Covering their backs

The story “Heroes in Sight” (see page 1) shows the American people at our best. A soldier, one of our own who has put his life on the line for us, has a need. Grateful, good-hearted people in his home community rally round and fulfill that need. After all, he has our back. We should have his.

But the difference between the way the home community reacted and the way the government behaved in this case raises a very real question as to whether our leaders in Washington, who press the “support the troops” button every time they need to whip an increasingly disgruntled electorate back into line, really understand what supporting the troops means.

It could be argued that there are cases in which a loss of equipment is due to negligence on the part of the soldier to which it was issued, and the taxpayer ought not to be billed for it. But it is by no means clear that the Pentagon and its civilian leadership are clear about where to draw the line. The Charleston Gazette, for instance, reported in February that 1st Lt. William “Eddie” Rebrook IV, whose blood-soaked body armor was stripped off him in the field as medics attended to wounds he suffered from a roadside bomb, discovered when he was discharged (still impaired in one arm) that he was expected to pay for the missing armor.

In fact, both the administration and Congress have shown an unpleasant tendency to be niggardly when it comes to financing the needs of the people in the armed forces. Nor can this be justified by recourse to the supposed “fiscal responsibility” of the Republicans who control both branches: after all, they have turned a $127 billion surplus into a $319 billion deficit and are trying their darnedest to implement a cut in the estate tax that will benefit only two percent of the population and cost $1 trillion over 10 years. But when it comes to paying the troops, all they can come up with for 2007 is a 2.2 percent increase—the lowest since 1994. There are other examples: for several years, for instance, troops had to pay for some items of vital combat equipment out of their own pockets; when a law to reimburse them was finally enacted, it took over a year for it to be enforced, and it has a deadline attached—reimbursements are to be only for equipment purchased between 2001 and July of 2004.

It’s not that the military’s civilian leadership in Washington is entirely unwilling to allocate money to the armed forces: funds going to weapons systems will increase eight percent next year, and will have doubled since 2001. And when it comes to giant contracts for their lobbyist buddies at Bechtel and Halliburton, the majority in Congress has never seen a budget item it didn’t like. When a soldier mislays a piece of equipment, he or she is called strictly to account. A Halliburton subsidiary lost over $18 million of equipment in Iraq, and was incapable of substantiating $1.8 billion in expenses—but the Department of Defense not only reimbursed it for the expenses, but gave Halliburton $72 million in bonuses in 2005.

The emphasis on machines rather than humans is also a direct threat to our national security. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s plan for a “lean and mean” military that stresses high-tech machinery while reducing the number of troops flies in the face of recent experience. The instability in Iraq, like Israel’s recent and largely unsuccessful aerial bombardment of Lebanon, has proved conclusively that it is boots on the ground, not air power and fancy toys, that are most critical to winning 21st century wars.

The final insult is that the politicians who make a career out of doling out welfare to military industrial corporations, while shortchanging troops and veterans, are the very ones who hide behind the skirts of those troops to escape the consequences of their own fecklessness, incompetence and negligence. Try to criticize them, and they will accuse you of “not supporting the troops.”

It can only be hoped that the American people start to notice that there is no logical connection whatsoever between supporting the troops and supporting the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney—or Halliburton and Bechtel. You don’t support the troops by saying, “support the troops.” You do so by recognizing that manpower is the heart of the military, and by doing what it takes to cover their backs.

After all, they’ve got ours.

Also in this issue:

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Dr. Punnybone

Mixed Messages

Letters to the Editor

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The Hobbits have the answer

To the editor:

Locally, there’s a down-to-earth example of money-saving fuel conservation. The Hobbits “got it right” where energy efficiency is concerned. The basic laws of physics come into play for even partial subterranean structures in a way that conserves energy.

There’s a time-tested (quarter-century) example in the Delaware River Valley. Owned by Jim and Cindee Miller, this 1,200-plus square-foot residence is tucked into a small hill along Route 434 in Shohola, PA.

About 15 years ago, my curiosity led me out to ask Cindee Miller about her Hobbit-like abode. I was told of a time when the Millers were unable to get home due to a snowstorm and near-zero temperatures. Not having left their backup electric heat on, they were relieved to find their subterranean home’s interior temperature well above freezing and no broken pipes.