Large Unprofessional Military a Bloody Mess: Congressional Report
-Patrick S Lasswell
According to a recent paper by the Congressional Research Service, the US military lost more troops each year through accidents in the early 1980s than were lost each year in Operation Iraq Freedom, indicating that underpaid and under qualified troops are a greater menace to themselves than terrorist action. The drop in fatal accidents is most notable after the Reagan era budget increases and the attendant increase in professionalism.
Increasing accuracy in the military anti-drug initiatives were not specifically cited, but have to be considered as part of making military service safer. As recently as the 1990 I knew people who claimed to be able to beat the drug test, and people are still getting caught getting stupid, but attitudes toward drug use in the service are much less tolerant than when I went to boot camp in 1984. Along with an increase in pay and recruiting bonuses for quality recruits, the improvement of professionalism since the hollow force years of the 1970s shows gains where it matters most, keeping the troops alive.
Long service sailor doing his job safely on the range. Clearing casings after firing the Mk.19 Grenade Launcher, this sailor and his assistant gunner fired faster and more accurately because they were professionals.
Less cheering is the persistent number of suicides in the service. Military service in the US is not easy and it is not fair; the drop in accidents is not reflected by similar drops in self-inflicted deaths. During a recent training period on my reserve base, I talked with Marines who were arranging services for a Marine who had taken his own life. In the end, it was decided to provide full honors for the fallen comrade because they took responsibility for not seeing the signs. If anything decent can be taken away from this tragedy, the integrity of the US Marine Corps in this matter shows profound commitment to stopping this kind of senseless loss. As somebody who has served with a number of people who attempted suicide, I genuinely appreciate that commitment to decency.
Another column in the report worth noting is the deaths by terrorist attack. Since 2001 when 55 fell at the Pentagon attack, we have not lost troops at home or away from combat areas due to terrorist action. There are any number of ways this can be spun, but the enemy has not mustered the strength to effectively attack the US since the start of open conflict in 2001. Waiting to be attacked does not appear to be as effective a survival measure.
In the end, the hand wringing of the anti-war movement about the wasting of lives appears all the more fraudulent in light of these numbers. There were not protest rallies in 1980 pleading to bring home the troops from the quagmire of Fort Dix, when truck rollovers and out of control partying were taking more soldiers lives than are being lost in Anbar province today. If the protesters really supported the troops, they'd be calling for a pay raise and improved medical benefits, not retreat.
These sailors got the support they needed last year when the unit got enough ammunition to fire more than for minimal qualifications. The pile of brass resulted from the service member finally getting the opportunity to figure out the exact qualities of the M2HB Heavy Machine Gun. Fired on a safe range, these rounds will do a lot to help keep the troops alive in unsafe places.
This report also shows the consummate idiocy of calls for conscription. The number of accident deaths of a massive unprofessional military will be tremendous, as the report shows. In 1980 we were recruiting marginal troops, but at least they were all volunteers. The bloody mischief unwilling slackers can get themselves into is appalling. The quality of life impact of a horde of strangers descending on our military bases would be immense, as well.
We have a working military that is in most respects getting consistently better. The numbers show that decent pay, benefits, and commitment to professionalism saves lives. The best way to support the troops is to support the troops.