Friday, May 28, 2004

Geopolitics Edition: Hackworth Claims Retentions Down

David Hackworth, one of the most decorated soldiers around, runs a website where he talks about military issues.

In his most recent "Defending America" column he takes on the military statements that retention figures are just fine.

Voting with Their Feet
By David H. Hackworth

Top military managers insist that our all-volunteer Army isn’t stretched too thin from this country’s heavy and hazardous commitment to hot spots like Iraq and Afghanistan and cooler places in another 131 countries around Planet Earth. They spout positive numbers like carnival hucksters, hyping enlistment and re-enlistment rates they keep insisting are at an all-time high.

“Loyalty, patriotism and seeing the results of successfully accomplishing their missions are the key factors in this success,” said Col. Elton Manske, an Army personnel chief in the Pentagon.

Except that’s exactly 180 degrees out from what hundreds of soldiers have told me during the past few weeks.

It also doesn't square with the fact that the Army is currently extending 44,000 soldiers under stop-loss provisions – which, like a form of the draft, arbitrarily keep a soldier in service beyond the agreed-upon term of enlistment.

"Stop loss is not only a breach of contract, it’s a form of slavery,” railed a Special Forces (SF) senior noncommissioned officer. “There's a tidal wave of folks getting out. ... The number of senior SF NCOs leaving is amazing. Our battalion had three of five sergeant-majors retire, and our sister battalion had two of five. The number of master sergeants was well into double digits. I predict that the exodus will devastate the senior NCO corps at a time when experience and stability are most needed.”

Read the rest at Hackworth's site. If true that the military is lying (GASP! Would the military ever lie to us?!?!) about retention figures then it means that the plan to keep 138,000 soldiers in Iraq through the beginning of 2005 is going to have harsh consequences for our military preparedness. As Robert Kagan has written in the Weekly Standard as documented by Dan Drezner, the military has given orders to send the OPFOR forces to Iraq. The OPFOR forces are the permanently stationed "opposing forces" that all other army units train against. Therefore the Army can train no one better than the OPFOR force, however they are being deployed to active combat duty and so hence can do no more training of other units while in Iraq.

I've maintained before that we do have the potential force strength to both double our commitment to Iraq and to maintain that commitment - if and only if we begin raising the ceiling on the absolute size of the Army and Marines. Technically we do have more soldiers but they are committed to other countries, in logistical supply and support or administrative MOS's, or in other branches of the military - the Air Force or Navy - that don't have large amounts of operational ground combat troops to send to the Iraqi militarized zone. We could meet our present commitment or increase it, but not maintain either over a long period of time. It's clear that many of today's volunteer soldiers have not emotional commitment to near-constant deployment schedules. This is especially true in the Army Reserves / National Guard that never expected to be sent overseas for extended periods of time.

Then there's the question that the numbers aren't quite right. Both logistical supply and total troop numbers have something fishy about them. It's as if we're hoarding a large number of troops and logistically supplying them elsewhere. The military may be retaining combat readiness to deploy to another zone by holding back untouched certain groups of soldiers while tapping into Army Reserves and National Guards to send to the Iraqi "front".

In any case it's difficult to tell from published Pentagon numbers because they're almost surely "fixed" for public consumption. As a matter of fact, they could have another ten thousand or more soldiers off the books and in an army that size it wouldn't be that hard to hide it with appropriate paperwork jiggering. Why would they do something like that? Well with the knowledge of select Congress members they might be holding back our total military force so as to not leave us vulnerable to another attack. In fact I think this is what is actually happening. It would be a matter of National Security Policy at that point to lie about total troop number figures.

Subtracting this reserve quantity of soldiers out however, it would be logically okay to consider that the portion of the armed forces being dedicated to Iraq to be one the verge of morale, retention, and logistical supply train failure as published reports variously indicate and Pentagon reports deny.


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