Rod Hafemeister, Military Reporter

Observations on current military issues.

Who is to blame for the “too-small” military?

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“Beware the 12-divison strategy for a 10-division Army.”
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, at his retirement ceremony, June 11, 2003
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Five years into the war in Iraq, it’s clear that Shinseki was right when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee, three weeks before the war, that securing Iraq and establishing peace would require “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers.”

But the nasty truth is, the Pentagon didn’t have and still doesn’t have that many troops to commit to Iraq. At the time of Shinseki’s statement — which Pentagon civilian leaders disputed — the Army estimated that it could deploy, at the most, 293,000 of the roughly 490,000 soldiers on active duty. The rest were already committed to places like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Korea and the Sinai.

And for a long conflict, the goal is to have no more than one-third of the force deployed at once: One unit recovering from deployment, one unit deployed and one unit training and preparing to deploy.

That’s why 12-month tours became 15 months, thousands of soldiers found their enlistments extended under “stop-loss,” individuals and units have returned for second, third and even fourth tours and most National Guard and Reserve members found themselves called up for duty. (At times, as much as 37 percent of the total force in Iraq was Guard and Reserve.)

In fact, military insiders admit that the much-vaunted “surge” of about 30,000 troops was not based on how many troops really were needed, but on how many were available.

There is broad agreement that today’s military is too small to handle the missions of today and tomorrow.

And if you ask most people in uniform today, they’ll say it’s all the fault of the Clinton administration’s military cuts.

Blaming Clinton has also been a theme of Republicans dating back to the 2000 election and into this year’s election campaign.

“If called on by the commander-in-chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report … Not ready for duty, sir.”
George W. Bush in his 2000 acceptance speech as Republican nominee for president.

“Following the end of the Cold War, President Clinton began to dismantle our military. He reduced our forces by 500,000. He retired almost 80 ships. Our spending on national defense dropped from over 6% of GDP to 3.8% today. He called it a ‘peace dividend.’”
Mitt Romney at the Frontiers Of Freedom Ronald Reagan Gala, April 18, 2007.

“Bill Clinton cut the military drastically. It was called the peace dividend, one of those nice-sounding phrases: very devastating. It was a 25, 30 percent cut in the military.”
Rudolph Giuliani, presidential debate, Jan. 5, 2008.

But if you look at annual active duty end strengths, it becomes clear that Clinton only continued cuts that began under George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney:

Equally significant, the biggest cuts for the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps came during G.H.W. Bush budgets. Only Clinton’s Navy cuts exceeded Bush’s military cuts, even though Clinton had twice as many years in office.

“End strength” is one-day snapshot — the number of military personnel actually in uniform on the last day of each fiscal year, Sept. 30.

Because the fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, a president comes into office inheriting the final fiscal year budget of his predecessor and typically is unable to make major changes.

G.H.W. Bush’s budgets covered fiscal years 1990-1993; Clinton’s covered 1994-2001.

The above charts show actual active duty end strength, according to Department of Defense figures. There are two measures of end strength: authorized and actual.

Authorized end strength is the number of people each service is allowed to have by law, set forth in annual congressional authorizations. Actual end strength is just what it sounds like: the number of people actually in a given service on Sept. 30.

Each service is allowed to exceed its authorized end strength by up to 2 percent during peacetime. The president can waive the 2-percent cap during wartime and did shortly after 9/11; since then, the Air Force and Navy have been required to reduce manpower to meet lower authorized end strengths than they had in 2001.

What? Lower end strengths?

Yes; despite the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, counter-terrorism efforts in the Horn of Africa and increased concerns about countries like Iran and North Korea, the Air Force and Navy have been required to downsize to free up budget money for the wars and manpower increases for the Army and Marine Corps.

In fact, the actual total active duty military end strength for Sept. 30, 2007 is smaller than when George W. Bush took office — and the smallest end strength since at least 1950, the earliest year for which the Pentagon has published numbers.

Don’t believe it? Take a look at the official Pentagon numbers in the charts below:

(These numbers differ from those in the military deaths tables in a previous entry for two reasons: 1. They are based on active duty service members only and do not include Guard and Reserve, and 2. They are fiscal year end strengths (Sept. 30) while the fatality numbers are from calendar years (Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.))

So does Clinton get a pass on the too-small military?

Of course not — he continued the downsizing envisioned by G.H.W. Bush and Cheney, but tweaked it based on the Bottom-Up Review his first Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin, conducted in 1993.

The BUP “projected a reduced force structure still capable of fighting and winning two simultaneous major regional conflicts. Forces would include 10 active Army divisions; 11 carrier battle groups, 45 to 55 attack submarines, and about 345 ships; 5 active Marine brigades; and 13 active and 7 reserve Air Force fighter wings. The report also called for additional prepositioned equipment and airlift/sealift capacity, improved anti-armor and precision-guided munitions, and enhanced Army National Guard combat brigade readiness.”

And Clinton continued downsizing while deploying forces to Bosnia, Haiti and Kosovo and the “no-fly zones” in Northern and Southern Iraq and for numerous humanitarian relief operations, putting increased stress on both active duty and reserve members.

Clinton also gets dinged for cutting both military procurement and military maintenance budgets while increasing the wear and tear on deployed equipment. (National Defense Budget Estimates for FY 2008 Table 6.1)

And Democratic and Republican congresses share the blame for cutting military budgets while at the same time forcing pet procurement projects on the Pentagon that military leaders did not want.
For a look at the budget battles of defense secretaries going back to Reagan, check out the official histories of Frank C. Carlucci, Richard B. (Dick) Cheney, Leslie (Les) Aspin, William J. Perry and William S. Cohen.

So the answer to “Who is to blame?” is: Everybody.

G.H.W. Bush and Cheney made deep cuts and laid out a five-year plan to cut more. Clinton and his defense secretaries continued to cut while increasing the military’s workload – its OpsTempo – while underfunding maintenance and replacement of aging equipment. Democratic and Republican-controlled congresses kept budgets tight while tacking on expensive weapons systems that military leaders didn’t ask for.

And we, the public, stood by and let it happen.

So just how small is today’s military, historically?

About 43 percent smaller than during the peak size in 1966, during the Vietnam War. And the Army is just over a third of its peak Vietnam size, reached in 1968.

Perhaps more significant, both the total force and the Army are about two-thirds the size they were during the worst years of the “hollow force” following Vietnam:

Regardless of who deserves how much blame for a “too small” military, the next administration faces one of two choices: Dramatically increase the military budget, for manpower, weapons and equipment — or dramatically reduce the military’s missions.

Disinformation about military deaths under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush

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Have you seen the list of “Annual fatalities of military members…?”

The one that claims to show more service members died on Bill Clinton’s watch than have died during the George W. Bush presidency? And that blames the “liberal media” for not reporting it?

Well, it’s not true. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the original author of the email appears to have deliberately lied, since the numbers used do not agree with the ones in the official government document claimed as the source.

Further, the email is deliberately deceptive: For Bush, some of the numbers appear to be only the number of military deaths in Iraq — and incorrect numbers, at that. But for Clinton, the numbers are for all military deaths, including those from accidents, illnesses, homicides and suicides.

Here’s a version I received in March, with notes.

It may be the worst piece of political disinformation I’ve seen in a long time, easily and completely discredited by simply checking the link to the source.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t prevented people from posting some variation of it on hundreds of blogs or from forwarding it to tens of thousands of people on email lists as if it was the absolute truth.

Here’s the truth: According to the Pentagon’s official figures, 7,500 active duty service members died between 1993 and 2000, the eight years of the Bill Clinton administration. During the first six years of the George W. Bush administration, 2001 through 2006, 8,989 active duty service members died — 1,489 more than under Clinton, even though the Bush total covers two fewer years.

More significantly, when you compare the death rates under the two presidents, the average death rate under Clinton was 5.75 deaths per 10,000 active duty service members and 9.05 per 10,000 under Bush.

I can already hear readers asking, “Huh? What’s this death rates stuff? Death rates aren’t in any of the emails.”

Of course not — comparing death rates exposes the email as false propaganda.

Death rate is more significant than the raw number of deaths, because it compares the number of deaths to the number of people on active duty. For example, if two populations have the same number of deaths, but one population starts with twice as many people as the other, then its death rate is half that of the smaller population.

For death statistics, the Pentagon uses a figure for “Total Military FTE (full-time equivalent)” that includes the number of service members on active duty, the number of full-time Guard and Reserve members and a calculation of active duty days for Selected Guard and Reserve members who are only on active duty part time. Here is a chart of the actual death rates for the calendar years from 1980 through 2006:

(I chose “deaths per 10,000” because it is a commonly accepted ratio and resulted in one or two-digit whole numbers with two decimal places, making it easier to read on a chart. If you prefer percentages, simply move the decimal point two spaces to the left.)

As you can see, the death rates of 11.66 and 11.39, for 2005 and 2006, respectively, are the highest for the period. The 2004 death rate, 10.94, is only slightly less than the earlier peak of 11.08 in 1980. The general trend from 1980 until 2001 had been downward, with noticeable upticks for events like the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut and the invasion of Grenada, both in 1983, and the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

As the military got smaller during the 1990s, the rate at which service members died dropped even faster, reaching a low of 4.95 per 10,000 in 2000.

The primary reason for the decline in death rates was a dramatic drop in the rate of accidental deaths, from 7.20 in 1980 to as low as 2.60 in 2000. In peacetime, accidental deaths typically make up more than 50 percent of all military deaths and through most of the 1980s they were 60 to 65 percent of all deaths.

Here is a chart of the accidental death rates:

Most military observers credit two factors for the reduction in the accidental death rates: The 1984 federal law that compelled states to raise their drinking ages from 18 back to 21 and the military drawdown of the 1990s.

During the drawdown, commanders looked for reasons to discharge service members — and underage drinking or a driving under the influence bust was a career killer.

So where did this propaganda piece originate? It’s impossible to be certain, but the earliest version I can find, which at least uses correct numbers for the Clinton years, is on a blog post from June 4, 2007.

(UPDATE 11 April 2008: Based on a tip and additional search, it now appears the earliest variation was a Feb. 20, 2007 piece by Alicia Colon in the New York Sun.)

Recently, the bogus statistics have risen to the attention of a few in the media, who have started to debunk them, including Bob Richter, public editor of the San Antonio Express-News, with two columns here and here, and Chuck Vinch of the Army Times group of military newspapers.

But your Google search will have to get past a lot of versions of the disinformation before you find them.

And that’s a shame. The military men and women who have died, in war and in peace, deserve better than to have their deaths dishonored for a piece of political propaganda.


(The two tables below show the death numbers, with total death rates, and the death rates by cause of death. Click to expand.)

Written by Rod Hafemeister

8 April 2008 at 0629 UTC

Welcome to the Blog

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This is my first post — which means, of course, it will be the last one you read, since these things traditionally use reverse chronological order.

If you got this far, you’ve reached The End.

Thank you for coming and have a nice day.

Written by Rod Hafemeister

8 April 2008 at 0232 UTC

Posted in Journalism, Military

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