On bases, realignment, SpecOps, sex, the Beast Lobby, etc.

Posted: Apr 15, 2004 12:00 AM

Some know generally about the U.S. military: how its ranks are stretched thin as its members serve on station around the world - seeking to prevent civilians from being mutilated and dragged through the streets, and defending liberty in what Donald Rumsfeld terms a multifaceted, "asymmetric" war. Herewith, an annotated survey of various news items relating to the military about which knowledge may be less. .

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld continues to press the Pentagon to use the nation's Special Operations forces ever more aggressively for maximization of their effectiveness. Such use seems the best way to throttle terrorism, to thwart Baathist and Taliban and al-Qaida groups (etc.), and to nail their top functionaries. Funding is rising for SEALS, Rangers and the Marines' Force Recon. Stay tuned.

As service roles and emphases change, this deficit hour may suggest funding trouble for standard-force big-ticket hardware still in development. The Army has canceled its Commanche helicopter; the Marines' V-22 tiltrotor aircraft still may not be quite right. Other items in possible jeopardy: the Army's Future Combat System, the Air Force's F/A-22 Raptor jet, the multi-service F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and both the Navy's Virginia-class attack submarine and its Littoral Combat Ship. Grumblings and rumblings persist regarding even the under-construction missile-defense system.

As part of the cutbacks and force reductions, a fifth round of base closings is coming - next year; 97 major bases have been closed since 1988, and dozens of others modified. Addressing what it terms a 25-percent "overcapacity" in domestic bases, the Defense Department has begun asking 425 military installations in the United States and its territories to justify themselves.

None of this includes the separate-track realignment of U.S. forces worldwide - with the anticipated reduction of force levels at bases in Western Europe, and troop redeployment to new or expanded bases in Eastern Europe, South Asia and along the Pacific Rim.

With greater or lesser justification, animal welfarists in the Beast Lobby have made life difficult on - and for - many domestic bases. The House has voted to exempt the military from two laws designed to protect endangered animals and plants, while the Senate typically has been less enthusiastic. The Navy has agreed to limit use of a new sonar system so as not to harm dolphins and whales. And land bases deemed "critical habitats" have reduced or halted troop combat training because of various concerns for - let's see: the California gnatcatcher, the red cockaded woodpecker, the tidewater goby, the Northern spotted owl, the Sonoran pronghorn, the loggerhead shrike, the Arroyo toad, the San Diego and Riverside fairy shrimp and multiple species of protected flora.

Key Puerto Ricans, luminaries and lefties raised a ruckus about live-fire training exercises on the island of Vieques off Puerto Rico's eastern coast - and, after 60 years there, the Navy withdrew last May. The loss of Vieques diminished the purpose of the massive Roosevelt Roads base across the Vieques Passage, so the Navy pulled the plug on "Rosey Roads," too - effective March 31. Having lost Ramey Air Force Base on the island's western coast in the early 1970s, many Puerto Ricans are beginning to wonder about the wisdom of their hostility to the U.S. military presence, while U.S. training space continues to shrink.

Related to domestic base closings is the matter of base schools. The Pentagon is weighing whether to save about $350 million annually by shutting the schools and turning the education of children of military personnel over to nearby civilian public schools. Base schools and children attending them rank consistently high on scholastic performance tests. Closing the schools would deny the military yet another benefit of service - and deny military children a greatly commendable education often provided in compatible community atmospheres by military personnel and their spouses.

The Air Force continues to have problems relating to sex - and not only at the Air Force Academy. Pacific Forces commander William Begert terms the 41 accusations of rape in his command during 2003 - higher than in either of the two previous years - "not a promising picture." Nor is the Air Force alone: Women in other services and other commands also claim rape by U.S. male personnel. Notes an exasperated Rumsfeld: "One cannot read (such reports) and not have a deep concern about the armed forces, because we do hold ourselves to a higher standard."

Compelled sex is a standard part of the arsenal of many enemy forces, as well. Some defenders of putting U.S. women in combat contend the argument as to its prudence is over, given that women have served in both Gulf Wars. But women captured by Iraqis in those wars - including the heralded Jessica Lynch - suffered sodomy and/or rape. What sort of culture not fighting for its very survival subjects its women to such risk? Even Israel, whose survival is consistently at stake, now bars nearly all its drafted women from combat duties.

Here at home a study finds just seven children of the nation's 535 incumbent senators and congressmen serving in the military. From Northwestern's Charles Moskos, a leading military sociologist: "When you have children of the elite serving, you are less likely to go to war and more likely to stay in. When no children of the elite are serving, you are more likely to go to war and less likely to stay in." Looks (a) like another indicator of the widening chasm between the country's civilian and military sectors. And (b) it looks like yet another reason for one year of compulsory universal service for men and women 18 to 23 - no exceptions - with a front-end military component. Such a program would close the gap and give the nation a vast pool of semi-trained (and more sympathetic) manpower when its regular forces are stretched thin - as now.