Saving the Military

Bill Neinast

Starting down a steep hill is the time to step on the brakes.  The Department of Defense is at the lip of one of those hills.  There are brakes to allow a smooth descent if there is only the will to apply them.

Some effects of the Defense descent are already appearing.  The deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman to the Persian Gulf was cancelled.  That halves the country’s military presence in that important and volatile part of the Middle East from two carrier groups to one.

As dark as that picture may be, the darkest night can be breached with the flip of a light switch.  Now is the time to look for a switch.

One area of concern is a looming reduction in personnel.  That could be the switch or impetus for some long needed reforms or realignments.

Personnel costs are among the smaller parts of the defense budget.  Most of the dollars go for planes, ships, tanks, and the maintenance of that hardware and the large installations to house them.

Although personnel costs are not major players among defense dollars, the personnel front might be the place to start operating with a smaller budget.

Usually, personnel reductions start with eliminating large blocks or units from the rolls.  Only identified positions or units are dropped from the rolls.  Those elements can be reconstituted if there is a serious military emergency.

A better solution might be to implement the consolidation anticipated with the creation of the Department of Defense.  Theoretically, the National Security Act of 1947 was to reform the military establishment under a single authority.  The only real effect, however, was to impose one more layer of bureaucracy.

Consider, for example, legal services for the military.  There are seven legal offices in the Pentagon.  Each of the three services has a three star Judge Advocate General with a large stable of military and civilian lawyers plus a general counsel with a substantial office.  These six offices are topped off with the office of the General Counsel of the Department of Defense.

To a certain extent, the seven offices are considering the same types of legal issues.  Those functions could be performed more efficiently by consolidating all of them under a Judge Advocate General of the armed forces.  Have all the military lawyers in a new colored uniform and have the JAG provide all legal services for the Chiefs of Staff, Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force and the Secretary of Defense.

Such a consolidation could establish a precedent for real reorganization.  The same duplication of services is found in all the combat service branches.  Why is there a need for three or more Surgeon Generals, Adjutant Generals, Chiefs of Engineers, etc.?  Put them all in “purple” uniforms and have them report to only one headquarters of their specialty in the Pentagon.

A move in this direction may already be under way.  Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC), one of the major military medical facilities, no longer exists.  It is now the San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC) at Fort Sam Houston and is the training hospital or facility for all American military medical personnel.

The personnel at SAMMC still wear Army, Air Force, or Navy uniforms. Does the color of the uniform matter when a bullet wound is being treated?

There is also consolidation of management and maintenance operations in cities or areas where posts, facilities, or operations of two or more military forces are located.

So here’s the perspective.

The consolidations and elimination of duplicitous services or operations mentioned here could absorb some pending cuts in the defense budget.  Those savings, however, can go only so far.

What would happen, though, if that consolidation began to metastasize like cancer cells?  What if there were only a Defense Force of the United States with all the personnel wearing one uniform style?

Not only would the one force concept eliminate a number of high cost general officer slots with their wedges of support personnel, it could result in substantial procurement savings. 

For example, after the retirement of some hard headed old timers, competition for aircraft configurations to meet the proclivities of three different services could disappear.  There might be acceptance of one fighter or fighter/bomber type that could operate off both land and carriers.

Converting to one defense force might be a cost saving maneuver that would still keep the country safe.  If it did not work, a reversal of course is always possible.

Let’s try it.


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