Military in U.S. getting shaft, while military in Iraq gets billions

Wednesday, December 06, 2006 at 04:14 PM

When you have a huge budget deficit and need to spend some $8 billion a month in the money pit called Iraq, what's left for military life, training and equipment here in the U.S.?  Not much.

From a story in the McClatchey Papers:

During a recent visit to a military family center at Fort Hood in Texas, Joyce Raezer was dismayed to find a sign in a stall in the ladies' room. It asked women to clean up because janitorial service had been cut back.

"What message does that send to a family member when they walk into a family center?" asked Raezer, the director of government relations for the National Military Families Association.

At Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, swimming pools closed a month early this fall, and shuttle vans were sharply curtailed in an effort to trim spending. At Fort Sam Houston in Texas, unpaid utility bills exceeded $4 million, and the base reduced mail delivery to cut costs.

Belt-tightening at the bases is only the beginning. As the United States spends about $8 billion a month in Iraq, the military is being forced to cut costs in ways big and small.

Soldiers preparing to ship to Iraq don't have enough equipment to train on because it's been left in Iraq, where it's most needed. Thousands of tanks and other vehicles sit at repair depots waiting to be fixed because funds are short.

At the Red River Army Depot in Texas, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in October that at least 6,200 Humvees, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, trucks and ambulances were awaiting repair because of insufficient funds.

There's a virtual graveyard of tanks and fighting vehicles at the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama. Depot spokeswoman Joan Gustafson said that the depot expects to repair 1,885 tanks and other armored vehicles during the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1. That's up from the 1,169 and 1,035 vehicles repaired in the prior two fiscal years.

Some of the depot's private-sector contractors haven't been able to supply enough parts in time to make all the repairs, she said. The depot is trying to reduce the time it takes to get repair and replacement parts from 120 days to 60 days.

Tanks and helicopters are one thing; the toll on America's warriors and their families is another.

More than 73,000 soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and with problems such as drug abuse and depression. That's enough people to fill a typical NFL stadium.

Internet blogs written by soldiers or their wives tell of suicide attempts by soldiers haunted by the horror of combat, civilian careers of reservists who've been harmed by deployment and redeployment, and marriages broken by distance and the trauma of war.

"Back-to-back war deployments has changed both of us - to where it's as if a marriage does not exist anymore," wrote a woman calling herself Blackhawk wife on an Iraq war vets Web site. "We just go through the daily steps of life and raising children as best we can."

A mother of a returning soldier posted this: "Since he has been back, he has had 3 DUIs, wrecked his truck, attempted suicide, been diagnosed with PTSD" and is being kicked out of the Army.

The length of the war in Iraq has strained all aspects of the armed forces, said Dov Zakheim, who was the Pentagon's chief financial officer from 2001 to 2004.

"In 2003, I don't think anybody predicted it would go as long as World War II and the wear and tear on equipment would be as intense," said Zakheim, now a vice president for global strategy consultant Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. "When I left the department, we were spending less than $4 billion a month on Iraq. Now it's pretty much doubled."

The length of the Iraq war surpassed that of World War II last month. The costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global fight against terrorism are expected to surpass the $536 billion in inflation-adjusted costs of the Vietnam War by spring. That's more than 10 times the Bush administration's $50 billion prewar estimate.

The inept planning for the occupation of Iraq appears to be equaled by the inept planning for the soldiers on their way there and the soldiers who have come back.

Iraq is going to redefine the concept of "expensive" as it applies to the total costs of war.