National Guard "weekend warriors," has been known for months, long before Spec. Tom Wilson famously asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld why troops had to scrounge trash cans for materials to use as extra armor. Before Thanksgiving, for example, Dick Foster of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colo., was reporting that soldiers in nearby bases were being told to re-enlist or be sent to Iraq, among other heavy-handedness. Not surprisingly, many troops have been resisting:
More than 40 percent of the 4,166 Individual Ready Reservists called to duty since July have sought delays or exemptions from reporting. Of the first 2,288 ordered to report, 843 had neither reported nor sought an exemption by the Oct. 24 deadline. The Army has contacted 383 of them to resolve their cases but is unable to find 460 others.

In California, an Army National Guard soldier filed a lawsuit challenging the Guard's authority to stop-loss soldiers beyond the end of their enlistments. His attorney, Michael Sorgen, said the lawsuit could affect up to 46,000 in the Guard and Reserves.

"No one questions that only Congress can authorize a draft," Sorgen said. "Yet the Army is drafting soldiers through the back door by extending their service involuntarily. We no longer have an all-volunteer Army."
Much of the discontent traces directly to what Spec. Wilson confronted Rumsfeld about: "chronic illness, broken guns and trucks with blown transmissions," according to Scott Gold of the Los Angeles Times, who found considerable discontent among Guard unit members training in California:
The unit's M-60 machine guns reportedly were in such bad condition when the soldiers deployed in February that one sergeant — in a section of a post-training summary sent to his commanders that was titled "gun maintenance" — wrote: "Perhaps we should throw stones?"

The allegations come a month after another National Guard unit alleged that its training at Ft. Bliss was so poor that soldiers feared incurring needlessly high casualties when they arrive in Iraq early next year.

Although the military has defended its troop preparedness, the willingness of units to go public with allegations suggested growing concern among National Guard and reserve members.
Pentagon people, including Rumsfeld, chalk much of this grousing to typical soldiering complaints. "When soldiers don't complain, I worry. That's when you know something is wrong," the Times quoted David Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland.

Sure. Soldiers complain. But these people aren't soldiers. Yes, the Reserves consist of former servicemen and women who chose to retain their readiness for a number of reasons, a good many never dreaming they'd actually have to go back and fight years after they believed their service commitment had ended. But many in the Guard simply are patriotic Americans who felt a need to serve their country by signing up as "weekend warriors," maybe learn to fly a hotshot plane, knock off for two weeks every year with pay, and feel good about sort of being part of the military. They are civilians who are suddenly and without proper training and acclimation being ordered to be soldiers, and they're not used to it.

Brad Knickerbocker summed up this feeling nicely in the Christian Science Monitor
It's the first large-scale 21st-century conflict against an aggressive insurgency, causing thousands of US casualties; the first war in more than a generation in which homeland security and the threat of domestic terror attack seem so real; the first "semi-draft," with the Guard/reserve component approaching 50 percent of combat and combat support troops (and already taking more casualties than they did in Vietnam); and it's the first time in many years that soldiers have been ordered to serve beyond their commitments.
During the Vietnam war, hawks argued that the discontent at home with the war was causing a breakdown of morale with troops in the field. Today, those ubiquitous yellow ribbon stickers proclaim the home front's support for the troops. But the gnawing awareness is that there could be more support for the war over here than there is over there.