Getting it Wrong; Towards the end of the Vietnam war, the U.S. military became obsessed with getting it right and turning a dispirited and poorly led force into a world class fighting machine. Over the next two decades this was done. The principal changes were to improve training, select officers and troops carefully and train them intensively. The results were seen in the Persian Gulf war. That victory wasn't as easy as it looked, but it takes real professionals to make it look like an effortless performance.
For the last ten years the generals and politicians have been getting it wrong. Not intentionally. No one wants a second rate military. But if you ignore changes in American society, you can end up with troops that are ill trained, poorly led and not ready, or very willing, to fight.
It all began going wrong in the 1990s, when the military was forced to deal with diversity, changing family values and politicians who wanted to run the military their way.
Diversity, most notably insistence on equal opportunity for women and homosexuals in the military, made it more difficult to recruit, train and discipline troops. Since the armed forces went all volunteer in the early 1970s, they have found that most of their best recruits come from conservative and religious backgrounds (especially the minorities.) It was always known that homosexuals served, but they did so without flaunting their life style. Everyone got along, "for the good of the service." But now it was made a major issue. Even though the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was meant to legalize the previous live and let live policy, and eliminate the homosexual witch hunts some commanders undertook, it had the opposite effect. There was so much publicity about homosexuals in the military and the new "tolerance" for their behavior that recruiters soon found parents and potential recruits expressing misgivings about serving.
A more benign policy was the introduction of extensive training and activities to "celebrate the diversity of America." Of course the principal military training method for thousands of years has been to eliminate diversity. Everyone becomes a soldier or sailor of uniform habits and demeanor. Ethnic and religious differences are submerged to insure good order and discipline. To most of the troops, all the diversity activity was either a joke, or an opportunity to abuse officers and NCOs for "insensitivity."
Changing family values kind of sneaked up on the military. For the last half century the traditional family structure, with the husband going to work and the wife staying home with the kids, has changed. Now the wife often has a job, and there are many more single parents. Moreover, the military had long discouraged, and sometimes forbidden, the younger troops from getting married. Only the officers and NCOs had wives and families.
This began to change once the volunteer military was established in the 1970. Everyone got a raise, especially the junior enlisted troops. Before that, these were mostly draftees, who got the equivalent of about $800 a month. That alone discouraged marriage, but since they were conscripts in for two years, most were willing to wait until they were civilians again to marry. The all volunteer army treated these soldiers differently in two important ways. First, it nearly doubled their pay, and their length of service was longer (up to six years.) Now marriage became a viable option, especially with working wives becoming the norm almost everywhere. At first, no problem. But then political pressure changed other practices. Single parents were allowed to enlist. The two earner soldier families began having children. As the older, "stay at home wife" generation retired, they were replaced by officer and NCO families containing wives that were no longer happy with all the moving around military families had to do. All of these problems had to be taken care of by the soldiers commanding officer. Company, and especially battalion, commanders, in particular, had long been expected to deal with any family problems. With single parents, young married couples and wives not happy with yet another transfer, commanders had to spend less time on running the battalion. When Congress got wind of these family problems, pressure was applied to the army to make the problems go away, or at least go away from members of congress. So the army began spending more money for day care centers, family housing for junior enlisted troops, counseling and schools. This money was no longer being spent for military training, and is one reason the level of training has declined.
As if commanders didn't have enough headaches with family problems, Congress demanded that women be integrated into all military jobs. Moreover, basic training was to be in mixed units. For generations, men and women had taken this training separately, recognizing that women would not be able to keep up with the men in the rigorous physical exertions of basic. While the generals dug in their heels at putting women in the infantry and tanks, they went along with the integrated basic training. This ruined basic, as the physical and psychological pressures of the male oriented basic were too much for most women. Rather than admit this, the brass just toned it down to suit the women, and thus defeated the purpose of basic combat training (to prepare you for the physical and psychological stresses of combat.) This use of double standards spread throughout the military when it came to women, causing much resentment among male troops, as well as with many of the women. Morale sank, as did the number of volunteers for service. Except for the Marines, who insisted on keeping the separate basic training. Which shows how the problem was one of leadership, as well as politics.
All these problems came down on the commanders and NCOs. By the end of the 1990s, these leaders were leaving the service in greater numbers. After so much effort was put into getting it right in the 1980s, it took only another decade to get it wrong. Getting it right in time for the next war may not happen.