Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

How to lessen the strain of deployments

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 ...

576905_091116_soldierkids25.jpg
576905_091116_soldierkids25.jpg

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:

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

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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