Top Leaders Debate Imminent Cuts to Military Ranks

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No one wants a world without wars more than those who have had to fight in one. It is a noble and worthy dream to live in a world without wars. It is a dream worthy of human beings and worthy of their efforts to create such a world. We must do all that we can to reach this, but since we live in a paradoxical reality, we must also be prepared to defend ourselves from those who have not yet matured enough in their moral character to act in ways that would promote that peace we all desire. Indeed, sadly, there are some who just do not want that peace until they can have it in their own particular and self-centered ways. And they remain truly dangerous in the world. Because of this real world awareness, we must remain prepared to defend ourselves effectively.

An Army Ranger stealthily stalks across the horizon in the fading light.

How Small Is Too Small?

The war in Afghanistan is coming to a close at the end of this year. During the period of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army, at its peak, numbered around 570,000 troops. By the end of the Afghan war it will have dropped to around 490,000 men and women. Secretary of Defense Hagel is planning to reduce the numbers further to around 450,000. He argues that “An Army of this size is larger than required to meet the demands of our defense strategy.” It could shrink even more. If sequestration remains in play, those numbers could drop by another 30,000 troops. So the debate begins.

Some generals think that a smaller Army places the country at a greater risk. Though we are all relieved that we are finally coming to the end of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and though most of us go on about our daily business thinking about our own lives with their work duties and their unique economic concerns, the generals have to think about and be prepared for things that might threaten our ability to live as free and as safe as we do now. Some of these generals, like General Odierno, the current Army Chief, are concerned that a smaller Army we would not be able to meet the necessary requirements of the Army’s duties if something broke out, say, on the Korean Peninsula.

Others, like retired colonel, Doug MacGregor think otherwise. He says, “I could run an Army at 420,000 that has far more fighting power in it, more deployable capability, than what you have today. It’s a function of how you organize.” He argues that things could be done like cutting staff and the number of generals, and creating more highly trained, fast moving units. You could shed the artillery and use the firepower of the Navy and the Air Force instead. Some argue that the National Guard and the Reserves, who have been used so widely in both of the last two conflicts, could be maintained at highly trained, supplied, and ready levels to be used quickly if the need arose.

Be Prepared

I will admit that I have no expertise to know the answer to this question. I don’t know who is more correct in this debate. But I do know that, no matter how much we want the world to be a peaceful place, when we look around at what is happening in the world like: the current stand-off between Ukraine and Russia, the ongoing events in Syria, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, it seems to me that the old Boy Scout motto makes sense: “Be Prepared.”

“Denial is not a strategy for our national well-being.”

However the debate is settled, I hope that the thinking about “being prepared” is not overwhelmed by either idealistic philosophies or by immediate and current economic issues alone. We do not live in a safe world — yet. Denial is not a strategy for our national well-being. Let us all hope, no matter where we sit on the spectrum of this debate, that they get this question right.


Image A U.S. Army Ranger assigned to 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, moves across a ridge line during Task Force Training on Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., Jan. 22, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Hitchcock, CC BY 2.0).


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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.