Disgruntled grunts

National | Army morale, equipment, and training were casualties of the Clinton era

Issue: "Linda Chavez," Jan. 20, 2001

Neglect is the first thing the U.S. Army experienced upon the onset of the Clinton administration. After his January 1993 inauguration, President Bill Clinton waited eight months to appoint a secretary of the army. In essence, the army was leaderless, since the service is civilian-controlled under the U.S. Constitution. At the least, enlisted soldiers did not receive their coveted military award certificates, which had to be signed by the secretary. Beyond that, army budget, training, equipment modernization, and troop welfare decisions were shelved until the new secretary was appointed. I commanded two companies-one during the Bush administration and another during the Clinton years. In my first command, we fixed our equipment as the regulations prescribed. If anything was not working or needed a safety modification, we ordered the specified parts and repaired it. During my second command, things changed drastically. My company had a limited budget for repair parts, which shrunk further every fiscal year that I was in command. Instead of fixing his equipment immediately, a soldier was told to hold off while his need was collected, prioritized, and perhaps approved. Soldiers who should have been maintaining their equipment or training with it were reassigned to work in the new bureaucracy that emerged to track expenses and the swapping of parts. We held off on replacing torn vehicle tops since a Humvee could run without a new one. But during heavy rains other equipment, radios, and personal gear were damaged. Equipment readiness is an unspoken but significant casualty of the Clinton era. During the first Bush administration, my units trained monthly in realistic exercises. We had the resources (e.g., fuel, ammunition, spare parts) to move, shoot, and communicate in scenarios that were challenging and long enough to improve our endurance. While Mr. Clinton was president, my units canceled training events because he diverted our training dollars to pay for operational missions in Bosnia, Haiti, and elsewhere. In 1991, my company had the simulators, ranges, and ammunition to qualify 55 percent of my unit in the highest marksmanship category, Expert. The rest qualified in the next highest category, Sharpshooter. In 1996, all of the simulators were broken, the range equipment worked sporadically, and ammunition was in short supply. Two percent of the unit qualified as Expert that year. More than half of the company barely qualified in the lowest marksmanship category, three steps down from Expert. By 1997, tank drivers had fuel allocations totaling less than 40 driving miles per year. Tank drivers traveled more on the trucks hauling their tanks than in their hatches, where they should have been working with their crews and gaining a feel for their tanks. Today's tank crews are less trained and less proficient than those who landed in the Saudi Arabian desert in 1990 and 1991. It is well documented that army units have been deployed to places like Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, and Saudi Arabia on peacekeeping missions. Army personnel also have been used increasingly for disaster relief, firefighting, and counter-narcotics operations. The strain on soldiers and their families underlying these temporary deployments goes unreported. The U.S. Army now has commitments to provide staff officers and soldiers to United Nations and combined headquarters in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Saudi Arabia. To fill these slots, the army takes soldiers who are permanently stationed in the United States or Germany and puts them on half-year deployments. This, of course, is a hardship on the soldier and his family, but it also strains the units that have to deal with the loss of the soldier. Workloads increase for soldiers left behind, unit efficiency hiccups, and morale goes down. Statistics prove that morale has drastically declined since President Clinton took over as commander in chief. One in three soldiers does not finish his first enlistment. For the first time in recent history, the army is so short of captains that it is offering to reinstate any captain who has left the service. Firsthand experience proves that the numbers are right. I resigned my commission in late 1999, just after reaching what usually is the "no turning back" point of serving for 10 years-half a career-on active duty. I had a good record, I had been promoted to major, but I left because of the ruin that the commander in chief leveled on his own army.

-Major Michael Maedo is a veteran of the U.S. Army and lives in Missouri

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