Friday, Oct 31, 2014
Columns

Myers: The cost of the all volunteer military


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When it comes to fighting wars and winning battles, there is no comparison between our military and any other throughout history.

The volunteer force was started in 1973. As a result, most men and women in the United States — essentially everyone younger than 60 — never had to worry about being drafted.

This past Memorial Day weekend caused me to think about the subject because several of the TV stations aired movies about the military with the majority concerning combat. Some of these covered the difficulties that veterans faced when they returned home following extended periods of time gone.

“Twelve O’clock High,” starring Gregory Peck, depicted a commanding officer of a bomber group flying daylight missions over Europe where casualties were high. Stress, morale, and leadership all were shown along with their effects. It has become a classic in depicting these aspects. “Pride of the Marines” starring John Garfield is the true story of a Marine private who was a machine gunner on Guadalcanal and was awarded a Navy Cross for killing hundreds of Japanese while holding a defensive line in the jungle, but he was blinded in the action. His difficult adjustment was covered in detail. “The Best Years of Our Lives” covers three men who returned home together. One lost both hands and the other two had difficulties trying to fit back in to their community. This film also has become a classic and features many of the contemporary stars of the day.

These films were released in the ‘40s and ‘50s, when a huge percentage of our people had served in the military or, on the home front, had persevered through rationing and shortages of creature comforts such as new cars, homes, sugar, coffee and many other everyday items. In addition, nearly every family had at least one member in the military. In other words, they could relate.

For years afterward, a huge percentage of Congress was comprised of veterans. It is only in the recent past that a small percentage of Congress has served in the military. I suspect many members have absolutely no understanding of what it is like to serve.

Now that I have set the table, let me explain what I think the cost of the all-volunteer military is. Less that one half of one percent of our population is in the military. These are the people who are at the gates protecting us. These are the people who go where and when they are told. They miss holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and all types of other significant events. Yet they serve. Their families also serve by being supportive and taking up the slack when a spouse or other member is gone.

The huge number of World War II vets have been dying off at a rate closely followed by Korean War and Vietnam War vets. That means there are less and less citizens who understand what service is really like. Trying to explain what it is like to go for months without a shower, picking leeches off each other, being dead tired but still going on, bandaging wounded buddies, and making casualty calls to the families of wounded or dead. Trying to explain the close relationships that develop during service — especially in combat — can be very difficult. These relationships last a lifetime. I suspect many in police forces and fire departments also develop such relationships — especially if they were in life-threatening situations.

When those in power fail to understand this, do not understand that training is key to effectiveness and only look at the dollars spent, we are in trouble. This is costly and dangerous. Many personnel are killed during training.

I recall in 1964 when the 2nd Marine Division conducted an amphibious landing in Spain and it was estimated that 33 Marines would die in accidents. Unfortunately, that figure was correct. An amphibious landing is dangerous, but it must be practiced. As more and more of our citizens have no friends or relatives in the military, they can become less interested in how the military is used or why it spends so much time training. When that is coupled with the political leadership not understanding, the cost becomes astronomical in morale, readiness and effectiveness.

Time spent in the military can be a giant step in developing leadership skills. The opportunity to improve educationally is fantastic. Meeting people from other parts of the United States and seeing different aspects of this great country are difficult to match in any other career. All of that is offered to anyone willing to make the effort. Those things are relatively unknown to anyone who does not fully appreciate what the military is all about.

Donald Myers is a retired Marine Colonel and regular contributor to Hernando Today. He can be reached at dmyersusmc@tampabay.rr.com.

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