A Letter to US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

Paul Evans

The world is far different than it was in 1787. And yet the perils of that time remain. The philosophy of a large militia with a small full-time professional military still fits our ideals far better than what we have built.

Note: This post is longer than most. It is offered with the hope that someone that reads it may be interested in helping get the message to the SECDEF and his reform team. We have precious little time to recalibrate our defense structures and systems. The power of the interests that profit from prolonged war are not interested in rethinking our purpose or transforming our military.

In 1960 President Eisenhower warned us of the potential impact of unchecked influence that could manifest from a sustained arms race. He was right, and we are now citizens of a nation that has a military structure that is often driven by profit motives rather than sound strategy, tactics, or even common sense.

Despite the challenges of the 21st Century we can do better with what we have. Even as we strengthen our rapid response capabilities, sea lane security, and our strategic enterprise - we can and must consider a reset in terms of force structure and the underlying messages sent to the world through our choices.

This letter was sent yesterday. Please help the Obama Administration challenge the status quo and improve our military through a return to the values that made our America great.

An Open Letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

April 12, 2013

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel The Pentagon 1400 Defense Pentagon Washington DC, 20301-1400

Secretary Hagel:

A short time ago at the National Defense University you made a remarkable and significant appeal. You said, “We need to challenge all past assumptions, and we need to put everything on the table…” in terms of remaking the US Department of Defense into a modern organization prepared to navigate the realities of an increasingly complex 21st Century security environment. The need to challenge aged assumptions and replace obsolete structures and systems is both necessary and difficult. Among the plethora of senior leaders to pass through the Pentagon over the past three decades – you alone have the potential to realize a new approach. This is the time, and you are the person for leading the change. I want to applaud your courage and respond to your heart-felt appeal – before the forces of inertia conspire to defeat your modernization agenda.

In the next month I will retire from the US Military. I am a major in the Oregon Air National Guard with a little over twenty years of service – with almost equal time spent on active duty and on drill status. After working my way through college, I entered the US Air Force in 1992 and served on active duty until 1997. I have always believed credibility must be earned, it cannot be purchased. During that time I participated in six overseas operations with duties including Counter-Drug Operations, Peacemaking/Peacekeeping, and in the pseudo-war against Iraq we called Southern Watch. I left active duty and joined the Oregon Air National Guard later that same year because of a belief in service – and the function of the militia within a Republic.

During my tenure in the ORANG, I have been mobilized seven times (that I can remember) with service in Afghanistan, Iraq, Italy (in support of the Balkan Operations), and throughout the US as a part of Homeland Security operations in support of Noble Eagle. In the wake of 9/11 we were mobilized for twenty-four months of consecutive service. As a traditional guard member I have maintained employment as a college professor, senior policy advisor to former Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski, and as a small businessman. I have spent the past thirty years learning to facilitate change within/without government. It is a background with academic as well as practical experience; a perspective with the credibility required to assert the following.

If the US Department of Defense seeks to maximize all available authorities, expertise, and power in order to more effectively – and efficiently – defend the US and our interests in the 21st Century we must consider the following:

  1. Recast the force. We built the US Department of Defense force structure after World War II and tweaked it after Vietnam. That was over forty years ago – and the world has fundamentally changed. Most importantly, our inherent capabilities have changed because technology has changed. Instead of a massive full-time force with support from the National Guard/Reserve – the US DoD should seriously consider the cost savings and political value of resetting into a smaller full-time force with a significantly expanded National Guard/Reserve component. In this environment, strategic capabilities, naval power, Total Force training, and rapid response would be priority active duty missions; most other mission – especially land based tactical capabilities would be maintained through a significantly expanded National Guard/Reserve component. Sources across the ideological spectrum concur: the National Guard/Reserves provide the nation with the biggest “bang” for the buck – and provide critical support for local/state authorities during times of disaster. The price of sustaining 20,000 active duty combat troops is roughly the same as sustaining the entire National Guard (Army and Air). Imagine the message we could send to the world if we could meet our global obligations with a small active duty, an expanded National Guard/Reserve, and a US Navy right-sized for the emergent challenges to the sea lanes.

  2. Rethink the toys. We have a procurement system that demonstrates how the tail can wag the dog. In simplest terms, we have become enslaved by our own weapons systems programs. The unchecked influence of the “military industrial complex” is a contagion that is destroying our ability to make informed tactical choices in a timely way. Our funds (and options for reshaping our capabilities) are shackled into “too-big-to-fail” systems that were designed for battlefield requirements largely marginalized by both the availability of technology through the internet and changing realities among our adversaries. Rather than emphasizing the values of survivability, sustainability, and utility – we have over prioritized the potential values of emergent (but often incomplete) future capabilities. The Littoral Combat Ship, Joint Strike Fighter, and KC-X aerial refueling programs reflect an environment where “sizzle” matters more than the “steak.” We need absolute force capabilities: programs that perform 100% of what we need, 80% of what we want – in a reliable, sustainable pattern. Imagine the message sent to our allies and enemies alike if US technology was known more for its proven lethality than its price or public relations problems.

  3. Reframe the issues. We remain the only nation in the world that has the demonstrable ability to destroy any foe, help any friend – at any time we choose. The US Department of Defense is the most powerful military in human history and must remain so. However, we should emphasize lessons learned over the past decade in regions where fear all too often reigns over hope. We should fold the Army Reserves into the Army National Guard and expand our “nation-building/support” capabilities in order to maximize the so-called “soft-power” opportunities available to us throughout the developing world. We should collaborate and coordinate with the State Department and develop civil support strike teams that can help prevent government collapse in areas of interest. The Peace Corps cannot operate in hostile conditions – but it is within those situations that we may be able to make the greatest impact. The Civil Affairs teams are natural partners with the inherent capabilities of the National Guard: the State Partnership Programs are a resounding success because of the messages sent, relationships built, and trust earned. The US must reframe the debate in order to facilitate greater understanding of the values of civilian control of the military, discipline within the forces, and emergency preparedness/response as the world begins to accept the undeniable consequences of global climate change.

  4. Restart the clock. We have a moment in history that is very nearly past. Throughout the Middle East we have waged covert and overt warfare against our enemies. We have made undeniable gains, but we risk significant loss. Afghanistan and Iraq are distinctly different campaigns of a larger contest. This war is not against terrorism – or in fact, the people we label terrorists that seek to destroy us. The real war is not about theology, but about ideology and modernity. The US Military represents the sword of a society with value systems that are an enigma to traditionalists. “Free will” and “individual choice” is a grave threat to ancient, obsolete power structures built to control public thought and behaviors. We have not demonstrated how the US Military can be the shield to protect the oppressed. Our military power is always best when we have both: a shield to protect our friends, a sword to smite our enemies. For the past decade we have spent entirely too much talent, time, and treasure upon the sword. We must rethink how we cooperate, collaborate, and function within the Middle East as a military power. We must restart the clock in terms of how we seek to effect change within the region: Libya was an important new model. The US is better positioned to support organic reform than force it from afar. Imagine a realm where the US is sought out for partnerships in controlling regional problems, rather than criticized for the operations we were asked to engage within. We need to reconsider our role in regime dynamics and seek first to be relevant rather than reactionary.

  5. Rewrite the rules. We have an emerging careerist culture within the military that rewards self-before-service. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq lasted long enough that the age-old “filling the square” standard was resurrected. Within this environment mid-level leaders seek positions for personal career development. It is a short march from filling squares for promotion to collaborating with industry on procurement requirements that emphasize corporate rather than combat priorities. We owe the 18-year-old kids we send into combat more than that – the military is not a career; it is a calling – the profession of arms is an honorable calling for God, country, and the uniform reflecting the ideals of something larger than ourselves. As an enlisted soldier in Vietnam you more than many recognize the inherent dangers of a military of careerists: men and women taught that standing for convictions or telling truth to power are “bad career moves” instead of the sworn duty of military officers in support of the mission and troops given charge of. The senior leadership of the military benefitted from the rules that got us here – it is illogical to believe that these men and women would be invested in alternative systems that may not have benefitted them (or their up and coming mentees). As Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld used his authority to raise a generation of political flag officers; I ask you to use your authority in the opposite direction – flatten the commands and raise a new generation of combat oriented flag officers. Imagine what might have happened in 2003 if enough flags (who knew better) had been willing to sacrifice a career for the lives of the men and women they were appointed to lead.

As you consider these proposals, please remember our national history. Since the end of World War II our defense force structure has been an historic aberration. Prior to 1939 we were a militia-centric nation. Circumstances did not drive this reality: we chose to be a nation slow to go to war. Throughout that period we maintained a robust navy and sufficient military capability for rapid response, the backbone of our forces had always been vested in a strategic reserve – the National Guard (Reserve component). This required national mobilization for times of crisis. Unfortunately, the paranoia of the Cold War forced us into an unnatural state: sustainment of a large full-time military force structure. In turn, this large bureaucracy sustained the emergence of an industrial complex built for war – and preparedness for war.

During flush economic times this “military-industrial” relationship has been a driving factor for corporate activity. Jobs are generally a good thing for an economy, but we have allowed the tail to wag the dog - and over time - we have instilled a parochial careerist-based corporate culture throughout the full-time uniformed services. Expensive programs provide the background for a cozy relationship between senior acquisition officers and military contractors. Would – or more directly – could the LCS program have become reality without the promise of post-service employment? It remains a solution in search of a problem, rather than a rationally determined requirement in a multi-modal combat environment. The end result has been a group-think mentality that governs budgetary decisions. Like all bureaucracies, the decision-makers favor policies that sustain the structure of the bureaucracy itself - which has always viewed the National Guard as a threat.

Since 9/11 the National Guard (Reserve component) has proven itself in war and peace. Through blood, sweat, and tears it transformed from a strategic reserve into an operational reserve. The active-duty acknowledges that it is now reliant upon a permanent deployment schedule for the National Guard to sustain theater operations – despite its inherent disdain. This switch from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve brought about much needed improvement to the mobilization process. Right now, it is relatively easy to send a National Guard unit to war - and back - to be sent again on rotation. However, the sacrifice made by the National Guard and Reserves appears to be rewarded with insincerity and skullduggery; the careerists in the Pentagon budget shop have taken a cleaver to the National Guard - an organization acknowledged to be a military necessity and valued component.

Only the political influence of the newly established Council of Governors prevented a massive disinvestment in the Air National Guard in 2012-13. In collaboration with Congressional allies, the Council challenged false assumptions and the budget presented by service leaders with transparent (and undeniable) bias against the National Guard/Reserves. The pressures of Sequestration and the natural, predictable contraction associated with resetting a “peace time” military after a period of prolonged war have combined to expand an unfortunate schism between the active duty services and their respective reserve component partners. Tension established with the development of the Post-war full-time military in the 1950s has reached new levels of frustration. The most recent evidence is manifest throughout the 2014 “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices” budget document. This document stresses (on at least three separate occasions) the “political” nature of the policy choices made in 2012 associated with Air National Guard equipment/staffing levels, in contrast to the service determined strategic/tactical wisdom.

It is an open secret: the Pentagon fought elevation of the National Guard Director to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Pentagon fought a series of modernization investments in the National Guard/Reserves associated with the Air Sovereignty Alert mission – as well as specific Domestic Operations initiatives that would have provided increased authority for National Guard/Reserve units to act regionally during times of civil unrest and disaster. In this recent document the boldness of the resistance is telling. Under the guidance of senior leadership among the services the document stresses not-so-hidden assumptions about the need to spread cuts across the full spectrum rather than make the real choices you are seeking to make and implement. Moreover, the document assumes that Sequestration will be identified as a problem and resolved (which is little more than wishful thinking at this point). Ironically, the Pentagon is seeking significant cuts to the National Guard/Reserves despite the fact that the National Guard/Reserves are right now – the most combat experienced, combat-capable militia organizations in history.

Rather than rewarding the efficiencies and effectiveness of the National Guard/Reserves as a partner, careerists seek continued cuts to the Guard/Reserves in order to fund service-specific agendas – often manifest in weapons platforms that were poorly planned and executed. In a zero-sum budget environment, program champions must seek out savings for favored “reinvestments” whatever the impact upon the reserve components (viewed as one person called them, “the part-time, non-union, Christmas-time help”). Ironically, these reinvestments only serve to weaken the overall defense capability of the US. Reinvestments result from the inherent nature of the Pentagon structure. The active duty and industry are partners in the development of increasingly complex, highly tailored weapons systems. Program managers are incentivized to refine requirements (and the costs associated with engineering/producing these adjusted requirements) to “stand out.” Absent war, the best path for promotion is demonstrating utility in weapons platform/system development. For their part, companies are all too willing to modifications – often encouraging minor “tweaks” that realize proportionally greater profit because of the relative pressures associated with competing for the originating contract (largely absent from “adds”).

In simplest terms, we are being “nickel and dimed to death” through after production model modifications. This is not new or even unique to the Pentagon – it is a business approach throughout the world. However, it is an undeniable negative impact upon our finite resources. Absent transformative change in the organic incentives and measurements of accomplishment within the Pentagon, the skills and talents of our best and brightest will continue to refine (and refine again) weapons systems performance requirements and whittle away at our purchase power. We seek out new methods for showcasing the value of a 90% solution rather than the fool’s errand of a theoretical 100% solution for strategic and tactical enterprises. The opportunity costs associated with seeking 100% solutions – are exponentially higher than we can continue to pay.

Your call for a fundamental reconsideration of each, every aspect of the US Department of Defense is the only true path toward a more effective, efficient fighting force capable of maximizing all available resources for 21st Century security. Necessity drives invention; opportunity drives excellence. We cannot afford the structure we have, nor should we. It was built ad hoc for wars that we hadn’t planned on fighting a generation ago (at least in the manner we fought them). As a veteran of Afghanistan, Iraq, and other contingency operations throughout the world, I believe there is nothing more sacred than our duty to secure our homeland and to lend support to our friends in need. And as a veteran of both the active-duty and reserve components, I offer these suggestions because of a sincere belief that we have been building the wrong machine for our future military requirements.

The world is far different than it was in 1787. And yet the perils of that time remain. The philosophy of a large militia with a small full-time professional military still fits our ideals far better than what we have built. National Guard and Reservists attend the same schools, maintain the same standards, and fight the same wars as the active-duty: it is time they are afforded the respect earned in the field. It is time we reward structures and systems that provide reliable, sustained value over time. And this moment is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to recast the force and its supporting environment. As we continue to rebuild our economic and political institutions for the modern age let us recast the national defense apparatus as an extension of our national ideals - not an exception to them.



Paul L. Evans, Major ORANG OIF (2003/2005), OEF (2006)

PO Box 310 Monmouth, Oregon 97361 [email protected]

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