Murphy's Law: February 23, 2002


An ancient military tradition, "phantom soldiers" has been uncovered as the U.S. National Guard was mobilized for the War on Terror. For thousands of years, it was customary for the king to give warlords or government officials flat sums to raise and maintain troops. The deal was that, say, Lord Shadowfax would receive a thousand pieces of gold a year to maintain and pay 500 soldiers. If it looked like war was not imminent, and Lord Shadowfax was a little short of money, he would tell the king he had 500 men ready to go, but would be actually paying only 200. The other 300 were known as "phantom soldiers" and Lord Shadowfax would pocket the unused money. This ancient curse has returned in a slightly different form. In the United States, the federal government pays the states a fixed amount per National Guard soldier each state has in service. But recruiting has been tough since the Cold War ended, and the state National Guard organizations could always use a few more bucks. So some states have been using the time honored "phantom soldier" drill. Some of these National Guard officials have now been caught, with some of them having as many as 20 percent of their troops "phantoms." Unlike the hapless Lord Shadowfax, they won't lose their heads because they were caught. But they will receive the unwanted attention of the local U.S. Attorney's office. 


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