A Liberal Marines Progressive Perspective

Marines are defenders of the republic and the Constitution. That is our oath, that is our purpose, that is our calling. Many are Democrats. This is the journal of one such Marine. This leatherneck's progressive perspective is as follows...

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Location: Southwest, United States

U.S. Marine,0300 MOS,eight years in,honorably discharged,college-educated. To all the damned trolls, you better believe there are liberal Marines. Read "War Is A Racket" by 2-time Medal of Honor recipient Maj.Gen.S.D.Butler, plus Lewis B. Puller, Jr.'s "Fortunate Son" and maybe then you'll understand. Semper Fi!

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The U.S. Army Is Pulling a "Colonel Walter E. Kurtz", or, Never Get Out of the Boat, Unless You Are Going All the Way Posted by Hello
Good morning to all aboard and welcome. So much is going on today, in terms of my personal life as well as today's newscycle; however, today's topic will deal with something that made news yesterday. As many of us that have served in the Armed Forces (plus all the folks that study military affairs and military science) already know all too well, the American military is in dire straits when it comes to the number of personnel fleshing out its' ranks. The problem is even more acute in those branches that are more "combat arms focused" (i.e., the Marine Corps and the Army). But, I'll have to admit even I was a bit broadsided when the reports came down yesterday that the Army was going to raise it's recruiting age limit from 34 years old to 39 years old (http://www.freep.com/news/nw/army23e_20050323.htm). The Army says the change will give them access to another 22.6 million potential enlistees. The first thought that came to mind was "good luck". The Army also made the point that the change applies to men and women with no prior military service who want to enlist in the Army Guard or Reserve. In other words, the U.S. Army is now taking 39 year olds as recruits for boot camp (though I'm not so sure about how this new recruiting standard affects officer candidates school). Let's see, how do I address this? It's both funny and somewhat disturbing at the same time. Let me use dialogue from the legendary Vietnam, existential film 'Apocalypse Now' to flesh out what I'm talking about. The dialogue is from a scene where Captain Willard (played by great actor Martin Sheen) is reading Col. Walter Kurtz's (played by legendary actor Marlon Brando) dossier to learn more about Kurtz's background:

"...during the next few months he made three requests for transfer to airborne training in Fort Benning, Georgia. And he was finally accepted. Airborne? He was 38 years old. Why the fuck would he do that? 1966 he joined the Special forces, returns to Vietnam...".


"...he had to apply three times and he had to put up with a ton of shit, but when he threatened to resign, they gave it to him. The next youngest guy in his class was half his age. They must have thought he was some far-out old man humping it over that course. I did it when I was 19 and it damn near wasted me. A tough motherfucker. He finished...".

The point I'm trying to make is that although 38 and 39 year olds aren't old people (not at all), they are certainly not "spring-chickens". Dr. Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the 'Lexington Institute' (an Arlington, Virginia think-tank) stated yesterday that "...warfare has become more suitable for middle-age troops..." and that "...hand-to-hand combat is not a common thing today (http://www.wzzm13.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=37853) ". Tell that to the family of Army Ranger (and former NFL football player) Pat Tilden, killed in Afghanistan in April 2004 (http://www.nfl.com/news/story/7277321); not to mention all the other families of military people that have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan (http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/2005/jan2005.html). And, who is Dr. Loren Thompson anyway? What does he really know about warfare, warfighting or even preparing for warfare and warfighting? Has he even served in the military? Typically, the answer is no...it doesn't look like it. In fact, he's just another chickenhawk neocon that has never served in the armed forces (http://www.defensenews.com/conferences/0403ftb/thompson.html). Moreover, he's a member of the right-wing 'Lexington Institute', a neocon think-tank (http://rightweb.irc-online.org/org/index.php). You see, for someone that has been in the "green machine", what Dr. Thomspon declared makes absolutely NO SENSE. You know, it's kind of strange to picture a 39 or 40 year old guy (I mentioned 40 year olds because you're going to have folks getting to boot camp at 39, but having birthdays while in boot camp and thus graduating at 40 years old!) standing side by side with 18, 19 and 20 year olds. Saying it's going to be awkward for a lot of 39 year old individuals to have to take orders from their 23 year old drill sergeants (drill sergeants that were BORN in 1982, when the 40 year old was damn near through high school) would be an understatement. My point is that this is simply an act of desperation on part of the DOD/Department of the Army, an act of desperation somewhat mitigated by the fact that the Pentagon is in deep denial in terms of a draft vis a vis a draft is close to the only viable solution to a problem concerning the sheer lack of manpower. See, I (as well as, many others) have already touched on this emergency situation in previous posts...to no avail (so far). In more simple terms, recruiting older folks to "pull weight" that would be better hauled by younger folks simply because you don't want to deal with the political fall-out that would follow a national draft is nuts. Thomas Ricks, the Pulitzer-Prize winning writer for the 'Washington Post' and author of 'Making the Corps' (http://www.ereader.com/author/detail/2859), touched on this very subject when he (paraphrasing his remarks from CSPAN/schedule date, Monday, 21 March 2005: 'Forum on U.S. Foreign Policy and World Affairs' hosted by Leonard Downie of 'Washington Post' with Thomas Ricks and panel) stated that we better hope another major hotspot doesn't erupt because there aren't anymore forces "in the cupboard". Folks, in other words, at this present juncture what we've got is ALL we've got and bringing in 38 and 39 year olds to fill in the gaps, (moreso) bringing in 38 and 39 year olds to do the kind of work that really calls for younger people really doesn't make very much sense. I mean, can you imagine an individual who has spent 39 years in the civilian world, suddenly being tasked to perform at a level of physical activity they probably have NEVER had to endure? Can you imagine a 39 year old who has never humped a pack, or a mortar base plate (I can hear the collective moaning sounds from all over the Web on that one..."mortar base plate" equals "beaucoup heavy"), humping and huffing and puffing up an incline like a 'Mount Motherf***er' (an infamous "hill" aboard Camp Pendleton, http://www.dtman.com/archives_2004q2.htm and http://www.cpp.usmc.mil/) or enduring the rigorous training dispensed at Fort Benning/Georgia, also known as the "Home of the Infantry (http://www.benning.army.mil/fbhome/)"? Can you really imagine a 39 year old that has NEVER served in the military being thrust into the "grunts" with a bunch of young kids in their teens and early twenties? Or the artillery? To be fair, this only affects the Reserves and the National Guard. The catch will be when they apply these same lax standards to the active duty component...that'll be a sign that we're on our last legs. At least, my beloved Corps has enough sense to say "negative" on the 39 year old recruits. The Corps has enough sense to know that it's not a very good idea. Then again, the Corps' boot camp would probably be hazardous to their health...like Captain Willard said in 'Apocalypse Now' about some military training he endured:

"...I did it when I was 19 and it damn near wasted me...".

In closing, a draft is the only solution to the dearth of recruits the armed forces are having to deal with at the dawn of the 21st century. Hopefully, the current Administration and the Pentagon will come to the understanding (before it's too late) that you just can't cut corners, you eventually have to (no pun intended) "bite the bullet". Semper Fidelis


Blogger CmdrSue said...

Scary, scary, scary stuff...

9:07 PM  
Blogger DBK said...

I really appreciate your insight on this. I remember the shape I was in at 39, and I was in pretty good shape, but I don't think I was prepared to go through basic. More to the point, in a volunteer Army, do they really think they'll find that many guys in their mid to late 30s, when so many are married, have children, have jobs, and have settled lives and are trying to make a career and secure their futures, who will leave all that behind and go into the Army and fight in a war in Iraq or Syria or Iran when there is no immediate threat at home? I find that hard to believe. I will be interested to see the results of this effort.

5:18 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

I keep a close eye on this kind of news. My younger brother turns 37 soon; he did 12 years in Army/Air Guard, with training in helicopters; then went into telecom. He's been out since '98. I used to wonder if he'd get called; it's looking more and more like WHEN, not IF, especially if Iran or Syria or _______ gets in the sights...

7:28 AM  
Blogger Peter (the other) said...

As someone in my fifties, I sometimes wonder how those of the younger generations "do it". By now, someone in their late thirties may have been "down-sized" several times meaning not even a start on retirement savings, let alone money to send junior through school. The military does offer a better paying job, with much better benefits then almost any starting civilian job can ever promise. From that point (if you can survive basic) it is a risk management deal. Even with the number of dead at this point, one's chances are almost good enough to compare to life in a US ghetto. Of course the numbers of those horribly wounded is not written about so much.

10:35 AM  
Blogger CindyLueWho said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:26 PM  
Blogger CindyLueWho said...

i'd like to give the dnc $500,000,000. can i send you a check to forward to them?

6:29 PM  
Blogger this we'll defend said...

39-year old privates are less likely to graduate initial entry training, more likely to suffer orthopaedic damage that requires rehabilitive physical therapy (and makes them unfit for the combat arms) and have less recovery ability than younger soldiers, meaning even the fit take longer to recover from trauma caused by intense exertion than a younger soldier at the same level of physical fitness. (for those in the know, that first long road march is tough, but getting up and doing it again the next day is the REAL test)

Those who mention the rarity of "hand to hand combat" as a reason older or less fit troops are ok shoudl be immediately ignored as ignorant fools. Combat soldiers must endure incredible physical challenges having nothing to do with fist-fighting. Humping a ruck, 3-second rushes for hours, climbing walls and ropes and long long hours. Even those with less physical jobs than the combat arms are more likely to function well in their support jobs if they are physically fit. The truth is that the average US rifleman from the Army or Marines is much more physically fit than a Roman legionaire - and he needs to be. Wielding a sword in a 3-hour battle takes great upper body strength, and marching to the battlefield takes endurance, so the Roman soldiers had to be fit. Today's grunts carry even more weight, for longer marches, greater distances, at faster speeds, so today's troops have to have greater endurance. And the tasks rifleman encounter in modern combat take great upper body strength, but today's battles last more than three hours - they can continue indefinitely, with no pause at night like the Romans had. The low possibility of hand to hand does NOT mean today's troops can be unfit. The physical challenges are actually greater today than in the past.

And older recruits are less likely to be able to meet that standard. If they do meet the standard they will usually be at the minimum level, rather than at the "PT Max" end of the scale. This means a group of older troops, all of whom meet the standard, are still probably going to lower the average physical fitness level of the unit. This means that recruiting older soldiers will produce few qualified troops, and could in fact be counterproductive given the resources it will take to recruit and train the large number of older recruits that would be required at the start of training in order to fill the shortages AFTER the training pipeline. Not to mention the $$$ it will cost for those who suffer permanent injury, or the larger drain on our medical resources from older recruits who don't suffer pernament injury.

If we are so short of troops (and we are) why raise the age of enlistment if it will cost us so much in the long run, for such little return in combat power? If we need recruits do badly (and we do) then why not let market forces work? People talk about the draft, but before we force the unwilling why not just make it more lucrative, and attract those that are inclined already but who haven't made the leap? If you have $45K recruiting bonuses for enlisting infantry, for instance, you will have more recruits - qualified ones. Sound expensive? The Army and Marines will spend much, much more than that training them at the respective infantry schools, and every one that fails will cost us much more than $45K. We might even be able to offer bigger bonuses, perhaps $65K, and RAISE standards. If this means our retention in the first two years is raised then it could SAVE us money in the long run. so why not do this?

Politics. If we offered recruiting bonuses of tens of thousands of dollars more than we do now it would show up on the budget immediately, while the increase in combat power and possible long-term cost savings would be hard to quantify for a 30-second sound bite, and would not be evident for years.

The reason for this change is because the reserves failing their recruiting goals, again, especially after denials from the administration for the last year that it was even happening, is embarrasing. So by raising the age we get more recruits and the recruiting goals can be met. That this won't help our manpower shortage (because few will make it) and will be more expensive doesn't matter because it can't be pinned, today, on those in office, today. It is borrowing from the future to look good now - and this is a trend with the Bush administration. By the time the bill comes due, either from the national debt, medicare, or old-ass recruits humping a ruck, these guys will be long gone. The public will blame whomever in charge at the time - hell, it might even be democrats. Sure, raising pay and bonuses for specific MOSs would end the shortfall and increase our combat power. But it would have a political cost, so it won't happen. And nobody will notice the failure to do the right thing.

This has happened before. Remember Carter, that weak-ass pansy who destroyed the military? And how Reagan saved us? Everybody knows it. Except it isn't true. The Nixon administration entered office in Jan '69, and the military was actually quite skilled, capable, and powerful, even though suffering from Vietnam (the Army and Marines in '65 were awesome, and the vast majority of combat soldiers in Vietnam in the '60s were regulars, not draftees). Even in '68 the military was skilled, disciplined, and powerful. By the time Carter came to office it was a wreck, undisciplined, poorly equipped, very little combat power. This was due to the disastrous reductions in force (RIFs) of the Nixon years, the deferral of needed spare parts and replacement equipment from what was lost in Vietnam or through wear and tear, the low recruiting rates following the end of the draft and the poorly planned beginning of the all-volunteer force - Carter inherited all of this. He immediately began a defense build-up, raised pay for the military, RAISED standards, insisted on keeping the all-volunteer force (God bless him) and began the long road back from the nadir of the early '70s. Reagan continued it (and wasted billions on items that didn't improve combat power one bit) and took all the credit for it, and most people today think Carter "wrecked" the military. It was NIXON and the Congress in charge at that time, and Carter started the difficult turnaround and built momentum that Reagan was able to capitalize on. Fifteen years from now people will talk about how Bush saved the military from Clinton, even though his (necessary after the cold war) reductions in force avoided the mistakes Nixon carelessly made after Vietnam, and he handed over an even more powerful, albeit smaller, force over to Bush, who is now wrecking it with decisions like these.

So yes the decision to lower standards by accepting older recruits is a bad one. It won't help alleviate the manpower shortages it is supposed to correct. It will cost us more in dollars, and in blood. But it will LOOK like it is because the recruiting shortfalls will be reduced.

Not even mentioned in the cost of the Iraq war is the equipment. Our vehicles that normally get less than 1,000 miles a year in training are getting tens of thousands of miles. Every week in combat is equal to peace-time wear and tear of at least a month. A vehicle or airplane we plan on lasting for another 10 years will be scrap in less than 3. The idiot decision to have the Marines drive on Baghdad from the East, using their amphibious capable vehicles, just about burned up the entire corps combat power - sure, most work now, but their entire vehicle fleet needs replacing. They were never designed for driving hundreds of miles all at once. The wear and tear was enormous, and they need to be replaced or be completely stripped down and rebuilt. It isn't going to happen. Now it is a situation they can handle, but in a few years the logistics/maintenance costs of keeping those burnt-out hulks rolling will be enormous. And the cost will fall on another administration. And the Marines will pay for it the hard way.

And don't be too happy with the Marine decision not to also lower standards. It wasn't the Marines. Or the Army. Or the Guard. It was Rumsfeld. Recruting shortages in the guard/reserve? Lower standards. And the Marine shortfall in recruiting is now making news. Hold your breath and pray Rummy doesn't lower standards in the regular Army and Marines next, it could easily happen.

12:42 AM  
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4:18 PM  
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11:14 PM  
Blogger Bill Adams said...

Veteran's Day is November 11th and I hope that EVERY American will be flying the flag in honor of our troops fighting in Iraq and around the world to preserve our freedoms!

I can even tell you where to get one for free! Visit AmericanFlags.com right now and they'll send you a FREE American Flag. These flags were $19.99, but now they are FREE. You pay just for shipping/handling and they'll ship one to your door. (Actually - I've ordered more than 20 from them to give to my neighbors, as gifts, etc!)

Get your free flag now: **FREE AMERICAN FLAG**

Semper Fi!

Bill Adams

8:03 AM  

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