WASHINGTON — The discussion between lawmakers and top military officers once again centered on readiness — how behind are the services, how will new budget money help close gaps and how to keep readiness sharp for the future.
And then the Army had an idea: why not fight less.
“We are taking a look at.. talking to the Joint Staff about some of the missions we may not have to do in the future to reduce that demand,” Army Gen. James McConville, vice chief of staff for the Army, told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, on Wednesday.
The three subcommittee members present at the time looked surprised and remained silent. Then McConville moved on to other areas.
Yet the idea of taking a better look at where and how the military is used was proffered again, this time by Assistant Marine Commandant Gen. Glenn Walters. He noted that today the nation expects Marines to be “forward deployed and capable to win” conflicts and that “not all deployment are equal” in terms of hurting or helping readiness.
“The only place you lose readiness wherein you redeployed is when you are not doing your designed mission” such as civilian crowd control when the force is trained to capture and hold, he said.
About a year ago, the same hearing drew deep concerns the officers said readiness was far behind and getting worse.
“We’ve turned the corner,” said Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson.
All four officers said the new budget money promised is critical to stopping the erosion of readiness that has occurred over the last decade. They also said even the money will not plug all the holes.
“Lost opportune and lost time is something that is not a one-for-one recovery,” Walters said. “Stable funding …. and paying attention to our people, will get us out of the hole.”
As an example of readiness woes, Marine Corps aviators currently have more training hours a month — 14 16 hours per pilot per months — than Air Force aviators, who only have around 10 hours.
The hearing took place as the Pentagon on Wednesday released its new policy on military lethality, which will begin separation procedures for service members who have been non-deployable for the last 12 months or more. The new policy was the result of Defense Secretary Jame Mattis’ July 2, 2017, memo that “everyone who comes into the service and everyone who stays in the service is world-wide deployable.”
The four officers also noted that readiness requires not only retention of skilled personnel, it also depends on recruitment.
Sen. Tim Kaine, (D-Va.), said he was concerned about reports showing a shrinking number of Americans who seem interested or qualified in military service. He said “troubling statistics” show that for the 17 to 24 years age group — the prime ages for recruitment — nearly two out of three persons are disqualified for service because of a number of factors.
The report, from the Heritage Foundation, concluded that 71 percent of young Americans between 17 and 24 are ineligible to serve in the military—that is 24 million of the 34 million people of that age group.
“A manpower shortage in the United States Armed Forces directly compromises national security,” the report stated.
To offset that challenge, recruits are giving a physical assessment at recruiting stations and are once in the service their fitness is augmented by strength coaches, dietitians and physical trainers, the officers said. They noted the “return on investment” is much greater having a healthy service member rather than one who is hurt or not fit.
“I think we are all facing the same challenge,” Adm. William Moran, vice chief of naval operations, said. He said the vast majority of volunteers have a family member or acquaintance with a military background and that “we need to reach out to more Americans and have them participate in national defense.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono, (D-Hawaii), asked what the future of ROTC programs will be in supplying needed officers. Moran said one-third of the new officers rotate in through ROTC.
Hirono then asked why there was not one ROTC program in Hawaii. Moran looked down and said, “I know.”