The readiness crisis facing all the services has generated a host of solutions: more spare parts, more training, more technology, more pay, more money . We may be missing the forest for the trees, however, by ignoring far more serious problems—a lack of real leadership and a pervasive unwillingness to engage in debate about how U.S. military power is to be used.
On 29 September 1998, the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee there were serious problems with readiness. Congress was shocked! The previous February, these same four-star flag and general officers — the heads of all the services of the U.S. armed services and their 1.4 million men and women — informed Congress that there were no readiness problems. To paraphrase their words, U.S. military forces were as capable as those that fought and won Desert Storm against Iraq in 1991. 1
What happened to the U.S. military in these few months? Was it defeated in battle, struck by a plague, or hit by a natural disaster? Or is there a hard truth that declining readiness has been a problem for some time and continues to get worse? Even harder to swallow is the reason behind declining readiness — despite our spending seven times more than any potential opponent. 2 It is based on intangibles that many Americans are uncomfortable dealing with — e.g., outdated leadership styles, training, education, and a lack of unit cohesion.
Oddly enough, the current information revolution has exposed the truth. If, during the last few months, the Chiefs of Staff and their aides hustled to find a few culprits behind the "leaks" to the press or to congressional leaders regarding declining readiness, they are going to be disappointed. There are just too many of them to punish. Thousands of middle- and junior-grade officers, NCOs, and troops from all the services have used the new electronic infiltration tool called e-mail, and exposed the denials of declining readiness by senior military leaders. These e-mail infiltrators bombarded not only their superiors (who did not appear to listen), but also their elected officials who, after initially ignoring their pleas, finally had to do something to reply to the flood. The foundation of this readiness tragedy is that it did not occur as a result of defeat on the battlefield — but rather because of the culture embedded in the military. 3
During the hearings held by the Senate Armed Services Committee, several reasons for declining readiness were highlighted: lack of spare parts; lack of training time; old equipment wearing out and becoming harder to maintain; high operating tempos that stress out service members and their families; and a pay gap between civilian and military job earnings. Each of these problems reflected a lack of money. Nothing was said about leadership as the cause of declining readiness. 4