Monday, January 30, 2006

US soldiers are voting with their boots.

Donald Rumsfeld says it’s not broken. The US Army, he means. OK, Rummie, it’s not broken; not totally anyway. It’s just very seriously damaged.

Rumsfeld and Bush, as deluded as they are about the state of the Army may be faced with a clear choice: re-activate the Selective Service System or face the possibility of mutiny.

On January 18th, the US Army announced that it was raising the age limit for new recruits from 35 to 40 years. Army officials suggested that they actually wanted 40 year olds because they made good soldiers and that this was truly an opportunity which, up to then, had been denied people who might otherwise be pining away to become a buck private at age 39. There was no mention of the fact that the Army had just failed to meet its recruiting targets and was now 80,000 people short.

On January 26th, the Army announced to Congress that it was reducing the personnel strength of the Army Reserve to 188,000 from 205,000 and the strength of the Army National Guard to 333,000 from 350,000. Total reduction: 34,000 troops.

Large numbers of reserve and National Guard personnel are on full-time service with the occupation forces in Iraq making the sudden reduction in personnel strength somewhat… well… questionable. What makes it even more questionable is the fact that the day before the announcement two studies appeared warning of a personnel crisis developing in the American all-volunteer army.

On January 29th, the Army confirmed that it had placed 50,000 troops on “stop loss”, a program that compels volunteers to continue serving past the completion date of their enlistments. A majority of those “compelled-to-serve” troops will be required to do another rotation to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Under the policy, soldiers who normally would leave when their commitments expire must remain in the Army, starting 90 days before their unit is scheduled to depart, through the end of their deployment and up to another 90 days after returning to their home base.
With yearlong tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, some soldiers can be forced to stay in the Army an extra 18 months.

A report commissioned by the Pentagon called stop-loss a "short-term fix" enabling the Army to meet ongoing troop deployment requirements, but said such policies "risk breaking the force as recruitment and retention problems mount." It was written by Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer.

(Defence analyst Loren) Thompson added, "The persistent use of stop-loss underscores the fact that the war-fighting burden is being carried by a handful of soldiers while the vast majority of citizens incur no sacrifice at all."

No kidding. Not to mention the destruction of morale and the unbelievable increase in disciplinary problems that arise from integrating justifiably disgruntled soldiers with those who now see that they may be next on the list to be compelled to serve indefinitely in a war without end.

And the cowards of the Cheetos and Pepsi crowd continue to bloviate about “supporting the troops” while they personally avoid any street with a recruiting office.

It causes one to question the unbelievable unfairness of the whole issue. Troops who have served and completed the service, to which they agreed, are compelled to fill the ranks which should be occupied by others. Support them all you like. Those who have been handed a stop-loss order no longer support you. As the numbers of “pressed” troops grow, all Americans should be asking what state of mind those troops will be possessed of when they finally do achieve separation from the service 18 months and another tour of war duty later than they had expected.

Rumsfeld can deny it if he will. This is a ticking time-bomb.

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