Think Outside the District

Here’s a shocker: Lawmakers and military leaders are concerned that too few military and civilian personnel with badly needed skills are working in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Pakistan is another tale of woe.) According to Congressional Quarterly, members of the Senate Armed Service Committee tossed out numerous (desperate) recommendations:

• Retrain soldiers in critical specialties. The idea to retrain soldiers as badly needed engineers, medics, and the like has merit (like no one has thought of that one), but the time needed to turn out well-trained specialists is outside JCS Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen’s narrow timeframe. He needs them now.

• Tap the Guard and Reserve. It seems lawmakers might be unaware that reservists and members of their state guards already might have enough time in Iraq and Afghanistan to apply for citizenship. Mullen nixed that suggestion pretty quickly.

• Increase the end strength of the U.S. Army yet again. Possibly the most bizarre idea, this increase would come on the heels of a plus-up of both the Army and Marine Corps. But this recruit pool essentially would be brought on as temps — in for a period and then booted when no longer needed. Defense Secretary (and occasional superhero) Robert M. Gates said, “The question is whether the increase beyond the level where the Army and Marine Corps already are is sustainable over the long term.” We’ll take that as a “no way,” since the budget barely sustains current manpower levels.
The civilian slots are a different story.

Since entering Afghanistan in 2001-2002, defense leaders have been concerned about the lack of trained civilian personnel. The commander of the Paktika, Afghanistian, provincial reconstruction team told us he had 11 civilian slots in his 70-person PRT. Civilians on hand? Zero. Between Paktika and two other Afghan cities, Gardez and Ghazni, 29 of 33 slots were empty. Extrapolate that across Afghanistan and things look pretty bleak.

Putting aside the recently touted idea of pressing into service reservists with desirable civilian specialties, it appears there are a number of retirees who would sign on for the Afghanistan gig. These are young, healthy, successful retirees who are not put off the by the risk as many civilians have been. These are people across the retired community who would walk away from sizeable private sector paychecks, because intangible fulfillment has no price tag.

Surely someone has thought of this manpower pool? Or maybe lawmakers are looking at scoring points at home instead of in the nation’s defense.

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