Combat Support

While my family gathered for our reunion (it’s very rare that my brothers and I are all under one roof, given our busy lives), my brother, my cousin and I argued about whom we were voting for. My brother, a stalwart conservative, said he was supporting Bush, because he supports the troops.

Not wanting to mar an otherwise happy occasion, I didn’t have the heart to go toe-to-toe with him. I merely sighed, pointed out that the Department of Labor had chosen to prohibit veterans from receiving overtime, and changed the subject.

But it’s true. Many people, especially in the military, vote Republican because they believe the GOP supports the troops. And, in a sense, they’re right. The GOP does support the troops; the only thing is, that support is more vocal than actual. And never has it been more obvious than this past year.

Leaving aside the question of whether we should have gone to war with Iraq to begin with, I think that if you’re going to go to war, the least you can do is properly support the troops and their families with the training, materials, and money they need to successfully wage and endure war. And, especially after the occupation, the Bush Administration did neither.

Many units deployed without the necessary body armor for their troops. For example, I didn’t receive my IBAS (Interceptor Body Armor System) until September 2003–five months after crossing the border. Prior to that, I was equipped with the same kind of flak jacket that John Kerry wore in Vietnam.

The infantry battalion that I was attached to lacked a sufficient supply of M4 carbines–a shorter version of the venerable M16 rifle. This matters, because the smaller a target you present to your enemy, the less chance you have of getting wounded. The M4 makes that task easier. While rear-echelon troops had M4s, our battalion made do with with a combination of M16s and M4s.

In addition, we had to jerry-rig our soft-skinned Humvees with steel and iron plates, in order to protect against IEDs and roadside ambushes. With the exception of our scout platoon, our Humvees were never fully armored, and so were vulnerable to ambush by IED. Thankfully, we never lost anyone to such an ambush; but how much better would it have been to not have suffered that worry to begin with?

And the situation, if anything, has gotten worse. For example, the 1st Cavalry Division (a fully armored tank division) left five of every six tanks at home, and five of every 6 Bradley armored personnel carriers (APCs), instead deploying with mostly soft-skinned vehicles, in the expectation that lighter is better, and that the insurgency would have petered out by this time.

On the homefront, the families of soldiers deployed to Iraq had to contend with blow after blow. School districts with kids from military families had their supplemental funding cut–funding they receive because military families have a way of moving at the behest of Uncle Sam, and so they can’t count on educating the same number of children every year. This allows those districts to keep up with richer school districts, whose numbers are more stable. And if you think that’s chump change, well, families living overseas in places like Germany and Korea would disagree; their schools closed a week early, due to lack of money.

Meanwhile, there was a push to reduce the level of hazardous-duty pay for troops (from $225/month to $100/month); cuts in the funding for Veterans Affairs’ clinics and hospitals; and last, but not least, the decision by the Labor Department to reclassify veterans as members of a “learned profession”, like lawyers and doctors, and thus render veterans ineligible for overtime. Then there’s the fact that the last round of tax cuts failed to include a child tax credit for nearly 200,000 members of the armed forces. And let’s not even mention members of the Guard & Reserve, who face staggering family debt levels, businesses sliding into bankruptcy, and a marked loss of income in most cases, when they get activated and deployed.

But to people like my brother, none of that matters. They’ve been seduced by the waving flags and the cloying music. And I’m sad for him, because he’s one of those guys who’s getting squeezed, who could really use the support that is being denied to him by the President he so enthusiastically supports.

That’s one of the biggest reasons why I can’t support the President. It’s not enough to wave the flag, and say that we’re America’s heroes, and cue up the marching bands and cheering crowds.

After all the tickertape’s been swept up, and the bands have played on, the flags furled, and the words forgotten, who shall care for those noble few who have borne the battle? Who shall care for the battle’s tragic widow, and the orphan children? Who shall remember that while some have given up their lives, others have given up their life’s work? And all of this in service not to a party or an idea, but in service to a nation.

Too many times, we’ve forgotten. If only for my brother’s sake, I will not, nor let others forget, our service, and that of others. We can do better–we must do better by those who freely choose to put their lives in defense of all that we hold dear.

UPDATE: Some of you have asked for a link to a news story discussing the vet overtime exemption–here it is. The President has also discussed making VA Home Loan eligibility a one-time thing, which hurts the Home Loan fund, since it’s the second- and third-time users of the loan that end up bailing out those who default on the loan.

Finally, here’s an excerpt discussing exactly what it is that the Bush Administration has chosen not to fund in Iraq and Afghanistan during FY 2005–set to begin this October:

The Army has publicly identified nearly $6 billion in funding requests that did not make Bush’s $402 billion defense budget for 2005, including $132 million for bolt-on vehicle armor; $879 million for combat helmets, silk-weight underwear, boots and other clothing; $21.5 million for M249 squad automatic weapons; and $27 million for ammunition magazines, night sights and ammo packs. Also unfunded: $956 million for repairing desert-damaged equipment and $102 million to replace equipment lost in combat.

The Marine Corps’ unfunded budget requests include $40 million for body armor, lightweight helmets and other equipment for “Marines engaged in the global war on terrorism,” Marine Corps documents state. The Marines are also seeking 1,800 squad automatic weapons and 5,400 M4 carbine rifles.

The rest of the article is here.

Hat tip: Pandagon


5 responses to “Combat Support

  1. Rich Puchalsky

    I’d heard of most of these instances of non-support of the troops, but not the overtime one, and a brief Google didn’t turn it up. Do you have a link handy? I’d like to find out more about it.

    I’m guessing that the decision was about soldiers, not veterans, because being a veteran isn’t a type of job. Is that right?

  2. Rich Puchalsky

    Thanks, sheerahkhan. I didn’t actually find your link, but it was close enough to the one below so that I think that’s it:

    (I’ve broken the link into two pieces because long links seems to wrap badly in comments.)

    As for as I can tell, this would strip overtime protections from veterans who

    1) work in a professional field
    2) have specialized training in that field that they received in the military.

    This proposed rule would seem to apply to cases where people learn how to fix jet engines, as an example, in the military and then get a private sector job as a veteran fixing jet engines for Boeing. Boeing would be able to claim that they have received specialized training in the military and that their job is now classified as professional. Is that right? I wonder whether someone who knows what they’re doing around U.S. employment law has blogged this for us.

    Looks like a classic case of the Bush administration answering to its only really important constituency.

  3. I this is a good question to pose to Phil Carter at inteldump, though I think he’s currently in the middle of exams.

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