Congress and force structure realignment

A few Senators from both parties went over the top last week in slamming the President and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld over the conduct of the war in Iraq. But Congressional critics are becoming desperate about another military issue as well, one much closer to home. The Secretary of Defense is attempting to end an unworkable Cold War relic: the inefficient structure of Reserve Component units, which pump money into constituencies all over America. Sen. Dick Durbin may have notoriously compared our Soldiers at Gitmo to Nazis, but only a few days later he lavished praise in support of our troops — when it came to a matter of federal dollars financially benefiting his home state .

Under Rumsfeld's leadership, the latest Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) has finally taken steps to redress the archaic reserve—active imbalance, a force structure that was established to fight a communist bloc enemy that no longer exists.  A 30 year arrangement that is ill—suited to meet the needs of the Global War on Terror is about to come to an end.

Any closure or realignment of bases is always a painful process, and for good reason.  Employment at large military bases has literally built the middle class in some towns and cities, or has shielded these communities from the effects of tough economic times.  However, from the SecDef's point of view, the key closures and realignments that will most benefit our ability to fight an extended War on Terror involve not so much closing and realigning the large bases and posts, as restructuring our Reserve Components, and closing Reserve Centers and National Guard Armories that contribute little, if anything to the war effort.  The small but numerous facilities soak up a lot of manpower and money, with little visibility on the national radar, but lots of impact at home. This is, and will continue to be, the real fight between Rummy and the politicians of both parties. We're talking about money in the hands of voters.

When the BRAC list was released, a detailed breakout of 'Closure and Realignment Impacts by State' was also published.  It shows that small Army Reserve Centers will be closed, saving over 3,100 military and civilian full—time technician spaces.  Most importantly, the list reveals that a significant portion of the reserve force structure is based on scattered, small detachments designed to minimize training and mobilization capabilities, while maximizing the opportunity for these units to contribute federal monies to districts all over the landscape, represented by many, many legislators in Congress.

On paper, these detachments could theoretically be evaluated as 'combat ready,' since, when mobilized, they would form a section of a larger unit in a building block approach.  But in some cases, it takes a significant number of these small detachments to form one functioning parent unit. Assembling a tightly integrated larger unit from such atomistic parts works better on paper than in practice. Subtract the number of Soldiers unable to meet military deployment standards, and it's easy to see why the Reserve leadership is concerned about a broken force two years after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The State Impact list only tells part of the story.  The Army leadership is also initiating consolidation efforts for the National Guard by closing down 211 National Guard armories, in addition to closing 176 Army Reserve Centers .  The remaining Reserve Centers and armories will be combined to form 125 multi—component Armed Forces Reserve Centers.  Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the Army National Guard Bureau, acknowledged the deficiencies in the current system, particularly with problems in recruiting and manning:

'We hope it will affect recruitment and retention in a positive way,' Blum said. 'By divesting ourselves of some of the more remote facilities and moving to areas with better demographics, it should allow for positive change.'

In other words, if these small detachments were branches of a large private business, they would have been judged as unproductive and been closed down years ago.

If there was any doubt that political cronyism and local economics are a large part of this problem, look no further than retired General Wesley Clark's comments on the BRAC's plan to solve the active—reserve force structure imbalance.  Gen. Clark opined that closing these small Reserve Centers and National Guard armories 'shatters an important connection between the military and civilians.'  And what exactly is this connection?  In a rare example of candor, Clark provided the answer when he said, 'the plan to pull U.S. forces back home from abroad and centralize bases takes jobs away from smaller towns.'

It is clear the real troop strength issue for both Democrat and Republican Congressional critics of the SecDef has been less about troop strength deployed overseas, but troop strength at home, in order to reap the benefits of the public treasury.  Rumsfeld's problem is just the opposite.  Our offensive strategy demands deployable troop strength, trained and ready to fight extended campaigns overseas. Restructuring is necessary to solve the problem. The BRAC realignment of the Reserve component will actually increase our deployable strength to satisfy this critical warfighting requirement.

In September, the Commission must forward the closure and realignment recommendations to the President, who must accept or reject the list in its entirety.  The Congress then has 45 days to reject the list before it becomes binding.  The lobbying by affected communities is already underway and naturally focuses on large active duty bases and posts.  However, the real battles will be over fixing a terribly flawed Reserve Component organization and our need to field combat ready forces around the world for long—term operations.

This Fall we will see if Congress and the state governors will place our national security as the number one priority, or if collectivist economics and federally funded jobs will trump our ability to field a top—notch fighting force.  Unfortunately, the recent hate—filled rants by people like Dick Durbin and Chuck Hagel do not inspire confidence that America's vital interests will prevail.

Douglas Hanson is our national security correspondent.

A few Senators from both parties went over the top last week in slamming the President and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld over the conduct of the war in Iraq. But Congressional critics are becoming desperate about another military issue as well, one much closer to home. The Secretary of Defense is attempting to end an unworkable Cold War relic: the inefficient structure of Reserve Component units, which pump money into constituencies all over America. Sen. Dick Durbin may have notoriously compared our Soldiers at Gitmo to Nazis, but only a few days later he lavished praise in support of our troops — when it came to a matter of federal dollars financially benefiting his home state .

Under Rumsfeld's leadership, the latest Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) has finally taken steps to redress the archaic reserve—active imbalance, a force structure that was established to fight a communist bloc enemy that no longer exists.  A 30 year arrangement that is ill—suited to meet the needs of the Global War on Terror is about to come to an end.

Any closure or realignment of bases is always a painful process, and for good reason.  Employment at large military bases has literally built the middle class in some towns and cities, or has shielded these communities from the effects of tough economic times.  However, from the SecDef's point of view, the key closures and realignments that will most benefit our ability to fight an extended War on Terror involve not so much closing and realigning the large bases and posts, as restructuring our Reserve Components, and closing Reserve Centers and National Guard Armories that contribute little, if anything to the war effort.  The small but numerous facilities soak up a lot of manpower and money, with little visibility on the national radar, but lots of impact at home. This is, and will continue to be, the real fight between Rummy and the politicians of both parties. We're talking about money in the hands of voters.

When the BRAC list was released, a detailed breakout of 'Closure and Realignment Impacts by State' was also published.  It shows that small Army Reserve Centers will be closed, saving over 3,100 military and civilian full—time technician spaces.  Most importantly, the list reveals that a significant portion of the reserve force structure is based on scattered, small detachments designed to minimize training and mobilization capabilities, while maximizing the opportunity for these units to contribute federal monies to districts all over the landscape, represented by many, many legislators in Congress.

On paper, these detachments could theoretically be evaluated as 'combat ready,' since, when mobilized, they would form a section of a larger unit in a building block approach.  But in some cases, it takes a significant number of these small detachments to form one functioning parent unit. Assembling a tightly integrated larger unit from such atomistic parts works better on paper than in practice. Subtract the number of Soldiers unable to meet military deployment standards, and it's easy to see why the Reserve leadership is concerned about a broken force two years after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The State Impact list only tells part of the story.  The Army leadership is also initiating consolidation efforts for the National Guard by closing down 211 National Guard armories, in addition to closing 176 Army Reserve Centers .  The remaining Reserve Centers and armories will be combined to form 125 multi—component Armed Forces Reserve Centers.  Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the Army National Guard Bureau, acknowledged the deficiencies in the current system, particularly with problems in recruiting and manning:

'We hope it will affect recruitment and retention in a positive way,' Blum said. 'By divesting ourselves of some of the more remote facilities and moving to areas with better demographics, it should allow for positive change.'

In other words, if these small detachments were branches of a large private business, they would have been judged as unproductive and been closed down years ago.

If there was any doubt that political cronyism and local economics are a large part of this problem, look no further than retired General Wesley Clark's comments on the BRAC's plan to solve the active—reserve force structure imbalance.  Gen. Clark opined that closing these small Reserve Centers and National Guard armories 'shatters an important connection between the military and civilians.'  And what exactly is this connection?  In a rare example of candor, Clark provided the answer when he said, 'the plan to pull U.S. forces back home from abroad and centralize bases takes jobs away from smaller towns.'

It is clear the real troop strength issue for both Democrat and Republican Congressional critics of the SecDef has been less about troop strength deployed overseas, but troop strength at home, in order to reap the benefits of the public treasury.  Rumsfeld's problem is just the opposite.  Our offensive strategy demands deployable troop strength, trained and ready to fight extended campaigns overseas. Restructuring is necessary to solve the problem. The BRAC realignment of the Reserve component will actually increase our deployable strength to satisfy this critical warfighting requirement.

In September, the Commission must forward the closure and realignment recommendations to the President, who must accept or reject the list in its entirety.  The Congress then has 45 days to reject the list before it becomes binding.  The lobbying by affected communities is already underway and naturally focuses on large active duty bases and posts.  However, the real battles will be over fixing a terribly flawed Reserve Component organization and our need to field combat ready forces around the world for long—term operations.

This Fall we will see if Congress and the state governors will place our national security as the number one priority, or if collectivist economics and federally funded jobs will trump our ability to field a top—notch fighting force.  Unfortunately, the recent hate—filled rants by people like Dick Durbin and Chuck Hagel do not inspire confidence that America's vital interests will prevail.

Douglas Hanson is our national security correspondent.