After reading recently in The Baltimore Sun about the demobilization of a Maryland Army National Guard unit in Annapolis and its reorganization as part of a sophisticated military intelligence battalion, actions carried out in light of deep personnel cuts in the active-duty Army and smaller ones in the National Guard, I question the detrimental effect of congressionally mandated budget reductions.
The article mentioned that the Regular Army will decrease its size from 570,000 troops during the peak of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, to 450,000 by 2018. The Army National Guard will go down from 350,000 soldiers to 335,000 by the end of 2017.
The Armed Services seemingly have no choice but to cut its personnel numbers. What’s bothersome to me is the consequent loss of exceptional middle-management service members, those who now are captains and majors and non-commissioned officers. What inevitably will happen is our nation will find itself embroiled in other conflicts and find that its leadership ranks are sadly diminished.
What is the cost of loss of talent? What is the cost of budget-driven decisions?
Most citizens simply may not care. Some might think the money might be better spent on other governmental priorities. And I understand that. I just wonder what’s more important than our national security, except our economic security.
This downsizing occurs far too often when U.S. participation in foreign conflict comes to a temporary hiatus, when we fail to understand history and the periodic and sometimes urgent need to strengthen our military forces—with our backs against the wall.
Far too often, those who can and should lead our military forces are no longer in uniform. Their professionalism and experience are lost due to senseless budget cuts.
Another thing troubles me: while the Pentagon dispenses with people, it builds up its weaponry and technology. It decides amid budget crunches to invest its money in glamorous weapons systems and high-tech devices. Retention of people becomes secondary to the procurement of gee-whiz equipment.
Our federal government has spent millions and millions of dollars recruiting and training the dedicated, skillful men and women who fight our wars. But that doesn’t seem to matter. In response to ill-advised budget cuts by Congress, the Pentagon then decides it’s more important to focus on jazzy equipment, instead of competent people.
That’s how I see it. It shakes my fragile faith in our decision-makers.
The competition between the procurement of enticing weapons systems and high-tech equipment and retention of soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and Coast Guard members is an age-old conflict, at least in modern times. People often seem to come in second place, unfortunately.
While bemoaning the state of the military, I belatedly must commend the Maryland National Guard on its superior performance during the Baltimore riots at the end of April. Service during domestic disturbances is exceedingly difficult and sensitive, requiring citizen-soldiers and citizen-airmen to confront their neighbors, preferably in a deliberate, controlled manner.
Additional confrontation in the street of Baltimore is still a real and unpleasant possibility, dependent on a court decision related to the five police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray–or another act of alleged police brutality. The Maryland National Guard must remain ready to respond again amid frightening chaos and rampant lawlessness.
Hopefully, should riots recur in Baltimore, the Baltimore City Police Department will be better prepared, better trained and better-equipped. The National Guard is an adjunct, not a primary law enforcement force.
While federal budget cuts and Pentagon reductions may seem distant to us, they evidence themselves in our hometown units, some of which find themselves with new missions. They also may be smaller in personnel numbers. They also may be gone.
The impact of actions in Washington often is felt in towns and cities throughout the nation.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.