Once again, as has often happened in times past, the U.S. military is facing a period of budget austerity and retrenchment. We have left Iraq and are in the process of leaving Afghanistan, perhaps completely. The American people are weary of war and Congress is obsessed with reducing the budget deficit. All of which spells lean times for the U.S. Army.
The challenge is to absorb inevitable cutbacks in military budget authority without compromising the military's ability to respond to threats to national security. This can be done. There is much excess in the Pentagon's budget. The challenge is to pare the fat but keep the muscle intact. Easy to say, hard to do.
One of the biggest obstacles to sensible allocation of limited resources is the same force that is demanding less spending -- Congress itself. Those same legislators who demand austerity insist that the Pentagon keep spending money on weapons systems we do not need and have little use for. They even denied the Pentagon money to study the efficacy of more base closings.
Within the military ranks, there is also a great debate about what a smaller, more efficient military would look like. There are many who envision the U.S. Army as an expeditionary force designed for quick entry and exit from trouble zones. Our disastrous misadventure in Iraq was exactly such an expeditionary force and we paid a steep price for that miscalculation.
I side with those who contend that excessive reliance on rapid deployment of troops is an invitation for further Iraqi-style disasters. We need a military that can expand as necessary to meet long-term threats, an Army with staying power. It took a long time to assemble our forces for Operation Desert Storm, but so what? Such a force can only be built upon a solid foundation of Reserves and National Guard units that were mercilessly depleted during the regime of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In the new era of austerity we face, it is imperative that the critical role of the Reserves and National Guard be understood and appreciated.
There are other "experts" who envision a modern military built upon high tech gadgets like drones, spy satellites, advanced aircraft and missiles that will lessen our dependence on boots on the ground. Certainly, such things can be a strength but if we rely too much on technology it will become a weakness. Over my many years in the military, I became ever increasingly convinced that people are much more important to our national defense than equipment.
Our national security depends upon a well-equipped, well trained regular Army. But backing them up we need the legions of citizen soldiers -- the doctors, lawyers, technicians, mechanics, teachers, computer geeks -- who comprise the Reserves and National Guard.
Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications", published by The History Publishing Company.