An Open Letter to US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

Paul Evans

Over the past decade we have become captured by the seductive warmth of big programitis: we have a Littoral Combat Ship program in search of a mission it can accomplish will leaking in excess of $37 billion in overruns; a single-engine F-35 “Joint Strike Fighter” with an original $39 million per copy estimates exceeding $120 million per copy; and a structure of acquisition development that appears to favor the appearance of capabilities rather than actual, proven combat reliability. We need less sizzle, more steak.

Mr. Secretary:

Congratulations on your appointment and confirmation. As you undoubtedly realize much of the fervor surrounding your confirmation process had everything to do with enduring frustrations regarding Afghanistan, Iraq, and the squandering of an historic opportunity for implementing a new global network of nations united in emphasizing reason over passion, peace over war. President Bush will carry the burden of his decisions with him through history – over 35,000 of my fellow veterans will carry that burden – like your generation of warriors did – in the daily activities of everyday life as we seek out meaning and a new life.

I write this letter asking for your consideration on several matters. First, I ask you to make a point of visiting with the enlisted force throughout your travels. You are the only Secretary of Defense to have served as an enlisted soldier during wartime: this is an essential strength for the coming years. The flag officers are professional warriors that will do the best they can, through the perspective they have – and we need more than this to effectively combat the threats inherent to the 21st Century. Please remember the frustrations of war-making that can only be understood from the “field” level. It will be a critical force multiplier in the political fights with the Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon to come.

Second, please consider asking Congress to establish a “Truman-like” commission for oversight of military contractors. Over the past decade we have become captured by the seductive warmth of big programitis: we have a Littoral Combat Ship program in search of a mission it can accomplish will leaking in excess of $37 billion in overruns; a single-engine F-35 “Joint Strike Fighter” with an original $39 million per copy estimates exceeding $120 million per copy; and a structure of acquisition development that appears to favor the appearance of capabilities rather than actual, proven combat reliability. We need less sizzle, more steak. We need 21st Century tools for 21st Century warfare. However, at present the revolving door at the Pentagon empowers a paradigm that builds weapons systems a few people “want” rather than what we “need” and the seeks to justify the decisions after the fact knowing that large programs once established are difficult to stop. Only the Congress carries the “purse-strings” and only Congress can provide a structural and systemic approach to identifying and solving the problems. With your advocacy we can build a stronger military (like Truman did during World War II) while securing the purchasing power of increasingly scarce resources.

Third, please review the recent decisions made to cut the reserve component. As a veteran of over 20 years in uniform with time spent on active duty as well as in the Air National Guard, I am proud of all our military personnel. We are a great team with immense diversity and reach. Throughout my career I have served across the globe in peacemaking, war-making, and operations other than war. Technology has provided us invaluable benefits in training and weapons employment, but it has also equalized the battlespace for our enemies. The realities of the present – and future, are vastly different than our past. We cannot afford to spend monies the way we used to spend them. We must become better stewards of our dollars in terms of programming – and better stewards of our personnel. Simply put, I am weary of the Pentagon’s recent decisions regarding personnel. With very little research, decision-makers have put forward significant cuts to the National Guard and Reserves. This is not a plea from a guardsman, but rather a request from a fellow warrior: require the Pentagon to do the studies: dollar for dollar the National Guard/Reserves are a better value for precious resources. We cost less to sustain; we are responsible for the same training and proficiencies; and right now the active duty has proven itself unable to effectively fight wars without us. There is a place for a small full-time force with duties of rapid response, the strategic enterprise, and training. But there is also a place for an expanded reserve component.

For many years I have witnessed the differences in treatment between the active duty and the reserve components. It is never at the unit level, it is usually the result of a small minority of full-time officers that fear the potential impact of a proficient, professional full-time force. And not surprisingly these past few years the full-time decision makers have prioritized big weapons systems over smart weapons systems and the full-time force over the National Guard and Reserves. It is an ironic choice for the Pentagon to make. The “price” of the entire Air National Guard (which includes air sovereignty responsibilities) is a little more than the costs associated with a couple of weeks of sustained operations in Afghanistan. Since 9/11 we have proven ourselves able partners during disasters here at home, as well as effective warriors in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our current budgetary straits provide you an opportunity for a thorough review of the relative value of the National Guard and Reserves in comparison to the active duty force structure. We are now in an era where we can revisit the values and virtues of the pre-Cold War paradigm: of a nation that maintains routine responsibilities with a dedicated small full-time force – and a vast national network of part-time warriors for surge operations during times of war. We have proven ourselves adept at sustaining war-making requirements while providing our communities with a force multiplier during times of regional crisis.

Over the next four years the US will make a series of historic decisions as we “reset the force.” I urge you and your team to consider the potential benefits of asking Congress to help the Pentagon weed out the corruption inherent in our big weapons systems procurement; of directing an “apples” to “apples” comparison of value between full-time and part-time force structures; and of using the next four years to remake the US Department of Defense into the organization built for the 21st Century. Bureaucracies exist to sustain themselves; it is the nature of the beast. And all things being equal the Pentagon likely views each new Secretary as a temporary tenant. You have spent your life fighting for things you believed in. I beg of you to remember your time in Vietnam all those years ago and use this opportunity at the helm of the most powerful military machine in human history to do what is right – especially when it isn’t easy. Think of the young men and women in the field and make the kinds of decisions flag officers are ill-prepared to even consider. Few people have been given the kind of responsibility bestowed upon you; none has been better prepared for the scale, shape, and size of the transformation needed.

Thank you for reading this letter. I urge you to set a vision for the kind of defense structures and systems we need and not accept the status quo – we are not prepared for the challenges of the 21st Century and we have little time to prepare for the next contest.

Respectfully,

//SIGNED//

Paul L Evans, (OEF/OIF Veteran, Citizen) 744 Main Street East Monmouth, Oregon 97361

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