Back during the Iraq War, PBS showed a documentary about reservists from a Southern state who had been called up for active duty. (For the life of me, I can’t remember the name.) The documentary was very sympathetic. It showed these reservists as pathetic, out-of-shape bubbas — family men, of course — who were being forced out of their peaceful, domestic routines and sent to be lambs in George Bush’s evil, military-industrial-complex, oil- and Halliburton-driven slaughter. They were victims as surely as the innocent Iraqi children they were being sent off to kill.
The hyper-serious, oozingly-sympathetic documentary was another reminder, as if I needed one that, in the world of the liberal media, there is no correct way to have a military: trained, standing troops are sex-hungry rapists and, of course, baby killers. Reservists are bumbling, out-of-shape fools.
That documentary, which I haven’t thought about in years, popped unbidden into my mind when I read that the Pentagon is proposing to trim America’s standing military and to rely more heavily on reservists as a cost-saving measure:
The Defense Department is preparing to send a controversial report to Congress that explains in detail how Reserve-component troops are substantially cheaper than active-duty members — an official analysis that is likely to fuel a growing debate about the future shape of the all-volunteer force.
Based on a two-year study conducted within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the report marks the military’s first attempt to provide an itemized cost for the active and Reserve components in an effort to help determine what mix of forces can provide the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.
According to a draft copy of the report obtained by Military Times, the Pentagon analysis concludes that Guard and Reserve troops not only are cheaper when in drilling status but also when fully mobilized, in part because their overall compensation is lower when taking into account noncash benefits such as retirement accrual and health care.
As a friend of mine dryly remarked, a Yugo is also cheaper than a Mercedes.
I have great respect for reservists — certainly more than the PBS documentary did, which subtly managed to paint the ones it filmed as mentally defective. These men and women reserve a corner of their lives for America’s defense, which is a lot more than can be said for the rest of us. But they are not a standing army. They are weekend warriors — something I say, not in a pejorative way, but as a factual statement. They no longer engage in the constant training that hones strength and reflexes, and that too often is the difference between life and death.
You guys know that I periodically link to a mil blog called Castra Praetoria. I like Mike’s sense of humor and I like the insights he offers into military life. The very first time I read his blog, I read a post called “Dr. Tabata. We hate you!” The post resonated with me because I’ve done some Tabata training and, even though I’m fit, it was the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. For the Marines, though, this is part of the training necessary to keep our front line fighters able to accomplish their jobs:
Simply thrashing a group of Marines into the ground is pretty easy and not a method of instruction I prefer. If they are simply getting their doors blown off without learning anything then I figure I’ve passed up a great training opportunity.
I like to ask Marines why we PT at all. Their answers are inevitably: “To be in shape.” “Be fit.” My personal favorite is: “To look good naked 1stSgt!” I appreciate the honesty.
The bottom line is we conduct PT in order to make our bodies harder to kill. Never mind the idea of being fitter and stronger than your enemy. Fit, healthy bodies tend to survive being shot, blown up, infected, and other rough treatment. It’s only natural the Corps would develop a culture of physical fitness within its ranks.
Being fit enough to survive is a full time job (and it helps if you’re young, too). Making our military rely most heavily on those who are neither fit nor drilled is cruel: it’s cruel to the reservists, who are pushed into responsibilities inconsistent with their entirely appropriate day-to-day lifestyles, and it’s cruel to Americans, who will be forced to lose their first and best line of defense in a world too heavily populated with people inculcated in a culture of death — people, moreover, who have America in their cross hairs.