The older I get, the more I worry that there are no true solutions to a problem, only temporary course adjustments.
The formula is always the same. A problem is evident, and a solution - innovative or tried and true, it doesn't matter - is put into action. The trouble is solved and great praise is bestowed. Twenty years later that panacea has created its own difficulties and the cycle beings again.
What we're seeing in Iraq is the end/beginning of a cycle.
After Vietnam Chief of Staff Creighton Abrams was charged with overhauling the troubled Army as it switched to an all-volunteer service. He reduced it in size, but he also implemented a fundamental change in its organization. Abrams believed Vietnam had gone wrong partly because we were able to wage a war with a bare bones contribution from the Reserves - which, to his mind, slowed the impact of the war on the middle class and necessary debate on the war. His reorganization of the Army ensured that any future war would necessitate activating the reserves.
It worked. In both the Gulf War and Iraq, whether you agree with the war or not, action was preceded by public debate and congressional approval.
But this newfound reliance on the reserve system has strained the patience - and performance - of some Army units. In October reservists from a South Carolina unit refused orders to drive a convoy because it was too dangerous.
Last week eight U.S. soldiers and reservists filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the Army's stop-loss policy, another 'correction' of Vietnam policy. Unlike Vietnam, where units were depleted of experience and leadership by a policy of rotation, soldiers are sometimes required to remain with their units past their scheduled return.
And this week Spc.Thomas Wilson of the 278th Regimental Combat team (a unit comprised mainly of Army National Guardsmen) openly confronted the Secretary of Defense about a lack of armored vehicles- to the loud applause of his unit. It was later discovered that a journalist had secretly coached Wilson.
I don't doubt that the vast majority of reservists are patriotic Americans doing their duty. And I don't mean to minimize the sacrifice they make by leaving their families behind for months and even years; after all, it was a sacrifice I was unwilling to make in the years of peace that followed my eighteenth birthday.
But the truth is that it's an army and not a means of paying for college or making an extra buck. If you aren't prepared to be called to active duty, then it would be wise not to enlist. If you are unwilling to accept that 'fairness' is largely absent in war and you may be forced to stay longer than you thought, then it would be wise not to enlist. If you do not have the vague notion in your head that a whole lot of missions are dangerous and could get you killed (even if you're only driving a truck), then it would be wise not to enlist.
[This might land me in hot water, but if your character precludes showing the Secretary of Defense his due respect, and you prefer to turn a courtesy visit into a carnival at the request of a reporter, then kindly choose not to enlist.]
It's time to re-examine the Army's organization. Abrams was right - reserve units do hold a special place in America's heart. But while in the past Americans may have needed a kick in the pants to question a war; we've grown bitter and cynical and perhaps, smarter. We don't need that extra incentive, not at the expense of morale.
And in an era where the Army is called to work miracles under the glare of an antagonistic media, maybe it's best if that work was done by personnel who do it 24/7/365.