A Memorial Day Wish: And a Plan to Make it so

Paul Evans

Together we can change the world, together the men and women we honor at Memorial Day events across our country in large cities and small towns, in suburbs and hamlets everywhere - already have.

Memorial Day is an uncomfortable holiday for many veterans. It begs reflection, thought, and at least a little gratitude - and guilt. We that survive war are honorbound to do what we can, when we can, to honor the sacrifices of those that gave what Lincoln defined as the "last full measure of devotion..."

Many among my party see war as the worst of all human endeavors - and it is. It destroys the spirit of all those involved, the casualties as well as the survivors. And yet, there are circumstances, ideals, and values worth defending.

Our Founders gained Independence thorough the force of arms.

However, since the end of World War II we have maintained a force structure that is in many ways contradictory to our Democratic tendencies. And until recently, there may have been a justifiable rationale.

Ironically, the undeniable - and unintended - consequences of the last decade of war have demonstrated the viability of a military force comprised largely from reserve elements. At several moments during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq the bulk of the troops engaged in the fight were NOT active duty troops.

Emergent technologies, force development, and training have provided us with a rare opportunity: an opportunity to reclaim a defense posture significantly more dependent upon citizen-warriors - with a downward adjusted full-time force.

The following is offered for consideration:

Our people require an effective government to defend us from enemies abroad as well as at home; our people require an infrastructure necessary to protect life and property from the impact of global climate change; our people deserve a security strategy based upon our ideals rather than upon our fears.

The US cannot afford the military industrial complex we have sustained since the Cold War. For a myriad of reasons, we have enabled a war-economy that has made technology-driven weapons systems political animals – often built using sub-contractors conveniently located in nearly every Congressional District, weapons platforms built by officers and contractors mutually invested in developed the perfect at the price of the better than anyone else.

We have a Pentagon that cannot reform itself; we have a “contractor-class” that fights and wins Congressional battles far more successfully than it builds state-of-the-art weapons platforms – at least recently.

Consider the following: 1) the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) remains a platform in search of a mission. 2) the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – a single-engine aircraft that lags years behind in production and at an exponentially rising “take-off cost”; 3) the Sea-Wolf submarine – a vessel that is so large and unwieldy that it pushes the boundaries of believability.

Right now the Pentagon is built upon incentives for high-cost, years-in-the-making, perpetual private-source maintenance models that are neither smart, nor sustainable. It cannot be coincidence that these weapons platforms are generated a virtual club of senior officers that make their careers out of developing new platforms and end them working for the contractors empowered to produce them.

Consider this: at present we have over 960 “flag officers” (admirals/generals) on active duty. With each flag officer protocol requires significant staff support and formal procedures that add cost and significant loss of productivity.

Most importantly, these flag officers now seek out bureaucracy and costly programs to “lead” that all too often leave our force structure weaker, not stronger as a result. With respect, too many generals (and admirals) ruin the stew.

At the height of World War II the US Military had about 1,150 “flag officers” (admirals/generals) leading a force of over 12 million troops. Our military had previously been a small cadre of professional strategists and trainers. In our darkest hours, we built the military to fight and win a war – the way our Founders had intended.

Our modern US Military is roughly 1/10 the size of the force structure required for defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan – and yet we have almost as many flag officers. While our force projection capabilities are at least a thousand-fold to what our grandparents generation took to battle, so too is the tail (web of companies benefiting from the endeavor) that now appears to wag the dog.

During World War II the US Navy operated with a ratio of up to as many as 10 – 15 ships per admiral; our current fleet has fewer ships than admirals. Though not a scientific measurement, it is an indicator of how “professionalized” our Pentagon has become.

During the first Obama Term, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff worked tirelessly to frustrate spirit (if not the letter) of the President’s strategy in Afghanistan. Thanks to some investigate reporting, we know now that Admiral Mullen used the bureaucracy of the Pentagon to orchestrate a series of false choices for the National Command Authority in the so-called “surge.”

In this particular case the impact of such behavior may or may not have been significant, but the ability and willingness of the senior uniform advisor to the President of the United States to knowingly work against the intentions of the Commander-in-Chief is telling all the same.

The time has come for a dramatic restructure of the US Military. Accordingly, the following is proposed for consideration:

  1. Reduction of the US Army from its current level of 540,000 to 340,000;
  2. Quadrupling of the US Air/Army National Guard from 500,000 to 2,000,000 with special emphasis on engineers, logistics, and sustainment specialties;
  3. Increase of the US Fleet from its current level of 290 ships to 350 ships with special emphasis on strategic and tactical strike capabilities;
  4. Development of a rapid response capability and the necessary overhead for worldwide deployment of a division-sized force in support of National Command Authority direction;
  5. Reduction of flag officer ranks from current levels to ratios based upon command responsibilities – with a flexible target of 400 (including active duty, National Guard, and Reserve components);
  6. Transformation of existing force structure health care and retirement programs necessary for incentivizing transition policies; and
  7. Implementation of rank-specific requirements for individual member service in active duty, National Guard, and Reserve components

At first glance, these proposals might seem like they would require a massive investment in military spending. And truth be told, Americans are uncertain about a US Defense Budget that is even 4% of GDP (current levels).

We can do all these things for less money than the US Department of Defense will spend in Fiscal Year 2013 – a LOT LESS. The following steps could provide a path:

A. Reprogramming/reprioritizing funds from active duty force structure into increased National Guard/Reserve force structure. This would net significant short-term and long-term revenue “savings.” Consider that the most recent study done demonstrated how sustainment costs associated with 20,000 active duty US Army troops equated to the TOTAL COST of the Army National Guard (380,000) – this differential speaks for itself; B. Reprogramming of incentives for emergent weapons systems development. Rather than existing models that reward underperformance and cost overruns, we should reward patriotic manufacturers that provide good quality at fair costs; and C. Empowering the US DoD to concentrate manufacturing/production efforts to reasonable spans of control: too many weapons systems depend upon piecemeal manufacturing spread across as many Congressional districts as possible – instead of common sense supply chains; and D. Empowering the Council of Governors with increased presence on weapons development/needs assessment panels in order to secure emergency response/disaster response capabilities as part of the “Total Force Preparedness” initiatives available to an expanded National Guard/Reserves structure.

These notions are considered heresy by the principles now engaged in sustaining the US Military-Industrial Complex. And any change – will be hard-won at great price to person and position. That said, it is time the US built a military for the world as it is, rather than the world we sometimes pretend to live within.

Together we can generate the political will to transform our war-machine into a more effective and efficient, Department of Defense: an agency with all the necessary force to defend our interests at home and abroad – a force structured to defend our ideals against all enemies – those foreign as well as domestic.

The US must rekindle the spark of our natural conscience. One major step towards that regeneration of the body politic – is the retooling of our military might into a better, stronger more capable agent of our Democratic tendencies. This must be our charge as we set a new course for this new century.

Together we can change the world, together the men and women we honor at Memorial Day events across our country in large cities and small towns, in suburbs and hamlets everywhere - already have.

Let us honor the memory of their loss with a force structure that ensures war becomes - and remains - the very last option available during times of crisis. We really can have a strong defense without further weakening our ideals, but we must act now.

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