Memories...Remember When John McCain Killed Dwell Time

04/02/2008 04:28 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As McCain speaks tonight at the Naval Academy I doubt he will mention his part in "leading the charge" against providing our troops proper rest and recuperation. But it is worth recounting.

Last fall it looked like the two senators from Virginia, Republican John Warner and Democrat Jim Webb, had carved out a bi-partisan agreement to ensure that our troops got proper time to rest, recover, and train before being sent back to Iraq. The proposed "dwell time" amendment would require that deployments stick to Army and Marine Corps standards of at least one month at home for one month deployed. With Warner on board it looked like the amendment would reach 60 votes to pass the Senate. Yet, in swept John McCain who stunned the Senate by getting Warner to offer with him a watered down toothless version that would reflect the "sense" of the Senate rather than its "will," meaning it would do nothing to address the issue. The straight talk express indeed. [See the video of McCain killing dwell time and Webb's response.]

Dwell time has been, as it should be, mostly discussed in moral terms -  that a country should both honor its commitment to those putting their lives on the line and that we must seek to minimize the strain placed on military families that have already gone through so much. But less mentioned are the strategic national security implications of shortening dwell time. In short, by accelerating and extending deployments and infringing upon dwell time for our troops, we are breaking the ground forces and weakening the military strength of this country.

The Post summarizes testimony on Tuesday from the Army and Marines:

Senior Army and Marine Corps leaders said yesterday that the increase of more than 30,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has put unsustainable levels of stress on U.S. ground forces and has put their readiness to fight other conflicts at the lowest level in years.

General Cody, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, said the heavy deployments are not just inflicting "incredible stress" on soldiers and families but that they pose "a significant risk" to the nation's all-volunteer military.

Cody added that the surge has depleted all of the Army's reserves meaning that we cannot respond to anything else.  We are totally vulnerable.

"When the five-brigade surge went in . . . that took all the stroke out of the shock absorbers for the United States Army," Cody testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee's readiness panel.

"I've never seen our lack of strategic depth be where it is today," said Cody, who has been the senior Army official in charge of operations and readiness for the past six years and plans to retire this summer... Cody said that the Army no longer has fully ready combat brigades on standby should a threat or conflict occur. The nation needs an airborne brigade, a heavy brigade and a Stryker brigade ready for "full-spectrum operations," Cody said, "and we don't have that today."

The Marine Corps' ability to train for potential conflicts has been "significantly degraded," said Gen. Robert Magnus, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.

"There has been little, if any, change of the stress or tempo for our forces," he said, calling the current pace of operations "unsustainable." The Marine Corps is "basically in two boats (Iraq and Afghanistan) at the same time," he said.

...The testimony reflects the tension between the wartime priorities of U.S. commanders in Iraq such as Petraeus and the heads of military services responsible for the health and preparedness of the forces.

General Cody pointed out that the damage was not easily repaired even if proper dwell time was reestablished:

He said that even if five brigades are pulled out of Iraq by July, as planned, it would take some time before the Army could return to 12-month tours for soldiers.

"Where we need to be with this force is no more than 12 months on the ground and 24 months back," Cody said.

Unfortunately, "where we need to be with this force" won't happen if John McCain has his way