Now that these conflicts are winding down and the loans that financed them are coming due, this favorable attitude will decline and ultimately reverse. Symptomatic are the assertions that medical costs are excessive, statements that ignore both the enlargement of forces that was needed and the casualties that were suffered. As the armed forces migrate from being the “thin red line of heroes” to “the spoiled and pampered pets of Uncle Sam,” career opportunity and personal advancement will appear to diminish, while frustrations grow about lack of repair parts, smaller crews, and slower promotions.
However, past declines of fortune have also been periods of significant innovation as well as personal and tactical progress. Similar difficulties generated the familiar expression “We are out of money, we’ll now have to think.” Out of that mindset came the canted deck and mirror landing system.
As we enter this phase, today’s officers have vastly more fortunate circumstances than did then–Lieutenant Commander Zumwalt. Two new aircraft carriers, the Virginia -class submarines, and a capable and tested surface warship on the ways; well-trained, dedicated, and motivated crews, all this promises the ability to adjust to a decline in resources and an opportunity for intelligent exploitation of new technologies and international situations.
As in the past, many professionals will prosper in the country’s service, and new ones will join undaunted by the difficulties. There will be as many opportunities as ever to think and innovate, maybe even more because of the challenges for which easy money will not be forthcoming. In these circumstances, the motivations and rewards that bring us to serve in the first place—honor, responsibility, companionship, and a higher cause—will provide both personal satisfaction and advancement in the service of the country.