Unarmed American troops: another view

Newsmachete’s blog about the DoD regulation restricting the carrying of firearms while not on the front lines correctly points out the absurdity of the anti-gun culture of the Pentagon.  As the author mentions, the key element is trust between the soldier and the military and civilian leadership.  In reality, this trust has been on the glide slope down for decades, even impacting on operational readiness.  A trip down memory lane, courtesy of the experiences of the professionals I served with and my own observations, illustrates this decline.

The initial stage of the Korean War was an abject lesson in not being ready for fighting either in operational capability or soldier training.  Consequently, in the 1950s and ’60s, units in Europe were locked and cocked.  Tanks were uploaded with ammo, crew served, and individual weapons were already on board.  The only items to be checked out of the arms room were the “sensitive items” of binoculars and head space and timing gauges for the .50 caliber machine guns.  Except under strictly authorized circumstances, such a readiness posture today would be impossible.

The situation in Vietnam during the ’60s was similar.  On base camps, soldiers had their weapons and ammo under their cots in the hooch.  At night they were ready to roll out and defend the base if it got hit.  One seasoned veteran related to me that his second tour in 1971 was completely different from his first tour in the ’60s.  He returned to the exact same unit only to find out that his weapon had to be – you guessed it – stored in an arms room on the camp.  No doubt this was part of the restrictive rules of engagement, which were later adopted in the extreme by the commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the ’70s, the Army in Germany began to download ammo into centralized storage areas and placed weapons into the arms room.  A few units that had missions along the border at least had ammo storage areas in their motor pool.  These restrictions may have been the result of host nation concerns, but regardless, a U.S. commander had to sign off on these policies.  Also, some posts in the U.S. had ranges open after duty hours with firearms available so soldiers could practice their marksmanship before going to their quarters.  These eventually were closed, indicating a further erosion of trust and a risk-averse leadership.

So, to sum up: we were more ready in the ’50s than the ’60s, more ready in the ’60s than the ’70s, and so on.  The leadership has not only become a low-no-risk profession, but appears to reflect the anti-gun culture of its Beltway political sponsors.  To their credit, they at least have allowed all service members and some government civilians to be armed at base camps in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But this brings up an important point.  If the powers that be balk at arming at least a few soldiers on stateside posts because of fears of soldier gunfights, they can look to the huge numbers of armed troops at base camps in Iraq, where, as far as I know, no shootings took place.  I like to think the words of Robert Heinlein apply in this case: “An armed society is a polite society.”

John Smith is the pen name of a retired career military officer, currently working overseas.