Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Mulligan Army

Three items about the future of the army (well, to be fair one's the military in general) have hit the lines today, and together I think they presage some interesting times.

First, there's the report from the New York Times that the Army is going to rebase most of the overseas based units (50,000 soldiers, from Germany and Korea mostly) in the US.

Second, there is this quick one - two punch of articles that combined indicate the US plans to and Iraq's willing and eager to see a significant reduction of forces in Iraq by next year.

Finally, there's this announcement that is allegedly going to be soon followed with a declassified version of a significantly new strategy in fighting the war on terrorism.

Putting them together it looks to me like the folk in charge are trying to have a mulligan - a do-over. Oh, don't get me wrong. There's been a constant tension in foreign affairs philosophies in our nation between isolationism and interventionism - and getting everyone home has been a longterm goal of the former. But in the midst of a war - an attack on US - pulling folk home isn't just to get them away from there, but rather a preparatory move for something else.

I see three not-mutually-contradictory threads in all this. First there's the obvious - we're trying to win a war, and we're in trouble because our assets aren't flexible. We've no reserve. And the stated goals for both Afghanistan and Iraq haven't been accomplished and indeed seem further away than ever. Back up, reorganize, and focus on the real fight is a good idea, I think. But that's not the only reason.

The second reason is local politics. Iraq is rapidly becoming a burden to those who supported it. By ending it, those in charge can claim to be following the public will - reducing their "wrong way" numbers right before an election. It allows (and intends) to assuage deep pain and frustration among the families of those called, and attempts to restore the appearance of leaders keeping focus on the ultimate objective, in turn restoring the "right way" numbers.

The third reason is less obvious. It's the fact that recruitment is DOWN - way down, looking like less than 3/4 of already reduced recruitment objective down. And retention in the 'decision point' is not looking all that hot either. [Decision point. The majority of recruits - officer and enlisted - are single. Somewhere between 4 and 8 years, however, they get married. And right near that point most of them realize that they can still get a "full" civilian career if they leave now, but if they extend their service their civilian careers will be shortened, with resultant cuts in retirement benefits. As a specific example, military service does NOT apply to Social Security benefits.] Re-examine the preceding plans and you'll see that there's an attempt to reduce the big pains that are hurting both recruitment and retention.

There are several problems I foresee of which two stand out. The first is that people don't forget. It's not a game, we don't have a rewind button. It's not a rebound, it's an attempt go grow from the current status. The second problem is money. Oboy, is it money.

We're moving 5,000 soldiers to Fort Carson (for example). The housing for the soldiers and their families isn't there, neither onpost nor in Colorado Springs. In the longish term it means more housing has to be built - both on and off post - with dollars being spent. In the short term it means housing shortages which means higher prices for existing residences which means either families and soldiers get shortchanged OR we spend more supplemental money.

Another cost of moving is that we're looking at moving ALL instead of SOME. Presently we move about a third of the assigned personnel in Germany every year, and pay rent for the land on which our bases sit. We're going to triple that cost (moving), AND we're going to have to pay for the land, and we're probably going to have to pay clean-up costs.

And that's just for the peace-time (relative) part of bringing most of our overseas forces home. Add in the cost of moving those units' equipment and it begins to stagger the budget.

But there's something that's not in the above that's going to be more fun. I recall (and do not have available) that the Army is intending to develop "lily pad" bases in several less-developed nations. They'll be short-term deployments for soldiers - battalions at a time, swapping out with other battalions in turn, providing a core around which brigades (sorry - units of action) can form on need. Each base will cost money. Stocking the bases will cost, as will supplying them. Add in the need to transport a battalion every six month or so and it gets downright scary.

No, there's no such thing as a mulligan in real life. And attempts to do so are painful and expensive whether they succeed or not. I hope the folk making these decisions put the costs in front of us - no more "100 billion is preposterously high for an invasion of Iraq" remarks. Otherwise, it won't be a mulligan.

It'll be a catastrophe.


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