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Ben Franklin's bifocals February 2, 2006

No Stretch

Administration spin doctors tried to convince us that our armed forces are not stretched to the breaking point by continued rotation to the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones. The Secretary of Defense, and the White House tell us the troops are accomplishing their mission, and everything is dandy. A host of former military officers who know the situation on the ground, say otherwise, but most of the current crop of active duty officers are too concerned about their careers to contradict the party line.

As concerned citizens we must look carefully at what is going on rather than what is being said about it. The army fell short of meeting its 2005 recruitment goals. Even with a downsized, post-Cold War military, and even with the large numbers of Reserve and National Guard units that have been activated, the all volunteer force concept is faltering. In typical bureaucratic fashion the government is trying to solve the problem by throwing money at it and lowering standards for the military. Huge signing and reenlistment bonuses are being offered in an effort to bring in more recruits and hang on to the troops that we have. We sure hope this works. As a sign of how desperate our military personnel managers have become, consider the following item:

The Associated Press reported on January 15, 2006, that a United States Naval Academy tradition that had lasted for 155 years came to an end when a small contingent of US Marine Corps personnel who made up the Naval Academy Marine Barracks were withdrawn and sent off to war. Four dozen Marines who comprised The Naval Academy Company, Marine Barracks, and who with their predecessors have provided security at the gates and for dignitaries' visits and special events on the academy campus since before the Civil War, were replaced by Navy enlisted personnel. The former sentries will, according to the Associated Press report, bolster U.S. forces stretched thin by deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now, four dozen Marines are worth several hundred ordinary fighting men. Any of our commanders on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan would be happy to have them. Nevertheless, we have been able to spare these leathernecks to carry on the Naval Academy tradition during some pretty tough times, including the Civil War, the Spanish-American war, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the first Gulf War. The fact that someone in authority has decided that we can no longer afford the luxury of this handful of men outside the front lines speaks volumes about how stressed our fighting forces truly are.

Dozens of military installations across the nation have turned to civilian security officers in recent years, and the Navy is leaving that option open for the academy. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point brought on a private security firm in 2004. Maybe we have gone too far with the concept of outsourcing pieces of our military. There are at least 20,000 civilian contract personnel providing combat support services in Iraq that used to be the job of uniformed personnel. United Air Lines recently emerged from bankruptcy after three years. Maybe the way to keep them in the black is to give them a contract for close air support in Iraq.

I don't know about you, but I would a lot rather see a squared away Marine at the gate of our Naval Academy then I would a civilian rent-a-cop.

Marine Guard

traffic cop

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