No More Walter Reeds
(See N. Koch, pp. 46–52, September 2010 Proceedings)
Commander Peter Gregory, U.S. Navy (Retired)—It is not that the global war on terrorism exposed the all-volunteer force (AVF) or the Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) at Walter Reed, but rather that the AVF exposed the policy and execution of the war and by extension the WTUs.
As a policy direction post-Vietnam, the AVF was devised to more or less correct the imbalances of the last war: the abuse or misuse of the deferment system (the “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight” narrative), and the role (or lack thereof) of the Reserve/National Guard establishment in the conflict. The AVF did two rather explicit things: It placed most of the logistics or the ability to fight any future wars squarely in the National Guard and Reserve system, and it made military service an option, not a requirement, for civic responsibility, citizenship, or national identity. The aim was not so much to enable the nation to fight a war, as to enable political and public debate to occur before war could happen. All was fine in the short wars of choice (Panama, Grenada, the first Gulf War, Bosnia).
Post-9/11 and the ramp-up to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the best military planners at the time more or less expected a war that followed the Powell Doctrine—short, intense, overwhelming power, no nation-building, an exit strategy, declare victory, and go home. Well, stuff happened. And the result has been ill-prepared, ill-trained middle-aged people, or young people with chronic behavioral or life issues not suitable for sustained combat, doing sustained combat, multiple tours, and undergoing recruiting pressures—all a rather toxic brew with expected consequences.
The AVF has been a success story in the context of what it was expected to do in 1974—no more Vietnams. But make it do missions or implement national policy it was never designed for or resourced to do from either a personnel or materiel perspective, and bad things will happen.
If we are now in a sustained period of conflict with no end, or extended high-demand/low-density missions, then the draft-vs.-AVF debate is a discussion worth having.
Eric Soskin—Noel Koch smartly weaves together a number of threads in his indictment of the responses by both military and political leadership to the threat posed by ongoing counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and other continuous-tempo operations to the health of the all-volunteer military. The author is to be commended for tying together the high-profile challenges in the care of wounded warriors with the less-visible challenges in continuing to recruit and maintain the all-volunteer force.
Yet his ultimate conclusion that civilian leaders need to “invite a political consensus” in favor of “selective” conscription is based on a false premise: that our experience since September 2001 demonstrates that an all-volunteer force cannot “provide adequate manpower to confront the current demands.”
In truth, the civilian leadership has never made a sufficiently broad effort to encourage a greater number of Americans to sacrifice their civilian freedoms for the duties of uniformed service. When, after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, throngs of volunteers turned up at recruiting stations, no action was taken to increase the number of recruits. Instead, our citizens were called on to “strike back” at the terrorists who murdered thousands of Americans by “returning to normal,” going about their lives, and ensuring that the peacetime U.S. economy was not disrupted.
This response continued even though operational tempos increased immediately, with new security requirements in the United States, and within weeks, with the launch of operations in Afghanistan. The author himself even highlights this flaw, noting the widespread recognition that “civilian leadership has asked nothing of the American people . . . or expected Americans to go to the recruiting station.”
Answering the question of why this “ask” has been bypassed would be a profitable task. It seems likely that a variety of political factors have been in play—and that those responsible include military as well as civilian leaders. Implicit in this article is the suggestion that military leaders may fear that showing any weakness in recruiting could be a gateway to a renewed draft. For their part, civilian leaders in both the prior and current administrations undoubtedly worry that manpower issues or a call to duty will be used as a club by political opponents. Yet before we turn to requiring that the unwilling be forced into uniform, isn’t it time to see how great the numbers are of those willing to sacrifice for the greater good—if only they were asked. As a bonus, such an investment of political capital and moral suasion would likely help our civilian agencies with their difficulties staffing the numerous civilian capabilities that are critical to counterinsurgency campaigns.
To be sure, hundreds of thousands of Americans have heeded the call to arms in the last nine years. And in times of unusual economic challenge—and amid much discussion of a “higher-education bubble” and the inadequacies of classroom education in preparing the 21st-century workforce—more will follow. But what would be the effect on the quality of our all-volunteer force of a clearer proclamation to all those on the sidelines that “America needs you”? Before we pursue the author’s solution—selective service—we owe it to ourselves to find out.
We Need More Tooth, Less Tail
(See C. B. Forkner, p. 10, September 2010 Proceedings)
Lieutenant Colonel Brian Hanley, U.S. Air Force (Retired)—Commander Forkner rightly observes that we need to cut administrative layers in order to strengthen our combat power, but he falls wide of the mark when he claims that subsuming the U.S. Air Force under the Secretary of the Army advances what is a compelling point of view. For starters, the Army and the Air Force bring complementary but discrete types of force to the fight, and draw on separate doctrines in order to fight efficiently—a fact that will only grow in prominence as technology advances. The two services work in different battlespaces, so the train/man/equip missions should also remain distinct.
The historical argument—that the Air Force sprang from the Army and so there would be little lost by restoring what once worked effectively enough—is terribly flawed. For starters, the argument ignores the justification for splitting the Air Force into a separate force in the first place. Space won’t allow for a recap of that argument, but it needs to be addressed if one hopes to claim that we would be better off by returning to 1946. Would the Secretary of the Army be in the best position to assess the roles and missions of Air Force ISR aircraft such as the E-3 AWACS, for example? Forkner cites the Marine Corps/Navy secretariat to bolster the argument, but the analogy is inapt. The Secretary of the Navy was assigned administrative responsibility for the Marine Corps in 1834—for reasons that remain nearly as valid today as they were then. The arrangement works well, just as the Air Force as a separate military department works well. Leave them alone.
The worthy end Commander Forkner seeks might be more effectively achieved by eliminating all of the service secretariats; they don’t seem to have a clear mission in the wake of Goldwater-Nichols. Let’s also continue the good work Secretary of Defense Robert Gates initiated by taking a hard look at our combatant commands. Joint Forces Command is on the way out; let’s scrap Africa Command and Northern Command and look at ways to cut European Command. We don’t have the forces to justify so much overhead. And the public is certainly in no mood for another expeditionary war with indeterminate or remote objectives, which is the only thing that can justify keeping these commands alive.
Lieutenant General D’Wayne Gray, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)—The suggestion that a separate Department of the Air Force is unnecessary probably will not be accepted, but it is far from being the worst idea that will be proposed during the inevitable, and needed, examination of force structure, roles, and missions in the next few years. (I have often thought that a wiser course of action for the Army Air Forces would have been that chosen by naval aviation—stay on board but, through superior energy and innovation, take control of the whole service for long periods of time.) Just possibly, it may not be too late both to eliminate a big chunk of overhead and properly integrate air and land power in the U.S. Army.
Captain E. R. Kallus, U.S. Navy (Retired)—During his Christmas leave, I discussed service selections with a bright, highly motivated West Point cadet about to graduate the next summer. “Go aviation,” I advised him. “Just about the time you make lieutenant general, the Air Force will be folded back into the Army and you’ll be available to be Chief of the Army Air Corps.”Commander Forkner’s column may be the first in a chain of events that will make my prediction come true.
The Battleship Missouri and the Trumans
(See P. Stillwell, pp. 60–65, September 2010 Proceedings)
David Buell—Mr. Stillwell’s article about the USS Missouri (BB-63) and the Truman connection, makes a nice addendum to his excellent book Battleship Missouri: An Illustrated History. He fleshes out the story of how the Missouri was selected to be the site of the surrender, due to the connection with President Harry S. Truman and his family, and the political back stories involved.
What is not written, however, is that of all of the U.S. battleships in the Western Pacific at the time of the surrender, the Missouri, at least from the standpoint of a combat record, was the least deserving to be the venue.
At the time of her selection, the Missouri had seen less action and earned fewer Battle Stars (three) than almost any U.S. battleship other than the Oklahoma (BB-37) and Arizona (BB-39), which each earned one by being sunk at Pearl Harbor.
Other battleships that would have been more appropriate and symbolic choices for the surrender site were available in the Western Pacific at the time of the Japanese capitulation:
The South Dakota (BB-57), which had fought across the Pacific and had done a stint in the Atlantic as well, was present on surrender day and was tied with the Washington (BB-56) at 13 Battle Stars; the South Dakokta would have been an appropriate choice based on battle record alone.
The highly decorated New Jersey (BB-62) was slated to become Admiral William F. Halsey’s flagship about the time of the surrender. As described by Mr. Stillwell in his book Battleship New Jersey: An Illustrated History, her crew felt that she should have been the surrender site choice, and were disappointed for some time afterward about the Missouri being selected.
One of the three surviving Pearl Harbor battleships present in the Western Pacific, if selected, would have made the most appropriate and symbolic site of all:
The Tennessee (BB-43): A Pearl Harbor survivor with ten Battle Stars, she had seen the most action of any of the older battleships.
The California (BB-44): Raised from the Pearl Harbor mud and modernized, she went on to avenge her sinking by engaging Japanese battleships in Surigao Strait alongside other surviving Pearl Harbor vessels.
The West Virginia (BB-48): Perhaps most symbolic of all, the most heavily damaged battleship at Pearl Harbor was raised and refitted to engage the Japanese many times and survived to be present at Tokyo Bay for the surrender.
Having the Japanese delegation sign the instrument of surrender on one of the very battleship decks that Tokyo had boasted of destroying at Pearl Harbor would have been a historical irony without parallel.
In the end, however, politics once again trumped symbolism and historical appropriateness in bringing fame to an otherwise undistinguished warship.
Truman, a politician and certainly not a naval historian, personally made the choice that brought instant and lasting fame to America’s newest and last battleship.
The Olympia Needs Our Help
(See C. Hooper, pp. 10–11, July 2010 Proceedings)
Commander John D. Alden, U.S. Navy (Retired)––The USS Olympia (C-6), the Navy’s last survivor from the era of Theodore Roosevelt and the Spanish-American War, is about to be abandoned by her present custodian, the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, and returned to the Navy for possible scrapping or sinking as a reef. In this regard, the following little-known aspect of her preservation to date may be of interest.
Shortly after our entry into World War II, the nation launched a scrap drive to recover badly needed steel. At that time, two surviving relics of the Spanish-American War were on the Navy’s register: the battleship Oregon (BB-3) and the cruiser Olympia. The Oregon, on loan to the state of Oregon since 1925, was berthed in Portland as a waterfront monument and civic center. Governor Charles A. Sprague patriotically offered to return her to the Navy for “coastal or other defense use.” The Navy’s official position was that the ship was a “historic shrine” and “an inspiration to our fighting forces.” The War Production Board, however, was pressuring the Navy to turn the ship over to be scrapped, and the Navy felt it would have to give in. The final decision ended up in the hands of President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself.
The Olympia was tied up at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, neglected and in rundown condition, but still in Navy hands. On 26 October 1942, the President rendered his verdict to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox:
Dear Colonel Knox:
It is with great reluctance that I authorize the Navy Department to turn the USS Oregon over to the War Production Board for reduction to scrap metal.
It is my understanding that the Department will take immediate action toward the preservation of the USS Olympia as a naval relic of the Spanish-American war period.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Ironically, the Oregon was only partially scrapped, and her hull was used by the Navy as an ammunition stowage barge. The Navy never did anything to preserve the Olympia, finally turning it over to the predecessor of its current custodian. Perhaps now is the time for the Navy to finally honor President Roosevelt’s understanding.
(See T. J. Cutler, p. 93, December 2009 Proceedings)
Captain Robert Duncan, U.S. Navy (Retired)—The encounter between the USS Harry E. Yarnell (DLG-17) and the Soviet Bison bomber and the reaction of Lieutenant Tom Joshua reported in Lieutenant Commander Cutler’s article are false. They never happened. I was the commanding officer of the Yarnell in 1973. The ship was never overflown by a Soviet bomber. I did not order the crew to battle stations in response to any nonexistent overflight. The Yarnell never experienced mutual fire-control lock-ons with any aircraft, Soviet or otherwise. Live missiles were never slid onto the rails to point fiercely at an oncoming aircraft. There was no Lieutenant Joshua on board the Yarnell. The story is total fiction and should have been so labeled if published at all.
Editor’s note: The “Lieutenant Tom Joshua” referred to in the article was in fact then-Lieutenant Tom (Joshua) Cutler, the author of the article, who in an effort to avoid a seemingly immodest overuse of the vertical pronoun, opted to relate the account in the third person. The author stands by the veracity of the events described, which he experienced firsthand. The account is further buttressed by the Yarnell ship’s log (available at the National Archives), which records that the ship went to general quarters on the date and time in question.