It was 3 a.m., cold and I was asleep on my feet. Eight hours before I stepped off a plane in Frankfurt, Germany. I was a brand new second lieutenant, commissioned after 11 years in the ranks. We were about to conduct a “health and welfare inspection” and I was to meet my new platoon sergeant and the troops of my understrength platoon. Before the night was over, five of them would be busted for drugs. Such was life in President Jimmy Carter’s Army after years of underfunding and recruiting from society’s leftovers. I fear we are heading back in that direction.
The election of President Ronald Reagan and renewed support for the armed forces remedied many problems in the 1980s, especially morale and training. We kicked out the drug dealers and re-built the Army that defeated Saddam Hussein’s military, the fourth largest in the world, in less than 100 hours in 1991. That victorious Army is tired after 11 years of war and 20 years of continuous deployments on a war-time operations tempo since 1990. The looming sequestration, a budget gimmick developed two years ago over an impasse between the political parties, now seems certain to occur. More than half the cuts will come out of national defense. That means maintenance, training and quality of life. To a military spouse, it means deteriorating housing, reduced medical care for her children and tighter home budgets. To my wife in the early 1990s in Europe, it meant waiting in line at 4:30 a.m. in the rain to obtain one of only 10 dental appointments available per week for military families in our overseas military community of 8,000. There was a shortage of dentists and no money to make up the difference.
Today, aircraft are revealing stress-cracks in airframes, having reached obsolescence a decade ahead of schedule. There are few replacements in the pipeline or projected. Last week an aircraft carrier couldn’t deploy; that means a deployed carrier will remain on station for months longer, military families separated longer. The divorce rate in military families is approaching 80 percent. This week, North Korea detonated another nuclear weapon, small enough to be deployed on missiles which can reach California. Iran is not far behind and already has orbited a payload into space.
Al Qaeda is resurgent across the Middle East, our embassy burned in Libya, our ambassador murdered and we learn this week that the President didn’t speak to anyone at the Pentagon all night after being informed of the Libyan attack, not even once. The President also proposes to unilaterally cut our nuclear deterrent by a third but not stop the sequestration.
We’re facing a critical point where we can break the military beyond recovery. In 1980, after President Carter’s cuts, a mission to rescue diplomats held hostage failed catastrophically in the Iranian desert. Eight died. In 1950, after post-World War II reckless demobilization and budget cuts, we lost 8,000 men in a military disaster in Korea in less than five months. What will be the cost in blood the next time?
Al Fonzi is a retired Army Lt. Colonel and career intelligence officer with more than 30 years of service. He is a self-described conservative and active in several political organizations. Fonzi first moved to Atascadero in 1972.For the complete article see the 02-20-2013 issue.
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