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DADT Update: The Service Chiefs Report, The Republicans Fret April 11, 2011

There’s been a great deal of concern around here about the effort to prepare the US military for the full repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), and I’ve had a few words of my own regarding how long the process might take.

There was a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee last Thursday that had all four Services represented; with one exception these were the same Service Chiefs that were testifying last December when the bill to set the repeal process in motion was still a piece of prospective legislation.

At that time there was concern that the “combat arms” of the Marines and the Army were going to be impacted in a negative way by the transition to “open service”; the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Army’s Chief of Staff were the most outspoken in confirming that such concerns exist within the Pentagon as well.

We now have more information to report—including the increasing desperation of some of our Republican friends—and if you ask me, I think things might be better than we thought.

The Governments of the States Parties to this Constitution on behalf of their peoples declare:

That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed;

That ignorance of each other’s ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war…

–From the Constitution of the United Nations Educational,
Scientific, And Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

So let me start with the good news; I’ll do that by telling you what I though would happen, compared to what the Service Chiefs are now saying is going to happen:

My guess was that, due to all the process involved, we could be looking at a full year for implementation, and if the Services felt that they had to rotate all the overseas deployed forces back to the USA before they could complete training, you could easily be looking at 18 months.

That, as it turns out, was wildly inaccurate.

The Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Peter W. Chiarelli, reported Thursday that his Service might be able to report they’re ready to certify by May 15th of this year; to make that happen they are going to train the troops overseas and at home, both at the same time, and they wanted us to know that they’ve already completed much of the “train the trainer” work already. They also expect to certify after about 50% of the training is complete instead of waiting for 100%, and that’s because the leadership believes they’ll know of any implementation problems that are likely to crop up by then.

The most outspoken opponent of the change in December, Marine Commandant General James Amos, says that he’s seeing far fewer problems than he expected, and he believes the move to open service won’t have any serious impact on his force.

Here’s how the Defense Department reported Amos’ testimony:

A department [of Defense] survey last year showed that about 60 percent of Marines in combat units had concerns about the repeal, Amos noted, but those concerns seem to be waning. The general visited with Marines in Afghanistan over Christmas and spoke with their commander this morning on the issue, he said.

“I’m looking specifically for issues that might arise out of Tier 1 and Tier 2 and, frankly, we just haven’t seen it,” Amos said. “There hasn’t been the recalcitrant push back, the anxiety about it” from forces in the field.

Amos said the Marines’ commander told him, “’Quite honestly, they’re focused on the enemy.’”

The Navy says they expect to complete their Tier 3 training (the final phase of training) as soon as the end of June; Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead told the Committee that he foresees no problem achieving a successful transition to open service.

(A quick note to the reader: I have been known to write satirical stories with crazy made-up character names, but the actual name of the actual Admiral who is tasked with leading the Navy into the era of open service is actually…Roughead. Some may consider this to be evidence of Intelligent Design; I continue to disbelieve.)

Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz, who also seemed to suggest, back in December, that trouble might be waiting on the road ahead, seemed far more confident this week; it looks like the Air Force might have Tier 3 training wrapped up by the July 4th holiday.

The Service Chiefs also announced that those who have been discharged under DADT will be eligible to petition to return to the military.

There is today a mechanism in place within the Defense Department to consider the petitions of those who voluntarily leave the military and wish to reapply; that system looks at what jobs are available, and, if it meets the needs of the Services, a job offer is extended to the applicant. (The individual might not return at the same grade or rank they held when leaving, however, and that would also depend on the military’s interpretation of what best fits military “force structure” requirements.)

At the hearing the Committee members were told that those who were discharged under DADT could reapply under the same rules that exist today for those who leave voluntarily; the same system that’s in place today will “work” those applications.

There was some not unexpected bad news: Republican Members of the House are just so over the top on objecting to this one that it’s ridiculous and funny and maddening and just awful, all at once.

There was begging (“if there was just some way the Service Chiefs could convince the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs not to certify, then we could all be saved” was the gist of that one), and fake expertise (“when I served we were all afraid of ‘em, and I can’t believe today’s troops still aren’t” is the rough outline of how that argument went and California’s Duncan Hunter was an example of one Congressman who fit into that “genre”); there was even an offer to do another survey so we can “do what the troops really want” (I can save y’all the time and trouble: what they really want…is to get the hell out of Afghanistan).

If the Grim Weeper had been in the room, I’m sure he would have had a big ol’ blubbery cry over the tragedy that’s befallen the Nation on this somber occasion—and it’s a good thing he wasn’t, because I have no doubt such a display would have once again caused Tonstant Weader to fwow up, just like that time back at Pooh Corner.

Among the Republicans there was a lot of preoccupation with the potential for men, in combat, in those close, confined, spaces…men who are depending on each other, night and day…to be subject to the advances of other strong, powerful, muscular, men in a variety of manly uniforms—I mean, as far as I can tell, there are Republicans who see this as some kind of eventual “Livin’ La Vida Loca” kind of situation, only, you know, a bit more butch, and I would love to know what in the world they think life aboard a Ballistic Missile Submarine or on a Forward Operating Base in Southeastern Afghanistan is really like?

Oddly enough, the predominantly male Committee didn’t seem as concerned about the possibility of female same-sex relationships impacting military readiness and unit cohesion in a negative way; if anyone has a guess as to why that might be the case I’m sure I’d love to hear it.

The military, to their credit, did a lot of pushing back against the Republicans. For example, at one point there were questions as to whether this would cause an unacceptable number of troops to leave the all-volunteer military. The response: right now the real problem is that as we withdraw from Iraq and troopers come home to a bad economy, too few want to leave.

They also spent a lot of time pointing out that “standards of conduct” already exist to manage sexual contacts and harassing behaviors between opposite-gendered persons, and that those very same rules will be used to manage issues of conduct in a same-sex context.

Risk mitigation is suddenly very important for some Republicans, and they do not want to repeal if there is any risk at all that the move could impact combat readiness or pose a hazard to the force.

That line of logic led to one of the most stupid questions I have ever heard asked in a hearing, ever, in decades of actually paying attention, and it came from Republican Vicky Hartzler (MO-04).

What she was trying to do was to show that the Generals would not want to recommend policies that add to the risk facing the troops. What she had been told was that the future risks of open service were as yet unknown (hard to know today with 100% certainty what the future holds), but that, based on progress made so far, the risks seemed to be low and that mitigations seemed to be in place for currently identified potential problems.

But what she asked the commanding officers of four military services was…wait for it…whether they had ever recommended sending their troops into heightened risk environments?

They actually all kind of seemed a bit stunned by the question—but they kept their poker faces—and then they reminded her that sending troops into combat is actually a bit of a high-risk activity.

The deer then jumped out of the way of the headlights, and the hearing resumed.

Look, folks, I am not passing along any news when I tell you that DADT still scares the loose buttons off a bunch of suits in Washington and that they still want to have this out anyplace they can—but it is news to find out that they are ahead of where they could have been over at the Pentagon, and that all the Service Chiefs do really seem to be on board, at least publicly, and that they are all reporting fewer problems than they expected as this process moves forward.

In a tough week it’s nice to report good news, and I think this qualifies—and if things continue at this pace, we could see certification and full open service before Labor Day.

Now I know we don’t usually give Labor Day presents, and to make it worse, we’re hard to shop for…but if there’s one thing everyone loves to get, it’s a More Perfect Union—and I bet once we try it on, there’s no way it’s going back.

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On Asking And Telling, Or, 115,000 LBGT Troops? How Many Is That, Exactly? December 2, 2010

I took a couple of weeks off, as Thanksgiving and snow came around (a subject we’ll address in a day or so), but we are all again occupied as lots of things we’ve been talking about either will or won’t come to pass, and it seems like all that’s happening all at once.

Today we’ll take on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT); this because the Pentagon’s top leadership just came out and reported that revocation of the policy, following a period of preparation, would be their preferred way to go.

There will be lots of others who will take on the question of what’s right and wrong here, and exactly how implementation might occur; my interest is, instead, to focus on one little fact that makes all teh rest of the conversation a lot more relevant.

That is the fact that about 70,000 LBGT troops serve in the military today, DADT notwithstanding, and, that if it wasn’t for DADT, almost 45,000 more troops would be serving that aren’t today.

And that one little fact leads to today’s Great Big Question: exactly how much military would 115,000 troops be, exactly?

“Dad, if I were you, I wouldn’t tell that story. Now I have no doubt that there might be a lot of truth in it, but you know how funny these people are. You know you always used to tell us when we were children: “Never smarten up a chump.”

–“Victoria Whipsnade”, to her father, “Larson E. Whipsnade”, in W.C. Field’s You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man

As we so often do, let’s set a stage: we use the 115,000 figure because we have the academic work of UCLA’s Gary J. Gates informing our estimate, and that estimate was updated in May of 2010.

A stage having been set, let’s move on to painting some pictures:

These days the Army organizes themselves around Brigade Combat Teams (BCT), and a BCT might normally be assigned somewhere between 2500 and 4000 soldiers, and 115,000 troops could equal more than 30 BCTs.

It appears that more or less 12 BCTs and two more Combat Aviation Brigades are on the ground in Iraq today, which works out to about 49,000 troops in total…and that means 115,000 LBGT troopers could theoretically fill every billet in Iraq, and then replace themselves after a year, with about 15,000 left over.

The Navy is organized around Carrier Strike Groups, which each consist of one of the 12 aircraft carriers now in service and the additional ships they require to complete their missions.

Those aircraft carriers require crew to operate the ship’s basic equipment, Marines who provide security and other functions, additional crew to operate the “Air Wing”, which is the organization on board responsible for flight operations, and, because carriers also serve as the “traveling headquarters” for the Admiral who is commanding the Strike Group, a few more crew to serve as the Admiral’s personal staff.

Add it all up, and a carrier can have a crew of almost 6,000 on board…and that means there are enough LBGT forces available to occupy every bunk on every carrier in the Navy, from the actual bed in the Admirals’ Cabin all the way down to the “stacks of racks” way down belowdecks for the ordinary Sailors and Marines.

Even beyond that, there would be enough people left over to crew every one of the Navy’s 100 or so submarines—and you’d still have about 30,000 sailors left over to maintain the ships and their associated aircraft when they return to port.

The Air Force, as with the other Services, is composed of components drawn from Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard forces. As it turns out, the entire Air National Guard is 106,700 strong. Our 115,000 LBGT troopers could fill every one of those slots—and that would still leave enough personnel to completely fill the Air Force’s pilot training schools for seven years after that.

The Marine Corps’ fighting forces are designed to work with the Navy to combine a variety of capabilities into self-sustained “over the beach” units that can, if required, take and hold beaches, ports, or airfields, or build a base of their own and hold it, until a larger force can come in and expand the foothold, so to speak. (The Corps refers to one of these units as a “Marine Expeditionary Force”, or an MEF.)

To provide this capability worldwide, the Corps maintains three MEFs, one on the East Coast, one on the West Coast, and one stationed in the Pacific, based in the Hawaiian Islands and Guam.

115,000 Marines would equal almost half of the entire Corps, Active Duty and Reserve, and that’s more troops than two of the MEFs combined, which might typically comprise 45,000 Marines each, more or less…which means if the LBGT Marines needed to, they could most assuredly take and hold some serious real estate, more or less anywhere in the world—and if they ran into trouble, they could send back home for another 25,000 LBGT troops to help make their point.

So there you go: the next time someone’s talking about how much national security might be threatened if we change DADT, you can tell them that there’s a cost to national security from keeping DADT as well.

How much of a cost? If you pulled those 115,000 potentially affected troops from the Army, DADT could cost us two Iraqs worth of troops, with 15,000 reinforcements left over, and if it was just the Navy, it could affect enough sailors to crew every aircraft carrier and submarine and 30,000 more besides.

If you removed that many personnel from the Air Force it would affect more people than the entire Air National Guard and seven years’ worth of new pilots combined—or, if you prefer to look at it through the prism of a eagle, globe, and anchor, it could be enough LBGT Marines to take and hold darn near anything, from the halls of Montezuma, to at least somewhere near the shores of Tripoli.

I don’t want to pay that price, and apparently the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff don’t either…so hey, John Mc Cain…why don’t we just get over this imaginary Great Big Deal and move on to some real ones?