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I Don’t Like Bullies: The Troubling Trend in Conservative Politics

I don’t like bullies. I didn’t like them as a child and I certainly don’t like them any better now.  Unfortunately the bullying that I address is not the simple schoolyard type, but a kind that has infected our politics and religion to such an extent that I fear the worst for our country.

Last night there was a most troubling moment during the Republican debate.  Fox news anchor Megan Kelly aired a video from a soldier inIraqasking what candidates would do regarding the recent repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy.   What followed was shocking. First a number of people in the audience booed the soldier. Second, former Senator Rick Santorum answered Kelly’s question about DADT saying that he would reinstate the policy which he called “social experimentation” which was “detrimental” to gays and lesbians.

Sanorum also mischaracterized the repeal saying that that “I would say any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military. The fact they are making a point to include it as a provision within the military that we are going to recognize a group of people and give them a special privilege to, and removing don’t ask don’t tell. I think tries to inject social policy into the military. And the military’s job is to do one thing: to defend our country….”  The repeal didn’t give gays a special privilege but merely allows them to serve as others in the military do without fear of being thrown out if someone discovered that they were gay.

Santorum also showed his ignorance by ending his comments with this “sex is not an issue. It should not be an issue. Leave it alone. Keep it to yourself whether you are heterosexual or homosexual.” Well that is the policy that was enacted, except we don’t throw people out because they are homosexual.  The military is built on discipline and professionalism, if heterosexual military personnel cannot do something the same applies to homosexuals. The policy actually makes the case that sexuality is not an issue. It was under DADT and it put honorable men and women that wanted to serve their country under a rule that no-one else in the military had to live with. That policy emphasized that they were different and made their sexual orientation the issue so that they could be prosecuted at any time should a person turn them in or they make any statement that they were gay.

The repeal was voted by congress and DADT has been found unconstitutional by a number of Federal Courts.  It was going to go away one way or another and the way it was done the military had a chance to get ready for it.  Because of this nothing changed on September 20th. The military still continues to do its job without any disruption, Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen are being professional and perhaps the one shock will have is when they find out that men and women that they admire and that they have served in close quarters or in combat with are gay. They will adjust and realize that all the hyperbole put out by people like Santorum was politically and sometimes religiously motivated bigotry.  The same happened in 1948 when President Truman integrated the military. Military personnel adjusted over time and now compared to most of society the military stands as a beacon to the rest of the nation.

When Santorum finished his answer he was greeted with thunderous applause and not one candidate stopped during the debate to call out the people that launched the chorus of boos.  A few notably John Huntsman and a spokesman for Rick Perry commented after the debate about how “unfortunate” the incident was, later on Friday candidate Gary Johnson condemned the action. Unfortunately most of the other candidates by their silence showed that they either agreed with the hecklers or that they are too afraid of political retribution to speak out against such behavior.

I was told by a Christian friend whose opinion I value that he thought that I was over-reacting to the actions of a few people.  God how I wish it was just a few knuckleheads doing this.  However I have seen many bloggers and quite a few allegedly “conservative alternative media” sites and “Christian” ministries blasting the same message ever since Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen announced that the military was moving toward the repeal.

The fact that others in the crowd did not challenge the boo-birds and Santorum didn’t censure them was scary. Later Santorum said that he didn’t hear the people that booed but they were loud and I have a hard time believing him. In light of his many other statements on this subject.

Part of the problem is that I am a historian and my focus was on Weimar Germany and the Nazi era. I have studied that period since I was an undergraduate as well as in seminary and for my second Masters in Military History. I talk about this with my German friends and they see parallels to their history. It unnerves them to see it happening here.

The tactics being employed by these “few” are eerily reminiscent of what the Brownshirts did to their opponents. If I “over react” as my friend said it was because acts like this do breed discrimination and violence.  Those that take power after having used or tolerated such behavior from their followers tend to become tyrants and oppressors in their own right, especially religious people.  Simply look at history to see how badly these events turn out.

But this is bigger than the repeal of DADT and gays.  Last week in another debate, the same type of crowd people shouted “let them die” in relation to a debate question about an uninsured man.  The week at another Republican debate people cheered the use of the death penalty even in cases where reasonable doubt was obvious. And then Pat Robertson told a caller that divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease was justified. It is about the lack of outcry from Christians or even the willing participation of Christians in brutal behavior. These are scary things and it is the totally of them that brings my reaction.  This has happened in other countries and I fear that we are going down the same path.

We have a great number of very angry people including many Evangelical Christians that feel that the left has marginalized and persecuted them.  To some extent there has been some of that.  But the answer cannot be found in vengeance.  From what I read on many “conservative” or “Christian” websites the issue is revenge.   The revenge is in that they intend to take over by the ballot and if need be by the bullet to “take dominion” over every arena of public life and rid us of those that do not agree with them or strip them of any influence in society.

The people in the “Dominionist” movement and those that preach the “7 Mountains Theology”  have said that they are intent on establishing a theocracy in this country and others. In their new society people that disagree with them are the enemy, not only of them but of God, even other Christians. Rick Joyner, one of the leaders of this movement and one of the players in Rick Perry’s “The Response” said: “On February 23rd of this year I was shown for the third time that the church was headed for a spiritual civil war … the definition of a complete victory in this war would be the complete overthrow of the accuser of the brethens’ strongholds in the church … this will in fact be one of the most cruel battles the church has ever faced. Like every civil war brother will turn against brother like we have never witnessed in the church before … this battle must be fought. It is an opportunity to drive the accuser out of the church and for the church then to come into unity that would otherwise be impossible … what is coming will be dark. At times Christians almost universally will be loath to even call themselves Christians. Believers and unbelievers alike will think it is the end of Christianity as we know it and it will be through this the very definition of Christianity will be changed for the better.”

Others of this theological bent advocate chilling police state type methods in dealing with opponents and those that dissent and justify themselves by say that they are “doing God’s work” or “ushering in the Kingdom.

So this is not just about the gays, it is about protecting the weak and those that dare to dissent from a party line. It is about the use of  Brownshirt type tactics to intimidate and silence opposition.  The combination of radial politics and radical religion never produces anything good.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from a Nazi Prison:

“Radicalism always springs from a conscious or unconscious hatred of what is established. Christian radicalism, no matter whether it consists in withdrawing from the world or in improving the world, arises from the hatred of creation. The radical cannot forgive God his creation. He has fallen out with the created world, the Ivan Karamazov, who at the same time makes the figure of the radical Jesus in the image of the Grand Inquisitor. When evil becomes powerful in the world, it infects the Christian, too, with the poison of radicalism. It is Christ’s gift to the Christian that he should be reconciled with the world as it is, but now this reconciliation is accounted to be a betrayal and denial of Christ. It is replaced by bitterness, suspicion and contempt for men and the world. In place of the love that believes all and hopes all, in the place of the love which loves the world in its very wickedness with the love of God (John 3:16), there is now the pharisaical denial of love to evil, and the restriction of love to the closed circle of the devout. Instead of the open Church of Jesus Christ which serves the world till the end, there is now some allegedly primitive Christian ideal of a Church, which in its turn confuses the ideal of the living Jesus Christ with the realization of a Christian ideal. Thus a world which is evil succeeds in making the Christians become evil too. It is the same germ that disintegrates the world and that makes the Christians become radical. In both cases it is hatred towards the world, no matter whether the haters are the ungodly or the godly. On both sides it is a refusal of faith in the creation. But devils are not cast out through Beelzebub.” (Letters and Papers from Prison p.386)

It is time that we recognize this before it is too late because the train has left the station.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, History, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, Political Commentary, Religion

Follow the Money: The Real Motives behind those Seeking to Radically Change the Military Retirement System

The Military Times put it on the Front Page last Week: Wednesday Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced at the National Defense University that no changes were coming soon. Despite that Military personnel should be on guard as the Defense Business Board continues to push for retirement changes that are bad for the service member, bad for keeping the best people in the military but that are great for Wall Street and Defense Contractors

There is much talk amid the current debate on the National Debt and the budget crisis of changing the military retirement system.  Of course the argument now being used by the most fervent advocates of change is that military retirement is a “rich entitlement program” which is draining the Defense Budget and keeping us from buying weapons, to quote Defense Business Board member Richard Spencer “What are you going to trade off — a rich entitlements program, or boots and bullets for the troops?”

Now on the surface that seems logical but in truth it is simply a way for American business and financial corporations to gain control of military retirement for their own gain.  The way they propose is to eliminate the current program and institute a 401K based system as used in many businesses.  However they fail to mention that military service in time of war, which if anyone hasn’t noticed we have been at for 10 years is quite different than working in the civilian world, the little things like long deployments, family separation and need I say getting shot at by bad guys and watching your friends and comrades be killed our maimed do tend to make military service more arduous than 99% of those that work in the civilian world.

The ideas put out by the Defense Business Board gut the military retirement system.  These plans are not in any sense of the word an “overhaul” of the system but a complete scrapping of a system that has worked.  The members of the board seem to believe that the problem with the military budget is that military personnel make too much money and that their retirement if they get to 20 years is breaking the budget.  The members of the board blame cutbacks in weapons systems on the personnel budget ignoring that most of the weapons systems cancelled or cut back were due to the massive cost overruns charged by defense contractors and the failure of those contractors to deliver the systems that they promised on time on budget or for that matter operational.

That list includes the grounded F-22 Raptor of the Air Force, the mechanically challenged LPD-17 San Antonio class amphibious ships, the under armed, undermanned and corrosion prone Littoral Combat ships which are actually two distinctly different classes of ship increasing the cost of the project.  Then there is the FA-35 Joint Strike Fighter which is way over budget and far behind schedule and despite all efforts none are in operational units yet and those in test units were grounded last week.  The Marine Corps lost the much touted but never produced Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, the planned replacement for its Assault Amphibian Vehicle when the troubled and expensive program was cancelled by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.  The Army had to cancel their Future Combat Systems Manned Vehicle project in 2009.  The list can go on and on and on all the while the contractors that were involved made a mint off of the military.  Much was due to the fact that all of these systems were over budget, behind schedule and often under performing what they were designed to do.

Something else that the Defense Business Board ignores is the massive cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the money being paid to civilian defense contractors such as Halliburton, Kellogg Brown and Root, the former Blackwater and hundreds of other players in the dash for Defense Department cash. They also fail to mention that the financial industry which a number of heavy hitters on the board represent ran our and the world economy onto the rocks back in 2008.

The Defense Business Board was established by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2001.  All of the members are appointed by the Secretary of Defense and all of the current board members were appointed by Rumsfeld or Robert Gates.

So who are the members of this board and who do they work for?

John B. Goodman, Chairman: Serves as managing director of the U.S. Defense portfolio for Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company.

Mark H. Ronald, Vice Chairman: As senior advisor to Veritas Capital Management is a private equity fund that invests in a broad range of middle market companies through buyouts, growth capital investments, and leveraged recapitalizations. Veritas Capital invests in companies that provide outsourced services to the government – primarily in the areas of defense and aerospace, security, and infrastructure. It has also earned a reputation as a niche defense investor and for turning around troubled defense contractors.

Fernando Amandi: The former Chief Operating Officer for Citibank Consumer Bank International inLatin America, President of Motorola International Network Ventures based in London, England and Senior Vice President and General Manager of the American Express Consumer Financial Services Division in Latin America.  At present, he is the President of Fanta Real Estate Investments, LLC.  He served for 6 years as an enlisted member of the Florida Army National Guard.

Owsley Brown II: Retired chairman and CEO of Brown-Forman Corporation. He served from 1966 to 1968 as an Army intelligence officer at the Pentagon.

Pierre A. Chao: Managing Partner and co-founder of Renaissance Strategic Advisors. The company website gives this description “Renaissance Strategic Advisors is focused on the global defense, space, government services, homeland security and commercial aerospace market. Our clients are typically senior decision makers at the Board of Directors, CEO, CFO, sector president or investment partner level. We work with firms up and down the value chain, from component manufacturers to prime contractors to private equity/venture capital firms. Our clients span the full life cycle from early stage startup firms to industry leaders.”

Patrick W. Gross: Chairman of  the Lovell Group, a private investment and advisory firm, where he works with a portfolio of venture capital backed private technology and internet commerce companies. He is currently a director of four public companies: Capital One Financial Corporation, Career Education Corporation, Liquidity Services, Inc., and Mobius Management Systems, Inc. In the 1960’s he worked in the Pentagon as one of “McNamara’s Whiz Kids.”

Lon Levin: President of Sky Seven Ventures, which works with, helps manage, and invests in new technology companies, particularly space-based businesses, including Sentinel Satellite (CEO), Transformational Space (Chief Strategic Officer), Slacker Radio (Senior Advisor to CEO and Board), Integral Systems, Terrestar Networks, and Near Earth LLC.

Bonnie Cohen: A consultant specializing in management and financial issues.  Ms. Cohen serves on the Board of Cohen & Steers Mutual Funds, a $20 billion dollar family of mutual funds. Ms. Cohen is a member of the Cosmos Club and on the Endowment Investment Committee.

Mel M. Immergut: Chairman of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP “a global law firm, with approximately 550 lawyers who provide a full range of financial and business legal services to many of the world’s leading financial, industrial and commercial enterprises, as well as governments, institutions and individuals.”

Edward A. Powell Jr.: President and CEO of the USO World Headquarters.

David H. Langstaff: President & Chief Executive Officer TASC, Inc. A technology and intelligence services a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman and Litton industries, both major Defense contractors.

Phil Odeen: Non-executive Chairman of AES, an international energy company and Convergys, a leading outsourcing company.  Convergys is one of the leading firms that help companies in the United States and  Western Europe outsource jobs overseas.

Arnold Punaro: Chief executive officer of the Punaro Group, LLC, a Washington-based firm offering government relations, strategic planning, federal budget and market analysis, communications, crisis and emergency management, business development and sensitive operations consulting.  Punaro retired from the Marine Corps Reserve as a Major General and unlike the rest of the board served in combat as a Rifle Company Platoon Commander where he was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart Medal.  He was mobilized for the Gulf War, the Bosnia operations and again at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom.  Since his retirement he has been a consistent critic of the military retirement system.

Richard Spencer: Managing Director of Fall Creek Management LLC a privately held management consulting company. He was the former Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer of Intercontinental Exchange, Inc. (NYSE-ICE) which according to its website “operates leading regulated exchanges, trading platforms and clearing houses serving global markets for agricultural, credit, currency, emissions, energy and equity index markets. ICE operates three futures exchanges including London-based ICE Futures Europe, which hosts trading in half of the world’s crude and refined oil futures contracts traded each day. ICE Futures U.S. and ICE Futures Canada list agricultural, currency and Russell Index futures and options markets. ICE also provides trade execution, processing and clearing services for the over-the-counter (OTC) energy and credit derivatives markets.”  Spencer served as a Marine Corps Aviator from 1976-1981.

Bobby Stein: President of the Regency Group, a family holding company located in Jacksonville,Florida. The Regency Group has invested in many businesses including the water, sewer and waste, real estate, mortgage service, and fast food industries.

Robert I. Toll: is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Toll Brothers, Inc., the leading builder of luxury homes

Atul Vashistha: Founder & Chairman, neoIT Founder & Chairman, NEOGROUP. According to the Defense Business Board website he is “a leading proponent and practitioner of globalization and futurizing enterprises. He is recognized globally as one of the leading advisors on globalization and outsourcing. He founded Neo Group (Formerly neoIT) in 1999 with the mission of helping enterprises grow their business and improve operations by leveraging outsourcing and globalization. Neo also advises government and trade bodies on how to be better destinations for outsourcing. Neo also help enterprises manage and monitor supply relationships, risks and governance.”

Kevin Walker: Chief Operating Officer of Iberdrola USA a public utility company and subsidiary company of the Spanish Electric Company Iberdrola. Walker is a 1985 graduate of theUnited States Military Academy and served as a Field Artillery Officer from 1985-1991 including a tour during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Joe Wright: Senior Advisor to the Chart Group, L.P. which is a merchant banking firm investing in both venture and growth capital companies that also provides senior level advice and capital access to corporate clients. According to the company website it “is a merchant banking firm organized in 1994 to sponsor alternative investments and provide discreet, senior level advice and capital access to corporate clients.”

Jack Zoeller: Chairman and CEO of Bank of Virginia, a subsidiary of  which he co-founded in 2009 to bring new capital and management to troubled community banks in the Eastern U.S. He has also served as CEO of Cordia Bancorp, Capital Risk Management Corporation, ComFed Bancorp Incorporated, North American Company Health and Life Insurance Company, and AtlantiCare Risk Management Corporation.  Zoeller is a Military Academy graduate and former Infantry Officer who served with the 82nd Airborne Division.

John Hamre Chairman of the Defense Advisory Board and Chairman of the Defense Science Board serve in an ex-officio status.

Senior Fellows:

Neil F. Albert: President and CEO of MCR, LLC, a company specializing in management consulting, business analysis and forecasting, and information systems.

Barbara Barrett: Former Ambassador to Finland until 2009.  She is an international business and aviation attorney. CEO of Triple Creek Guest Ranch, a Montana Hideaway resort.

Denis Bovin: Co-Chairman and Co-CEO of Stone Key Partners LLC, a strategic and financial advisory investment bank which “offers mergers and acquisitions advisory services.” Prior to forming Stone Key Partners, Mr. Bovin was Vice Chairman –Investment Banking, Senior Managing Director and Chairman of the Global Technology, Media and Telecom Group at Bear Stearns & Co. He was a member of the team that directed Bear Stearns’ Investment Banking activities and had direct responsibility for a wide variety of the Firm’s key domestic and international investment banking clients.

Frederic W. Cook: Founding Director of Frederic W. Cook & Co., an independent consulting firm providing advice to corporate boards and compensation committees on executive compensation matters.  The company website says that they provide “consulting assistance to corporations in order to develop compensation programs for senior executives, key employees, and board of directors.” Prior to forming the firm in 1973, Fred was a principal in Towers, Perrin, Forster & Crosby, a firm which he joined in 1966 following four years of service as an infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Madelyn Jennings: A Founder of the Cabot Advisory Group, President of the McGregor Links Foundation, and Co-Chair of the Executive Committee of the Freedom Forum. She is the retired Senior Vice President of Personnel at the Gannett Co., the largest newspaper company in the U.S., publisher of USA TODAY. Previously she was Vice President of Human Resources at Standard Brands Inc.

Jim Kimsey: Created America Online, Inc. He currently serves as Chairman Emeritus. He attended theUnited StatesMilitaryAcademy atWest Point.  He served three combat tours as an airborne ranger, two in Vietnam, earning various awards for service and valor.


William R. Phillips: Principal in Charge of KPMG’s Federal Advisory unit, located inMcLean,Virginia. In this role he is responsible for the development and execution of the unit’s business strategy, client services and business operations. His team supports clients across the Federal Government, representing most all agencies, including the Departments of Treasury, Energy, Defense, and Homeland Security, in addition to the intelligence community. Services include financial management improvement, strategy, IT security and internal controls, and supply chain management. Prior to joining KPMG, Mr. Phillips was a Vice President at IBM responsible for their services to the global defense community.  While Mr. Phillips was not involved his company KPMG has been the focus of several major criminal and civil investigations. In early 2005, theUnited States member firm, KPMG LLP, was accused by the United States Department of Justice of fraud in marketing abusive tax shelters. KPMG LLP admitted criminal wrongdoing in creating fraudulent tax shelters to help wealthy clients avoid $2.5 billion in taxes and agreed to pay $456 million in penalties in exchange for a deferred prosecution agreement. KPMG LLP would not face criminal prosecution if it complied with the terms of its agreement with the government. On January 3, 2007, the criminal conspiracy charges against KPMG were dropped.

Dov S. Zakheim: Senior Adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at the CNA Corporation a non-profit research organization that operates the Center for Naval Analyses and the Institute for Public Research. Previously he was Senior Vice President of Booz Allen Hamilton, where he was a leader in the Firm’s global defense practice. During the 2000 presidential campaign, he served as a senior foreign policy advisor to then-Governor Bush. From 2001 to April 2004 he was Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer for the Department of Defense.  He chairs the National Intelligence Council’s International Business Practices Advisory Panel, and is a member of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan; the Defense Business Board, which he helped establish.

Consultants:

John M. B. O’Connor: Chairman of J.H. Whitney Investment Management, LLC, which according to its website “pursues high absolute risk adjusted returns in a limited number of highly specialized investment strategies in the public markets. Our specific areas of excellence are Asian markets, Global Commodity and Macro markets, the US Equity Volatility complex and US Small Capitalization deep value equities.”

Leigh Warner: Senior Advisor to business leaders and government officials.  Her biography on the DBB website is very vague as to what corporations that she worked for or managed except that she did at one time serve as Director for Marketing of Kraft Foods.

Admiral Vernon Clark USN Retired: Former Chief of Naval Operations sacrificed 30,000 Navy personnel and decommissioned dozens of ships early in order to “recapitalize” the fleet, something that never occurred. Current CEO of SRI International  “an independent, nonprofit research institute conducting client-sponsored research and development for government agencies, commercial businesses, foundations, and other organizations. SRI also brings its innovations to the marketplace by licensing its intellectual property and creating new ventures.” On Board of Directors of Raytheon Company, Rolls Royce North America, Horizon Lines, and the World Board of Governors of the USO. He is a Distinguished Professor atRegentUniversity and serves as a Trustee at RegentUniversity,Vanguard University and Air University. He is a senior advisor with Booz Allen Hamilton, and is on advisory boards with the Defense Policy Board, Fleishman-Hillard, Northrop Grumman, Robertson Fuel Systems LLC, Cubic Defense Applications, Inc., and the Executive Committee of Military Ministry.

General Michael Carns USAF Retired: Served as Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force from 1991-1994. In 1995 he withdrew his nomination to become director of the CIA when it was revealed that he had failed to properly compensate a young Filipino who legally accompanied his family to the United States, an act he said that was an “innocent mistake.” He currently serves as the Vice Chairman of Priva Source, Inc., a small software firm specializing in the security and de-identification of large, sensitive databases, in Weston, Massachusetts and serves on the Board of Directors for Virtual Agility, Inc.

Putting it all Together

Everyone knows that our country needs to put its financial house in order.  However let us put a few things in perspective.

The 50% of Pay Retirement Myth: The 50% myth is widely circulated and most people wrongly assume that a military member that retires at 20 years gets 50% of their pay when they retire.  First the 50% is actually the average of their highest three years of base pay, usually amounting to about 47% rather than 50%.  A lot of people talk about the 38 year old retiree getting 50% of his or her pay for life.  First only a fraction of enlisted members can retire that early and most of those are in the pay grades of E6 and E7.  Many more especially officers, warrant officers and those that reach the E8 to E9 level stay longer meaning that they enter civilian life at a point where their age becomes a factor against them.  Additionally all lose special pays and things like the Basic Allowance for Housing, combat pay and other benefits. This means that the average service member is only receiving about 35% of their active duty pay and allowances when they retire.  Add to this the fact that many have incurred injuries including combat related injuries that follow them well past retirement.  The board is also recommending cutting medical benefits with General Punaro calling them a “GM type benefit” that cannot be sustained.

Reserve Retirement: Reservists that qualify for retirement receive that pay at the age of 60 and only receive a fraction of what they would if they had 20 active years. Reserve retirement is calculated on actual days of active duty, points for inactive duty training (drills) and points for being in a drilling status.  To have a “good year” for retirement a reservist has to accumulate 50 retirement points which can be any of the above plus points for correspondence or online courses offered by the military.  Most reservists spend many more hours and days in unpaid status in order to maintain their qualifications and ensure that their units are able to do their mission.

Many Military job specialties do not have a civilian equivalent: Here is another fact that the Board and other civilian critics of the military compensation like to ignore.  The way they market their proposal is to basically say that military retirement puts one on easy street and that veterans walk right into great jobs when they leave the military.  The unemployment rate for veterans is far higher than the national average as are medical and psychological problems related to their service.

What would replace the current system? A mandated program similar to a 401K which invests the service member’s contributions estimated at about 16% a year into mutual funds and the stock market.  The Board’s plan reduces retired pay 5% for each year before age 57 (17 years x 5% = 85% reduction), yielding only $3,600 a year at age 40 for an E7 at current pay rates.  At age 60, the retiree would begin drawing money from the 401(K)-type plan. Using their assumptions that project a 7% return on the investment, the retiree would draw $13,600 more per year until age 85. If the member wanted to withdraw money after age 85, the annual withdrawal amount would be reduced.  Now the plan would provide a limited benefit to those that leave the service before the 20 year mark and that is a plus for those service members.

Retaining Qualified People: The retirement system is a huge part of our military’s success.  It encourages well qualified people who could be making more money in the civilian world to stay in the military.  Back in the 1980s Congress passed a retirement reform plan that reduced the 20 year retirement benefit to 40% of the high three years. Secretary of Defense Weinberger said that it would make it hard to retain qualified people. Congress passed it and during the Clinton administration had to return to the 50% high-three plan because we were losing too many of our best people.  To use a rather quaint term “you get what you pay for.”

Follow the Money:

The crux of the Defense Business Board’s proposal is to make military retirement like civilian retirement.  The only problem is that civilian firms generally don’t have a “retirement plan” anymore.  Instead they make minimal investments in 401K programs which leave their “retirees” at the mercy of the economy and the markets.  I know many people in their 60s and 70s that have seen their nest eggs blow away in the latest market turmoil.  This is not exactly a secure investment especially when these same retirees will certainly face the reduction or elimination of their Social Security benefits that they like all people (except the miniscule number that can opt-out of it) contribute.

So it really isn’t the service member that benefits from this plan. Likewise if you admit that like in the 1980s and 1990s we will lose a lot of our best people if the retirement benefit is removed or substantially reduced with the resultant loss in experience and expertise and the effect on combat power.

So who benefits? Follow the Money: The reason that I put all the board member names and who they work for and what their connections are is so you can follow the money.  I have not seen any other articles or blogs that really trace this to the source.  Almost every single member, fellow or advisor has significant ties and relationships with major defense contractors or Wall Street forms that deal in mutual fund management, investment and businesses that focus on outsourcing. All were appointed by either Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld or Gates and represent institutions that are closely allied with the business interests of the Republican Party. Those that say that “Obama is threatening to cut military retirement” either are ignorant or lying.

Since none of the Board members are employees of the government and only are reimbursed for their per diem they are not fair arbiters.  They represent the very firms on Wall Street and the Defense Industry that will gain the most from this plan.  Almost all are so deeply enmeshed in what Dwight D. Eisenhower called the Military Industrial Complex that their ultimate loyalty is to those that they work for, those very firms that have swindled and cheated the government by their mismanagement and inefficiency in building weapons systems that are over budget, behind schedule and often cannot be fielded, have to be cancelled or truncated or are failures that cannot perform the mission that they were designed to do.  Likewise they represent the major financial interests that were hat in hand responsible for the financial meltdown of 2008, our record unemployment and possible double dip recession.  The firms that these men and women represent would receive a cash infusion of major proportions coming from the forced contributions by a million and a half active and reserve military members.

To his credit the new Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said on Wednesday that there would be no changes coming soon and any changes will have to be passed by Congress.

Conclusion: We have been at war for 10 years and in various states of war or peace making operations for 20 years.  During that time only about one half of one percent of the American population served in the military at any given time.  To insinuate that the military personnel who have borne the brunt of these wars are greedy, overpaid or self serving is obscene and to imply that they veteran’s organizations that go to bat for the serviceman or women are working against our national security by fighting for military personnel is unconscionable. For the members of this board to suggest that somehow what military personnel receive in compensation is too much and the benefits too generous should look in the mirror.  The retired military members of the Board have not given up their retirement and are all connected with the major defense contractors and financial institutions that would benefit the most from this plan.  Many of the corporate members have been living off of other people’s money and government contracts almost all of their professional lives.  They are the people that pay lobbyists to ensure that they get tax breaks even as they collect every government contract and service that they can take.

I do not know any of the people on the board and many are philanthropists and some donate time and money to organizations that honor the military.  I am not saying that these are bad people. I simply am saying that they represent their interests and those of the corporations that they run or that employ them.  It is what is called “crony capitalism.”

Follow the money my friends follow the money.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Note: All information in this article regarding the members of the committee comes from the Defense Business Board website, the corporate websites of the various organizations that employ them and various business periodicals and publications on the web.  

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Filed under Military, national security, Political Commentary

Why History Matters: The Disastrous Effects of Long Insurgency Campaigns on the Nations that Wage them and the Armies that Fight Them

French Mobile Group in Indochina

“Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

The effects of the wars Indo-China, Algeria and Vietnam on the French and American military organizations internally and in relationship to their nations piqued my interest in 2005. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan forced me to start asking the question of what short and long term effect that these wars might have on the U.S. military. As such I wondered what historical precedent that there was for the question. My interest was furthered by my deployment with Marine and Army advisors to Iraqi Army and Security forces in 2007-2008. My search led to the French experiences in Indo-China and Algeria and the American experience in Vietnam. Recently with the Iraq war winding down and ongoing war in Afghanistan which has gone from apparent victory to mounting concern that we are losing the war in Afghanistan as Taliban and Al Qaida have regained momentum amid widespread corruption by the Afghan government and weakness of NATO forces.
The counterinsurgency campaigns conducted by the French and American militaries in Vietnam and Algeria had deep and long lasting effects on them as did the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The effects included developments in organization and tactics, relationship of the military to the government and people, and sociological changes. The effects were tumultuous and often corrosive. The French Army in Algeria revolted against the government. The US Army, scarred by Vietnam went through a crisis of leadership and confidence which eventually resulted in end of the draft and formation the all volunteer military. The Soviet not only lost their war but they saw their country collapse and the military with it. The effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are yet unknown but could result in similar situations to the militaries and governments involved.

French Surrender at Dien Bien Phu

There is a wealth of data regarding these wars. There are several types of materials. The accounts of soldiers, diplomats and reporters who experienced these events contained in memoirs and diaries. The best include David Hackworth’s About Face and Steel My Soldiers Hearts; and General Harold Moore’s We Were Soldiers Once… and Young. French works include Jules Roy’s The Battle of Dien Bien Phu and General Paul Aussaresses’ The Battle of the Casbah. There are innumerable popular accounts written by NCOs and junior officers. These accounts may contain a wealth of information, but are limited by a number of factors. First, the authors, veterans of the wars, only saw part of the overall picture and first-hand experience in war can skew a writer’s objectivity. Those who have been through the trauma of war interpret war through their own experience. Physical and psychological wounds can have a major impact on the interpretation of these writers as can their experience and political ideology. Finally few of these writers are trained historians. Despite this they can be a valuable resource for the historian.

Viet Minh Main Force Soldiers

Another source is found in the official histories written by the military forces involved in the wars. Often these incorporate unit histories and individual narratives and analyze specific battles and the wider campaigns, but do little in regard to broader conditions that affected operations. While a good source, many are not as critical of their institutions as they should be.

Histories by trained historians and journalists provide another view. The most insightful of the journalist accounts include Bernard Fall’ Street Without Joy and The Siege of Dien Bien Phu: Hell in a Very Small Place. A limitation of all of these is that they are often heavily influenced by the political and societal events. This means that earlier accounts are more likely to be reactive and judgmental versus critical and balanced. Later accounts have the benefit of access to the opposing side and documents not available to earlier writers. Alistair Horn in A Savage War of Peace provides one of the most informative and balanced accounts of the war in Algeria. Martin Winslow does the same regarding Dien Bien Phu in The Last Valley.

Foreign Legion in Algeria

Another source is the writings of participants who critically examine their participation in the wars. Many of these, French and American provide insights into the minds of leaders who are reflective and critically examine what happened to their military institutions in these wars. The best of these is French Colonel David Galula whose books Pacification in Algeria 1956-1958 and Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice provide first-hand accounts of the subject combined with critical reflection. Galula’s works have been important to John Nagl, General David Petreus and others who helped write the U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency manual. Andrew Krepinevich in The Army and Vietnam provides a critical analysis of the U.S. Army in Vietnam. Other sources, both online and print, such as RAND, provide excellent analysis of selected topics within the scope of this essay, especially COIN.

Battles in the Streets of Algiers

The ability to dispassionately and critically examine and evaluate these sources over a period of several years was and integrate them with my own experience has been a critical to me. It has changed the way that I look at sources, and caused me to be much more aware of bias, the limitations of sources and the need to have a multiplicity of sources and points of view and to be suspicious of contemporary reports and accounts of the war in Afghanistan regardless of the source.

The conflicts in French Indo-China, Algeria and Vietnam had major effects on the French and American military institutions. These effects can be classified in a number of ways. First, the manner in which each military waged war, including tactics employed and use and development of weapons systems was changed. The use of airpower, especially helicopters and use of riverine forces provided an added dimension of battlefield mobility but did not bring victory. As John Shy and Thomas Collier noted regarding the French in Indo-China: “French mobility and firepower could take them almost anywhere in Vietnam, but they could not stay, and could show only wasted resources and time for their efforts.”[1]

Assassination and Terrorism in Algiers

The use of intelligence and psychological warfare, including the use of torture became common practice in both the French and American armies. The wars had an effect on the institutional culture of these armed services; neither completely embraced the idea of counterinsurgency and for the most part fought conventionally. Galula notes how the “legacy of conventional thinking” slowed the implementation of proper counterinsurgency tactics even after most commanders learned that “the population was the objective.”[2] Krepinevich notes that “any changes that might have come about through the service’s experience in Vietnam were effectively short-circuited by Army goals and policies.”[3] Finally the wars had a chilling effect on the relationship between the both militaries and the state, veterans from each nation often felt betrayed or disconnected from their country and people. Unfortunately instances of all of these have occurred or can be seen in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US Army in Vietnam

The French Army had the misfortune of fighting two major insurgencies back to back. The French military was handicapped even before it went into these wars. The Army came out of World War II defeated by the Germans, divided by loyalties to Vichy or one of the Free French factions. They were humiliated by the Japanese in Indo-China, while in Algeria France’s crushing defeat was devastating. “Muslim minds, particularly sensitive to prestige and baraka, the humiliation made a deep impression.”[4] French society was as divided as the Army; the economy in shambles, the government weak and divided. The Viet-Minh had prepared well making use of time and training to get ready for war. “Once full-scale hostilities broke out, the French, for budgetary and political reasons could not immediately make the large scale effort to contain the rebellion in the confines of small-scale warfare.”[5]

Paras of the 1st Colonial Parachute Regiment jump in Algeria

In both Indo-China and Algeria the French attempted to fight the budding insurgencies in a conventional manner. This was particularly disastrous in Indo-China when on a number of occasions battalion and regimental combat team sized elements were annihilated by Viet-Minh regulars. Between October 1st and 17th 1950 every French garrison along the Chinese border was over-run. The French lost over 6000 troops and enough equipment to outfit “a whole additional Viet-Minh division.” It was their worst colonial defeat since Montcalm at Quebec.[6] In Algeria when the fight began in earnest France’s “ponderous ponderous N.A.T.O forces found themselves at an impossible disadvantage,”[7] unable to have any influence off the main roads.

Marcel Bigard: One of the most effective French commanders in Indochina and Algeria

In Vietnam the French did not absorb the lessons of fighting a well established insurgent force. French forces hoped to draw the Viet-Minh main forces into battles of attrition where their superior firepower could be brought to bear. Such was the case at Na San in December 1952 where the French established an “Air ground base” deep in Viet-Minh territory to draw Giap’s forces into open battle. This worked, but just barely. General Giap, short of artillery and not planning on a long battle frittered away his troops in mass charges. However, the French, because of Na Son assumed they had found the key to victory. In their embrace of the “air ground base concept, French staff officers were following an intellectual tradition that had long been prone to seduction by elegant theories.”[8] The result was the disaster at Dien Bien Phu the following year. The destruction of the elite Group-mobile 100 near Pleiku in 1954 was the coup de grace. In Indo-China the French made limited use of helicopters, used paratroops widely, and developed riverine forces. One thing they were critically short of was significant tactical air support.[9]

Roger Trinquier helped develop tactics in Indochina which helped turn the tide in Algeria, until the French Government ended the war leaving their soldiers to feel betrayed

The most inventive French creation in Indochina was the GCMA/GMI forces composed of mountain tribesmen led by French NCOs and Junior Officers. They were designed to provide “permanent guerilla groups rooted in remote areas” to harass and interdict Viet-Minh forces.[10] Trinquier noted that at the time of the Dien Bien Phu defeat that these forces had reached over 20,000 trained and equipped maquis in the Upper Region of Tonkin and Laos. These forces achieved their greatest success retaking Lao Cai and Lai Chau May 1954 as Dien Bien Phu fell.[11] Trinquier stated that “the sudden cessation of hostilities prevented us from exploiting our opportunities in depth.”[12] The GMI units and their French leaders were abandoned fighting on for years after the defeat. One account noted a French NCO two years after the defeat cursing an aircraft patrolling the border “for not dropping them ammunition so they could die like men.”[13] In the end the French left Indo-China and Giap remarked to Jules Roy in 1963 “If you were defeated, you were defeated by yourselves.”[14]
Algeria was different being part of Metropolitan France; there the French had support of European settlers, the pieds-noir. Many French soldiers had come directly from Indo-China. There French made better adaptations to local conditions, and realized that they had to win the population and isolate the insurgents from it and outside support. As Galula said, victory is the destruction of the insurgent’s political and military structures, plus “the permanent isolation from the population, not forced upon the population, but by and with the population.”[15] The lessons learned by the French in both Algerian and Indo-China were lost upon the Americans.

US Armored Cavalry in Vietnam

The United States military, especially the Army approached the Vietnam War with a conventional mindset, referred to as the “Army concept.” [16] It not only approached the war in this manner, but it trained and organized the South Vietnamese forces, ARVN into the American model. Americans re-organized ARVN into divisions “based upon the U.S. divisional force structure.”[17] Due to the imposition of an American template and organizational structure upon it, ARVN was not structured appropriately for the threat that it faced.”[18] The results were as to be expected. Large numbers of American troops poured in taking the lead against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong . The American method of counterinsurgency was costly. It was “almost a purely military approach”[19] which ignored political and social realities on the ground. Instead of focusing on protecting the Vietnamese people and denying the Communists a safe haven the Army in particular believed that massive firepower was the best means to be “utilized by the Army to achieve the desired end of the attrition strategy-the body count.”[20] In the end the American defeat was a “failure of understanding and imagination.”[21] The one shining success was the Marine Corps experimentation with “Combined Action Program” platoons which lived in the villages with militia for long periods of time. This program produced great results “in eliminating local guerillas”[22] but was killed by the Army.

US and ARVN Soldiers in Joint Operation

These wars tore the heart out French and American armies. For the French the defeats inflicted a terrible toll. In Indo-China many French career soldiers felt that the government’s “lack of interest in the fate of both thousands of missing French prisoners and loyal North Vietnamese…as dishonorable.”[23] Divisions arose between those who served and those who remained in France or Germany and created bitter enmity between soldiers. France would endure a military coup which involved many who had fought in Vietnam and Algeria. Having militarily won that war, were turned into what Jean Lartenguy called The Centurions had been turned into liars.”[24] They were forced to abandon those who they had fought for and following the mutiny, tried, imprisoned, exiled or disgraced. Colonial troops who remained loyal to France were left without homes in their “independent” nations. They saw Dien Bien Phu as the defining moment. “They responded with that terrible cry of pain which pretends to free a man from his sworn duty, and promises such chaos to come: ‘Nous sommes trahis!’-‘We are betrayed.’”[25]

War Protests in the United States 

The U.S. Army left Vietnam and returned to a country deeply divided by the war. Vietnam veterans remained ostracized by the society until the 1980s. As Harold Moore recounts “in our time battles were forgotten, our sacrifices were discounted, and both our sanity and suitability for life in polite American society were publically questioned.” [26] The Army endured a massive reorganization that resulted in the formation of the All-Volunteer force, which would redeem itself and emerge from the ashes in the Gulf War.

Taliban in Afghanistan

The Americans would not learn the lessons of revolutionary warfare and counterinsurgency until forced to do so in Iraq in 2004-2007. These lessons however were not applied to Afghanistan and the Taliban which seemed to have been defeated have regained the initiative, policy is being debated amid discord in the west and there are reports of American and NATO forces becoming discouraged by the course of the war and concern that their efforts will be in vain. This is a dangerous situation to be in and if we learn from anything from our own history as well as that of foreign military forces in Afghanistan we need to be very careful in implementing strategy to get whatever we do right.

US Advisers with Afghanistan National Army Troops

The greatest success of the war was finally killing the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden at his Pakistani hide-out. That did not occur in Afghanistan and was the result of smart work by the CIA and other American intelligence services and the superb conduct of the mission by Navy SEAL Team Six. It was not the product of our costly counter-insurgency and nation building campaign in Afghanistan. There are many professional think tank “experts” that now urge continuing the Afghan mission indefinitely despite its massive cost and questionable strategic value. The costs of the war which are over 2 billion dollars a week are staggering with little to be shown from the hundreds of billions already spent in Afghanistan, much of which is spent on projects where corrupt Afghan government officials and tribal leaders are the only ones to benefit. Likewise the long term health of the military is imperiled. The money that should go to modernizing the force and replacing equipment worn out by war as well as the enormous costs in lives and the continuing care needed by military personnel wounding in body, mind and spirit remaining on active duty and those in the Veteran’s Administration system are imperiled.

Remote Training Team Base in Afghanistan

The effects of the wars in French Indochina, Algeria and Vietnam on the French and American military establishments were long lasting and often tragic. The acceptance of torture as a means to an end sullied even the hardest French officers. Men like Galula and Marcel Bigeard refused to countenance it, while others like Paul Aussaresses never recanted. Americans would repeat the tactic at Abu Ghraib rallying the Iraqis against them and nearly losing the war because of it.

Soviet Paratroops in Afghanistan

For the Americans, the effects of Vietnam continued at home. Race riots tore at the force while drug addictions and criminal activities were rampant. Many incompetent leaders who had “ticket punched” their careers kept their jobs and highly successful leaders who became whistle blowers like Hackworth were scorned by the Army institution. The years following Vietnam were a severe test of the US Military and took years for the military to recover. Likewise it took years before either the French or American veterans again felt a part of their countries. They ended up going to war, and when it was over; feeling abandoned, their deepest bonds were to their comrades who had fought by their side.

Osama Bin Laden leading Mujaheddin in 1984 

If this is not enough we have the experiences of the Soviet Union, the British Empire and others that have attempted to rule Afghanistan as plumb lines to gauge our effectiveness. Others have tried and failed miserably at this. The Soviets learned the hard way and found that Afghanistan was one of the major reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union. Reading the history of Soviet operations in Afghanistan is frighteningly like reading the history of our campaign.

Two Soviet Mi-24 “Hind” attack helicopters flying in an Afghan Valley

The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 they used their 40th Army which initially was composed of “two motorized rifle divisions, an airborne division, an air assault brigade and separate motorized rifle regiments.”[27] These forces totaled about 52,000 troops and were “considered sufficient to guarantee the viability of Afghanistan.”[28] The 40th Army was a standard Cold War Soviet Combined Arms Army designed for high tempo conventional operations. It was not designed for nor trained in counterinsurgency operations or what the Soviets and Russians class as “anti-guerilla operations.” It was poorly suited to mountain and dessert combat and at the beginning “not only had no practical skills in the conduct of counter-guerilla warfare, they also did not have a single well-developed theoretical manual, regulation or tactical guideline for fighting such a war.”[29]

Downed Soviet Mi-4 “Hound” with Mujaheddin 

The Soviets did not expect to be involved in combat operations and the Afghan population reacted to their presence with resistance which spread across the country both against their own government which they viewed as a puppet of the Soviets but also against the Soviet Forces. As time went on the Soviets attempted to use raids and large scale operations to attempt to bring Mujahidin forces to battle, however the insurgents were very skillful and the Soviets attempted to increase the training of their forces as well as their numbers. By 1986 the numbers on the ground had increased to 108,000 personnel in four divisions, five separate brigades, four separate regiments and six separate battalions.[30] In the nearly 10 years of operations over a half million Soviet soldiers and support personnel served in Afghanistan. Tours for enlisted personnel who were primarily conscripts served 12-18 months in country and officers 2 years. Few returned for subsequent tours meaning that the 40th Army had few personnel very familiar with the country, its people and the challenges faced by Soviet forces. According to official sources the 40th Army suffered 13,833 killed in action or died of wounds, 49,985 wounded and 311 missing in action a figured of 1 in 8 Soviet Soldiers being casualties. 14.3 percent of the casualties were officers.[31] Of course the official figure is doubted many believing the number killed in action or died of wounds to be closer to 26,000.[32]

Soviet T-62 Tank guarding a convoy in a mountain pass

Like their American and French counterparts the Soviet veterans have experienced the unhealed wounds of war and a country that does not understand their experiences. The stigma of war wounds and PTSD haunt many Soviet veterans and were compounded by the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact in 1989. They returned home, lost their country and were by and large abandoned by their countrymen. A good number of these men and women travel to one of 5 centers across the country where according to one of the veterans come to for “social and psychological help.” He said that “The best thing about this place is that it provides us with a chance to share our Afghan memories with comrades who understand what we are talking about.” That camaraderie of being able to share their experiences with others that understand is helping some to return to something akin to “normal” life. They are joined by the soldiers that have experienced similar things in Chechnya. Russian veterans of the Afghan War are still so closely linked to it that they refer to themselves as “Afghans.”

Soviet Mi-8 “Hip” Helicopters in Afghanistan preparing for a mission

The Soviet Forces supported the Army of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan which numbered at their peak on average between 120,000-150,000 soldiers.[33] The Afghan forces, then as now were at the mercy of tribal, familial and communist party affiliations. Over 70 percent of the DRA was conscripted, desertions averaged 1,500 to 2,000 soldiers a month and units were usually optimistically 25-40 percent under their TO&E strength.[34]Limitations on training and leadership meant that typically DRA units could not conduct large scale missions without Soviet help. As such most of the fighting was done by Soviet formations.

Soviet Troops preparing to leave Afghanistan

Many of these problems have plagued the United States and ISAF throughout the first 9 years of the current Afghan War. As former Afghanistan Commander General Stanley McChrystal noted in his assessment “ISAF is a conventional force that is poorly configured for COIN, inexperienced in local languages and culture, and struggling with the challenges inherent to coalition warfare. These intrinsic disadvantages are exacerbated by our current culture and how we operate.”[35]

We should have learned. A retired Red Army Colonel who served in Afghanistan from 1986-1988 who learned the Dari language in order to negotiate with the Afghan Mujahedeen warned what will happen when the Americans and NATO leave the country and the mistake that we made in entering Afghanistan. Frants Klinsevich now a member of the Russian Parliament comment to reporters at a wreath laying ceremony at a veteran’s convention that “they (NATO and the United States) are 100 percent repeating the same mistake we made by entering into a war in that country” and that “As soon as the Americans and Europeans leave, the Taliban will crack down on everything.” Klinsevich noted that he understood the American desire to tame Afghanistan but that “the problem of radical Islam will not be solved there, its violence cannot be solved. It is simply unsolvable.” He said that he wished that the United States had consulted the Russians about Afghanistan saying “they should have invited Russian specialists, involved Russia, really studied how they could use Russia. But unfortunately Americans think they know everything.” The former Russian commander understands far more that the majority of American policy makers on this subject. [36]

The fact is that we are hamstrung by the ongoing wars which limit our ability to respond to rapidly changing situations. We are in a similar situation to the Germans in 1942 and 1943 overcommitted, overstretched and lacking true strategic depth to respond to unanticipated situations as are now occurring across the Middle East. In 1942 and 1943 the Germans were always just short of the forces that would have turned the tide. Like the Germans our economy is laboring on the verge of collapse and we have to honestly answer the question “What is the strategic value in continuing to wage war in Afghanistan in the way that we are doing?”

What are the lessons to be learned from these campaigns as well as from the various accounts? Andrew Krepinevich prophetically noted that the failure to learn the lessons of Vietnam “represents a very dangerous mixture that in the end may see the Army again attempting to fight a conventional war against a very unconventional opponent.”[37] Obviously, there are lessons to be learned, especially in understanding the nature of revolutionary war as well as the culture and history of our opponents. The U.S. has made some improvement in this regard but there is still much to be learned, especially since after the war the Army was “erecting barriers to avoid fighting another Vietnam War.”[38] From these wars we learn that nations and incompetent governments who mismanage wars can alienate themselves from the soldiers that they send to fight, with serious consequences. As far as historiography we learn that certain historical fallacies are evident when one reads the accounts critically and recognize the bias and limitations of the various sources.

The fact is that we have learned little about such wars and are paying a terrible price for it. The debate now is should we continue the war as it is with minor withdraws of troops or begin a rapid exit in order to preserve and rebuild our force and to reduce the cost of these operations. But that debate and decision are well above my pay grade. But then maybe we need to remember what Field Marshall Gerd Von Rundstedt told his staff in September of 1944 when asked how to recover from the disastrous collapse of the German front following the Allied breakout from Normandy and dash across France. “Make peace you fools.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch56NAL1C-I

Peace
Padre Steve+
________________________________________
[1] Shy, John and Collier, Thomas W. “Revolutionary War” in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age,” Peter Paret editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton N.J. 1986 p.849
[2] Galula, David. Counterinsurgency in Algeria: 1956-1958. RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA. 2006. First published by RAND in 1963. p.244
[3] Krepinevich, Andrew F. “The Army and Vietnam,” The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1986 p.213
[4] Horn, Alistair. “A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962,” a New York Review Book published by the New York Review of Books, New York, 1977, 1987, 1996, and 2006 p 41
[5] Fall, Bernard B. “Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina.”Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA, 2005, originally published by Stackpole Publications 1961 p.27
[6] Ibid. p.33
[7] Horn. p.100.
[8] Windrow, Martin. “The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam,” Da Capo Press, Novato, CA 2006, originally published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London 2004 p.63
[9] Fall, Bernard B. “The Siege of Dien Bien Phu: Hell in a Very Small Place.” Da Capo Press, New York an unabridged reprint of the 1st Edition reprinted in arrangement with Harper and Row Publishers, New York. 1967 pp. 456-457 Fall discusses in depth the lack of French Air support and the antecedents that led to the shortage following World War II.
[10] Pottier, Philippe(2005)’Articles: GCMA/GMI: A French Experience in Counterinsurgency during the French Indochina War’, Small Wars & Insurgencies,16:2,125 — 146http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09592310500079874
[11] Simpson, Howard K. “Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot,”Potomac Books Inc. Washington DC 2005, originally published by Brassey’s Inc. 1994 pp. 170-171
[12] Trinquier, Roger. “Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency,” translated from the French by Daniel Lee with an Introduction by Bernard B. Fall. Praeger Security International, Westport CT and London. 1964 and 2006. Originally published under the title “La Guerre Moderne” by Editions Table Ronde. p.87
[13] Windrow. p.652.
[14] Roy, Jules. “The Battle of Dien Bien Phu” Carrol and Graf Publishers, New York 1984. Translated from the French by Robert Baldrick. English translation copyright 1965 by Harper and Row Publishers, New York. p.xxx
[15] Galula, David. “Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice.”Praeger Security International, Westport CT 1964 and 2006 p. 54
[16] Krepinevich. p.213
[17] Ibid. p.24
[18] Nagl, John A. “Learning to East Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam,” University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2005 p.138
[19] Shy. p.856
[20] Krepinevich. p.202
[21] Spector, Ronald H. “After Tet: The Bloodiest Year in Vietnam,” Vintage Press, a division of Random House, New York, 1993 p.314
[22] Millett, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter. “For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America.” The Free Press, a division of Macmillian, Inc. New York, 1984 p.555
[23] Windrow. p.655
[24] Ibid. p.657
[25] Ibid.
[26] Moore, Harold G and Galloway, Joseph L. “We were Soldiers Once…and Young: Ia Drang: The Battle that Changed Vietnam,” Harper Collins Publishers, New York NY 1992 p. xx
[27] The Russian General Staff. The Soviet Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost” translated and edited by Lester A. Grau and Michael A. Gress, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS 2002 p.17.
[28] Ibid. p.18
[29] Ibid. p.43
[30] Ibid. p.28
[31] Ibid. p.309
[32] Ibid. p.xix
[33] Ibid. p.48
[34] Ibid. pp.48-51
[35] McChrystal, Stanley. “Commander’s Initial Assessment Commander International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan” dated 30 August 2009 pp. 1-2
[36] “Russian veteran warns of Afghan violence.” Reuters 16 May 2011. Edited by Paul Tait and Daniel Magnowski obtained 11 June 2011 at http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/interview-russian-veteran-warns-of-unsolvable-afghan-violence/
[37] Krepinevich. p.275
[38] Ibid. p.274

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, Political Commentary, vietnam, world war two in europe

No Illusions: The Cost of the Long War and its Potential impact on the United States

Libya: One of Many unanticipated Crises

There has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited. Sun Tzu

Don’t fight a battle if you don’t gain anything by winning. Erwin Rommel

The United States and its Allies have been at war for over 10 years and that war has worn us down. Even as we battle for minimal gains in Afghanistan while attempting to finish withdrawing from Iraq the costs of this war are now becoming evident to the most casual observer.

Over 5900 U.S. Military personnel have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns and over 40,000 wounded. Add to this over 2000 contractors, mostly foreign killed or died or wounds or illness and over 16,000 wounded while employed by firms contracted by the U.S. Government. This does not count Allied military personnel. Thousands more suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury or PTSD or moral injuries that impact their lives and those of their families’ years after serving and the necessary billions of dollars to pay for the medical and psychological wounds of war. Despite increases in funding and personnel the Veterans Administration has been overwhelmed by the numbers of discharged veterans requiring medical or psychological care.

The financial cost of the current wars is astronomical. The official cost is a trillion dollars since 2001 in excess of regular defense spending with Afghanistan costing over 190 million dollars a day. Military equipment including high end equipment such as aircraft are reaching the end of their service lives sooner that planned due to the high operations tempo and sustained combat operations in inhospitable climates. An ossified defense bureaucracy which Defense Secretary Robert Gates says had an “overwhelming tendency of our defense bureaucracy to focus on preparing for future high-end conflicts – priorities often based, ironically, on what transpired in the last century – as opposed to the messy fights in Iraq and Afghanistan,” and a military procurement system laden with pet projects pushed by legislators influenced by lobbyists from defense industries pushing the most expensive and often problem laden systems imaginable. Even those which eventually turn out to be great weapons come in way over budget and take far too long to go from the drawing board to the battlefield. Others turn out to be money pits which sometimes never enter production after years and sometimes decades of development.

Because of the national economic and financial crisis and huge national debts the military is being cut back even as the wars continue and more crises arise in critical regions.  Because of the commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan the United States is now lacking strategic and operational depth to react to new situations. We are fortunate that the ferry sent to rescue American citizens in Libya was not attacked while trapped in Tripoli harbor. The Marine Expeditionary Unit which would normally be at sea for contingency or humanitarian operations is engaged in Afghanistan and the Amphibious Group that supports it is operating east of the Suez.  Two Carrier Battle Groups are now required in the 5th Fleet Area of Operations putting additional strain on our ability to respond to other situations.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Very bluntly the long ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking away from our ability to respond if need be to situations in areas that are actually more important to us and the world in a strategic and economic way.  Secretary Gates knows how much these wars have weakened the military and the nation and in a speech to cadets at the United States Military warned his successors “Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it.”

The fact is that we are hamstrung by the ongoing wars which limit our ability to respond to rapidly changing situations. We are in a similar situation to the Germans in 1942 and 1943 overcommitted, overstretched and lacking true strategic depth to respond to unanticipated situations as are now occurring across the Middle East. In 1942 and 1943 the Germans were always just just short of the forces that would have turned the tide.

Gates said of our situation:

“We can’t know with absolute certainty what the future of warfare will hold, but we do know it will be exceedingly complex, unpredictable, and – as they say in the staff colleges – ‘unstructured’. Just think about the range of security challenges we face right now beyond Iraq and Afghanistan: terrorism and terrorists in search of weapons of mass destruction, Iran, North Korea, military modernization programs in Russia and China, failed and failing states, revolution in the Middle East, cyber, piracy, proliferation, natural and man-made disasters, and more.”

In September 1944 with the Western Front in ruins Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt was appointed to command German forces in the West. After receiving a briefing from his staff about the situation a senior staff officer asked what they should do. Von Rundstedt reportedly said “Make peace, you fools.” I have placed a link to that incident from the film A Bridge too Far here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch56NAL1C-I

I’m not arguing for a precipitous withdraw that would leave an even more chaotic situation in Afghanistan but we have to decide what the end game is there and how we will adjust our strategy to meet reality.

The long war in Afghanistan and the war which we are leaving in Iraq have hurt us in the long run in many ways.  We have to ask hard questions about the war as to whether the continued sacrifices of the Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen that fight it and the impact on our ability to respond to other crises are something that we think are in our best interests as a nation. At least Secretary Gates is asking the hard questions.

It was Britain’s involvement on the European Continent during the First World War which impoverished her and doomed the Empire. Britain was traditionally a naval power that tried not to become involved on the Continent whenever possible. It is entirely possible that our long war in Afghanistan and Iraq will reduce us as an economic and military power and leave our interests around the world vulnerable just as the World Wars did to Britain.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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A Base at War: First Impressions of Camp LeJeune Nine Years after my First Tour

This is just a brief post on some first impressions on my assignment to Camp LeJeune after a nine year absence from the base. When I left LeJeune and my assignment with the Second Marine Division I had just completed twenty years in the military though I was not even three years into my service as a Naval Officer.

Today I was part of a Casualty Assistance Team meeting with the family of a young Navy Corpsman and Afghanistan veteran who killed himself in his apartment last night.  The Corpsman was part of a family with a long tradition of Naval Service who in his time in the Navy had gone to war with a Marine Battalion in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province and returned home changed by the war and struggling with PTSD and all the related symptoms of it.  This is something that I can understand having come back from Iraq in a rather bad way about two and a half years ago.  In my time with this young man’s parents today I found a young man that loved life but was wracked by his experiences of war.  He was well liked at his Marine Battalion as well as at the hospital and his death shocked the community almost as much as it did his family.  The sad thing is that this young man is emblematic the suicide problem in the military.  He is not alone, far too many Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen on active duty, in the Reserves or those that have left the service suffer so much from the unseen wounds of war that they commit suicide.  Since I have been here just a bit under two weeks this was a confirmation of what I knew just walking around the hospital, getting around the base and the local area.  Camp LeJeune is a base at war with Marines and Sailors fighting in Afghanistan and unfortunately many suffering from deep wounds of war at home living with physical, psychological, spiritual and moral injuries that don’t go away just because they return home.

When I left LeJeune in compliance with orders to the USS Hue City CG-66 in December 2001 we were just 3 months into the current war and barley two months into the Afghanistan campaign.  Marine morale was high though most Marines had not been to combat and those that had were veterans of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Somalia or the Balkans. Of course none of these actions lasted as long nor caused the amount of deaths as either the campaign in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Marines wanted to get a shot at the Al Qaeda terrorists that had attacked the United States and killed nearly 3000 Americans.

The Marines answered the call and have performed magnificently in every theater of the current war but the Corps has changed. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s the Marines had a swagger that was typical of the work hard; train hard and play hard attitude of the Corps.  The Corps is now composed of many battle hardened veterans that have made deployment after deployment to the hottest combat zones in both Iraq and Afghanistan in which they took the initiative in both offensive operations in taking the battle to the enemy and employing solid counterinsurgency techniques especially in Al Anbar Province where the Iraqi Army performed quantitatively better under their tutelage in helping to turn the tide during the Anbar awakening.  Navy Corpsmen, Doctors and Chaplains serve alongside the Marines as they have done throughout our history.

I served with Marine and Army advisors in Al Anbar in 2007 and early 2008 in many of the remotest parts of the province and have dealt with individual Marines since. The Marines still have much of their swagger but it seems more fatalistic now.  An expert in trauma and moral injury told me of a recent visit to Camp Pendleton where Marines referred to themselves as “the walking dead” in an almost cavalier manner. The sad thing is that for many Marines this is only half a joke. The Corps in 2009 had the highest suicide rate in the military at 24 per 100,000 and suicides continue at a similar pace in 2010.  http://www.yuma.usmc.mil/desertwarrior/2010/03/11/feature6.html One occurred on Camp LeJeune where a Marine Sergeant pulled out a pistol and shot himself after being pulled over by Military Police in front of the base Fire Station.

As I made my way around the base the past week or so, I saw a lot more Marines with canes and obvious physical injuries from their combat injuries incurred in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Marines as always were professional but appeared to be much more serious than 9 years ago, many seeming to be old beyond their years. I love serving with and around Marines because they have a unique sense of professionalism combined with humor that is unlike almost any found in any part of the United States Military. However that positive is sometimes offset by a need to maintain an image of toughness even when they are dying on the inside which leads many not to seek help because it might make them look weak or broken, terms that no self-respecting Marine wants associated with his or her name.

In addition to the obvious injuries I noticed that while there was a much more serious tenor around the base that the Staff Sergeants and Gunnery Sergeants are a lot younger than they used to be back 9 years ago. With the war lasting as long as it has and the coupled with the expansion of the Marines during the war coupled with casualties and attrition by other means these young men and women are being promoted sooner than they were in the prewar days. Their leadership experience is mostly combat-related and they are in general superb combat leaders. However, this does not always translate well in a garrison setting especially if they are dealing with their own untreated PTSD or TBI nor is it helpful on the home front. As a result many of these young leaders are suffering the breakups of families at a record rate as well as substance abuse when they return home.

As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted in a speech at Duke University on September 29th of this year:

“There are a number of consequences that stem from the pressure repeated of deployments – especially when a service member returns home sometimes permanently changed by their experience.  These consequences include more anxiety and disruption inflicted on children, increased domestic strife and a corresponding rising divorce rate, which in the case of Army enlisted has nearly doubled since the wars began.  And, most tragically, a growing number of suicides.

While we often speak generally of a force under stress, in reality, it is certain parts of the military that have borne the brunt of repeat deployments and exposure to fire – above all, junior and mid-level officers and sergeants in ground combat and support specialties.  These young men and women have seen the complex, grueling, maddening face of asymmetric warfare in the 21st century up close.  They’ve lost friends and comrades.  Some are struggling psychologically with what they’ve seen, and heard and felt on the battlefield.  And yet they keep coming back.” http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1508

These young men and women have forged a bond in combat and in many cases multiple combat tours. The have served well with honor and many don’t feel that people who have not been “in the shit” understand them or what they have been through.  There is a comradeship that comes out of war. There is segment at the end of the Band of Brothers mini-series where a German Commander is speaking to his soldiers after they have surrendered to the Americans. As the German Commander speaks to the survivors of his unit Corporal Joe Liebgott is asked to translate by another American. As he translates the German officer’s words the Americans know that he also speaks for their experience of war:

“Men, it’s been a long war, it’s been a tough war. You’ve fought bravely, proudly for your country. You’re a special group. You’ve found in one another a bond that exists only in combat, among brothers. You’ve shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments. You’ve seen death and suffered together. I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you. You all deserve long and happy lives in peace.”

I think that sums up what many feel today except unlike the Germans our war drags on with no end in sight.

The Marines are still tough and a force to be reckoned with on any battlefield. They, especially the Marine Divisions are an elite force but I believe that many are losing some of their resilience as the war goes in Afghanistan goes on.  Many from reports that I have read as well as those that I have talked with are concerned that much of the country doesn’t support the war nor appreciate their sacrifice. Many are concerned that their sacrifices as well as those of their friends, those killed and wounded will be wasted and the suffering that goes on after the war will be swept aside by politicians, the media and the public at large. They are also concerned that the people that they have worked with against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and those that they have tried to protect and care for will suffer even more if the Taliban return to power.  I can say that I worry about my Iraqi friends and fear for them when I hear news of more attacks.

In the midst of this war we went through a number of elections and it troubles me that in the last election that the war and those fighting it were hardly ever mentioned by candidates from either party.  We mentioned it was usually for show to help politicians gain favor with voters.  We deserve better, we are not just a something to talk about at political rallies that when the election is over simply budget item to be slashed because the country is in a mess. These young men and women, as well as old guys like me are the sons, daughters, husbands and wives and brothers and sisters that have volunteered to serve this country.  The wounds that these young men and women, their experiences in combat that have left their souls scared will not go away when the last American leaves Iraq or Afghanistan.

This young man that we lost last night will be buried by his family and we will have a memorial service in his honor.  His many friends will grieve and those of us who are caring for his family will not forget them. I don’t want this young man or any other to be forgotten like so many who have returned from war before them.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Suicide isn’t Painless: The Epidemic of Suicide in the Military

I leave the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Virginia tomorrow and toward the end of October report as the Command Chaplain for Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune North Carolina. My last time at Camp LeJeune was as part of the Portsmouth SPRINT (Special Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Team) mission to care for Emergency Department personnel at the Naval Hospital and Base Fire/EMS responders to a particularly gruesome suicide of a young Marine who had recently served in Iraq and was preparing for another tour.

As a Chaplain and in my previous life as a Medical Service Corps officer commanding a Medical Company in Germany and Brigade Adjutant in Texas I have dealt with a lot of suicides, attempted suicides and the lives left shattered by suicide.  Likewise I have seen the results of suicide attempts as a trauma, emergency and critical care chaplain in major medical centers. I have attended the DOD Suicide Prevention Conference on a number of occasions and gotten to know many of the experts working in the field.

As I said I began my career as an officer in the Army Medical Service Corps. We had a close connection to the movie and television series M*A*S*H and the theme music to that movie is emblematic of the feelings of many combat vets who continue to deploy even after making many combat deployments. http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3444418/suicide_is_painless_johnny_mandel/

Through early morning fog I see
visions of the things to be
the pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see…
[chorus]:

That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.

I try to find a way to make
all our little joys relate
without that ever-present hate
but now I know that it’s too late, and…
[Chorus]

The game of life is hard to play
I’m gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I’ll someday lay
so this is all I have to say.
[Chorus]

The only way to win is cheat
And lay it down before I’m beat
and to another give my seat
for that’s the only painless feat.
[Chorus]

The sword of time will pierce our skins
It doesn’t hurt when it begins
But as it works its way on in
The pain grows stronger…watch it grin, but…
[Chorus]

A brave man once requested me
to answer questions that are key
‘is it to be or not to be’
and I replied ‘oh why ask me?’

‘Cause suicide is painless
it brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.
…and you can do the same thing if you choose.

Last week four soldiers, one a highly decorated senior NCO and all combat veterans are believed to have committed suicide at Fort Hood Texas.  The base which has already seen more than its fair share of tragedy with 14 confirmed suicides this year is stunned that these occurred in one weekend.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates commented about the stress on the all-volunteer force: “No major war in our history has been fought with a smaller percentage of this country’s citizens in uniform full-time — roughly 2.4 million active and reserve service members out of a country of over 300 million, less than 1 percent,” as a result the wars have been fought by a small proportion of the country, for many they are “a distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect them personally.” While the distance grows between those that serve and the general population military families are under even more stress, with anxiety and disruption inflicted on children, increased domestic strife and a growing number of suicides. Divorce rates in the Army have doubled since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began.

In the years prior to about 2004-2005 the military suicide rate was almost always below civilian rates in all demographics.  This is something that we took legitimate pride in.  That began to change as the war in Iraq shifted from a “Shock and Awe” campaign to a rather nasty and intractable insurgency this began to change as the deployment tempo increased and the Army increased its “boots on ground” time from a year to 15 months with a one year dwell time between deployments. Even as Iraq calmed down and the US role shifted many troops remain and Afghanistan has become a much more difficult war than it was even a few years ago. The Marines retained a 6-7 month deployment schedule but as the war went on and personnel requirements increased many Marine units were doing 6 months in country and 6 months home.  The difficult of what was described as “dwell time” for the Army and Marines was that for all intents and purposes it wasn’t. The units would get a few weeks leave and stand down time on their return home and then begin preparing for their next deployment. These preparations out of necessity entailed much time in the field training including trips to the Fort Irwin National Training Center (NTC) or the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Training Center at 29 Palms.  Speaking from experience before 9-11 I can say that a Marine battalion going to 29 Palms in reality makes a short but intense deployment which is taxing on the organization even as it sharpens combat skills.  The same can be said for Army units going to NTC.  Thus the time that is nominally considered time at home to recuperate is not that and instead serves to keep the pressure on already stressed units, leaders and soldiers/Marines.  In the intervening time those that present to mental health providers or chaplains are provided with care to get them back in shape for the next deployment but never really get to deal with the deeper psychological and spiritual wounds. These include “moral injury”  which often involves unresolved grief for the loss of comrades and real or imagined guilt for their own actions in war.  Such wounds ultimately create despair, loss of faith and eventually cause some service members to make attempts on their life with varying degrees of “success” in “completing” the suicide.

The result is that those who have experienced the moral injuries that come as a result of combat, seeing comrades killed and wounded, participating in actions where they are directly or indirectly involved in killing the enemy, see the “collateral damage” of civilians, including children killed and maimed go right back into to fight.  Since this war has now gone on longer than any war in US history and we are fighting it with an all volunteer force of limited numbers with many making multiple deployments, some as many as 5 or more these wounds are pushed aside.  The effect of this is a cumulative grinding down of those that serve in harm’s way. Many suffer from some form of psychological, neurological or even spiritual injury that in combination with other life stressors make them particularly vulnerable to taking their lives.  In regard to moral injury “Many of the troops kill themselves because they feel that those kinds of experiences have made them unforgivable,” said Dr. William Nash, a top PTSD researcher. “It’s a lot harder for most people to forgive themselves than to forgive others.”

Unfortunately there is a stigma attached to seeking treatment or admitting that one is suffering from depression, anxiety or any other condition associated with either seeking help on their own or being “command referred” for psychological/psychiatric help.  Since that stigma is real many war fighters don’t seek help and take “refuge” in destructive behaviors such as alcohol abuse, drug abuse (to include prescription drugs) and risky behaviors.  One wonders how many of the single vehicle accident fatalities that occur late at night to combat vets are not accidental at all but are suicides by another more “socially acceptable” means.  If a forensic psychological profile was done on every service member that dies in such events I would guess that the finding would be a lot more suicides not an accidental deaths as we would like to believe. Yes all of these deaths are tragic but it is far easier to rationalize death in an auto accident than death by gunshot, knife wounds, overdose or hanging.

I am not proposing any solutions for this problem.  I do believe that somehow the deployment tempo needs to be slowed down to allow troops to actually recover and get help.  This is one of the suggestions of the DOD Suicide Prevention Task Force.  Their report is linked here: http://www.health.mil/dhb/downloads/Suicide%20Prevention%20Task%20Force%20report%2008-21-10_V4_RLN.pdf

When I go to LeJeune I know that as a Chaplain at the Naval Hospital I will be collaborating with our mental health professionals to provide care to Marines, Sailors and their families that are living this daily.  The Marine situation is poignantly show in this article: http://www.nctimes.com/news/local/military/article_3dc03ec3-6a37-5608-8563-aca88f635271.html

I have served with the Marines almost 6 years and from what I see the Corps has changed.  It is battle hardened but less resilient than it used to be.  The Marine Corps’ suicide rate has reached 24 per 100,000, a rate that surpasses all the other services. The rate was 13 per 100,000 in 2006 when I finished my tour at Marine Security Forces. The latest available figures put the civilian suicide rate at 20 per 100,000.  The problem extends past active duty as Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff, said the suicide rate for men aged 18-29 who have been discharged had gone up by 26% from 2005-07. Likewise, “of the more than 30,000 suicides in this country each year, fully 20% of them are acts by veterans.” This means as Shinseki said “on average 18 veterans commit suicide each day. Five of those veterans are under our care at VA. So losing five veterans who are in treatment every month, and then not having a shot at the other 13 who for some reason haven’t come under our care, means that we have a lot of work to do.”

There is also an effect on military health care providers of all kinds and chaplains. These individuals not only have to deal with their trauma but the trauma and hopelessness that they see in many of their patients or parishioners. These caregivers have no respite between deployments because their reason for being is to care for the Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors that present to them be they deployed or back in a military hospital or clinic.

The work will be hard and long after the last Marine, Sailor, Soldier or Airman leaves Iraq and Afghanistan we will be dealing with this for years to come.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, iraq,afghanistan, Military, Pastoral Care, PTSD

Thoughts on Ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell…a Moderate View

No, we’re not homosexual, but we are willing to learn…Yeah, would they send us someplace special?

Note:  I’m not feeling well tonight with my Kidney stone keeping up a steady mid grade pain in my Kidney.  Thus I am modifying something that I wrote nearly a year ago concerning the subject of gays serving in the military. This is not a political or social screed, I have tried to remain dispassionate in this essay realizing that people of goodwill but with differing moral, ethical or religious values can have differing opinions.  Since ultimately the decision to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t “ will be recommended by the military and will have to be passed into law by Congress. As an officer it will be my duty whatever decision is reached to support that decision.

I have written an essay agreeing with Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates when they announced the decision to begin the process of repealing the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law on homosexuals serving in the military. I followed that with piece which attacked the lies and distortions being marketed by former Chaplain, defrocked priest and convicted criminal Gordon “Chaps” Klingenschmitt in an unsolicited bulk e-mail sent through the Washington Times Media Group. In neither article did I advocate an immediate change in the law and stated that I believed that the Military should make the recommendations on how the change should be made, and not politicians or special interest groups of any variety.

This post is simply how I have seen military culture evolving over the 27 plus years of my career. These patently are simply my observations and have both a bit of seriousness as well as humor.  I am most definitely a dyed in the wool heterosexual, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I think that someone without a political axe to grind on either the gay rights or anti-gay rights movement who is in the military have to have a say.  I know that I could be wading into Vietnam here but here I go….

When I enlisted in August of 1981, gays were not allowed to serve in the military.  It was even on the recruiting form. Applicants were asked under the penalty of making a false official statement “Are you a homosexual?”  Who can forget the scene in Stripes where Bill Murray and Harold Ramis are asked by the Army recruiter “Are either of you homosexual?” Their reply was a hoot.  They looked at each other and Bill Murray replied “you mean like flaming or…” The recruiter then said “It’s a standard question we have to ask.” Harold Ramis then quipped “We’re not homosexual, but we’re willing to learn” and Bill Murray adding “Would they send us to someplace special?”  The recruiter then ends the exchange “I guess that’s a no on both.”  It was a hilarious scene as we all had to answer the question back in those days.

Plain and simple if a person lied about being homosexual and was later discovered he was in deep dung, even an accusation of being gay could result in being charged under the UCMJ or at the very least investigated.  Soldiers could be taken to Article 15 proceedings (Captain’s Mast in the Navy, Office Hours in the Marines) or possibly even a court-martial. Depending on the charges one could receive a punitive discharge, such a Bad Conduct Discharge, or administrative discharge under a General, General under Other than Honorable, or Other than Honorable conditions.

Back in my days as a company XO and company commander in the 1980s I had a number of soldiers; male and female who I knew that were gay.  I had grown up in California, had gay friends and even when someone was hiding it I pretty much knew.  If I was homophobic I could have made accusations, began investigations and made these soldiers lives hell.  At that point in time there were a good amount of people in the military who would have done just that.  These soldiers were exemplary in the way that they conducted themselves at work.  They were professional, knowledgeable and I never once had to take any of them to article 15 proceedings for any reason. They never refused missions, they were exceptionally responsible, and good leaders.  As far as their personal lives they were discreet. I am sure that if they stayed in the military that they probably maintained that balance.  I don’t know what happened to them later on, but they were great.   I took over company command as a very junior 1st Lieutenant. The unit had the highest drug abuse rate in Europe with more disciplinary problems than you could shake a stick at. I wasn’t about to go after soldiers who were not giving me problems, I had far more pressing matters on my plate.  I guess you could say that I was exercising the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy 7-8 years before it became policy.  My philosophy then as is is now, is that if someone is willing to serve honorably and endure the hardships and dangers of the lives of military professionals then they should be able to regardless of the way that they are wired.  My issue then and now applies to both homosexuals and heterosexuals who are predatory or push themselves sexually on other soldiers causing problems with good order and discipline and unit cohesion. I have to say had far more problems with my heterosexual soldiers in this regard than my homosexual soldiers. My homosexual soldiers were discreet in their personal lives and very professional, some of my heterosexuals were neither discreet nor professional in thier sexual lives and relationships.

When I served as a personnel officer at the Academy of Health Sciences I became “CINC AIDS.”  I was the most junior of the Medical Personnel Officers, serving as the Training Brigade Adjutant.  It was at this time that we began having soldiers test positive for HIV and develop AIDS.  I worked with representatives of the Army Surgeon General’s Office to develop personnel procedures for HIV positive soldiers.  These policies gave them the opportunity to serve honorably and at the same time ensured that they did  not endanger others through their sexual conduct.  Since I was the junior guy I got to deal with all the cases of officers who had been diagnosed with HIV.  No one else wanted anything to do with them. While the world around me raged with apocalyptic screeds of those convinced that this was God’s judgment on homosexual; those who prophesied how this virus would become a pandemic infecting people willy-nilly through casual contact, I dealt with real people.  These officers wore the same uniform as me and had been pronounced with a death sentence.  Some I knew were gay, but some were straight.  When an officer came to my office that was not on our brigade staff and the door closed, there was a good chance that the visitor had just received the news that they had an infection that would cause a process that would kill them.  They had received a death sentence.  I was a Christian and knew that I was going to be going to seminary after this assignment.  I could not see how Jesus could reject these folks.  While assigned there we had the first trial of a soldier who was intentionally attempting to spread the HIV virus among his coworkers.  He was a heterosexual and was a sexual predator.  He was taken to courts-martial and convicted.  As he was now in the latter stages of the disease process and battling the opportunistic infections which actually kill you he was sentenced to 6 months in Leavenworth.  I doubt that he lived that long. The experience of dealing with these officers taught me the torment that many homosexuals go through.  Following my time in the Army while in seminary and after it I worked in a variety of social service organizations and hospitals and I knew worked alongside many gays without a problem.

When President Clinton enacted the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy I was in the Army National Guard.  When the policy was announced there was public outcry from Veteran’s organizations but even more so from conservative religious groups.  I had no problem with the policy as I think that everyone should be somewhat discreet in their sexual habits, especially in the military. Regardless of sexual orientation it is always important for military members to conduct themselves in professional manner, and not only in sexual matters.  It is always a matter of good order and discipline.   While the policy made no one happy, gay activists did not think it went far enough and anti-gay forces hated it, I think it was a wise policy.  The President may have erred in the way that he announced it, but I think it was still the right thing to do at the time.

Since then our society as a whole has changed in its view and treatment of homosexuals.  There is a lot more acceptance of them now and many more people are openly gay.  I think that those who hid that aspect of their lives in earlier times now feel safe enough to come out.  Yes there are those who vehemently oppose any form of equal treatment for homosexuals, but there is a lot more acceptance than in the past. Various polls show that a sizable majority of Americans support changing the policy while polls of military personnel have seen the opposition to ending the policy drop significantly since 2002 even though most of these polls indicate a fair amount of opposition to the policy but even those who oppose a change by and large have determined that they would make their peace with the decision. I believe that this is due to the change in societal views of homosexuals as well as the fact that military professionals, especially officers and career NCOs tend to tend to be more dispassionate and pragmatic than they are given credit.

There have been famous military leaders who were gay including Frederick the Great who was forced to marry but kind of liked other guys better.  Lord Kitchner and Sir Hector Archibald MacDonald, both distinguished officers were homosexual, MacDonald committed suicide when notified that he would be courts-martialed for his homosexuality.   There were constant rumors when I was in the Army about senior leaders who were suspected of being gay.   While a majority of military members polled opposed the Clinton administration change of policy, it seems to have worked.  There still are objections by gay rights activists that the policy is too restrictive and opponents who desire for it to be repealed, but in large part there is no problem.  Other countries the British, Canadians and Israelis and a number of other European nations all allow homosexuals to serve in the military. Contrary to claims that the policy would destroy the military there is nothing to support that.  In fact the US Military has been more heavily engaged on multiple fronts since the policy went into place and done well despite being undermanned and often over-committed.

The Rand Corporation had a study of how allowing gays to serve would impact the military suggested the following was of ensuring that such a change would not endanger good order and discipline or unit cohesion, the two most critical aspects of any change.  They suggested:

  • A requirement that all members of the military services conduct themselves in ways that enhance good order and discipline. Such conduct includes showing respect and tolerance for others. While heterosexuals would be asked to tolerate the presence of known homosexuals, all personnel, including acknowledged homosexuals, must understand that the military environment is no place to advertise one’s sexual orientation.
  • A clear statement that inappropriate conduct could destroy order and discipline, and that individuals should not engage in such conduct.
  • A list of categories of inappropriate conduct, including personal harassment (physical or verbal conduct toward others, based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or physical features), abuse of authority, displays of affection, and explicit discussions of sexual practices, experience, or desires.
  • Application of these standards by leaders at every level of the chain of command, in a way that ensures that unit performance is maintained.

It has been over 15 years since the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy went into effect.  I have noted that while some military members still vehemently oppose gays serving in the military, that quite a few, officer and enlisted, especially those under the age of 30 are much more tolerant than were those of my era.  A while back I was talking with a couple of military doctors and a hospital corpsman, all of us committed heterosexuals, not that there’s anything wrong with that the other day and the subject came up in a humorous way when discussing ways to get out of the military.  The corpsman noted that saying you were gay was one way, and I said, at least for now it was.

As we talked we all agreed that anyone willing to serve in the military at this point of time should be able to so long as they meet the professional standards of the services.  This is no gravy train.  Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen are constantly deployed and putting themselves in harm’s way.  If a gay wants to commit his or her life to the service of this country, who am I to object?

From a practical and somewhat humorous standpoint we have to acknowledge a number of things about gays, especially gay men.  Many are very well educated successful professionals.  Most seem to have a far better sense of taste and style than most of us on the heterosexual team and quite a few are very physically fit and health conscious. Anyone who has ever served in the military knows that we are not known for the greatest living conditions, food or ascetics.  Military housing, both barracks and family quarters tend to be rather boring, and often substandard.  There is not a lot of imagination in most military dining facilities and the ascetics and design of many of our buildings and bases leaves a lot to be desired. Can you imagine if we let these guys serve?  Our bases would probably look a lot better and well kept.  Our living quarters would be nicer and more ascetically pleasing. The food would definitely go up in quality and we would get some highly qualified folks in the service, especially in some of the more scientific and medical specialties.  As a married heterosexual and “a uniter not a divider” I see all of this as a win-win situation.  Who could be against that? I would have loved to drive onto bases where buildings and landscaping were done well, where you didn’t feel like you were driving onto a prison.  I’d love to work in buildings where there was some sense of style and artistry, where when you walked in you didn’t think you had walked onto the set of a WWII movie.  I would love a nice selection of food that was both healthy and tasty.

Will this happen anytime soon? I don’t know.  At the present time DOD is studying how the change might be implemented including the possible ramifications of the decision on the force.  That study will take time and I suspect that at some point the President and Congress will address the issue and if it is changed I expect little practical change in the military.  We will keep deploying and doing our job, some people will be upset and some won’t, but I think there has been enough societal change over the last 27 years to allow this to happen relatively smoothly.  Will some people be unhappy? Most certainly. Will crusades be mounted against it by some?  Most definitely and one is already being waged by Gordon Klingenschmitt who went on record calling Admiral Mullen a liar and others will also oppose any change.  However I think that this opposition will come more from the outside and less so from the military which is busy fighting wars and protecting the country.  If “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed I expect that the military will survive and continue to do well.  I think that most will make their peace with any change and those who desire to serve their country, even those who oppose repealing the law will still elect to serve I the military.

Those are my thoughts and as I said at the beginning I remained as dispassionate as I can while still stating what I believe. After all, in the end this is all well above my pay grade.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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