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Military Waste or Just Plain Ignorance?

Perspectives  December 15 2012
 — By CJ Grisham
Military Waste or Just Plain Ignorance?

Alternet.org recently published a piece titled, “7 Shocking Ways the Military Wastes Our Money.” When I first saw the title, a few ideas came immediately to mind. However, few were on this list. But, the first two were.

1. A whole battalion of generals? The titles “general” or “admiral” sound like they belong to pretty exclusive posts, fit only for the best of the best. This flashy title makes it pretty easy to say, “so what if a few of our military geniuses get the royal treatment–particularly if they are the sole commanders of the most powerful military in human history.” The reality, however, is that there nearly 1,000 generals and admirals in the U.S. armed forces, and each has an entourage that would make a Hollywood star jealous.

I have to agree here. There are entirely too many generals in the military. Each of these officers receives a hefty six-figure salary and lavish benefits (discussed next). And every 2-star or higher generally has a couple of 1-star flag officers below him or her. Their jobs usually require only a narrow field of focus like Operations or Maneuver, jobs that a full bird colonel could easily handle. The second point builds off the first.

According to a Washington Post investigation, each top commander has his own C-40 jet, complete with beds on board. Many have chefs who deserve their own four-star restaurants. The generals’ personal staff include drivers, security guards, secretaries, and people to shine their shoes and iron their uniforms. When traveling, they can be accompanied by police motorcades that stretch for blocks. When entertaining, string quartets are available at a snap of the fingers.

This is a point of contention I’ve had for a long time. While Congress fixed the problems of using these aircraft to pop into a combat zone for a day or two to reap the benefits of tax-free status combined with combat pay (as if they needed the extra money), it hasn’t stopped the way that general officers misuse equipment and personnel.

For example, I’ve seen flag officers (and their enlisted counterparts) demand and use a Blackhawk helicopter just to fly around post to identify unkept lawns and trashy roadsides. There is always an aide that accompanies these high-ranking personnel just to carry their coins, calendars, and other “needs” while they are circulating their AO.

I understand that rank has its privileges, but I think the “do-anything” mentality has gotten way out of control over the past few years. The military’s sudden focus on “standards books” is just one of these. Costing tens of dollars of dollars to produce, these books are printed, binded, and disseminated to each every Soldier within a command that they must carry on them AT ALL TIMES.

Thanks to recent budgetary problems, I’m pleased to see at one wasteful program virtually abolished – contracted military base security.

There are plenty of Soldiers on most military posts that make it possible to avoid such costs. Since 9/11, the military virtually eliminated the use of troops at the front gates. In their place, they hired contracted federal security police to control post access, patrol the streets, and respond to calls. Fort Hood is now almost exclusively guarded by troops now. I won’t discuss the protocol as it relates to security posture due to OPSEC, but I’m not happy about it.

Anyway, back to the leftwing Alternet story. There were a few areas that were included simply because I don’t think the civilian, non-veteran community understands.

5. Military golf. Of course, generals and admirals aren’t the only ones who get to enjoy some of perks of being in the U.S. armed forces. Although lower ranking service members don’t get private jets and personal chefs, U.S. taxpayers still spend billions of dollars a year to pay for luxuries that are out of reach for the ordinary American.

The Pentagon, for example, runs a staggering 234 golf courses around the world, at a cost that is undisclosed.

141928What the story doesn’t include – perhaps because instead of actually researching the story, they just find numbers and run with it. Yes, it’s probably true that there are 234 golf courses in military hands around the world. However, those golf courses are largely funded and maintained through Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) funds.

MWR is a program designed to support the warfighter and their families. The MWR philosophy is that “Soldiers are entitled to the same quality of life as is afforded the society they are pledged to defend. Keeping an Army ready to fight and win takes more than hard work and training. Soldiers need a balance of work and play. The Family and MWR mission is to create and maintain ‘First Choice’ MWR products and services for America’s Army, essential to a ready, self-reliant force.”

MWR is largely funded through grants and donations from the profits of the military exchange system and fees associated with some activities (like the golf courses).

It’s important to keep Soldiers active and engaged when not focused on the warfighting aspect of our profession. Military training and operations are very stressful and the fact is that many activities found in the civilian sector simple couldn’t or won’t understand the warrior mentality. So, while bowling off base is virtually identical to the bowling facilities on post, the employees understand better their customer base and can provide them with the support they need.

A perfect example of how MWR and military programs that may seem identical to what is offered in the civilian sector is paintball. Most paintball facilities are built around the “speed ball” concept of the game. This doesn’t address military tactics in the least. At military paintball fields, specifically the one built on Fort Hood, troops can release steam and adrenaline while also practicing small-unit drills and movement techniques. We have built bridges, bunkers, and replica towns that can be used to make training more realistic.

Father's Day golf tournamentGolfing is a calming (as long as you hit the ball right) and relaxing sport. Oh, and it’s not just for general officers! It allows a Soldier or small group of Soldiers to relax and take their minds off of other things for a short period of time. Granted, you can tell the difference between the officer golfers and the enlisted golfers by who is glued to their Blackberries while playing. I hate playing with officers for this reason, although I don’t play any more since my back injury; I can’t swing the clubs like I used to.

So, while the military does contribute some money each year to assist with upkeep (because the costs tend to exceed available funds due to offering these programs at low cost to troops), they are quite small compared to the entire cost of running them. MWR goes a long way in improving what would otherwise be a dismal and depressing way of life.

This one also annoyed me a bit.

6. “ The Army goes rolling along!” Vacation resorts aren’t the only explicitly non-defense-related expenditures of the Department of Defense. According to a Washington Post investigation, the DoD also spends $500 million annually on marching bands.

The bandThe military band has been around about as long as there has been a military. Initially, they were used to signal troops for movements and operations. They provided entertainment (and still do) to troops in combat zones. They help with military ceremonies and events. The public also benefits from our bands for official ceremonies during holidays.

I’m not sure what that “$500 million” figure comes from, but I’m assuming they are including the cost of personnel, travel, and equipment.

The last “shocking way the military wastes your money” is what one would expect to see on a leftwing propaganda site.

7. The Pentagon-to-Lockheed pipeline. While the exorbitant costs of private planes and hundreds of golf courses may seem bad enough, the most costly problem with the entitlement-culture of the military happens after generals retire. Since they’re so used to the luxurious lifestyle, the vast majority of pension-reaping high-ranking officers head into the private defense industry.

According to William Hartung, a defense analyst at the Center for International Policy in Washington DC, about 70 percent of recently retired three- and four-star generals went straight to work for industry giants like Lockheed Martin.

Oh no!! We can’t have military people going into an industry that understands…*gasp*…the military!!! There is simply no response to the absurdity of this example of “waste.”

When I retire, there is a possibility that I will be employed by one of these companies that deal specifically in my specialty. These companies provide much needed expertise and products to a military unable (by law) to research and build this stuff on their own (and would you really trust it to work if we did?). We have always relied on private industry to provide products and services the military needs since its inception. So, this point is just a waste of time and more than likely only included to make the piece longer or satisfy their leftwing, anti-military, anti-defense industry fanbase.

(1) Reader Comment

  1. Eamonn Gosney
    93 Richardson Street
    Boulder 6432 WA
    Australia
    0439 815 569

    Naval Officer Accountability

    “The submarine’s 60-strong crew will be recruiting new members and representing the Navy at the Remembrance Day ceremony…”

    http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/newshome/19737817/submarine-docks-in-hobart-for-remembrance-day/

    I would like to see a lot more officers of the Royal Australian Navy being held accountable for their incompetence and negligence in failure to perform their duties.

    In particular the waste that occurs when the Australian taxpayers have to fork out for the training of recruits, and then the officers in charge fail to educate these sailors about drugs.

    The officers responsible should be stripped of their commissions for not being up to scratch.

    Eamonn Gosney
    Ex-RAN 1972-79
    ‘Services No Longer Required’

    http://www.linkedin.com/in/eamonngosney

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