Letter: Perspective On America’s Evolving Armed Forces
RE: “THE NEW AMERICAN ARMY”
I read your article on the “New American Army” with much interest. As I was a part of “building up the force” during all of 2000-2010 I can without question confirm that we lowered the standards for entrance further than we probably should have. In early 2000, tattoos and juvenile crimes could easily prevent a prospective young man or woman from entering the force. Beginning in 2003, those standards gradually crept downward to accept more and more “foolishness”. By 2007, waivers were available for any number of offenses that 2 years earlier were unwaiverable. Through 2009 we continued to allow young men and women to enter the service with convictions for offense that you would consider mild, say smoking pot, or a recent DUI, but that to some of us more seasoned veterans were indicative of character flaws.
During that same period a significant portion of those same flawed young men and women served your country in some of the most horrific close combat we’ve seen since World War II. Is it any wonder that we’ve had issues with substance abuse and suicide? The Army and the Department of Defense have gone to great lengths to correct some of those issues – Suicide is down by 22 percent in 2013 over 2012.
The number of convictions for “drugs, alcohol, crimes and other misconduct” is in fact up but perhaps you should know a little more about the Army’s justice system before you pass judgment. Your 2005 guilty plea to a charge of “criminal domestic violence” would have seen you get the boot from the Army. Bakari Sellers DUI would have seen him get the boot. Casual pot use gets you booted. The Army’s threshold for foolishness has never been very high but we’ve begun a real crack down in the last couple of years.
While we’re not zero tolerance, in a time where we are set to draw the force down to well below the 1.1 million Soldiers currently serving, we’re about as close as you can get. Many of those young men and women who came in between 2005 have reverted to their earlier lifestyle now that the OpTempo has slowed just a bit. I suspect you will see an even greater number of bootings next year as we get rid of the rest of that group who came in between 2003-2009 who didn’t get the message that this was their big chance. Something that should be touted but won’t be is that many of those “waivers” decided to make something of themselves; they quit smoking pot and drinking to excess, embraced the Army values and started an education. In other words they have become professional Soldiers.
Is 11,000 Soldiers kicked out a lot? Depends on how you look at it. I am subjected to random drug screenings several times a year, if you use in the Army, you will eventually get caught and under the current rules, you will likely get “booted”. With that knowledge, 11,000 from a group larger than 1,105,000 equates to 0.9 percent. 0.9 percent is a drop in the bucket compared to society at large where 0.5 percent (1.55 million) of the population was charged with minor drug possession offenses and an estimated 0.3 percent (1.2 million) of the population is arrested annually for DUI. In society, those were the people who were unlucky enough to get caught – in the Army you will get caught. Almost all of the human foibles we laugh at on your blog will get you booted from the Army.
As for the issue that what we do isn’t “fighting for freedom” – well, maybe you’re right. Unlike you, I don’t get to chose where to go or who to fight. That said, Kuwait will celebrate their Liberation Day next week. Manuel Noriega is still in prison. People in Great Britain still speak the Queen’s English (for the time being anyway) and the French still speak whatever it is they speak. The Germans haven’t invaded anyone in quite a while. The Soviet Union is “on the ash heap of history”. South Koreans are free to protest our presence on their half of the peninsula and even the Chinese are free to embrace the benefits of socialism because of the efforts of American Soldiers.
Things didn’t work out to well in Iraq – they’ve been killing each other for centuries, I’m not sure why we thought 10 years would work, but the Kurds are enjoying the respite. Afghanistan hasn’t worked out well either, no one pays any attention to history when considering the “possibilities in Afghanistan”.
But on the whole, like I said, we don’t pick the battles we just fight them, where and when we’re told. More often than not, we win them – as long as we can keep the politicians out of the way.
Wow. What a wonderful letter. Thank you for taking the time to share it with us. Appreciate your perspective.