Maybe it’s because I was in the Army that I do, or maybe even more it’s because I used to be an Army recruiter, but I can see how this coronavirus situation can affect every aspect of our military.
First, since the military cannot exist without its troops, how are they to be found, tested, and given their physicals to finally get them into the various branches? As far as I know, all recruiting stations have been closed down. And for those who made it through just before this whole shut-down thing started, even the way their basic training is conducted has been changed to some degree, including the length of time recruits will be spending in basic training.
For those who have been looking forward to graduating after their long grueling weeks of training to be part of our military troops, no matter which branch, those ceremonies will be carried on minus all their friends and loved ones being allowed to be there in person. Some will be streamed live; some will not. But the big concern, maybe the biggest, is about all those who will NOT be entering the military; and even if they did, not having the usual, proper full-length training would leave them something short of full readiness for the very job they signed on for.
On the Politico website, an article by Bryan Bender covers a lot of those concerns. “If the services shut down boot camp, that stops the flow of personnel into the military,” said Mark Cancian, a retired Marine colonel who is now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The military loses about 25 percent of its strength every year. That means it loses two percent of its strength every month.”
He said that depending on how long the pandemic lasts, “that could really put a dent in military capabilities.” Canceling or postponing war games or field exercises is one thing, be added, but “if people don’t go in basic training, there’s nothing.
“The military has to be looking at how to cope with its training establishment,” he added. “I would expect something pretty soon, frankly. That could be a shutdown. They could redesign the training, scale it back, pace people out. That gets at very fundamental aspects of military capability.”
Imagine, if you will, trying to conduct training with any group of troops and trying to be sure they stay six feet apart. Imagine if all the restrictions and requirements that are foisted upon the general population had to be taken into account for our recruits and even our regular troops. There’s no way that one can expect military recruits to wear those masks, or wash their hands each time after touching all that equipment or each other, be it accidentally or in the course of their training or duties.
The good news, however, is that most recruits are generally young and ostensibly in good shape. They would be the ones least likely to be affected during this pandemic. But there will still be no new recruits if there is no basic training to train them, and not even any recruiters to interview them and see that they get processed for enlistment or for OTS (officer training school). So young and healthy is fine, but no recruit is a good recruit unless he or she can be properly trained, which presupposes that first, such recruits will still be there and still be willing to make that decision to sign up. Bender’s article continued: The need for the military to hunker down and take extra precautions to minimize the outbreak could have positive effects on military readiness, said Michael O’Hanlon, a military specialist at the Brookings Institution.
He pointed out that military preparedness is supported by many elements, not just day-to-day preparations and training. It also rests on mental health and family well-being.
“So you take advantage of this kind of a moment to rest,” O’Hanlon said. “Most parts of our military can probably use a month or two of rest.” (Ya think?)
But ultimately, the military may have little choice but to accept a lower level of readiness and incur more risk, at least temporarily, he said. “Maybe you just accept that a certain unit could have a higher likelihood of disease,” O’Hanlon said. “But unless you really think you’re going to need to send the 3rd Infantry Division over to Korea, you actually let that unit go to a little bit lower level of readiness.”
But “we’re going to have to have a strategy for how to get the military to start doing higher level training by the fall,”he added. “And I don’t know if it’s going to be people wearing face masks. I don’t know if it’s going to be that we give the military the first vaccines. I don’t know if it’s just that we rotate, so certain units are ready or have a higher number of people who are sick, and other units, we keep them healthy and don’t train quite as hard at the same time.”
Some like Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), a former Pentagon official and member of the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness panel worry about what those possibilities mean over the longer term, especially if potential adversaries think they can somehow take advantage.
“My constituents ask me, ‘Are we at greater risk of attack right now? Is our military going to be able to handle that if one of our adversaries decides to take this opportunity to kind of punch us in the gut?’” she said. “While I still think the military is very capable of chewing gum and walking at the same time, the secretary [of Defense] has to be thinking about what it could mean if he had outbreaks in his active-duty forces.”
Cancian, the retired Marine colonel, said it is paramount that the U.S. keep signaling its forces are ready so that potential enemies — even if they are struggling to control the virus, too — don’t misjudge the situation.
While all of us stay-at-homes think we have it rough, give a thought to our somewhat shrinking troops, and to our possibly less-than-fully-trained recruits (while we will all assume that their somewhat abbreviated training will motivate them to pick up the slack on their own and be right in stride with those who trained before the pandemic hit).
This situation has affected us at so many levels and in so many ways, let’s not forget the ways it can affect our country right down to the very basic issue of those who would have wanted to join the military but can’t.
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.