As the US Government has really started to look for ways to cut the cost of fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I am forced to wonder if they are looking in the right places and what is the effect of their searching on the war fighter's?
This document takes a look at one place where untold millions of dollars goes and some affects on the US Military.
As Operation Enduring Freedom kicked off in Afghanistan 10 years ago, the men and women of the US Military were at the top of their class. They were experts in their respective fields, whether they were infantry, communications, intelligence, etc. As the one war turned into two operational fronts, the tempo for America’s men and women at arms exploded. Commanders and Soldiers found that their technical abilities were becoming far less relevant. Dwell times are short, and during this time they are also required to reset and redeploy with a turnaround time of about 12 months. This reset period has historically been followed by a minimum 12 month tour in theater. This is a pattern that has been relayed numerous times via the news media, through our friends, as well as our family members that are service members.
As every war has proven, research and development for new and improved technology, development of tactics, techniques and procedures to successfully meet the enemy on the battle field, as well as being able to maintain a high operational tempo without sacrificing our military’s combat effectiveness can come at a very high personal and financial cost. To meet that financial requirement the US Armed Forces has enlisted the help of the civilian market place. This isn’t a new occurrence, but what is new, is the amount of civilians that are being employed on the premise of maintaining that combat effectiveness.
For every piece of new technology or equipment that is created for these conflicts, a new company is contracted to provide Field Support Representatives (FSRs) that assist in the troubleshooting and maintenance of that same equipment. As time goes on, our service members are not receiving the training required to use and maintain this new equipment during dwell and reset time. Commanders on the ground still require these new capabilities to be able to meet the ever changing battle field and enemy's Tactics Techniques and Procedures (TTPs). More civilians are brought in to satisfy the need for experienced knowledgeable personnel on the ground.
These FSRs are being paid large sums of money, often in the six figure range, for the opportunity to serve our War Fighters. This paycheck is either paid by their various companies and/or our very own government, depending on who has hired them. If they are from a private corporation, that money is still coming from the government contracts to provide field support.
These same civilians, either through their own company promises or on the government’s dime, seem to have better living conditions than their military counterparts, and often times seem to look down on the military service members they are sent there to support. On one installation that I have personal experience with in Afghanistan, there are more civilian vehicles, SUV's and Pickup trucks than there are tactical vehicles. Almost all of these vehicles are operated by the civilian populace with the exception of a few key military personnel. The decision on who in the military gets one of these vehicles is generally dependent on rank or position. For this segment of our population it seems to be a matter of right rather than purpose. When walking around it is very common to see signs stating that tactical vehicles are not authorized to be in the area. A lot of times the common military service member, at least here and if they are lucky, only have a tactical vehicle. If they don't then they either get a bicycle or get to walk, sometimes for a very long distance.
I remember a few weeks ago I had been up for 20+ hours that day and was returning to work after eating. I was walking about a mile and decided to see what would happen if I tried to thumb a ride. In Iraq it was an unspoken rule for anyone who had a vehicle to pickup somebody that was walking. This is even the case on many installations at home. Knowing that this was a highly traveled road, with a large majority of non-tactical vehicles, I threw my thumb out to see if I could get a ride to at least the next intersection a mile up the road. The very next vehicle to pass me was a Toyota SUV with one person in the vehicle. As he passed me, I couldn’t help but notice that it was a civilian, who gave me a very unfriendly look and sped off. This of course leads into another discussion for another time.
Ultimately the effect of all of this on the Service Members is this.
- The technological edge that the Service Members once had over the enemy has slipped. Dependence on the civilian support has grown even to affect unit Commanders, as well as the War Fighters on the ground.
- Lack of dwell and reset time not only burns the service members out, but the high operational tempo and requirements that need to be met during this time has detracted from the Service members ability to train and efficiently use what they are given on the battle field.
- Demoralization of Service Members that serve in OIF/OEF that watch the civilian support populace receive better rooms, vehicles, government or company provided cell phones and less working hours while they themselves can only drive their tactical vehicles in limited areas, live in very tiny places and often work as much as 48 hours per day.
So, after all of this, how does the government save money while maintaining combat effectiveness?
- Give up our extreme dependence on the civilian support population and give the knowledge and skill back to the Service Members.
- Increase dwell and reset times to give service members time to learn the equipment more effectively. This would lead to less civilian support on the battle field as well as give service members more time at home with their family and friends.
- Enforce a standard of self-support rather than allow dependence on direct FSR support.
- Buy or lease less civilian type vehicles. There are literally thousands of HUMVEE type vehicles in both theaters of operations. While this type of vehicle is no longer the combat vehicle of choice for operations, they will serve wonderfully as base vehicles for both the military and civilian populations.
Where I am currently stationed, rental of a vehicle (yes we can rent vehicles in a war theater?) costs about two thousand American Dollars per month. There are literally thousands of these rented vehicles in these base areas. Based on my own experience and observations, there seems to be one vehicle to one civilian.
One Hundred Thousand dollar per year paychecks and two thousand dollar per month rental vehicles, not counting the cost of local cell phones and minutes (these are prepay only) the cost to provide basic support to the war fighter grows exponentially. I understand that the operational tempo required to fight on two fronts requires adaptation, as well as new ways to meet the increasing need of subject matter experts. Having said that, now that the combat portion of the Iraq war is over, I believe that it is possible to increase dwell and reset times for Service Members. This allows them the time to learn and operate their equipment, decreasing the amount of civilian support, as well as increasing our combat effectiveness. The direct effect to decreasing the funding required to maintain these two operational fronts increases the morale of service members, and also multiplies the possibility of retaining the quality personnel that passes on well-earned knowledge.