With the recent positions and policies of President Trump, national defense and foreign policy are now in the forefront of concerns and conversation. This newly elected administration is claiming to “protect, preserve and promote” America’s interests … first and foremost. Some are talking about building up the military even more than it already is, making it so powerful and potent that no other adversaries will even think about confronting us on the battlefield. To make that point, the Trump Administration is proposing an increase of roughly $54 billion to the already approved budget of approximately $583 billion.
Meantime, our military personnel have continuously been reassigned multiple tours overseas and sent into combat zones and other hot spots. Our all-volunteer military is stressed and pushed to its breaking point. Yet, the terror wars in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Israel, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and other hot spots, such as North Korea, China Russia, and Venezuela have yet to be resolved or permanently settled.
Meanwhile, the military is experiencing some difficulty in attaining/retaining its (forecasted) numbers. And, the Trump Administration has expressed a desire to greatly increase the military’s numbers. Just recently, some military experts/strategists have proclaim the “dangers of maintaining an all-volunteer force.” They have suggested that the past 16 years of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet to be resolved, have caused many “qualified” youth not to be interested in joining the military, especially with no end to conflict in sight. Furthermore, some military branches, such as the Army, have had to spend extraordinary amounts of money just to entice new recruits to join. For example, last year (2016), the Army had to assign over 9,000 personnel to recruit its required 62,000 recruits. At this rate/pace, this endeavor will eventually prove too costly to upkeep, especially when considering future operations, weaponry, maintenance, and such.
And, it has just been reported (Associated Press, June 7, 2017), that the Army will triple the amount of bonuses, it is paying this year to more than $380 million, including new incentives to entice undecided members to re-enlist. Some soldiers could get up to $90,000 to reenlist for four or more years. This is to reinforce Trump’s campaign promise to substantively increase military personnel and armaments. In just the past several months, the Army has already paid out more than $30 million in incentives. The Army’s $550 billion base budget, approved by Congress in May 2017l, will provide the money for these incentives and other bonuses.
With very few exceptions – and I mean very few – the rich, famous and powerful among us do not volunteer to serve (and repay) their country. For example, members of Congress who are military veterans have steadily declined over the recent decades. The number of military veterans in the 115th Congress (2017-2018) reflected this decline in numbers. There are 82 Representatives and 20 Senators who are veterans, for a total of 18.8 perecent of the total Congress. In recent decades, the 97th Congress (1981-1982) = 64 perecent, and the 92nd Congress ((1971-1972) = 73 perecent. Overall, less than 1 percent of all Americans (approximately 330 million) serve in today’s military. Approximately 7 perecent of the overall population are veterans. Active duty military members are approximately 1,282,000 (FY 2017).
Even today, America’s military fighting force is represented disproportionately (socio-economically) by the lower 20 percent of white Americans for that ethnic group and the upper 20 percent of Black Americans for that ethnic group. When it comes to the defense of America, there needs to be a better diversification and inclusion of America’s populace.
As a retired Marine sergeant major and Vietnam combat veteran of 30 years and the father of a son who served 10 years in the Navy, including several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, I am led to ask: Do most Americans really, truly care?
Moreover, I feel there are several significant barriers and prohibitive obstacles that hinder a “call to arms” among the general (and diverse) populace: (1) many feel these are “unnecessary wars” for all the wrong reasons; (2) many, who proclaim to “support the troops,” are not willing to send their children and relatives to fight for the cause; (3) many complain that these “war efforts” have not been managed in an efficient and effective manner; and (4) many allege that there is a “blood for oil” stigma attached to these military endeavors, and it is being driven by, and for the interest of the “military-industrial complex.”
I find it very interesting that there are approximately 40,000 homeless veterans throughout the nation (VA/HUD, 2016) Further, it is reported that approximately 20 veterans commit suicide each day (VA/DOD statistics). This is approximately 18 perecent of all suicides, since veterans make up only about 7 perecent of the population (VA/DOD statistics). Supposedly, these problems (homelessness, suicide, mental health, drug abuse, etc.) are going to be studied and ameliorated by the Trump Administration and others.
Until these kinds of realities and circumstances are openly discussed, the issue of military service for the general public will continue to haunt us. In the days to come, it will be interesting to see how this all turns out.
John L. Horton resides in Norfolk and is a frequent contributor to this newspaper.