Re-assessing and re-thinking our military structure

Paul Evans

By Paul Evans of Monmouth, Oregon. Paul is an Air Force veteran who served in Afghanistan. He is also a former mayor of Monmouth.

An open letter to President-Elect Barack Obama:

History provides few leaders with the opportunities now before you. America is in crisis and Americans believe you can - and you will - restore our economy, our liberties, our national security, and our public conscience.

Upon your shoulders rests the aspirations of millions. Soon enough your time will be consumed with the awesome burdens associated with your new office.

Before this moment passes, I believe it is my duty as a veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq - a proud American - to advance the following proposal for your consideration.

It is time to reconstitute the structure of our Armed Forces.

It is time to establish a citizen-centric military organization that fits our budget, our international challenges, and our national character.

It is time to rethink the logic and purpose of a massive full-time force and to reconsider the inherent strengths of an adaptable, integrated force structure - one that invests our talent, time, and treasure in a military reflecting our values.

Now is the time to establish a new framework: a relatively small full-time force responsible for strategic defense, navigation of the seas, rapid response, and the sustained training required for a robust National Guard: a "cadre" system that taps into the benefits of both full-time and part-time service.

This is not an argument to scuttle the active duty architecture: there are functions that a standing military force is uniquely suited to perform. Yet, history clearly shows that enduring massive armies blur the necessities of armed conflict and color the dynamics of international relations.

We need a force that is not only effective and efficient, but which, by its very structure will sharpen and balance the judgments that lead to its use.

Since 1776, the National Guard has answered the call of service; it is far more reflective of our national character - it embodies the form and function of a citizen-led enterprise. Throughout most of our history the peace was kept with a small administrative full time force and an integrated scalable reserve.

Especially over the past five years, the National Guard has proven its competence and worth every day in Afghanistan, Iraq, and places throughout the world. The citizen-soldier philosophy allows for response during domestic emergency as well as tailored application of combat power when circumstances require.

Only in the shaded fear of the Cold War did we transform the organization and purpose of our military. Eisenhower knew the dangers and false security that massive military complexes provide: wars appear easier and less costly than reality.

Ironically, your predecessor accomplished through incompetence, mismanagement, and recklessness what no enemy was ever able to accomplish on the field: the near total collapse of our military might.

His failures put our nation at risk; we must rebuild a new military from the ashes of the past seven years.

We must accept that there is no wallet large enough for fulfilling our will - at least in terms of refitting our force. Our equipment has been driven past its ability to be repaired, and we do not have the economy to develop modern alternatives in similar strength.

We simply cannot afford the military we had prior to engaging in Afghanistan and Iraq; we find opportunity in every crisis.

Mr. President-Elect, our recent past does not have to be prelude; we can develop an intelligent military structure that uses the advantages of the profession of arms as well as the democratic values of a citizen-soldier model.

We can provide a national defense that makes our nation, states, and communities even stronger - more connected to our citizens than ever before.

We can invest precious resources in training the most capable part-time military force in history. Reports long buried since the 1990s suggest a difference of as much as $1 million between an active duty and reserve career - per sailor, soldier, airmen or marine.

We can reframe the military industrial complex into an emergency response industry that promotes peaceful applications at least as much as warcraft. It is an opportunity that will yield both a stronger economy as well as a more flexible force.

Mr. President-Elect, think beyond the boundaries of what "has been" and consider the possibilities of what "could be." In recent days you have empowered studies on reforming our policies on the economy, energy, and health care.

It is now time for us to assess the kind of military force structure study Our America requires for the challenges of the 21st Century.

The bond between civil society and the modern military has been the National Guard - that connection more than any other has provided us the landscape for peaceful debate during a time of war.

As we begin to recast Our America, let us include investment in a central ideal of citizenship: a military vested in the hands of volunteer citizenry that is ready, relevant, and responsive.


Paul L. Evans
Monmouth, Oregon

  • The Libertarian Guy (unverified)

    Excluding Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait the U.S. has about 250,000 troops stationed abroad on some 750 bases in about 130 countries. We don't need 11,000 in England. The Normans are not going to attack. It is time to bring them all home.


  • BOHICA (unverified)

    The numbers from the "Office of Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller). National Defense Budget Estimates for FY 2009 PDF file. $611 billion

    GWOT FY 2009 requested funding. PDF file. $66 billion Global War on Terror = war on an abstract concept.

    Add to these the budget for the Department of Homeland Security (I hate even typing that fascist title). $50.5 billion.

    Total = Over $727 billion.

    The 2009 defense budget has an "Additional GWOT Requests" of $57 billion as a line item so I don't know if they are separate budgets. The continuing resolutions to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations are also not reflected in these numbers. These numbers are obscene.

    All of our precious resources are being sucked into a black hole of death and destruction that leaves a barren landscape of wasted lives and shattered families.

    "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." James Madison--April 20, 1795

  • All Mi T (unverified)

    hope they handle this because seems to be No end in sight with respect to the economy and the same old revolving doors keep a turning

  • JohnH (unverified)

    Once again, Oregon could lead the way by becoming a military free state. There are only a handful of military bases here, and DOD proposed closing most of them. But our esteemed elected "representatives" fought tooth and nail to preserve those bases. Next time around, our esteemed Congressmen should take DOD up on its offer, making Oregon military free.

  • Dave Porter (unverified)

    First, I think we have learned an important lesson (among others) from the Iraq war that requires state action. The lack of sufficient personnel knowledgeable in Middle Eastern cultures and languages help to get us into the war and continues to hamper our efforts there. We simply do not have enough troops that speak Arabic and other needed languages. (Same for Afghanistan). Languages are best learned young, not when recruited into the military. So, we in Oregon have some responsibility to teach languages that will be part of our national security future. There will be bills this session to expand Mandarin and study abroad programs in our K-12 educational system (see here and here). There will be a general bill to create a high school study abroad program, and a companion bill to give further financial incentives to study abroad in national “critical need languages.” The current national list of “critical need languages” in the bill includes: Arabic, Azeri (Azerbiajan), Bengali (Bangladesh and part of India), Chinese (Mandarin only), Farsi (Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan), Gujarati (state of Gujarat in India), Hindi (northern and central India), Korean, Marathi (western India), Pashto (parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan), Punjabi (parts of India and Pakistan), Russian, Tajik (Tajikistan and parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and China), Turkish, Urdu (Pakistan, similar to Hindi), and Uzbek (Uzbekistan). We have this work to do in Oregon.

    Second, at the national level, there are at least three shifts needed in national security budgeting: (1) We need more diplomats, so shift funds from Defense Department to State Department. (2) Within the Defense Department, we need to shift funds from preparing to fight a “near peer” enemy (China, Russia) to developing the capacities for counterinsurgency and “boots-on-the-ground” operations (generally from Navy and Air Force to Army and Marines). (3) We need to increase dramatically our capabilities to do reconstruction work, probably by creating a whole new cabinet level Department, taking some parts of the Defense Department to join with civilian components.

  • Daniel Spiro (unverified)

    We don't need have 11,000 troops in England...

    "Need" implies defense. Our troops overseas are largely about projecting power. The US had a very good debate around the turn of the 20th century, about what happens when you become an empire. There were three very clear schools of thought, conservative Republican, progressive Republican and traditional Democratic Party think, on the issue. When all was said and done, we embarked gloriously on an imperial mission, which mission we claim has saved the world on numerous occasions.

    We cannot have any kind of rethink about our forces until we agree about what they're doing, i.e., building empire or defending the homeland.

    This is a good post, running against the course of play lately. There seems to be a growing tendency here to want to get into the usual bickering without having to be bothered with aligning assumptions first. If the past is a guide, this discussion will degenerate into bickering over a timetable for Iraqi withdrawal. If you're really going to think it through, don't forget the place or lack thereof of the draft and the "minority education" model of the military, in vogue since Reagan. This really was a nice thought, that change might really be possible, but the reality is today's AIPAC homepage which leads with a story, the opening three words of which say it all, "Obama, Bush Reaffirm..."

    As if to add insult to injury they have to make an animated gif to illustrate the story; Bush changing into Obama, changing into an IDF tank. Oy veys mir!

  • LT (unverified)

    Way to go, Paul!

  • davidg (unverified)


    I like the idea of a military free state. One of the great accomplishments of the Bill Clinton administration was that the number of US military bases in the US was reduced. We need another round of base closings. And as Libertarian Guy points out, we could also do well by closing a huge number of our military bases around the world as well.

  • (Show?)

    This is an excellent post... and excellent idea.

    As a follow-up I would like to see it tied into the Obama/Powell Initiative for National Service, which strikes me as being potentially highly compatible with Evans' superb suggestion here.

  • (Show?)

    "Once again, Oregon could lead the way by becoming a military free state. There are only a handful of military bases here, and DOD proposed closing most of them."

    I have to respectfully disagree with this objective. If you rely on the military (or guard) for your freedom, you should share space with it and see it. There is nothing to be gained by a NIMBY response to a military no one is advocating dissolving nationally. Having nearby bases also allows guard troops to train without excessive travel, positions equipment locally for local use in time of disaster, and also serves a role in protecting against foreign threats, however remote they may seem. Personally, the noise may keep me awake some nights, but I am glad we have military jets close at hand. It is unlikely they will ever be used, but removing them would expose us to a greater range of threats that our enemies do not bother to contemplate as long as the defense forces are at hand.

    I think Paul's point about needing a citizen-centered military is a good one. Since universal conscription went away, the make-up of the military has shifted in composition in a way that is not reflective of either the demographics or values of the mainstream. Look at the percentage of families who actually have a member in Iraq or Afghanistan; consider what might be the public response if a majority of families did. A Swiss-style form of compulsory service is worth considering in that light.

    The quote by Madison above "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare," to me illustrates the greatest danger in the perpetual war on terror.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Paul, thank you for your service. Some of your suggestions are great starrts as our country enters a new phase and a new millenia. Certainly the trrops based in Okinawa, Germany and South Korea are holdovers from the cold war and serious thought should be given to their functions in a new US military.

    Our own state is actually rather well situated when it comes to military bases. The few units stationed here are primarily assisting with coastal defense and helping during state mergencies. The anti-military crowd wanting all military presence out of Oregon is completely off base and would be better off living in the San Francisco Bay area.

    Our countriy is currently involved in Iraq because of political leaders that did not serve, and could not learn the lessons of Vietnam. That lesson is well known to members of the military who are unfortunately put in harms way due to the actions of the political leaders and State Department.

  • Jiang (unverified)

    Posted by: Kurt Chapman | Jan 14, 2009 5:41:33 AM

    Paul, thank you for your service.

    Show equal respect for the posters, instead of having to inject your PC language. Do you understand Jaime's feelings? Is the kick in the 'nads a service? We stoopid lefties don't know when we're being served. "Are you being served? I don't know; I voted for Harold Wilson".

    would be better off living in the San Francisco Bay area.

    On prinicple, anyone that tells me where to live can go to hell. For the record, SF is LESS progressive than Portland.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Jiang, I am REALLY trying to figure out where your little fit came from. Either you had all the red licked off of your lollipop this morning, OR you need to adjust your meds. To Whit:

    I looked and nobody with a name of Jaime in this thread, sorry can't find 'em so really don't know anything about their "feelings"

    Thanking a person for their service in the militay is something I do. I had no idea some folks like you cinsidered that pc. I was raised i the military and understand the sacrifices any member of the military makes wheter at peace, war, or "police action".

    Respect for other posters? It appears you are the one showing a distinct lack of tolerance, understanding and respect.

    From the shrill tone of your retort I can only assume you identify with what I termed the :anti-military" crowd. My suggestion that you and they go to San Francisco is based (pun intended) on the outright hostile attirude by many in the Bay area towards the military UNTIL they threanted to remove all presence from the area.

    Oh, and on principle, anyone who gets their undies in such a wad that they type poorly and tell someone else to go to hell isn't really something I'm going to lose much time over.

    Have a Nice Day.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    First, I think we have learned an important lesson (among others) from the Iraq war that requires state action.

    Two of the major problems with the American people are that they don't learn lessons or, if they do, they forget them.

    The Founding Fathers learned lessons from being under a monarchy and wrote a Constitution to prevent a recurrence. The Bush Administration and Congress forgot or ignored those lessons and facilitated imperial presidencies under Nixon and Bush the Second.

    The horrors of two world wars of the 20th Century taught many lessons that led to the United Nations Charter and the Geneva Conventions. The Iraq and other wars proved those lessons were quickly unlearned.

    Maybe if we spent much less on the military and in shopping malls and more on an education system that included the teaching of ethics we might be much better off as a nation. It would also be of immense help if we recruited young people to serve in the Peace Corps and learn that people other than Americans and Christians are human beings, too.

  • Garrett (unverified)

    The only way to do it Mr. Evan's that everyone must serve. Literally everyone in America must serve as a soldier. A model like Switzerland's perhaps. All males are conscripted until 30 and all females have the option. Past 30 it is within the government's right to call anyone up to the age of 49 with past military experience back into the service during times of emergency.

    If our military is to pull back and not act as the deterrent force that they currently act as then you'd have to have millions of men ready to go at a seconds notice because China certainly isn't going to pare down their military and they would jump on the chance to project their sphere of influence further into places it wasn't before.

    The last time we didn't have a military force acting as a deterrent the Japanese decided they wanted to project their sphere of influence on the South Pacific. Lesson learned. Certainly we could trim the fat from our military, and the military industrial complex, but it must be that and that alone...and no I'm not ex military. I'm just looking at it from an educated historical perspective and that makes me think holding a bake sale to buy a bomber is the dumbest sticker I've ever seen in my life.

  • (Show?)
    The anti-military crowd wanting all military presence out of Oregon is completely off base and would be better off living in the San Francisco Bay area.

    That's pretty funny considering the Bay Area's historic nature as a site for military bases. Hunter's Point and Treasure Island naval facilities. Naval Air Station Alameda. The Presidio. Fort Mason. Moffet Field. Those bases didn't get closed down because of some "anti-military" presence. They were shuttered and (mostly) sold for money.

    I'm not really sure what major threats the jets Jamais Vu wrote about are supposed to be keeping us safe from, but the Portland location for the Air National Guard does coincide with the only major airport between the Seattle/Tacoma military complex and anything still based out of Northern California. Of course, the unit that actually got the most work here in the metro area was the Air Force air rescue wing that was remissioned into a refueling unit.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    Having lived for many years in SF, I can assure you that SF is far less leftish than many places in America and in the world. SF is a wonderful, libertarian city that supports a diversity of political expression. The fact that Cindy Sheehan was defeated by the right-of-center Nancy Pelosi should tell you something.

    The estimates of our military spending and of the number of our military bases discussed above are far less than the reality. Our government hides the true costs, and not just by keeping the costs of the "wars" we are presently fighting out of the budget. Chalmers Johnson is one of the prime sources that should be acknowledged: The Pentagon Bailout Fraud. We are spending far more than a trillion $ a year on our bloated, wasteful Pentagon budget, to the detriment of us all. Obama wants to increase it (change we can pay for).

    Furthermore, "...there have been no signs of even the slightest urge to inquire into the relationship between our bloated military, our staggering weapons expenditures, our extravagantly expensive failed wars abroad, and the financial catastrophe on Wall Street."

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