“This too shall pass.”
I suspect that is what the Army’s senior leadership lives by whenever another public relations disaster hits. In February 2007 we learned about the living conditions of wounded soldiers in Build 18 and Walter Reed Medical Center. Just recently we learned of soldiers returning from an 15 month tour in Afghanistan to barracks in completely shambles. Army reaction to both incident was a basic issue shocked looked. I’m pretty sure they come as part of the duffle bag issue as some point in an Army career. Yet, according to an editorial in the Military Times:
From 2005 to 2007, the Army failed to fund $2.2 billion in “estimated annual facility requirements.” That includes money to make barracks livable. [full article]
The truth is, the Army routinely robs the individual soldier to finance ‘higher priorities’. This is what is reflected in the Army’s failure to fund annual facility requirements. The process works something like this. Some amount of money is allocated for the painting of barracks. However, there are accolades to be had in saving some or all of that money so that it can be used for something sexier than painting barracks. So, someone gets the bright idea to make the soldiers paint their own barracks. Of course, we can’t sacrifice valuable training time for such a trivial task, this will need to be done during “soldier time”. In this way, some one gets to claim credit for saving the Army some large sum of money and no one ever asks how that money was saved.
A special report published in the Military Times on the now defunct XM8 weapon project illuminates the same thinking. Gen. Jack Keane is quoted as saying:
We had been mortgaging equipment for individual soldiers for such a long time to take care of the greater Army so post 9/11, we put our foot down and said, ‘This is over; we are not going to continue to do this,’”
He was half right. The sad fact is that the Army continues to mortgage not only equipment but just about everything to take care of the greater Army. This mortgaging includes $2.2 billion dollars in facilities maintenance. It also includes putting reservist soldiers on repeating 29 day pre-mobilization orders. This practice serves two purposes. First, it allows the Army to put reservists on full time duty without paying them the full Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). There is a lower BAH that applies when orders are less than 30 days. This is intended for soldiers going on their two weeks of active duty for training but the Army routinely uses it to save money; at the individual soldiers’ expense.
Additionally, the pre-mobilization policy allows the Army to circumvent the DoD policy that limits mobilization of reservists to 12 months. Some units add an additional two months to this through pre-mobilization orders. These orders are supposedly voluntary but the paperwork is not presented as optional and the voluntary nature of the orders is often not pointed out. Pressure to volunteer is significant.
Back to the XM8 rifle. The American soldier has been fighting with a variant of the M16 rifle since Vietnam. The vast majority of personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan today carry an M4 which is an M16 Carbine. The XM8 program was an attempt to update the weapon used on the battlefield. It is worth reading the whole article but the short summary of the reason the program died is this:
“The whole purpose of the user assessment that the Battle Lab ran was to try to give it an objective look,” Stone said. “We and a lot of people said, ‘ok, there is some goodness here, but maybe there is not enough goodness to spend a whole lot of money on it.’ The XM8 really didn’t offer us a significant leap in capability.”
So, until someone can impress the folks chosen to participate in Battle Lab with something that offers a significant leap, soldiers can expect to fight with the M16 with whatever modifications can be passed through the very broken process of approving and funding equipment for individual soldiers.
The theme through all of this is saving money at the individual soldier’s expense. Whether it is new equipment, housing, benefits or time, the clear message is that the Army will take care of the greater Army first until it is forced to address the shortcomings faced by its individual soldiers. Shortcoming that are a direct result of Army policy.
[posted with ecto]