- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
Last week I participated in a Georgetown University forum on the military in observation of Veterans’ Day. One of the panelists (I wasn’t taking notes, but I believe it was Iraq vet William Quinn) said that the military today is sharp, but that the blade is thinner. I think that is a good way of putting it.
Here is how I think that blade can be strengthened. My point of departure is the thought that if the military is broken again, it won’t be like in the 1970s, when the ranks of the post-Vietnam military were racked by drug use, violence, racism and insubordination. Rather the cracks will be in the families of soldiers — wives who can’t take it any longer, kids who grow up seeing their fathers only intermittently.
At last night’s terrific forum, I said that if you want to improve the deployability of the military, don’t buy an airplane, build and staff an first-rate extended-hours day care center. Building on that thought, I wonder if we should privilege the families of deployed soldiers in new ways:
- Issue them a colored card for the length of the deployment that sends them to the front of the line. Ask local civilian merchants and service providers to honor it as well. (I can see advertisements in the local newspapers: “Special discount for Blue Card Holders!” or “Kids eat free for Red Cards!”)
- Maybe open up the mess halls (yes, I know they are called DFACs, but that’s my least favorite military acronym) once or twice a week, and let mothers bring their kids. I speak as a veteran of a family of six kids, where my poor outnumbered mother was forever striving to fill us up, especially when there were four teenagers in the house.
- Give them the base gym exclusively for two hours, twice a week, with
day care services on site.
- Maybe offer “meals on wheels” — that is, delivered meals-two or three times a week for deployed families. We can do it for the elderly, why not for stressed out military moms?
- At the end of the deployment, hold a ceremony at which spouses turn in those colored cards, and are publicly thanked, while their soldiers watch them.
I’d especially like to hear from military spouses. Would these help ease the strain of the next deployment? And what else would?
The U.S. Army/Flickr
Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge.| The E-Ring |
Dan Lamothe is an award-winning military journalist and war correspondent. He has written for Marine Corps Times and the Military Times newspaper chain since 2008, traveling the world and writing extensively about the Afghanistan war both from Washington and the war zone. He also has reported from Norway, Spain, Germany, the Republic of Georgia and while underway with the U.S. Navy. Among his scoops, Lamothe reported exclusively in 2010 that the Marine Corps had recommended that Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer receive the Medal of Honor. This year, he was part of a team of journalists that exposed senior Marine Corps leaders' questionable involvement in legal cases, and then covering it up. A Pentagon investigation is underway in those cases.| The Complex |