Military readiness -- The physical and the intangible

By Charles Bloomer
web posted October 16, 2000

To "provide for the common defense" is a fundamental, constitutional responsibility of the federal government and one of the chief duties of the President. Although military issues seldom make it into the top concerns of those polled, the issue of military readiness and the condition of today's military have become important topics in the current presidential campaign.

The Bush/Cheney campaign has made defense an issue, criticizing the Clinton/Gore administration's treatment of the military and casting doubt on Gore's qualification to be Commander-in Chief. Vice-President Al Gore has evaded the real issues regarding military readiness. His response, "We have the best military in the world today", is nothing more than a sound bite that does not address the underlying problems in our military today.

Military readiness, or the ability of the military to carry out the missions assigned, can be broken into two broad categories – physical readiness and intangibles. Physical readiness addresses those areas that can be quantified, i.e., numbers of troops, ships, aircraft, or pay and benefits. Intangibles include morale, attitude, trust, confidence, respect.

Physical Readiness

Despite the claims of Al Gore and the current administration, the physical readiness of our military is not excellent. The Center for Military Readiness (CMR) has compiled a summary of press reports from as far back as March 1999 that provide evidence of the neglect of our armed forces by the Clinton/Gore administration. According to Elaine Donnelly, CMR President, these reports "chronicle a worrisome trend of problems that must be addressed by the next commander-in-chief".

The evidence presented by CMR points to an increasingly hollow military that is having difficulty keeping up with the demands placed on it. The steep decline in the defense budget over the past eight years has created shortages in personnel, spare parts, and training time, severely degrading the infrastructure that supports military missions. Our military has been cut one-third to one-half since the end of the Cold War, but deployments have increased by 300 percent since 1991.

In order to sustain the missions imposed on the military, the services have had to take more resources from operations that are not directly involved in missions. Training aircraft are cannibalized to provide parts to keep deployed aircraft flying. This results in fewer aircraft to train the replacement troops, thereby sending inadequately trained pilots into dangerous areas. Funding for training travel and fuel is not available so that ground troops cannot adequately train before being deployed. The experienced non-commissioned officers needed to train new soldiers and sailors are pulled from training duties and sent to operational units in order to meet manning requirements, leaving training facilities without knowledgeable instructors. Non-deployed ships are tied to the pier for lack of fuel, unable to train for combat missions.

Shifting resources to front-line units helps those deployed units fulfill the task at hand, but undermines other important military functions. The services have reported problems in non-combat support functions such as command and control, intelligence and reconnaissance, transportation, defenses against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and information operations. The weakening of these support functions increases the risks our combat troops face while prosecuting their missions.

Those units that are deployed are stretched to the limit. Ships, aircraft and other equipment are operated for longer periods of time, increasing wear and tear and delaying important maintenance. The procurement holiday of the last three years means that replacement equipment is not being bought.

The official defense strategy of the United States is to be able to fight two regional wars simultaneously. This strategy is a pipe dream. We do not have the resources available now to replicate our effort in Desert Storm, let alone the resources to engage in two similar conflicts. Military leaders have conceded that if the US were to become involved in two regional conflicts, the best we could do is to prosecute one conflict aggressively while maintaining a holding action in the second until we could bring sufficient resources to bear. Gen. Henry Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the Senate Armed Forces Committee that US forces are still capable of winning two regional wars. But Gen. Shelton characterized the risks involved with one war as "moderate" and the risks involved with the second as "high". Gen. Shelton testified, "It would take us longer to respond to hostilities" and that "this would mean territory lost and the potential for a longer fight with increased casualties". In the same testimony, the General seems to contradict himself. Gen. Shelton stated that combat preparedness problems include shortfalls in "manning, training and equipment readiness for several years".

Gen. Henry Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Evidence does not support Gen. Shelton's claim that we could fight, much less win in a two-war scenario. It is hard to conclude, given the published information, that the US military is equipped and manned sufficiently to fight and win two simultaneous wars. Prosecuting even one conflict of the magnitude of the Gulf War would require withdrawing nearly all our troops and equipment from current assignments, leaving a power vacuum in those abandoned areas.

The conclusion that can be drawn is that, for the entire term of the Clinton/Gore administration, our military readiness has suffered significantly. We are sending our troops into harm's way without the resources they need to prosecute their missions and stay alive.

The Intangibles

Equally as important as the quantifiable material we can provide, the intangible characteristics of our military contribute to our readiness posture. These qualities have been either ignored or deliberately dismissed as unimportant by the Clinton/Gore administration.

As Casper Weinberger has recently written, the first and most serious characteristic to be lost has been morale. The loss of morale among the military members is the primary contributor to the poor retention rates of our experienced mid-grade officers and NCOs. These people are also our most effective recruiters. Because these people do not choose to serve in an organization that ignores their needs, they cannot transmit the desire to serve to others. Low morale among serving service members translates directly to poor recruitment.

The loss of our experienced personnel cannot be attributed to the robust civilian economy. According to Weinberger, during the 1980s, when the economy was doing well, we not only met our recruiting goals, we had qualified people on waiting lists to get into the armed forces.

Weinberger places the blame for the loss of morale on today's leadership. The Clinton/Gore administration has actively sought to destroy the military "warrior" culture by its indelicate handling of the issue of homosexuals in the military, and by its push to feminize the military. Double standards and lowered requirements for special groups have polarized the military, pitting the dedicated service members against the leadership, both civilian and military. Our troops resent the current conditions that require more time in "sensitivity training" than in operational training.

Service members have also expressed a lack of trust in their leadership. The troops no longer think that the military leadership has the best interest of the troops in mind. They see their living conditions deteriorating, their equipment failing, their benefits eroding while they perceive their leaders acquiescing, compromising, and yielding to special interest groups to maintain their own positions and benefits. While this view may not reflect the reality of what the military leadership is doing, the perception of the troops is that the leaders are not concerned with the welfare of the common soldier.

This perception of a lack of concern at the top is reinforced by the increasing demands placed on our service members and the resultant stress on the troops. Operations Tempo (OPTEMPO) has increased significantly, resulting in less time at home spent with families. Over 60 per cent of our service members are married. Military members recognize that they will have to make sacrifices over the course of a military career, but as those sacrifices increase, so does the dissatisfaction with the military as a career choice. As quality of life issues become more acute, more service members abandon the military. Again, the perception that the senior leadership lacks appreciation for the sacrifices made by military people undermines the morale and trust of our troops.

Troops must also believe that they are being sent into harm's way for good reason. When a coherent, rational strategy exists, our military people can understand what is expected of them, and they can see the ultimate goal. The Clinton/Gore administration's practice of using the military for non-traditional, non-military missions has produced a lack of confidence of leadership among the military. The excursions on which our military has been sent over the past 8 years have not had clearly defined objectives. The current administration has used our forces for such open-ended missions as peace keeping, nation building, and humanitarian operations for which our troops are not trained or experienced. These "Operations Other Than War", as the Pentagon calls them, confuse and demoralize our troops. Military people do not see these types of operations as fitting into their commitment to "defend the Constitution from all enemies". Our troops no longer trust that the leadership is using the military to defend the nation, but rather believe they are being used as disposable pawns in a political game for the personal benefit of politicians.

There also exists among our troops the perception that the senior military and political leadership do not appreciate the jobs that military people do. When people lack the tools and spare parts to successfully complete their assignments, those people assume that it is because the leadership does not think the task important enough to provide adequate resources.

Most importantly, our military people need leadership they can look up to, leadership they can respect. Our troops deserve leaders that will uphold important military values such as honor, honesty, loyalty, and truth. Our military deserves leadership that appreciates the loyalty and dedication of our troops, a leadership that reciprocates that loyalty and dedication.

Repairing the Damage

Restoring military readiness will be a difficult job for the next president. Increasing defense spending in order to provide resources to our troops is a good beginning. But money alone will not buy morale, dedication, respect, or trust. The next Commander-in-Chief will have to show concretely his support for the common troops by vowing to provide them with the tools they need to perform the missions necessary to defend the country. He will have to show unequivocally that he has the character, dignity, and integrity worthy of respect. The next president will have to convince the military that he sees our defense capability as something more than a throwaway tool used to build a legacy.

George W. Bush appears to have the qualities and abilities to restore the sense of pride in the military necessary for the restoration of morale and other intangible characteristics. Bush has called for an increase in military spending and an evaluation of open-ended deployments. He supports ending coed basic training, and increased research and development spending to keep our military technology up to date. In addition, Bush has surrounded himself with advisors such as Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice, who seem to understand the need for a coherent foreign policy and the proper role of the military.

Al Gore has also called for increased military spending. But simply throwing more money at the problem is not the answer. Gore has shown contempt for the values that military people hold dear. Gore does not understand honor, honesty, or truth. He has shown his disregard for these important qualities over the past 8 years in his support and defense of the Clinton administration. Gore has stated that his first order will be to allow open homosexuality in the military (despite the prohibition signed into law by Clinton in 1993). There is no doubt that he will continue the Clinton administration's assault on the military culture, supporting more feminization of the military by forcing the military to open more combat roles to women. It is also assumed he will continue the policy of open-ended, non-military missions while ignoring the two war strategy. Clearly, Al Gore is not qualified to be our next Commander-in-Chief.

© 2000 Charles Bloomer Mr. Bloomer is a retired US Navy submarine officer and senior writer for Enter Stage Right. He recently appeared on Ken Bagwell's Heads Up America radio program on WTZY, Asheville, NC. He can be contacted at

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