Back in 2006, Linda Bilmes of the JFK School Of Government at Harvard University and Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University published their book " The Six Trillion Dollar War. " What these two highly respected scholars did was to crunch the numbers, at that time, regarding the Global War On Terrorism ( GWOT ) and extrapolate for a thirty year period what the total cost would be for lifetime medical care, benefits including disability payments for military personnel who had fought and become injured in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In 2006, I served as the then Officer In Charge for Behavioral Health and Traumatic Brain Injury at the Medical Task Force Camp Shelby, MS. I was serving on active duty at the time as an Army Reservist. The mission of Behavioral Health and the Traumatic Brain Injury program was to provide assessment and clinical services to military members who were in training to prepare to go to war. We would provide the recommendations to military commanders as to whether a service member would be approved for deployment or would instead be sent back to the Reserve Command ( REFRAD ). We were evaluating not only Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines who were going to be deployed for a first time, but in many instances we were evaluating personnel who were scheduled to be deployed a second, third, fourth or fifth time.
The other challenge that was significant was the reduction in the number of training days. Normally, a Brigade Combat Team ( BCT ) would arrive at Camp Shelby, MS for training. A Brigade Combat Team usually comprises at least thirty- eight hundred to four thousand Soldiers. They would remain with us for sixty days prior to them embarking into the war zone. One month after I arrived, that period of training got reduced from sixty to thirty-five days. This is astounding since we were preparing young people to be trained to go fight in a war.
Nine years later, the war in Iraq has officially ended, the war in Afghanistan is still winding down, but the campaign against ISIS is gearing up in a major way. There has been discussion about possible deployment of three to five thousand troops to Syria, this is not taking into account any ancillary support forces that may will be needed i.e. administrative, medical support. Also there is no mention of the special advisory troops that are currently stationed in Iraq plus the forces ( at least ten thousand ) that are still in Afghanistan.
As we approach Memorial Day 2015, it would be good if we could ask ourselves as a country, what do we hope to achieve with this new offensive against Isis ? Granted Isis is a barbaric horrific evil organization that has murdered and perpetrated great suffering on innocent people. As one observer has noted " they are not the Junior Varsity ". Several people have predicted that a campaign against Isis could easily last at least ten years; that's two Presidential administrations irrespective of political parties.
But the question remains how do you defeat such a powerful, well financed insurgency without getting sucked into another long and protracted military conflict like we have witnessed the last fourteen years ? How do we know when our military objectives and goals will be met ? What will be the Endgame ? How will we know when the Endgame has been achieved ?
If we have learned anything at all regarding the last fourteen years of war it is that these hard questions need to be revisited constantly. American citizens must demand that Congress along with the present and future administrations need to be held accountable for any decisions that involve significant numbers of troops being deployed, boots on the ground, etc. into an active hostile, violent war zone. Repeated unending deployments, with no end in sight, will no longer work. They won't work financially and they won't work regarding protecting the health and welfare of the fighting force; quite the contrary what will manifest will be increasing numbers of physical and psychologically injured military personnel that will have overwhelming impact on families and communities, not to mention a continued tremendous strain on the health care system.
The other factor that has not been calculated yet is what will we need to do to support the physical medical and psychological needs of all of the military personnel that we are now ordering to command and fly the drone aircraft ? The recent play " Grounded " by Julie Taymor starring Anne Hathaway currently being presented in New York underscores this reality.
Maybe, we should ask Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz if they could re-crunch the numbers now, as of 2015, to see what the data might look like for the next thirty years ?
We have significant challenges as a country for the future. Can we continue to reduce unemployment, especially reduce the numbers of chronically unemployed persons who have given up looking for work ? Can we work to really combat global warming and work towards achieving a goal where the earth's temperature does not go above two degrees Celsius ? Can we enact student debt forgiveness for those who commit themselves to serve an initial tour in either the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps ?
As we celebrate Memorial Day this year, may be mindful of the great responsibility we have in protecting not only our freedom but also protecting the very infrastructure that ensures our freedom. Our military personnel and their families deserve it. Our country also deserves it.
Can we change the conversation ?