FOUR YEARS AFTER GEORGE BUSH PRONOUNCED THE END OF MAJOR COMBAT OPERATIONS IN IRAQ UNDER A "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" BANNER, THE STRENGTH OF THE UNITED STATES ARMY IS IN SERIOUS DECLINE.
Speech on the Floor of the Senate, May 1, 2007
On this day four years ago, standing beneath a red, white and blue banner that proclaimed “Mission Accomplished” George Bush announced that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.
He had dressed himself up in a flight suit like a live GI Joe doll, and had flown out to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on a fighter jet to make a tailhook landing, even though the Lincoln was anchored just 30 miles off the coast of California and was easily reachable by presidential helicopter.
On the deck, he told the American people: “In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”
But nothing about it was real. The guy who playing dress up in a Top Gun flight suit had never seen combat; the war he had instigated was far from over, and the rationale for that war was fabricated propaganda. The scene on the carrier deck was nothing more than an elaborately staged photo-op. Six weeks into the war with Iraq, the Bush administration was out of touch with reality then, and it remains out of touch with reality today.
So on this, the anniversary of "Mission Accomplished," I think it is appropriate for us to take a realistic look at the condition of our nation’s military – the real soldiers, dressed in real uniforms who are facing real danger, and sometimes paying with their lives in Iraq.
George Bush keeps telling us that this war is all about keeping us safe in a dangerous world, and that leaving Iraq would weaken us in the face of terror, so it is only fair that we examine our military readiness.
It should concern all Americans that most armed forces experts believe we are steadily declining in military power the longer we stay in Iraq. With no end in sight, unless the Congress can force the Bush Administration to accept a deadline for withdrawal, we are slowly draining this nation’s military strength. Despite the bravery and sacrifice of our soldiers, there is now real doubt concerning our Army’s ability to accomplish other missions in the future, even the most basic mission of defending our country.
As former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a soldier for 35 years, said in December of 2006, just a few months ago: “The active Army is about broken.”
Last month, Time Magazine examined the state of our Army. It began the article with the tale of a young man from Montana, who enlisted straight out of high school last June, at the age of 17. After basic training, he was assigned to a unit bound for Iraq, even though he did not have time to receive the full measure of training for that mission. He was given a quick, 10-day course covering weapons, first aid and Iraqi culture. Just a week after arriving in Iraq, he was killed in combat with Sunni insurgents.
The article went on to reveal that while his story may not be typical, it is also not rare.
Our military has been strained by the four-year war in Iraq. The rush to carry out Bush's order to send additional troops more quickly to Iraq is forcing two of the five new brigades bound for the war to skip standard training. These soldiers aren't getting the benefit of participating in war games on the wide Mojave Desert, where they simulate conditions in Iraq, a war now longer than WW II.
Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon personnel chief, said: "Given the new policy of having troops among the Iraqis, they should be giving our young soldiers more training, not less."
America is now protected by an all-volunteer Army, and the longer the futile war in Iraq drags on, the problem of enlistment and re-enlistment gets worse and worse.
Units are now being sent to Iraq without even a year at home, compared to the two years that units have traditionally been given. On April 11, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that deployments would increase from 12 to 15 months.
Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who advises his old service, said: "This is the first time we've had a voluntary Army on an extended deployment. A lot of canaries are dropping dead in the mine."
The result is an Army with less training, more stress, and deteriorating equipment.
The TIME Magazine article said that half the Army's 43 combat brigades are now deployed overseas, with the remainder recovering from their latest deployment or preparing for the next one. For the first time in decades, the Army's "ready brigade" — a unit of the famed 82nd Airborne Division primed to parachute into a hot spot anywhere in the world within 72 hours—is a luxury the U.S. Army cannot afford. All its forces are already dedicated to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Repeated combat tours have a huge impact on families, General Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, told Congress in February. Those deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan more than once—170,000 so far—have a 50% increase in acute combat stress over those who have been deployed only once. And that stress is what contributes to post-traumatic stress disorder, according to an Army study.
"Their wives are saying, I know you're proud of what you're doing, but we've got to get out of here," says Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star general.
The Army Times reported in December that, for the first time, more troops surveyed disapproved of the President's handling of the war than approved of it, 42 percent to thirty-five percent. It also reported that over the past two years, the number of troops surveyed who think victory is likely has fallen from eighty-three percent to fifty percent. Army suicides have risen from 51 in 2001 to 91 last year. Desertions are also climbing.
Bush says he wants to boost the size of the Army. Already, however, the Army is making its recruitment quotas only because it has lowered its standards for education, enlistment age, criminal background, medical problems, and standardized test scores.
That does not bode well for the quality of our Army in the future.
And because it is now more difficult to retain veteran soldiers, the Army is increasing cash bonuses for reenlistment and for combat duty. Still, the Army estimates that over the next six years, it will fall short by 3,000 mid-level officers. For example, it has only 83 percent of the majors it needs. Both the national totals of ROTC graduates, and the number of West Point graduates, fell short of goals last year.
Much of this problem stems from the realization among a demoralized American public that we are in a war that we should never have started. Much of it is also due to the Bush Administration believing that the war was finished and the mission had been accomplished after six weeks, and thus not preparing our military properly for the long, hard fight that would lie ahead.
Many Bush Administration supporters say that those who press for an end to this war are guilty of not supporting the troops. I say there is no better way to support our troops than to remove them from a situation where they senselessly serve as targets in the midst of a lethal civil war. I say there is no better was to support our military than to get it out of Iraq, so we can begin to repair its strength, and to rebuild a fighting force that will be able in the future to fulfill its true mission of protecting our country. If the mission was accomplished on May 1, 2003, whey are they still there?
And now I would ask you all to honor the memory of two soldiers from Pennsylvania who died while carrying out the mission that was assigned to them in Iraq.
Sergeant Jae S. Moon, 21, of Levittown, died December 25 in Baghdad of wounds suffered when an IED detonated near his vehicle while on patrol. Sergeant Moon was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
Sergeant John T. Bubeck, 25, of Collegeville died December 26 of wounds suffered when an IED detonated near his vehicle during combat operations the previous day in Baghdad. Sergeant Bubeck was assigned to the 9th Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.
They are among the 3,351 American soldiers killed so far in Iraq. Another 24,912 have been wounded.
The number of U.S. combat fatalities since May 1, 2003, the day of "mission Accomplished," is 2,629.
Thank you Madam President.
Copyright 2000 Sen. Vincent J. Fumo