Drinking with the Enemy

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the military “exploits” its role when escorting members of Congress.

Read the report closely and it seems the opposite may be true.

The Military Helps Fund Congressional Trips” focuses on the military’s funding of congressional junkets. We’re not quite sure what reporters expected, and it seems the venerable WSJ may be the last to know the not-so-secret habits of globetrotting members and the officers who keep them happy.

Sponsoring congressional delegations to educate lawmakers about military needs and capabilities is not a new practice. Members visit U.S. installations, attend exercises and make trips to numerous far-flung hot spots. (When we say “hot,” we’re not talking incoming fire.)

According to the article the services spent about $4,300 on each of the 43 trips the Journal reviewed. Chump change! It is crucial for service liaisons to keep members of Congress informed of the capabilities and needs of the services. Playing personal tour guide and baggage handler is a part of the job. The detailed financials show a penchant for liquor purchases. One former Army liaison officer provided foot rubs for one member. (We heard this from the panicked colonel at an event several years ago. We heard the same from the officer who later escorted this same member.)

As wasteful as the WSJ makes the trips appear, Co-Dels, as some call them are superb ways to keep crucial members up to date on the needs and capabilities of the military. Members are typically those from the armed services and finance committees. Essentially, officers from the congressional liaison offices work to inform and educate (ok, and entertain) those charged with funding national defense. Using these trips as a means to gain access to those who vote on everything defense is smart and similar to commercial ventures courting lawmakers important to their interests. (Who says the services don’t lobby?)

To successfully entertain Congress may mean the difference between funding for a new class of ship and cancellation of something considered vital to a service’s future–like the recent cancellation of the Army’s Future Combat Systems.

Liquor for votes? It’s more honorable than sleeping with the enemy.

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