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Monday, Sep 22, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Don’t make men and women of the military victims of the red pen

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It’s a tough call. It’s always a tough call when the budgeteers put their red pencils to the military.

And it should be. When you’re being asked to justify a budget approaching $500 billion, an amount that is taking a tremendous toll on American resources, you’d be irresponsible not to go over every line.

You want to root out the $30 paper clips and the waste. I’m pretty sure there are more than a few dozen generals we could send home from the Pentagon.

I like to tell the story of being asked to go pick up some evidence identification tags for our police headquarters at a small base in Germany. We used about 20 tags a week. After a day spent filling out forms and driving from one office to another, my German partner and I made it to the base warehouse, where it seemed you could only get those things in barrels of 50,000. The base has been closed for years, but I’ll bet those tags are still hidden in some closet waiting for us to come back.

At the same time, you want to hope those same committees and deep-cutters look beyond the technology and the logistics of the military and give a close look at the men and women and their dependents who make up the real military establishment.

You want these budgeteers to step back and consider the expectations and demands we are putting on them.

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If you live in Hillsborough County, there’s a pretty good chance you know someone connected to the military, whether it’s a kid in school who has a parent at MacDill or maybe even your neighbor. If you do, you are also probably familiar with the almost endless number of deployments they have been assigned to complete in recent years.

You might even have a sense of the psychological, not to mention financial, strain this puts on families.

I grew up in a military family during the Cold War, and every few years we would pack up and go to some housing area in Japan or maybe a duplex on a mountain overlooking Rapid City. We were the lucky ones because we were still a family unit usually in the same place.

Today’s military — stretched thin and exhausted from more than a dozen years at war, with families left behind while mothers and fathers travel repeatedly to the ends of the Earth — has had to deal with a whole new set of issues.

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The secretary of defense has proposed to reduce the size of the active-duty Army from roughly 520,000 soldiers to about 440,000. That’s a big number. The wonks don’t measure it that way. They say it would allow the United States to fight one major conflict and hold the lines in any other smaller wars around the globe.

I’m not sure they’ve read the new directives that we now police the world, and that on a planet where there are revolutions and disasters looming in countries many of us have never heard of, that’s a little disturbing.

I assume they’ve read the papers and are aware there are crazies running countries with nuclear weapons and revolutions lining up to be noticed.

Nobody wants the Army to become a garrison military, with thousands of troops schlepping away in posts and bases that are only open because of political deals.

But if we are going to continue in our role as the defenders of the Pax Americana around the world, the bad news is we’re going to have to cough up not only the money, but the human numbers of our finest young men and women for the foreseeable future.

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