Tag Archives: littoral combat ships

Broken and Unlikely to Get Better: Military Mental Health Care

soap-box

Well, my friends it’s time for me to get on the PTSD soapbox and go “Smedley” on the military mental health system. The fact is the system is broken, maybe not as bad as the VA, but broken nonetheless. The biggest part of the problem is not that there are not enough providers, there are not even though many more have been hired. The biggest part of the problem is that the system has lost any humanity that it once had, all in the name of efficiency and the budgetary bottom line. The fact is that the bottom line actually matters more than people and bean counters, not providers have the final say.

Marine Corps Major General, and two time Medal of Honor winner, Smedley Butler wrote after he retired in his classic book War is a Racket:

“I have visited eighteen government hospitals for veterans. In them are about 50,000 destroyed men- men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the government hospital in Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as among those who stayed home.” 

Two years ago, the Navy seeing a increase in healthcare costs decided to bring as many people back into the Navy Medicine system as possible and cut back on referrals for active duty personnel. I understand that, money is short and Lord knows we need to save it wherever we can in order to buy aircraft like those in the grossly over-budget, behind schedule and substandard F-35 Lightening stealth fighter plane program, or ships like the Littoral Combat Ship which are over budget, under armed and not designed to survive the slightest combat. Mind you, none of the F-35s are in service, despite a decade of tests and production delays, costing hundreds of billions of dollars. But I digress…after all, war is a racket.

Now let me be honest and as fair as possible. There are many great mental health providers in the military and the Navy Medicine system; active duty, reserve, civilian and contractors. These people actually do care, but often they don’t get to make decisions that they think are right for their patients. At the same time there are others working in the system that are just in it for job security or the money. However, all of them are at the mercy of commanding officers that decide how they want to spend their budget, and dictate to their providers, sometimes at the threat of their job, contract renewal, a positive fitness report or promotion recommendation what they will approve, or more likely, deny. Thus in some cases commanders will support their providers doing whatever possible to get patients help, while others look at the bottom line. I have had both experiences.

I have been getting mental health treatment for PTSD since July 2008 when my life fell apart after Iraq. I have had mental health providers in the Navy Medical system. I also had a civilian psychiatrist who I was allowed to see when I was at Camp LeJeune, even after Navy Medicine decided to bring people back into the Navy Medicine system.

You see at Camp LeJeune, the old hospital commander, who I worked for, and the Director of Mental Health who I worked with realized that as a Chaplain that my personal and professional privacy, and my need for continuity of care was important. They realized that I needed to feel safe. There I was treated with professional courtesy, with humanity and I felt like people actually cared about me. That was was something that I needed then, and still need now. Unfortunately that is not happening now.

When I returned to the Hampton Roads area I knew that I still needed mental health care. I finally got my first visit and intake evaluation in June. My first appointment with a psychiatrist came on July 7th. The psychiatrist herself was not the issue. You see I used to work at the Naval Medical Center for two years and continued to work at the Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune for another three. I am fairly well known in the Navy Medical Region East.

I suffer a tremendous amount of anxiety. I admit it, I am still bat-shit crazy. I have the PTSD “Mad Cow.” The night before my first appointment I could not sleep, most likely because of being anxious about going to the Naval Medical Center outpatient mental health clinic. The fact is, it is really big and impersonal, and frankly that scares the hell out of me. I can’t go to big churches for the same reason. I feel terribly unsafe in them.

My worst fears were borne out. The waiting room was crowded, and after waiting I had my name and rank called out for everyone to hear, so much for the expectation of privacy, in fact I think that was a HIPPA violation. In the intake room I was met by three very junior hospital corpsmen. I didn’t even get a “hello, how are you doing sir?” from them. Instead one told me to take off my shirt, one told me to step on a scale and after that I was told to sit down, and got my blood pressure taken. My blood pressure was twenty points, actually almost 30 points higher than normal, even after I have just had a bunch of caffeine, which I did not on July 7th. I have to attribute the rise in blood pressure to the anxiety of just going in to the clinic, there is no other reason. After I had my vitals checked, I was asked a series of rapid fire questions that were very personal in nature and that I would prefer a doctor or nurse ask. I was then told to go back and wait.

The whole process was impersonal, embarrassing and dehumanizing. But it was very efficient, and the bean counters should be happy. That being said it was the absolute worst experience I have had with military medicine, and that includes having a thumb stuck up my ass and having to duck walk at the Military Entrance Processing Station. That was a rite of passage, but this scared the absolute hell out of me, I did not feel like I mattered as a person to anyone in the clinic.

When I saw the doctor she was pleasant. I told her of my experience and requested that I be referred to a provider in town as I had at Camp LeJeune. I was told that she would submit the request to her division officer who is a doctor that I know, and get back to me in a day or two. I didn’t hear from her. I waited two and a half weeks, and finally decided to e-mail the doctor on July 24th asking what was going on. Today I got an e-mail telling me that “my case could not be sent to the civilian network.” No reason was provided. The time between that appointment and the denial of my request was almost four weeks, totally unacceptable by any standard of care, military, civilian or even Klingon.

I was given the option of seeing a provider at an outlying clinic however the one close to where I work would be similar to the main hospital, crowded and impersonal. The other option was using a resource called “Military One Source” where I could get up to 10 or 12 appointments with a civilian provider in town with no guarantee that I would be able to see them after those visits were up without approval from the same people who just told me that I couldn’t be seen in town. If I do that my medication would then be managed by my PCM instead of a shrink. At this point I no longer have any trust in the military mental health system, at least for me, and the Military One Source providers are not really there to deal with long term chronic conditions.

I knew that I was being blown off. In military speak it is the old adage that “a mission passed is a mission completed.” The fact is that I do not matter to these providers. Unlike the people at Camp LeJeune, they have no personal investment in me as a patient or as a professional colleague, so why should it matter to them? I don’t write their evaluations, the bean counting admiral does so, why would an old and broken chaplain who doesn’t work with them matter?

Likewise I am being treated like a child in regard to medication. I have no history of drug abuse, prescription or otherwise. Unlike LeJeune where my doctor put refills on my as needed PRN anxiety medicine, I now have to subject myself to the industrial “production line” inhumanity of that clinic, just to get a refill each month.  Even if I didn’t want therapy I would have to endure the ignominy of the inhuman treatment at the clinic 12 times a year just to get a pittance of very low dose anti-anxeity medication. I don’t need that kind of abuse, and that it exactly what it is no matter what the bean counting admiral calls it.

But here’s the deal. I am a senior officer. No wonder so many senior officers decline treatment, attempt to hide their symptoms and self-medicate. The treatment in the system is demeaning and the stigma is there. I have known of a good number of senior officers, Marines, Navy and Army who have ended up losing their careers or lives over untreated PTSD. Right now I am debating even if I should go back to therapy. I know I need it, but if it is a choice of the abuse I am going through at the mental health clinic or maintaining a semblance of human dignity, a good craft beer tastes far better than Xanax.

Not only that, but an even far more important reason than me and my needs, that of the junior enlisted personnel who seek help or are directed by their commands to get help from mental health. Now I cannot imagine what it would be to be a powerless junior enlisted soldier, sailor, Marine or airman. But wait I can, I enlisted in the National Guard back in 1981. However, back then I wasn’t broken, and I cannot now imagine what is is for young, powerless enlisted personnel have to go through what I am going through when getting mental health treatment. That is the bigger issue.

Is it any wonder that the military suicide rates are still high and that this year the Navy is up from the same time as last year? According to statistics released last week, there have been 36 Navy suicides this year, last year at this time there were just 24 with 43 for the entire year. I wonder if that has something to do with pushing people into an often uncaring bureaucratic system that is more concerned with saving money than meeting the needs of patients.

I was talking to a friend, an officer at the Medical Center today while at a different clinic where I am treated with great compassion, care and dignity, a clinic that is not afraid to get me the medical help that I need, even though it is expensive. This officer and I served at Portsmouth together back in 2008-2010 and that officer told me today that the place has changed. He said it was all about business, impersonal and machine like, devoted to the bottom line, with lip service being given to actual patient needs by those in senior leadership.

Thank God I won’t have to stay in the military medical system the rest of my life. The good news is that when I retire I get to go to the amazingly proficient VA system for that care. Won’t that be grand?

No it won’t. Not for me or any of the tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of military personnel with PTSD, TBI or Moral Injury. We’ve all read about the problems in the VA, they are persistent, endemic and won’t change anytime in the near future. That is shameful.

General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell famously said “you broke it, you buy it.” Of course he was talking about Iraq, but the same principle should apply to those who have put their lives on the line during the last 13 years of war and come back broken. It is a moral obligation, it is something that we as a nation promised. The country pledged to care for those who served, and the fact that it is barely a half percent of the population who have served in war for the last 13 years, men and women who now have to fight for the basic care that a civilized, and as the Religious Right likes to call a “Christian nation” should provide as a matter of basic human decency. It is not special treatment that broken veterans deserve, it is simple decency and honoring a commitment that we made as a nation.

Yes I am going “Smedley” here, because war is a racket, and it is a racket that those inside the military, the government and the private sector promote.

I’m sure that I will get some blowback from this from some in the system, but I don’t care. The system is broken and until we as a nation stop bullshitting and admit there is a problem and elect to do something about it won’t get better. The bean counters, war profiteers and bureaucrats need to be held accountable by our elected representatives.

I am going to be contacting the Admiral that commands the medical center as well as my Congressman, and probably the chairmen of both the House and Senate Defense committees because I suspect from what I hear from soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen around the country that this is not an isolated instance. So, if someone like me, a senior officer still in the system doesn’t do this who will?

I hope that this post will become viral so that our sailors, Marines, soldiers and airmen get the quality care, delivered with compassion and humanity that they deserve. For some it will be a matter of life and death.

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under healthcare, Military, PTSD, US Navy

Why Aren’t Any Politicians Talking About the War and Why don’t Voters Care?

“The military is at war and the country is not.” Former US Representative Patrick Murphy

Seven more American Soldiers were killed in Afghanistan when their UH-60 Blackhawk was either shot down or crashed due to other reasons yesterday. 41 were killed in July and 10 last week. But who cares? The news of each incident went across the ticker on the bottom of the cable TV news feed and the obligatory 15 second spot on the headlines of the hour before it is subsumed by the latest political lie-fest or celebrity scandal. Have we no shame?

It seems that nobody really gives a damn about the war in Afghanistan or for that matter anywhere else that the United States and its allies are fighting. I mean really. Think about it.  The war constantly ranks among the lowest of issues that American voters rank as important and it certainly doesn’t seem to register as important among most political candidates unless hey can be photographic hugging a tank so they can show that they support the troops.

From what I see it looks like the only person in the Washington DC political sewer who even thinks about the war is Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Panetta in frustration said Tuesday:

“I realize that there are a lot of other things going on around this country that can draw our attention, from the Olympics, to political campaigns to droughts, to some of the tragedies we’ve seen in communities around the country…. I thought it was important to remind the American people that there is a war going on.”

84,000 U.S. Military personnel are currently serving in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of DOD civilians, contractors as well as FBI, CIA, NSA, DHS, and State Department employees are also in harms way. Likewise another 30,000 or so troops from NATO or other coalition allies are risking their lives serving alongside of our personnel.

In July the Army recorded a record number of suicides. We don’t hear about the numbers of wounded because frankly aside from those directly affected and their friends or families most people would just prefer to ignore the war.

But then they can. Liberals have been accused of being anti-military and some are. But even the supposedly conservative God-fearing , military loving and Islam-Facist, Commie bombing Republican Presidential team of Romney-Ryan refuses to acknowledge the war when speaking in front of the World War II era battleship USS Wisconsin in Norfolk. No one of either party seems to have a plan for actually successfully ending the war and all seem to be content to let the war fester. I found that reprehensible. Whatever happened to Ronald Reagan, John Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman? Oh wait they’re dead.

But there is no real shared sacrifice in this country when it comes to national defense. There is no draft, no taxes have been levied to support the wars and many Defense contractors responsible for producing the weapons of war needed to fight the current war and prepare for future wars seem only to care about their bottom line. Future weapons systems are over-budget, long-delayed and fail to meet the expectations of either the services or the nation. Name the system. The F-22 Raptor, the F-35 Lightening, the Littoral Combat Ship, the Army Future Combat System and the Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. All either truncated, delayed or cancelled. Billions of dollars spent and little to show for the expenditure of the nation’s treasure.

I think that national leaders of both parties need to be held responsible. I think that American citizens and political leaders who lamely put bumper stickers on their cars saying “I support the troops” should put up or shut up.

If we are going to keep fighting wars without end let’s at least do it together. Let’s re-start the draft and levee special taxes. Let’s sell war bonds, let’s plant Victory Gardens and donate our scrap metal, plastics and electronics to be recycled to build weapons like we did in World War II. Let’s find new energy sources to better power our weapons systems since no one cares about renewable energy for anything else.

But then let’s not inconvenience anyone, after all the troops all volunteered for this.

I hate to sound cynical but when the military has been at war for going on 11 years and it the lowest priority of voters and politicians then something is terrible askew.

Don’t you think? Or am I just pissing in the wind?

Peace

Padre Steve+

8 Comments

Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, national security, Political Commentary

The Navy is the Future of National Security

USS HUE CITY CG 66 in the Arabian Gulf 2002.  “I wish to have no Connection with any Ship that does not Sail fast for I intend to go in harm’s way.” John Paul Jones 

“Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.”  President George Washington

“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.” President Theodore Roosevelt

“A powerful Navy we have always regarded as our proper and natural means of defense; and it has always been of defense that we have thought, never of aggression or of conquest. But who shall tell us now what sort of Navy to build? We shall take leave to be strong upon the seas, in the future as in the past; and there will be no thought of offense or provocation in that. Our ships are our natural bulwarks.” President Woodrow Wilson

“Events of October 1962 indicated, as they had all through history, that control of the sea means security. Control of the seas can mean peace. Control of the seas can mean victory. The United States must control the seas if it is to protect your security….” President John F. Kennedy

There are a great many debates in Congress and the Pentagon regarding the current and future military budgets in light of the massive budget deficits and economic crisis facing the nation.  Complicating the issue is our massive commitment to land campaigns that contribute little to the long term national security of the United States and its friends. These wars constrain our diplomatic military and economic ability to respond to other crises at home and around the world be they military threats, terrorism or natural or man made disasters.

Until the mid 20th Century theUnited States viewed the land forces when used abroad as expeditionary forces which were employed overseas for relatively short periods of times of combat.  The mission and strategy was to fight the war, bring all or most of the forces home, assist with security as needed and depend on a naval presence to show the flag without a continued large “boots on the ground” presence.   The two times that we have elected to fight protracted ground wars with no definable condition of victory we have come out weaker than we went in.  This was the case inVietnam a war which badly divided the nation and nearly destroyed the military as a viable force.  The present campaign in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq which is close to ending have the potential to do the same.

In the prosecuting the Global War on Terror which was launched in response to the attacks of September 11th 2001 we have for the most costly and historically flawed ways to use an American Army.  In doing so we have had to invest a huge amount of our expenditures simply to maintain a force to keep the status quo in a country that will turn on us as soon as it convenient to do so.

In the process of focusing on these aspects of this war we have forgotten the more crucial long term aspects of national security which can only be addressed by maritime power.  This power includes the military might of the Navy and Marine Corps team but also includes our Merchant Marine and Coast Guard.

Ninety percent of world trade is transported by ship via sea lanes that have choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz,Strait of Malacca, the Bab El Mendeb and the Horn of Africa, and the Strait of Gibraltar.  Likewise other traffic must pass through the South China Sea, the Taiwan Straits or around Cape Horn.  Then there are the two major maritime canals the Panama and Suez Canals.  Terrorists, pirates, rogue nations and ascending Naval powers such asChinapose real threats in all of these critical maritime commerce choke points.

Real and potential threats to the choke points: Iranian Naval and Revolutionary Guard Naval forces, Somali pirates, the new Chinese aircraft carrier and a Pakistani Navy that may become an enemy overnight 

Most of the world’s population lives in what are called the littorals, the areas of land adjacent to oceans and major waterways.  Likewise most industry is located in these areas. Most of these populations and industries are also in areas under the same type of threats as the sea lanes and choke points.  Simply put the sea and the littorals are much more important to this country and the world than landlocked Afghanistan.  They also are much more easily influenced by naval power that is not bound to land bases in nations where governments and their policy to the United Statesand our friends can change overnight and which large land armies would have minimal impact.

The United States Navy has been and still is the world’s preeminent naval power. It will likely remain so for the foreseeable future but the navy is strained.  Since 2001 it has shrunk in size, shed some 52,000 sailors and seen its scope of responsibility and operational tempo increase putting greater strain on the ships, aircraft and personnel remaining.  Ships are aging, maintenance was deferred and the planned new construction has not materialized.  The Ticonderoga Class Guided Missile Cruisers are nearing an average age of 20 years, our carriers average 23 years old, many of our submarines are nearing the end of their projected service lives and some other ships are far older.

Ship classes like the Freedom and Independence class Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), San Antonio Class Landing Ships (LPD) and the DD-1000 Zumwalt Class are badly over budget, plagued with technical and workmanship issue and are behind in production.

USS Freedom (above) and USS Independence Littoral Combat Ships

The LCS in particular seems like a bad investment, the ships are undermanned and under armed, planned weapons modules are not in production and they are not designed for survivability.  In effect they are large fast ships with almost no offensive or defensive capabilities that would be hard pressed to survive in a fight with any current or future Corvette or Frigate fielded by an opposing naval force. In order to be effective they need heavier armament and larger crews and need a redesign to improve their survivability. It makes no sense to spend more than half a billion dollars each on ships that are not survivable and cannot fulfill their intended missions.  A better choice would be something similar to the Dutch De Zeven Provincien  German Sachsen or the French Lafayette Class frigates which have a heavy armament and good endurance or the smaller and cheaper German Braunschweig class Corvettes.

DD-1000 the Zumwalt Class

The Zumwalts are 14,000 ton “Destroyers” that were designed as a replacement for the battleship.  Originally 32 were planned but the high cost and multiple problems associated with the design. These issues have included such things as seaworthiness due to their hull form and other hull issues, its integrated advanced electro-magnetic propulsion system and its surface and air warfare capabilities.  Their armament has been an issue since the beginning as they cannot meet the standards of the Aegis equipped Cruisers and DDGs and cannot support the Ballistic Missile Defense capabilities of those ships.  Their naval gunfire support capability which was advertised as one of their main selling points is woeful. They are to be equipped with two 155mm long range naval guns designed to use a “smart” munitions. The ships will carry a limited supply of shells for these guns and because of the need for extended range and guidance capabilities the shells will have a smaller charge than their land based counterparts.   They will have only two-thirds of the VLS cells than Ticonderoga class ships meaning that they can carry few missiles of all types.  It is likely that the Tomahawk cruise missile will comprise the bulk of their missile armament but if one wants a ship that’s only significant capability is launching Tomahawks then there are many other ideas which are more economical and can carry far more missiles than the Zumwalts. One of these was the Arsenal ship which was designed to carry 500 Tomahawks on a stealthy platform that requires a small crew and had an estimated cost of 500-800 million dollars.  It was cancelled in favor of the project that eventually turned into the Zumwalt class. The DD-1000 program began with the DD-21 program in 1994 and the first ship may not enter service until 2015. The cost of just two of these ships has grown exponentially to 6.6 billion as of 2011.  The two ships under construction have little place in the current or future Navy and would likely serve as technology test beds.

The Arsenal Ship

While we have increased the numbers and continued the production of the highly successful Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers (DDG) and Wasp class Amphibious Assault ships (LHD) it is not enough to compensate for the continued attrition.  If worst case budget projections occur the Navy could experience massive cuts without any decrease in maritime threats or operational commitments.  The Coast Guard is in even worse shape.

The USS John S McCain DDG 56

The most important aspect of national defense, free trade and humanitarian assistance in the coming years are America’s Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine.  Without a strong Navy and the other components of maritime power we are at the mercy of tin-horned dictators, pirates and terrorists who live and operate in the most vital areas of the world’s maritime transportation network.

Humanitarian assistance: USNS Comfort off Haiti 

As our political leaders meet in the coming weeks and months decisions will be reached in matters of national security.  They will be based budget considerations alone as we have not operated on a clearly defined national security strategy since the end of the Cold War.  Force structure has to be decided based on the over arching national strategy and broad brushed and un-thought out cuts are a recipe for disaster.

History tells us this. Following our Revolution the nation was deep in debt and eliminated the Navy.  Since our merchant shipping was no longer protected by the Royal Navy and the treaty withFrancewas allowed to lapse American ships became easy prey for the Barbary Pirates.  Rather than build a navy to protect American citizens and shipping the nation paid “tribute” to dictators which amounted to tens of millions of dollars until Thomas Jefferson sent the new re-established Navy to counter the threat.   Our history and that of other maritime powers such asGreat Britainand theNetherlandsprovide many precedents for this use of power.

What needs to happen now is for the LCS ships and Zumwalt class production to end with the current ships building.  No carriers except the 50 year old USS Enterprise should be decommissioned until a full up national strategy review is completed and agreed to by both political parties.  That strategy needs to actually prioritize the most important areas of engagement that the military should focus its efforts.  The Middle East will remain important but will fade as Asia continues to gain importance.

Regarding other ship classes much needs to happen.  DDG production should be stepped up and an affordable yet fully capable replacement to the Ticonderoga class designed, to include the ability to conduct ballistic missile defense.  A diesel electric attack submarine needs to be fielded to complement the Virginia Class attack boats.  A Light Fleet Aircraft Carrier design should be designed and produced to compliment the Nimitz and Ford Class Carriers now in commission or building. The Navy should design or take an off the shelf Corvette or small Frigate type ship to fill the role envisioned by the LCS.  Such ships should be designed for specific tasks to avoid the massive cost overruns and simplify production.  When one remembers that it as the United States Navy that first developed the Destroyer Escort type ship to fill a specific role such an undertaking should be well within ship designer and capabilities so long as they do not try to “gold plate” the type and make it a jack of all trades and master of none ship.  Other types of ship should be studied to include smaller but still capable aircraft carriers and new amphibious ships to support the Marine Expeditionary forces.

Ships need to be designed with combat power, survivability as the first priorities and they need to be affordable and easy to mass produce.  Designs do not need to be over thought.  George Patton’s adage “a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week” applies today for this nation and the Navy.  To adapt Patton’s adage I say that “a combat effective and survivable ship class that we can afford and mass produce now is better than a perfect ship that bankrupts us and cannot be produced in the numbers needed to secure the seas.” 

The Navy is the American Armed Force of the Future. Of all the Armed Services the Navy offers the United States the ability to protect its interests abroad and homeland security without the need to base large numbers of ground forces overseas.  Naval forces are flexible, are easily sustainable and conduct security, combat and humanitarian operations better and more affordably than any armed service in the world. When coupled with the expeditionary capability of the Marines offer a force that affordably provides national security.  George Washington, John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt all knew this.  I do hope that the current Administration, Congress and their successors will not allow the current superiority that we enjoy on the high seas to decay just as our greatest economic and military competitors build up their naval capabilities and the threat of terrorists, pirates and the small but dangerous navies of rogue states threaten the sea lanes that are absolutely vital to our economy and national security.

The Navy is also the least provocative armed service and history has repeatedly shown that naval forces are a deterrent to war and guarantee of peace.

On that last note…

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under History, Military, national security, Navy Ships, US Navy

From the Sea: The Absolute Need of a Strong Navy, Merchant Marine, Coast Guard and Viable National Maritime Strategy

The USS Enterprise CV-6. Ordered in 1933 she was one of the most decorated and battle proven ships ever to fly the flag of the United States

“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.” Theodore Roosevelt

“A powerful Navy we have always regarded as our proper and natural means of defense; and it has always been of defense that we have thought, never of aggression or of conquest. But who shall tell us now what sort of Navy to build? We shall take leave to be strong upon the seas, in the future as in the past; and there will be no thought of offense or provocation in that. Our ships are our natural bulwarks.” Woodrow Wilson

As the economic crisis continues to envelop the nation there is much talk about the certain reduction in the size and capabilities of the U.S. Military components.  At the present time it seems that politicians of both parties are more interested in the immediate savings that can be derived from cuts.  Regardless of how they are done each service will see force reductions but coming at a time when we are at war those responsible for the cuts must be conscious of the effects on the capabilities that the United States has to defend itself and its interests overseas and to influence world affairs.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistanhave been ground intensive requiring the strengthening of the Army and Marine Corps to conduct counter insurgency operations. After 9-11 the Navy voluntarily reduced its fleet and personal strength in relatively dramatic fashion intending the savings be used to rebuilt the fleet.  Personnel strength was reduced by nearly 40,000 sailors and many ships were retired well before their anticipated retirement dates.  Unfortunately the Defense Department under then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shifted the savings to fund the ground campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Navy shipbuilding was cut and the Navy failed to help itself by investing much of the service’s budget to the development of three classes of ships and that are over budget, under performing and full of controversy, the Zumwalt Class Destroyers, the Freedom and Independence Class Littoral Combat Ships and the San Antonio Class Landing Ships.

Further cuts are already occurring or envisioned based on the planned cuts in Federal Government programs.  These cuts would reduce the Navy which is now smaller than at any time since the early 1930s following the 1922 Washington Naval Conference which limited the size of the Navies of the signatory countries.  From 1922-1932 the Republican Harding, Coolidge and Hoover administrations not only reduced the force but failed to lay down a single new ship to replace outdated ships and reduced maintenance funds to keep up the ships in service.  Budget cutting gutted the Navy during those years and it was only theRooseveltadministration which realized that a strong Navy was essential to national security began to rebuild the fleet in the 1930s and funded the development of the ships that would win World War Two.  The shipbuilding program had economic benefits as shipyards which had been inactive were able to employ skilled American workers which helped military preparedness, American business and American workers.  The ships that came out of that building program sustained us at the beginning of the war and those designed in the years just before the war served us for decades to come.  Even so the build up byRoosevelt, constrained by the dire economic crisis of the Great Depression could not add ships fast enough to have us fully ready for the Second World War and left us dangerously stretched by the demands of the Japanese advance in the Pacific and the German U-Boat campaign in theAtlantic.  Many good Americans died and the war was decidedly more difficult because of what was done to the Navy in the 1920s by successive short sighted Republican administrations.

The current ship production is at a level not seen in decades and bad surface ship designs and poor workmanship have hurt the Navy.  If the Navy is cut back significantly without a change in mission or corresponding shift in National Security Policy it will degrade the Navy’s ability to respond to emerging threats. Likewise if a coherent shipbuilding program is not undertaken that meets the projected threats American interests can and will be harmed as other nations gain local superiority in critical areas and sea lanes.   While the U.S. Navy currently enjoys a vast superiority over any current or potential adversary there are places that a cunning adversary could hurt American and allied interests simply because we are already spread very thin in regard to the number of ships available and the increasing number of missions and threat areas.

The challenge now is not to give in to the temptation to make indiscriminant cuts until we actually decide on a National Maritime Strategy that is not simply about the Navy but also the Coast Guard and Merchant Marine.  The strategy must include the interrelationship that we have with our allies and other nations and their navies.

The necessity for this goes beyond military preparedness it goes to our economic security since the vast majority of our commerce exports and imports are by sea.  If we take the time to think through a comprehensive maritime strategy it can go a long way to strengthen American industry, labor, commerce as well as national and economic security for us and the world.  A strong Navy, Merchant Marine and Coast Guard are far more important to the United Statesthan large ground forces.

An effective and judicious use of national power: USS Hue City CG-66 passing an impounded Iraqi smuggler in 2002

This is demonstrated in our history as well as that of Great Britain.  When we are strong at sea we are strong, when we commit to long wars of attrition overseas we cause ourselves untold problems. As our first President George Washington said:

“It follows than as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.”

This is something that our politicians inWashingtonand those that populate the think tanks need to learn.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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