Monday, May 1, 2017

Defense Reform that Focuses on Military Families

The last 15 years have been tough ones for military families.  With multiple deployments in a very short period of time, family life can be brought to the breaking point. More than 40 percent of military families had a soldier, sailor, marine, airman or airwoman deployed more than six months out of the previous eighteen months.  And with more and more military spouses with careers of their own, even normal assignment rotations can be challenging.  I know of too many extraordinarily talented military members who left the military because the family stress just became too much.

I was therefore pleased to see Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute (who usually focuses on more traditional defense issues) team up Kathy Roth-Douquet of Blue Star Families to offer some suggestions about how deployments can be reformed to make family life more of a priority:

Too many of today’s deployments are being conducted in formulaic, traditional ways that often unnecessarily separate servicemen and servicewomen from their spouses and children. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and a few other combat zones—as well as the high seas—separation may be unavoidable. But in other cases and other places, the Department of Defense needs to make the welfare and togetherness of military families a more central factor in how it deploys and employs the total force.
In Korea, for example, the Pentagon could allow most troops to bring their families with them for year long stays. Historically, South Korea was an underdeveloped country with serious security challenges, so the United States deployed forces there without their families. Today, most of our 28,000 military personnel on the peninsula (primarily Army and Air Force) are still unescorted. This puts an unnecessary burden on the force. Yes, Korea is still dangerous—but tens of thousands of American civilians not working for the Department of Defense live there anyway. Military families can handle the risks, too.
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There are also ways to maintain naval presence more effectively. Rather than always keep sailors on the same ship, and thereby wasting several weeks out of every deployment traversing the oceans to and from American ports, the U.S. Navy could rotate sailors by airplane every six months or so. Ships could stay on station for a year or two at a time, only coming home when maintenance requirements so dictated; sailors would train on one ship near U.S. shores and then deploy to another of similar vintage abroad, improving the efficiency of our overseas presence operations.

Read it all here.

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