Saturday, April 7, 2007

A Backdoor Draft

In today's NYT, John Edwards resurrects the idea that the administration is carrying out a "backdoor draft."

Both Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry have said that extended deployments of Reservists and National Guard troops in Iraq beyond their normal tours of duty amount to a form of conscription and are taking a large toll on their families.

"Let me tell you, I want you to tell all your friends here in Pennsylvania, when John Kerry is president of the United States, we're going to get rid of this backdoor draft," Mr. Edwards said. "We're not going to continue to have people coming in the back door."

So what, if anything, does this mean?

Presumably it means that the primary function of the National Guard and Reserve Components are to provide additional income and educational benefits without requiring any duty beyond the "one weekend each month, two weeks once a year" formula that has been in effect for a half-century or so.

To understand the idiocy (or more likely the duplicity) purveyed by a man who aspires to be the Vice President, it is necessary to understand how we got to this point.

The drawdown from Vietnam confronted the Army with two very unpleasant realities: 1) the Army, as an institution, was politically unpopular and was going to pay a price for the Vietnam War in terms of appropriations and the end of the draft, and 2) the Red Army was still a threat in Europe.

To address this situation the Army Chief of Staff Creighton Abrams undertook a wide ranging restructuring of the Army that, for whatever reason, resulted in a situation where it was impossible for the nation to fight a war of any size or duration without an extensive call-up of National Guard and Reserves. Whether an acquiescence to fiscal realities or a manifestation of a four-star saying "never again", is academic. We're here. And we're treated to the ignominious spectacle of an alleged major party candidate complaining that at least one part of the federal government is working exactly as it was designed to work.

What is the alternative? Military geniuses of both parties on Capitol Hill have been blithely calling for an increase of 30-40,000 in Army strength to reduce reliance on the Guard and Reserve and they have been engaged in pillorying Rumsfeld and others for their reluctance. But, in the context of Iraq, is that even a real option?

Unlike various senators and members of Congress, the Army does not have a magic wand. Army divisions do not spring fully armed from the brow of Zeus. They are the product of decades of hard work. If the Army was given 30,000 additional billets, how could it fill them in any period of time that wouldn't be measured in years? It couldn't. First, it would require removing an additional 2,000+/- non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers from combat units to train and assign as Army recruiters. This would bring the recruiting establishment back to the level where it was in 1990. Second, it would require reassigning several thousand non-commissioned officers from combat units to serve as drill sergeants, staff, and subject matter instructors in BCT, AIT, and OSUT.

This assumes away the issues of barracks, training facilities, and weapons ranges which have been decimated by several rounds of BRAC. The reality of the situation is that there just isn't the infrastucture to surge the training base right now, but I digress.

Once these young men and women have been trained they have to be welded into cohesive units. That takes time and talent. Again, we would have to draft several thousand officers and non-commissioned officers from existing combat units to staff the new ones.

A charitable assessment would be that it would be a year and a half from the time one of these 30,000 new soldiers walked into a recruiting station (last para) until a new unit with that soldier in it appeared on the battlefield.

By now, it should be apparent that any surge in Active Army strength is going to inflict a heavy burden on existing units. Units now engaged in combat.

The solution to this will become readily apparent. There could be a reinstatement of shake and bake NCO programs but this program was something less than successful the last time it was used.

More likely the Army will look to units with a high number of non-commissioned officers and draft heavily from them. The Ranger Regiment and Special Forces Command will see many of their most experienced NCOs tapped for leadership positions in new units and in the training base. Non-commissioned officer academies, Ranger and Airborne Schools, and officer training programs would also be heavily hit. Even with these measures there is no doubt we would be promoting young men and women with a fraction of the time-in-service and time-in-grade requirements of today.

Similar violence will be inflicted on the professional education system for commissioned officers resulting in a significant number of young men and women assuming positions without the requisite experience to succeed. Positions where their decisions will have life-or-death consequences.

The ultimate billpayer in this scenario will be units going into combat with low unit cohesion less experienced company-level leadership and suboptimal training.

The other way of rapidly increasing the strength of the Active Army is by calling to active duty selected Reserve and Guard units and converting them to Regular Army en masse. Then, as the training base gears up, releasing reservists and guardsmen and replacing them with regular army enlisted soldiers and officers or allowing them to continue on duty in the Regular Army. But, of course, then we'd have a "backdoor draft."

In short, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

All of this, of course, begs the real questions. Should the Regular Army expand? If so, by how much? If the National Guard and Reserve Components aren't to be subject to long periods of federal service during wartime, why in the hell do we need them?

During the course of the Cold War the size of the Regular Army was agreed upon by both parties. It was agreed the Army had to be able to stop the Red Army a few yards short of the English Channel and the formula of Ten Divisions in Ten Days (see page 65). Absent a threat that a solid majority of members of Congress can agree to over a period of years, the Army and the Department of Defense are loathe to engage in a permanent expansion of the Regular Army (or any other service). Bringing on 30,000 new people and two or three new divisions only to have a RIF and retire colors in two or three years is just a profoundly stupid idea. I don't see us being anywhere near that consensus at this time.

The bellyaching by Kedwards and others on this issue are either the utterances of people too stupid about the national defense establishment to be entrusted with guarding a school crosswalk or it is a grotesquely dishonest statement by people who are demonstrating, yet again, there is no lie so blatant that their atophied sense of shame would prevent its telling.

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