Questions About an Overextended US Military: An Open Letter to Congress
First off, I am the wife of a retired USN Submarine Chief. So every time we read of an incident at a military base, or collision at sea, we have these conversations. Do they involve things like how overworked is personnel? My husband read the report from the admiralty on the two collisions at sea, and he spoke to this. In case you wonder, this is from the Navy Times, who report the same:
While the Navy has made progress revamping its surface fleet in the aftermath of two fatal warship collisions last year, some sailors based in Japan continue to log 100-hour weeks, often going without much sleep, a government watchdog reported Wednesday.
Manning shortages, maintenance and training neglect — plus a bruising operational tempo — all came under public scrutiny last summer after two destroyer collisions in the western Pacific killed 17 sailors assigned to 7th Fleet.
Navy reports also cited fatigue and crew shortages as factors in the twin tragedies involving the destroyers Fitzgerald and John S. McCain and a pair of commercial vessels.
Let me be clear. Military crews usually work harder and longer than their civilian counterparts. This is part of the job and most military personnel know this going in. It starts early, with basic training. However, humans still need sleep to function. Also, lack of sleep can lead to obesity, depression and the inability to do complex tasks.
Before you say it, my husband was on patrol when 911 happened. His peacetime patrol became a wartime patrol this fast. The usual pace of showing the flag at friendly ports was replaced with preparations for military action. They had very little time to worry about us at home; they were very busy instantly. Short bursts of this are expected in both military service, and some civilian jobs, such as EMS and the fire service.
But when the shooting at Pearl Harbor happened we started asking the questions again. What is going on? How over-stressed is the force? These are warfighters, but they are not machines. And no, before any civilian says it, they did not volunteer for the kind of uptempo that we have continued with since the towers fell down.
And obviously somebody reached his breaking point for whatever reason.
We know that most Americans are not aware of these stresses. We also know that most civilians think that thanking service members for their service is all they have to do. After all, they volunteered. We also know that PTSD is a real issue with returning troops and that they are exposed to field operations at a much higher rate than any previous time in history.
Post Traumatic Stress is very real, and troops are coming home facing varying degrees of it. I know that my husband was exposed to circumstances in the service that likely caused it. And incidentally, I was as well, not in the US Military. We both have issues with fireworks for that very reason. You could say we are not fans because fireworks sound (and if close enough smell) like ammo going off.
But we both know that we both had it easy given the uptempo that continues to affect the force. This is especially the case with the special forces community since this war has become that kind of surgical intervention.
It is time to consider expanding the force to reduce the manning issues that affect it. Getting enough sleep is essential for forces to function in a competent manner and can be a matter of life and death. But in order to do this, if Americans believe this war on terror is worth pursuing, we may have to draft people. Why? The services are having trouble meeting their manning goals. Otherwise, it is time to consider retrenching, and perhaps making all these operations a law enforcement matter, an international law enforcement issue.
The Army missed its record last year. According to the Stars and Stripes, for example:
Only about 30 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds can meet the mandatory requirements for consideration for military service — a combination of physical, mental and background attributes. More so, only about 13 percent of that population is interested in military service, according to the Pentagon.
The shortfall comes as the Army looks to increase its active force from about 476,000 soldiers to about 500,000 by 2024, a number Pentagon officials have said is necessary if a major war with a near-peer adversary were to break out.
The Army had aimed to increase its force strength to 483,500 by the beginning of October. It aims to build to 487,500 in 2019, Calloway said. The service has set a 73,000 recruit goal for next year.
This also raises our obesity epidemic as a serious national security issue. However, we are facing what could become a crisis. And yes, the shooting at Pearl may be the canary in the mine telling us that our human component is near a breaking point.
I know submariners are the cream of the naval service. So we need to start asking real questions about this. And then there are other threats to the nation, such as Russia and China. These are more conventional threats, and if we had a war break with either, we may have to enact a draft anyway.
Service members and their families carry the burden. However, just thanking the troops is not enough. It may be time for the American people to really consider what is the cost they are willing to pay. Also, service affects a small percentage of the population. We are talking of one percent at a time, five percent if you count families. Service also has the benefit of bringing people from different areas together. In an era of hyper-partisanship, it might help build cohesion.
Incidentally, national service is not just military. It could be a national conservation corp starting to rebuild biomes we need to survive. But we need to consider this for multiple reasons. And yes, a military draft could very well be a component. And. I know I will get a lot of pushback because people do not want to see their kids drafted. We get it. But just thanking troops is not enough. You could start by demanding that Congress does not take the benefit away from those who did serve, not because they are better. Just because they earned those benefits.