02 March 2007

Military funding - thoughts on Walter Reed

We're seeing some big time fallout from the recent publicity on the less-than-stellar conditions at part of Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Heads are rolling, people are howling, and it looks as though the problems will be remedied.

Good. Nobody in this country should be able to buy better medical care than that which is provided to the men and women who have been wounded in their country's service. If it is available, and if it is at all possible, our servicemembers AND OUR VETERANS deserve the very best that our magnificent country can provide.

HOWEVER - this is not instant and it cannot happen overnight. We're going to talk about the issue of providing our warriors with the best possible equipment, but we're going to talk about it in the context of something less detailed. We're going to talk about M1114 up-armored Humvees.

Upfront, I am not an impartial observer on this issue. If it were not for this vehicle, I would not be writing this, because I would have been picked up in chunks and stuffed in a bag on the side of a particularly nasty route south of Baghdad. The M1114 saved my life. Probably twice, but most definitely at least once.

When we rolled into Iraq in 2003, there weren't a lot of M1114s. We were using the M998 and varients, which are great vehicles but lack armor. As things evolved, it became apparent that armored vehicles were going to be vital. We had some, we bought more, and they filtered into theater as quickly as was possible. In the interim, our magnificent servicemembers and deployed civilians did what they do best - they improvised and rigged armor.

Now, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth that these vehicles were not IMMEDIATELY AVAILABLE in sufficient numbers.

Yeah, that sucked. But for the love of God, people, what do you expect?

If we (the American people) had wanted, we could have funded the manufacture and storage of several million M1114s. We could have done it in the 90s, when we weren't fighting a war and the economy was good.

But we didn't. Our leadership at that point thought we should enjoy a "peace dividend" in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, and so we cut military spending. The American people allowed it. Who wants to spend billions on that stuff when we didn't have to?

Then the need arose, and the funding was there, and we did the best we could. Ditto on body armor. Ditto on little things - drop-down holsters for deploying soldiers, M4 carbines, MICH helmets, one-hand tournequets. Ditto on the best possible medical facilities for our warriors.

Folks, we are always responsible for how our government spends our money. Some things we cannot forsee - stockpiling M1114s probably wouldn't have been a great idea, and they're already vulnerable to EFPs, so we're having to work up something better. Maybe the body armor, too. Technology advances fast - we've already got better alternatives than the Interceptor system that's saved so many lives. If we'd stockpiled whatever was available in '95, that may not have been a good use of money.

But the medical stuff...

Ladies and gentlemen, if you think we'll ever see an end of war, you're both an optimist and a fool. There is no reason to believe that at least once a generation, we will not send our warriors somewhere, and that we will not get some of them back broken.

Someday, we will stop fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will stop seeing the warriors come home, and their departures will no longer be on the local news. It will be easy then to stop paying attention to our military medical facilities. But if we do that, then the next time we send them off, we will not be as ready to care for the broken ones as we can be.

Not today, but in two or five or ten years, it will be vital for us to hold our representatives' feet to the fire. We must demand that they fund and supervise our military medical facilities to the point of readiness. Not a minimal standard, but to the standard of high-dollar civilian facilities. That way, when the first wounded soldier from whatever fight we're in in 2015 comes off the plane, it will be to what he deserves.

We must do the same with our VA hospitals. Around the country, they care for the wounded of our current war, and they care for the wounded of our past wars. A Marine damaged at Tarawa or Khe Sahn deserves no less care than a Marine damaged in Ramadi.

Let's remember this. And let's not drop the ball when this drops off the front page.