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HOW I ACTUALLY LEARNED SOME GOOD STUFF WHILE PLAYING SOLDIER FOR A WEEK

A Special Edition of The Politics1 Report
May 10, 2001

by Ron Gunzburger
Publisher, Politics1.com

The Department of Defense calls it the "Joint Civilian Orientation Conference" (JCOC) -- but I think of it as more of a military fantasy camp for civilians. The JCOCers at Ft. BraggEnvision some aging accountant shelling out big bucks to spend a week shagging fly balls from has-been baseball stars. Now substitute soldiers for the ball players, weapons for the baseballs -- throw in some cool explosions and lots of travel -- and you'll get the idea. For a little over week in April, I and 54 other rather lucky civilians participated in Ron doing the Rambo thingJCOC-64.

Why us? We were each nominated last year by a base commander, someone with senior DOD ties, a past JCOC participant, etc., and then selected by the Secretary of Defense from a pool of over 400 nominees. The JCOC participants -- each fairly successful in their field -- included a balance of men and women from business, government, academia and the media. The reason: DOD wants each of us to return home talking and writing about the things we observed (which, DOD hopes, will largely be positive).

Well, after paying our $2,000 apiece (for "costs") -- and hearing an endless stream of submarine collision jokes (i.e., "Try not to hit any fishing trawlers!") from friends who each thought they were the first one to think of this witticism -- it was finally time for our trip!


DAY 1 - WASHINGTON, DC:

Stuff We Did:
Welcome speeches and orientation. We were arbitrarily divided into five groups -- The JCOC Marine Corps red teamArmy, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard -- to break us into more manageable clusters for the week (and gave each group its own military escort from the designated service branch). I was assigned to the Marines (pictured right). We were also given a very detailed schedule for the week (i.e., each "Comfort Break" during the week was noted on the schedule). At the evening reception and dinner, we had a chance to chat with various high-ranking military officials and meet many of our fellow JCOC folks. I mistakenly made a sarcastic remark about President Bush's recent arsenic-in-drinking-water decision -- oblivious to the fact that one of the people I was chatting with was Bush's Acting Air Force Secretary.

Stuff I Learned:
1. Only 5% of journalists and 8% of the Members of Congress have ever served in the military -- among the lowest percentages in US history.
2. Military folks love giving computerized PowerPoint presentations ... and love speaking in acronyms. Consistent with the old soldier's "Eat when you can, sleep when you can ..." adage, "PowerPoint" quickly became our synonym for nap time.
3. DOD views itself as "America's largest, oldest and most successful employer" with a combined military and civilian workforce of 5.1 million people. There are also 247,000 US soldiers stationed abroad in 130 foreign countries.
4. President Bush's Acting Air Force Secretary will glare at you if you insult his boss.
5. "Purple" is now the most mentioned color in the military. Colors traditionally refer to different services (red for Marines, green for Army, etc.). Purple is the Pentagon term used to describe all of the new "joint" commands and operations involving multiple branches of the service.


DAY 2 - THE PENTAGON & NORFOLK (VA):

Stuff We Did:
PENTAGON: The morning visit to the Pentagon seemed to be the classroom component of the trip. After a brief tour of a few corridors in the massive building,General Myers we regrouped in the pressroom for a Q&A discussion with Air Force General Dick Myers, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Our next speaker was Assistant Defense Secretary Charlie Cragin, a GOP politician from Maine in his past life. Cragin served at DOD as a "Schedule C" (political appointee) during Bush I ... but was brought back to DOD in Clinton II when Senator Bill Cohen (R-ME) was appointed Defense Secretary. A Pentagon official helpfully volunteered that Cragin had been Cohen's divorce attorney back in Maine. Cragin was subsequently promoted within DOD during Bush II. Cragin told us his biggest fear is not a conventional war but some terrorist using a silent biological/toxic weapon like anthrax against a huge crowd of spectators at some sporting event: people will all go home, within a few days they'll feel like they have the flu, doctor's will agree they have the flu, and a few days later they'll die ... and by the time we realize what has happened, the virus could spread to catastrophic numbers. Cragin told us he's already had his fifth of the six anthrax inoculation shots. Other than rogue terrorists with bio-tox weapons, we began hearing the running message that China is emerging as our most serious military threat in the world. Visited the National Military Command Center within the Pentagon, better known to movie fans as the highly classified "War Room." Then we headed to Andrews Air Force Base for our first military flight of the week. We flew a KC-10 tanker plane to Norfolk. En route, I went below to the boom operator's compartment and watched an aerial refueling of a C-17 military cargo plane.

NORFOLK: Norfolk is headquarters of our Atlantic Fleet. Toured the USS Oklahoma City, a Los Angeles-class nuclear submarine. The Captain told us that he is "allowed to say that the boat has a maximum speed of 20 knots -- but you can look it up in Jane's and see the more accurate stats that we're not allowed to tell you." "Classified" doesn't seem to mean much when you can read the secret data in a magazine. Also toured the USS Ross, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer equipped with the advanced Aegis weapon system. The Ross is actually powered by two huge, conventional jet engines housed deep inside the ship's engine room. Aboard the Ross, the Captain made a brief pitch for why he felt women aboard ships was good for the Navy (the women on his ships have been exemplary sailors and their presence causes the men to generally behave better). Dinner reception with Admiral Natter, Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, and all of the newly promoted Generals and Admirals in the CAPSTONE group.

Stuff I Learned:
1. Anthrax and other bio-tox weapons are a serious threat to our domestic safety. You can learn more at www.anthrax.osd.mil -- although civilians currently have no way of getting the immunization shots.
2. Aerial refuelings are really amazing -- you'd never believe how close the two planes fly for the procedure until you see it for yourself.
3. The resilient Charlie Cragin would likely survive an anthrax attack -- thus rendering him able to help future Defense Secretaries navigate the tricky minefield of divorce law.
4. Living quarters aboard a submarine are tiny, cramped and without any privacy -- but sub crews get the best food in the Navy as a reward for their rather hard duty. And, if you're wondering, women are not allowed to serve aboard subs.
5. Unlike during the Cold War, foreign subs no longer operate anywhere near American shores.
6. It is a movie myth that a good sonar operator on a sub can hear the words spoken by sailors on a nearby sub -- but they may be able detect muffled sounds and identify it as talking.
7. A half-day cruise on a destroyer -- not counting crew salaries -- costs nearly $40,000 in fuel and other expenses. Live fire exercises also add lots of additional costs.
8. The Ross may be the cleanest ship in the Navy -- you could actually eat off the shining floors and gleaming surfaces throughout the engine room.


DAY 3 - NORFOLK (VA):

Stuff We Did:
After an early breakfast with Naval aviators, we donned "cranials" (small helmets with attached ear protection), goggles and inflatable life vests for a flight to the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier conducting flight training operations 100 miles off the North Carolina coast. COD aircraft We were packed into three small CODs ("Carrier Onboard Delivery" aircrafts) -- tightly strapped into our seats in the dark passenger compartment. For those who have never flown on military transports, there are no windows, all of the seats face backwards and everyone uses earplugs because of the high noise level inside the cargo planes. When we approached the ship, the COD made a sharp braking turn -- getting us to about 2-3 G's -- before making a perfect tailhook landing on the 3-wire and having the wire jerk us to a sudden stop on the deck. We toured the massive ship: 19 levels (accessible entirely by stairs and ladders -- no elevators!). The ship can hold a crew of over 6,000 when deployed with a full air wing (but currently had only 3,300 on board). The Captain said the average age the crew of his ship was just 19 years old (think about what tells about the low re-enlistment rate!). At lunch, we ate with enlisted crewmen who told us of life about the ship. Several said they had to wait in line 60-90 minutes just to get into the cafeteria for each meal -- and as long as 2˝ hours when they are at full crew -- Flight operationscausing many of them to eat only two meals a day. When we heard that many of these seamen had yet to ever visit much of the ship, we invited some to join our groups for the rest of the tour. A few seamen took us up on the offer -- but most dropped-out when we reached the blue-tiled floors on the upper levels of the ship. One explained that the blue tiles signified "Officers' Country" and -- as an enlisted seaman -- he simply was not allowed to walk there. Watched a series of fighter jet tailhook landings and catapult launches. Suited back up and boarded the CODs for the trip back to Norfolk -- and the amazing cat launch that shoots the COD off the deck (the pilots refer to it as "the E ticket ride at Disney" of flying). The launch violently throws you forward from your seat into the tight four-point seat harness that holds you in place -- and any loose objects (like eyeglasses) go flying towards the back of the plane. Upon our return to Norfolk, we boarded a C-17 cargo plane for the flight to Pope AFB at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Dinner with the Army commanders at Fort Bragg, followed by an early bedtime.

Stuff I Learned:
1. The Russians no longer have enough money to even send any aircraft carriers to sea.
2. Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale) is the most popular port of call in the world for Navy shore leave.
3. Neither the Chinese nor North Koreans operate any aircraft carriers nor have pilots skilled enough to perform aircraft carrier flight operations.
4. An aircraft carrier is like an ant farm model of a very functional societal caste system (the upper class literally eats, sleeps and works above the middle and lower classes).
5. The Air Force made a big mistake several years ago when they refused to cooperate with the producers of the movie Top Gun -- which caused the producers to change the story to be about Navy pilots instead of USAF pilots.
6. Best quote of the day from a soldier: "Subtlety is inefficient, Sir."
7. If your spouse is a Quaker pacifist (like mine is), they will likely start losing nearly all interest in hearing about your daily military exploits by about your third night's phone call home.


DAY 4 - FORT BRAGG (NC):

Stuff We Did:
Breakfast with the Special Forces/Rangers, followed by a briefing from the Commanding General of the US Special Operations Command. The Special Forces (more popularly known as the "Green Berets") and With the H+K RifleRangers are the elite fighting forces of the US Army. Viewed jump training in the vertical wind tunnel, followed by presentations from the Ranger Psychological Operations (PSY OPS) units that engage in propaganda warfare tactics. Viewed a live fire, close quarter battle exercise of an urban unit storming and neutralizing a house used by a terrorist cell. On the target firing range, we all got to shoot Beretta 9mm pistols, H+K 9mm rifles and M79 rifles (the standard Army issue combat rifle). Marksmanship awards were given for the best and worst pistol scores (I was neither ... scoring a respectable 83 out of a possible 100 points on my first time ever shooting). Lunch in field kitchens with the troops and Commanding General. Following lunch we participated in aBoarding the Chinook Non-Combatant Evacuation exercise. The 55 of us in JCOC were the non-combatants -- playing American personnel in need of immediate evacuation from a fictitious, post-coup African nation of "Nogoland." We were bused to the "US Embassy" -- with the caravan running a gauntlet of hostile, anti-American mobs before reaching the embassy. Watching from the roof of the embassy compound in an urban combat city, we saw the Special Forces first try to order the mobs away from the compound. When enemy snipers appeared -- followed by more heavy weaponry -- the Special Forces answered with a swift, heavy show of force. After much gun and rocket fire, we were then quickly herded into the all-black Chinook helicopters for a fast, low-flying, wild ride with machine guns blazing to Pope AFB -- where we were handed over to theJumpmaster in the C-130 XVIII Airborne Corps. We were each assigned an "Airborne buddy" -- an 82nd Airborne enlisted man -- who spent the next 90 minutes with us to answer our questions and walk us through the various "static displays" (this term refers to various equipment on display, versus in action). At one static display, we saw a brand new truck-based, rocket launcher that fires six rockets and was "just delivered" by Lockheed. When asked how the launcher is reloaded, a soldier candidly told the group that "it has a built-in arm that is supposed to reload it -- but it doesn't work. The motor burns out when you try to use it ... so we have to bring a second vehicle along that does the reloading." Umm ... can we return it for a refund? Then we loaded onto C-130s with the paratroopers for a static line jump at an altitude of just 800 feet (they jumped, not us ... although I was one of several JCOC folks who asked to be allowed to jump). The C-130s then landed in the drop zone field at dusk and we exited to meet up with the soldiers that had just jumped. After a late dinner at the drop zone, we donned Kevlar combat helmets, waterproof camouflage jackets and night vision goggles and ventured out into the darkened battlefield and stormy, moonless night to view live fire exercises of Airborne troops (with helicopter air support) assaulting a fortified enemy compound. "You folks are out here on a dark, cold, windy, rainy night," General Stan McCrystal told us in the field, "Now you get to see real 'soldiering' conditions." Our day finally drew to a close ... nearly 19 hours after it began.

Stuff I Learned:
1. The Army put on the best "show" of the entire JCOC week ... and the Chinook flight was the most exciting ride of the week.
2. Generally speaking, our military's enlisted personnel The Rangersare highly capable, dedicated and disciplined young men and women -- and the Special Forces, Ranger and Airborne folks truly stand out as the "best of the best."
3. Special Forces soldiers are all bilingual (if they don't come in knowing a second language, they are required to learn one within a certain period of time).
4. The average Airborne soldier makes just one jump per month.
5. The military seemingly accepts delivery of weapon systems that don't work -- and then puts them into displays because, presumably, DOD thinks they at least look really cool.
6. An Airborne paratrooper will never cut away a tangled parachute ... but will work instead to untangle it.
7. Where a paratrooper ultimately lands using the standard issue parachute is entirely determined by "God, the winds and total luck" because -- unlike fancier trick chutes -- they can't be steered.
8. You can see everything in the dark with night vision goggles!! And, yes, everything appears with a green tint just like in the movies.
9. The JCOC group sustained casualties during the Non-Combatant Evacuation: two minor eye injuries from flying debris. Two more would suffer similar injuries later in the week -- but we were fortunate to have an eye doctor as one of the JCOC participants.
10. The Army desperately wants to close numerous older military bases that they no longer need because staffing them places a significant strain on military resources and readiness in light of the massive force reductions over the years.
11. President Bush today selected two defense contractors to serve as Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of the Air Force. Discussion topic: What effect will these appointments have on the President's promise of procurement reform?


DAY 5 - CAMP LEJEUNE (NC):

Stuff We Did:
Early morning flight to Camp Lejeune for our cool, wet day with the Marines. One colonel welcomed us, Beach assaulttelling us that we'd each be issued Gore-Tex camouflage jackets that "should keep you pretty dry and warm." Moments later, someone asked Commanding General Marty Berndt if the program would be moved inside today because of the heavy rains. After responding with a withering look of disbelief to that wimpy request, Berndt added: "The colonel told you the coats will keep you dry and warm. Well, they won't! You'll be cold. You'll be wet. That's tough. Suck it up! Get over it!" Well, that ended the whining and -- for the rest of the day -- we stood outside in the wind and rain without umbrellas and without complaining (even as streams of water ran down the inside of our pant legs and pooled in our boots). We saw a beach assault with amphibious vehicles, tanks and assault helicopters -- and an urban riverine assault launched from an inland waterway. From generals down to the young wife of an enlisted man, we heard a constant message about how inadequate the quality of family housing is for the enlisted soldiers at the Camp Lejeune. Observed non-lethal weapon demonstration of Marines performing riot control in a foreign country (truncheons, rubber bullets, pepper spray, shields, etc.). Observed the joint Chemical-Biological Incident Response Force -- which, fortunately, they have not yet been needed for an actual situation. The highlight of the day was the Urban Terrain Exercise in which Marines used ground soldiers, helicopters, tanks and other mechanized weaponry to seize control of a hostile foreign village from enemy troops. It was a high adrenaline, high firepower event. At the end, we had a chance to chat with many of the soldiers. I asked one tank gunner why he joined the Marines and he happily answered: "I get to drive a tank and be the most powerful and efficient killing machine possible." He added that he loves his job, loves blowing things up and -- as an extra bonus -- it also impresses the women he meets. After dinner at the officer's club, we boarded our C-17 and flew to Langley AFB in Virginia.

Stuff I Learned:
1. There's no room for crybabies in the Marine Corps ... so "Suck it up! Get over it!" ... and save your whining for your Mama!
2. The military spends a fortune on recruitment advertising but relatively little on retention of trained soldiers. Substantially more money needs to be shifted from recruitment to retention. The reasoning: it can cost as much as $250,000 to properly train a soldier for a skilled assignment -- only to have them leave after one term of service.
3. For some reason, "real" Marines all make a point of pronouncing Lejeune as "LeJhern."
4. Military housing for enlisted personnel is need of major improvements -- not just at Camp Lejeune but throughout all branches of the military.
5. Spouses of many young enlisted Marines -- especially those with young children -- often must accept WIC payments and food stamps just to pay their bills.
6. Neither Marines nor Army soldiers are permitted to use umbrellas at any time -- but Air Force folks can use umbrellas (so long as they are black umbrellas).
7. An Abrams tank uses 3 gallons to the mile ... and burns 4 gallons of gas just to get the engines started.


DAY 6 - COAST GUARD TRAINING CENTER (VA):

Stuff We Did:
A day of exercises at Coast Guard Training Center in Yorktown, Virginia. The facility is set amid the historic Revolutionary War battlefield, with old battlefield sites just steps away Utility boatfrom some of the Coast Guard buildings. Breakfast with enlisted personnel, then a brief tour of barracks housing. Went out on a small, fast USCG utility boat for a search and rescue mission exercise involving a helicopter and dive jumper. Next were a series of maritime law enforcement exercises involving shooting simulators, live interaction situations, etc. In the simulator, my JCOC cop partner (who was seemingly training for a job with the Philadelphia Police Department) put ten shots into an armed suspect ... and then put six more shots into the unarmed guy who next came onto the scene. We also met with Manning the forward machine gunHazMat/Strike Team members, set sail on a Coast Guard buoy tender ship, visited a cutter used in alien interdiction operations and observed exercises with a USCG foreign port security unit. Actually, in that last one, I got to go out on one of the small patrol boats and fire the forward mounted 50-caliber machine gun against an approaching terrorist threat. After a BBQ dinner at the end of the day, it was back onto the C-17 for the flight to Eglin AFB in Florida ... and possibly the first recorded instance of a major pillow fight aboard a military transport. This also proved to be the most lethal day for the JCOC group, as Coast Guard team member Jane Brady actually helped kill a 46-year-old man this morning (note: she's the Attorney General of Delaware and was on the phone early in the morning with the Governor -- as required by state law -- to order that the lethal injection execution of convicted killer David Dawson proceed).

Stuff I Learned:
1. The Coast Guard performs an incredible amount of safety, rescue and law enforcement work each day -- covering a huge expanse of territory -- but with less total personnel than the New York City Police Department.
2. The Coast Guard is the only branch of the military not into fancy PowerPoint presentations ... they still proudly use old-fashioned slide shows, instead.
3. Although the USCG falls under the Department of Transportation -- rather than DOD -- it comes under the control of DOD in time of war. Despite being a branch of DOT, the DOD "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and etc., all apply to the Coast Guard as it is always deemed to be a part of our armed forces.
4. There's a good reason why police officers go through a battery of psychological tests before being sent out onto the streets with a gun.
5. Don’t mess with Delaware Attorney General Jane Brady.


DAY 7 - EGLIN AFB (FL):

Stuff We Did:
Breakfast with young Air Force officers. The other military branches all joke that the USAF treats its folks better than the other branches in terms of quality of life matters. Example: "In civilian life, you call it a bathroom. In the In the F-15Marines and Navy, we call it the head. In the Army it's called a latrine. In the Air Force, I think they call it the executive wash room," a Marine general jokingly told us at Camp Lejeune. Living up to their stereotype, a lieutenant tells me he joined the Air Force "because, unlike the Army or Marines, I figured they wouldn't yell at me a lot. It's a lot like working for a corporation, except that I have to put on a uniform before going to work each day." Despite the jokes, these quality of life factors produce benefits for the Air Force: the lieutenant plans to stay in the Air Force after his initial commitment ends next year. We saw a kinda lame F-15 flight demo ... a large part fell off the plane during one of the first stunts, ending the demonstration. It took a half hour before they could find another F-15 to perform some loops and rolls for us without any parts falling off. Met with some pilots from the 33d Fighter Wing and each JCOC'er got to spend ten minutes in the advanced F-15 flight simulators. The "heads-up" instrument display really makes flying easier! I took off and landed safely the first time -- buzzed another F-15 -- then crashed and died on my second landing attempt. We had lunch with some enlisted men. Two sergeants told me that they don't mind being deployed overseas because the Air Force folks are usually housed in hotels while their friends in the Army and Marines usually have to live in tents. We toured the deployment center and watched a base perimeter security exercise. We also visited a hanger saw a static display of various smart bombs and missiles. In-flight on the C-17Afterwards, we had the best dinner of the week: tons of fresh seafood prepared in a variety of ways. Boarded the C-17 for the flight to Peterson AFB, Colorado.

Stuff I Learned:
1. A top Air Force general told us that the US has had "total world air superiority since the end of World War II -- there has not been a single bomb dropped on US troops by an enemy airplane since 1945." Discussion topic: Why does DOD continue to spend a fortune on various surface-to-air missile systems for our ground troops if the presence of the Air Force -- especially as an integral part of the new "purple" equation -- has rendered the air attack threat moot for over a half century?
2. The Air Force: "It's not just a job. It's great food, too."
3. Some of the smart bombs cost well over $1 million apiece (a brand new one came in more economically priced at around $400,000 each). In many situations, these can be highly strategic weapons ... but are they the most cost-effective weapon when we spend $1 million on one and use it to blow up a small bunker or truck in the middle of a desert?
4. If you tell a busload of tourists that they specifically cannot take pictures of the visiting foreign fighter jets, it guarantees that nearly everyone in the group will immediately take photos of those jets.
5. The Saudi government does not permit American soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia to wear visible religious crosses or Jewish stars when traveling off-base ... nor does the US assign any Jewish chaplains to US bases in Saudi Arabia for fear of offending the Saudis.


DAY 8 - US SPACE COMMAND & NORAD (CO):

Stuff We Did:
Visited Schriever AFB, outside of Colorado Springs. Schriever is the home of US Space Command and the 50th Space Wing. Signs all over the base warn persons: "Restricted Area. Use of Deadly Force Authorized." Visited the Milstar Mobile Ops squadron, responsible for keeping our military units in communication with each other through our Milstar satellite system in time of nuclear war. In a bit of gallows humor, the squadron logo features a mushroom cloud exploding behind Pike's Peak, with the Milstar trucks in the foreground, the Grim Reaper walking by carrying a suitcase ... and the squadron motto "We’re Outta Here!" Visited a satellite tracking station. Saw the official atomic clock -- the most precise clock in the world. I briefly got to "fly" a NATO satellite (not really ... but they let us enter a command and think we're doing something ... and gave us each a certificate certifying the we got some "stick-time" flying a satellite ... then they came behind us and un-did everything we did and entered it correctly once we were gone). Bus ride to Cheyenne Mountain, the famous underground headquarters of NORAD (North American Air Defense Command). After seeing this facility portrayed in so many Cold War era films, it was a thrill to take the bus ride three-quarters of a mile into the interior of the mountain and then walk through the huge blast doors into the actual complex. Built in the Cold War to withstand a nuclear blast, NORAD officials now readily concede a well-placed modern nuclear missile would flatten the whole mountain -- but they maintain operations here out of convenience. Security is still very high: cell phones, beepers, radios, electronic car keys, etc., are prohibited in the compound. US and Canadian officials share the command of NORAD. The famous missile command war room is located here (with the big computerized map of the world, constantly tracking all missile launches and the location of the key US leaders) -- but is much smaller than it appears in the movies. That night, we had a nice farewell dinner back in town with the NORAD and Space Command folks.

Stuff I Learned:
1. Schriever is the only AFB named after a living person.
2. Although US Space Command is ostensibly a joint operation, the Air Force actually runs the whole place.
3. If the US proceeds with building a nuclear missile defense program in space, the US is willing to share the technology with all other nations of the world.
4. It's probably best that tourists don't get to really fly expensive military satellites.
5. NORAD generals described Russia, China and North Korea as the nuclear power adversaries most closely monitored from the facility -- but with China seemingly becoming the fastest growing threat.
6. When I got my official NORAD coin while leaving the complex, it came sealed in a plastic bag ... imprinted with words "Made in China."


SOME CONCLUDING COMMENTS ...

Back at the hotel before the final dinner, I had a lengthy side chat with one top military official who expressed concern over the proposed federal tax cuts: "The [$1.2 billion] tax cut will come from the military [budget]. Where else do people think the cuts will come from? From Social Security or Medicare or education? I don't think so! We're the biggest chunk of discretionary funding ... Service members won't get any pay raises. ... Procurement is a mess. Don't even get me started on that. ... Housing improvements -- which are desperately needed -- look likely to get even less money in the future. The Armed Forces will be the big loser with these tax cuts." Another General offered a somewhat differing view: "No one joined the military to get rich or live in a luxury resort. They joined to serve their country or receive occupational and educational opportunities. We still need to keep focused on the programs that increase our military readiness and efficiency in combat." In the course of this week, I came to acutely understand the level of frustration they both expressed.

I don't think I learned many answers this week ... but I learned a lot of the problems. I came to appreciate -- much more than I did before -- the heroic services performed by the young men and women of our armed forces.Marine Corps static display We need to pay our service members more and we need to improve military housing. We need serious procurement reform -- and the elimination of needless weapon systems. We need to study why the military is so successful at forging kids into responsible, mature, motivated adults -- while many of our schools vainly struggle to do the same. We need base closures (but no military person wants to state on the record which ones need to be closed). We need to find ways to retain experienced service members. We need to ask ourselves why the US is continuing to build a military designed to fight a two-theater war ... when all week we heard that China, North Korea, rogue states and isolated terrorist cells are our most realistic threats today. Like I said ... lots of problems, but very few easy answers.

A postscript ... One week after returning from JCOC, I was invited to attend a large weekend backyard party in DC at the home of a retired CIA operative. The party attracted a sizable number of past and present spies -- from both sides of the Cold War. While chatting with retired KGB General Oleg Kalugin -- the former KGB head of all Soviet counterintelligence operations -- he nudged me and directed my attention to two young Chinese men in casual clothes talking with some folks about ten yards away. "See those two? They're both with Chinese Intelligence," said Kalugin. "The one on the right is a colonel with Chinese Intelligence." It makes the emerging threat seem pretty close to home.

Until next time (when I promise to get back to political campaign reporting),

Ron Gunzburger
Publisher, Politics1.com

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