It happened after World War II and it happened after Vietnam. Now, after years of repeated deployments, the Army, as Robert H. Scales writes the U.S. Army is breaking down.
The Obama administration just announced a 40,000 reduction in the Army’s ranks. But the numbers don’t begin to tell the tale. Soldiers stay in the Army because they love to go into the field and train; Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently said that the Army will not have enough money for most soldiers to train above the squad level this year. Soldiers need to fight with new weapons; in the past four years, the Army has canceled 20 major programs, postponed 125 and restructured 124. The Army will not replace its Reagan-era tanks, infantry carriers, artillery and aircraft for at least a generation. Soldiers stay in the ranks because they serve in a unit ready for combat; fewer than a third of the Army’s combat brigades are combat-ready.
Scales knows of what he writes. He is a retired Major General and former commandant of the U.S. Army War College.
And he can still recall how, when he was a boy, his father – who was an army officer – told him of the U.S. Army paid a price, in Korea, for being unprepared:
He told me how poorly his men were prepared for war. Many had been killed or captured by the North Koreans. During the retreat from the Yalu River, some of his soldiers were in such bad physical shape that they dropped exhausted along the road to wait to be taken captive.
“We have no sergeants, son,” he told me, shaking his head, “and without them we are no longer an Army.”
And Scales, himself, can recall how just back from Vietnam, in the early 70s, he:
… carried a pistol to protect myself from my own soldiers. Many of the soldiers were on hard drugs. The barracks were racial battlegrounds pitting black against white. Again, the Army had broken because the sergeants were gone. By 1971, most were either dead, wounded or had voted with their feet to get away from such a devastated institution.
And now, writes Scales,
After 13 years of war, young leaders are voting with their feet again. As sergeants and young officers depart, the institution is breaking for a third time in my lifetime. The personal tragedies that attended the collapse of a soldier’s spirit in past wars are with us again. Suicide, family abuse, alcohol and drug abuse are becoming increasingly more common.
Once again, the Army is breaking down.