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Ralph Peters is a regular columnist with the New York Post. Register here for access to the Post's Online Edition.




by Ralph Peters [author, novelist] 4/24/07

Most readers have known what it's like when the money left won't stretch to cover the bills. No matter how sincerely you want to pay up, fiddling with the numbers still leaves you short.

That's where the U.S. Army is today. The soldiers in the personnel account just can't be stretched to cover our strategic debts. We've maxed out our military credit card.

The Army is out of people.
Ralph Peters - Contributor
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications. [go to Peters Index]

Much of the hysteria about a "broken Army" exaggerates the immediate situation. We still have the finest, most-capable Army - and overall military - in the world. But if the institution isn't broken yet, it's showing worrisome cracks.

IN recent travels, I en countered a new skepti cism among officers. They see potential in the tactics belatedly adopted in Iraq, but worry it may be too late. Despite the media-teaser bombings in recent weeks, the Baghdad surge could work over time. But we may not have that time. And we don't have the troops.

The account's empty. And our leaders are still writing checks.

In conversations with officers, a consistent theme emerged: The recent announcement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that Army tours in Iraq would be extended from 12 to 15 months was a body blow to morale.

We'll have to wait to see the hard numbers, but anecdotal information suggests that, the day after the announcement, officers were "lined up" to put in their I've-had-it paperwork.

They don't lack courage. Their belief in the importance of what we're doing hasn't faltered. We've just worn these officers and their families out. While we've been living high on the hog, they've been living through hell.

THESE officers (and NCOs) are willing to risk their lives - but they deserve private lives worth risking. As the bipartisan hypocrites in Washington argue over their dry-aged steaks and trophy cabernets, Democratic moral support for our enemies and Republican incompetence to wage war have torn at the seams of our military families.

Officers don't like to admit it, but they leave the service to keep their spouses. Those spouses have been steadfast since the autumn of 2001. The divorce rate hasn't soared.

But the effect has been cumulative: Raising children who see their fathers or mothers for a few months every couple of years has left the home-alone parents feeling their lives have been stolen.

They've watched their husbands or wives go off to war - while the rest of America goes off to the mall. After the third or fourth back-to-back deployment, the yellow ribbon decal on the car in the passing lane just doesn't do it. One per cent of our population has been asked to bear the entire sacrifice of this war.

AND there are organiz ational problems, too: As failed policies drive good officers to leave because all we promise them is more of the same - without a global strategy to win - the officers who remain in uniform are promoted at higher or accelerated rates.

Sounds good, if you're waiting for the next promotion list, but a retired Marine regimental commander worries about the ultimate cost. He saw what happened in the wake of Vietnam, when officers and NCOs who didn't merit promotion rose in the ranks because there was no one else left.

Years after that conflict's end, we had a hollow NCO corps and an officer corps that put time-servers in charge of heroes.

I saw that wretched Army first-hand in the 1970s. No soldier of conscience who was there wants to see a replay.

WE'RE not yet near so dire a point. But if there's a lesson we should learn from the past six years, it's that you have to attack the problem before it gets out of hand. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld flatly refused to consider increasing the size of the Army and Marines. Now we're playing catch-up, and it's going to take five years - five years that we haven't got.

The wrong thing to do would be to blame Secretary Gates. He inherited a bloody mess. While his announcement that Army tours of duty would be lengthened punched morale in the solar plexus, he saw no choice.

To have the least chance of turning Iraq around at this late date, we need to send more troops. But we don't have the numbers to do it right. So we cook the books and send the same guys and gals in uniform back again.

Is the effort worth it? Yes. Just barely. But we're also going to have to be honest: If the Iraqis aren't picking up far more of the weight by the end of this year, it's over. No more excuses.

Gates took that message to Iraq's leaders last week. But he's unable to take the same message to our troops. Too many promises have been broken already. To his credit, the defense secretary has been honest about the muddle we're in and doesn't want to create false hopes that "the boys will be home for Christmas."

OUR troops did all that we asked, but we asked them to do many of the wrong things, and we asked them to do too much. Meanwhile, the pols we elected, Republican and Democrat, lavished billions on corrupt defense contractors when what we needed was more of that commodity ever despised in Washington, the American soldier.

Now the human budget won't stretch - and the collection notices are starting to come in.


Ralph Peters' latest book is Never Quit The Fight.

This piece first appeared in the New York Post
copyright 2007 - NY Post

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