Pentagon sees climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement puts him at odds with the Pentagon, which has been warning for years that climate change poses a critical national security threat. For more than a decade, military leaders have said that extreme weather patterns and rising sea levels are aggravating social tensions, destabilizing regions, and feeding the rise of extremist groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

“The nature and pace of climate changes being observed today . . . are grave and pose equally grave implications for our national security,” says a 2007 report by the Military Advisory Board, an elite group of retired three- and four-star flag and general officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. “It is important that the U.S. military begin planning to address these potentially devastating effects.”

As politicians have squabbled over what actually causes climate change, or whether China or India should be doing more, the Pentagon has been trying to map out a long-term strategy to mitigate the risks that they not only see on the horizon, but are already experiencing.

Naval Base Ventura County in southern California has lost about 400 feet of beach since the 1940s. The sea level at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia has risen 14.5 inches in the century since World War I, when the facility was built.

Military installations on waterfront properties are facing hundreds of floods a year, and in some cases could be mostly submerged by 2100, according to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists. The report calculated that a three-foot sea level rise would threaten at least 128 U.S. military bases, which are valued at $100 billion. Nine of those are major hubs for the U.S. Navy.

In 2014, the Pentagon released a Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap that declared “climate change will affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the nation and poses immediate risks to U.S. national security.” Another Pentagon report in 2015 called climate change a “threat multiplier.”

At his confirmation hearing, Secretary of Defense James Mattis called climate change a “driver of instability” that “requires a broader, whole-of-government response.”

– edited from McClatchy DC, June 1, 2017
PeaceMeal, July/August 2017

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Pentagon ignores watchdog’s calls for $33.6B in savings

The Department of Defense’s failure to act on recommendations from its own watchdog may have cost $33.6 billion, a new report says. The Pentagon’s Inspector General’s Office released a 458-page report July 13 that detailed how DOD responded to 288 Inspector General audits that went back as far as 2006. The report concluded that the Pentagon addressed very few problem areas and may have cost itself and American taxpayers $33.6 billion in wasteful spending.

The costliest example provided in the report listed the Marine Corps purchase of the CH-53K helicopter. The military branch planned to buy 44 more helicopters than it needed in 2013, according to the IG, costing taxpayers an additional $22.2 billion. Despite the IG’s warning against the purchase, the Marine Corps went ahead with the acquisition.

The second-highest dollar amount in waste came from the Air Force’s purchase of $8.8 billion worth of MQ-9 Reaper drones. The IG said it was a waste because the Air Force had spent the same amount on the drones in previous years.

Some of that money could still be recovered if DOD followed 58 of the IG’s suggestions that contain “associated potential monetary benefits,” though the report notes that a number of those opportunities may have passed. “We believe that [DOD] senior managers should focus attention on the 1,298 open recom-mendations and ensure that prompt resolution and action is taken,” the report said. The Pentagon agreed to take corrective action on 1,251 of the recommendations.

Tthe report also made a few suggestions that could save the Pentagon money in the future — if the recommendations are followed. Some of that information, particularly reports related to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and Cyber Command, was classified and redacted from the public version of the report.

As of March 31, when the IG’s office concluded its overview, 832 recommendations had been pending for more than a year, 109 had languished for more than three years, and two had gathered dust for more than a decade.

The Department of Defense did not respond to requests for comment.

– edited from NBC News, July 17, 2017
PeaceMeal, July/August 2107

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Pentagon buried evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste

The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post.

Pentagon leaders had requested the study to help make their enormous back-office bureaucracy more efficient and reinvest any savings in combat power. But after the project documented far more wasteful spending than expected, senior defense officials moved swiftly to kill it by discrediting and suppressing the results.

The report, issued in January 2015, identified “a clear path” for the Defense Department to save $125 billion over five years. The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel. Instead, it would have stream-lined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors. and made better use of information technology.

The study was produced last year by the Defense Business Board, a federal advisory panel of corporate executives, and consultants from McKinsey and Company. Based on reams of personnel and cost data, their report revealed for the first time that the Pentagon was spending almost a quarter of its $580-billion budget on overhead and core business operations such as accounting, human resources, logistics and property management.

The data showed that the Defense Department was paying a staggering number of people — 1,014,000 contractors, civilians and uniformed personnel — to fill back-office jobs far from the front lines. That workforce supports 1.3-million troops on active duty, the fewest since 1940.

For the military, the major allure of the study was that it called for reallocating the $125 billion for troops and weapons. But some Pentagon leaders said they fretted that, by spotlighting so much waste, the study would undermine their repeated public assertions that years of budget austerity had left the armed forces starved of funds. Instead of providing more money, they said, they worried Congress and the White House might decide to cut deeper.

So, the plan was killed. The Pentagon imposed secrecy restrictions on the data making up the study, which ensured no one could replicate the findings. A 77-page summary report that had been made public was removed from a Pentagon website.

“They’re all complaining that they don’t have any money. We proposed a way to save a ton of money,” said Robert “Bobby” L. Stein, a private-equity investor from Jacksonville, Fla., who served as chairman of the Defense Business Board. Stein said the study’s data were “indisputable” and that it was “a travesty” for the Pentagon to suppress the results.

The missed opportunity to streamline the military bureaucracy could soon have large ramifications. Under the 2011 Budget Control Act, the Pentagon will be forced to stomach $113 billion in automatic cuts over four years unless Congress and President Trump can agree on a long-term spending deal by October.

The Defense Business Board was ordered to conduct the study by Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work, the Pentagon’s second-highest-ranking official. At first, Work publicly touted the efficiency drive as a top priority and boasted about his idea to recruit corporate experts to lead the way.

After the board finished its analysis, however, Work changed his position. In an interview with The Post, he did not dispute the board’s findings about the size or scope of the bureaucracy. But he dismissed the $125 billion savings proposal as “unrealistic” and said the business executives had failed to grasp basic obstacles to restructuring the public sector.

“We will never be as efficient as a commercial organization,” Work said. “We’re the largest bureaucracy in the world. There’s going to be some inherent inefficiencies in that.”

Pentagon officials knew their back-office bureaucracy was overstaffed and overfunded. But nobody had ever gathered and analyzed such a comprehensive set of data before.

Some Defense Business Board members warned that exposing the extent of the problem could have unforeseen consequences.

“You are about to turn on the light in a very dark room,” Kenneth Klepper, the former chief executive of Medco Health Solutions, told Work in the summer of 2014, according to two people familiar with the exchange. “All the crap is going to float to the surface and stink the place up.”

The mission would be to analyze, for the first time, dozens of databases that tracked civilian and military personnel and labor costs for defense contractors. The problem was that the databases were in the grip of the armed forces and a multitude of defense agencies. Many had fought to hide the data from outsiders and bureaucratic rivals, according to documents and interviews.

Information on contractor labor, in particular, was so cloaked in mystery that McKinsey described it as “dark matter.”

From the outset, access to the data was limited to a handful of people. A $2.9 million consulting contract signed by the Pentagon stipulated that none of the data or analysis could be released to the news media or the public. Early findings had determined the average administrative job at the Pentagon was costing taxpayers more than $200,000, including salary and benefits.

Former defense secretaries William S. Cohen, Robert M. Gates and Chuck Hagel had launched similar efficiency drives in 1997, 2010 and 2013, respectively. But each of the leaders left the Pentagon before their changes could take root.

“Because we turn over our secretaries and deputy secretaries so often, the bureaucracy just waits things out,” said Dov Zakheim, who served as Pentagon comptroller under President George W. Bush. “You can’t do it at the tail end of an administra-tion. It’s not going to work. Either you leave the starting block with a very clear program, or you’re not going to get it done.”

Arnold Punaro, a retired Marine general and former staff director for the Senate Armed Services Committee, said lawmakers block even modest attempts to downsize the Pentagon’s workforce because they do not want to lose jobs in their districts.

The year 2015 kicked off with promise. On January 21, the Pentagon announced Stein, the private-equity investor, had been reappointed as the board’s chairman and praised him for his “outstanding service.” The next day, the full board held its quarterly public meeting to review the results of the study. The report had a dry title, “Transforming DoD’s Core Business Processes for Revolutionary Change,” and was packed with charts and jargon. But it began plainly enough.

“We are spending a lot more money than we thought,” the report stated. It then broke down how the Defense Department was spending $134 billion a year on business operations — about 50 percent more than McKinsey had guessed at the outset.

Almost half of the Pentagon’s back-office personnel — 457,000 full-time employees — were assigned to logistics or supply-chain jobs. That alone exceeded the size of United Parcel Service’s global workforce. The Pentagon’s purchasing bureau-cracy counted 207,000 full-time workers. By itself, that would rank among the top 30 private employers in the United States. More than 192,000 people worked in property management, and about 84,000 people held human-resources jobs.

The study laid out a range of options. At the low end, just by renegotiating service contracts and hiring less-expensive workers, the Pentagon could save $75 billion over five years. At the high end, by adopting more aggressive productivity targets, it could save twice as much. After a discussion, the full board voted to recommend a middle option: to save $125 billion over five years.

Afterward, board members briefed Work. They were expecting an enthusiastic response, but the deputy defense secretary looked uneasy, according to two people who were present. He singled out one page in the report. Titled “Warfighter Currency,” it showed how saving $125 billion could be redirected to boost combat power. The money could cover the operational costs for 50 Army brigades, or 3,000 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters for the Air Force, or 10 aircraft-carrier strike groups for the Navy.

“This is what scares me,” he said, according to the two people present. Work explained he was worried Congress might see it as an invitation to strip $125 billion from the defense budget and spend it somewhere else.

In briefings that month, uniformed military leaders were receptive at first. They had long groused that the Pentagon wasted money on a layer of defense bureaucracies — known as the Fourth Estate — that were outside the control of the Army, Air Force and Navy. Military officials often felt those agencies performed duplicative services and oversight.

But the McKinsey consultants had also collected data that exposed how the military services themselves were spending princely sums to hire hordes of defense contractors. For example, the Army employed 199,661 full-time contractors, according to a confidential McKinsey report obtained by The Post. That alone exceeded the combined civil workforce for the Departments of State, Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development. The average cost to the Army for each contractor that year: $189,188, including salary, benefits and other expenses.

The Navy was not much better. It had 197,093 contractors on its payroll. On average, each cost $170,865. The Air Force had 122,470 contractors with an average cost of $186,142.

Meanwhile, the backlash to the $125-billion savings plan intensified. On February 6, 2015, board members briefed Frank Kendall III, the Pentagon’s chief weapons-buyer. Kendall’s operations were a major target of the study; he oversaw an empire of purchasing agents and contractors that were constantly under attack from Congress for cost overruns and delays.

Kendall knew that lawmakers might view the study as credible. Alarmed, he said, he went to Work and warned that the findings could “be used as a weapon” against the Pentagon. “If the impression that’s created is that we’ve got a bunch of money lying around and we’re being lazy and we’re not doing anything to save money, then it’s harder to justify getting budgets that we need,” Kendall said.

More ominously, board members said they started to get the silent treatment from the Pentagon’s highest ranks. Briefings that had been scheduled for military leaders in the Tank — the secure conference room for the Joint Chiefs of Staff — were canceled. Worse, the board was unable to secure an audience with Ashton Carter, the new defense secretary. Stein, the board chairman, accused Carter of deliberately derailing the plan through inaction.

The fatal blow was struck in April. Just three months after Stein had been reappointed as board chairman, Carter replaced him with Michael Bayer, a business consultant who had previously served on the panel and clashed with Stein. A few weeks later, Klepper resigned from the board. The $125-billion savings plan was dead.

On June 2, 2015, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus delivered a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. He complained that 20 percent of the defense budget went to the Fourth Estate — the defense agencies that provide support to the armed forces — and called it “pure overhead.” He singled out the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and the Defense Logistics Agency, which together employ about 40,000 people, as egregious examples.

But trouble arrived in Mabus’s email the next day. “Ray, before you publicly trash one of the agencies that reports through me, I’d really appreciate a chance to discuss it with you,” wrote Kendall, the Pentagon’s chief weapons-buyer, whose management portfolio included the Defense Logistics Agency. He said that if Mabus had a complaint, he should raise it directly with their mutual bosses, Carter and Work, and copied the email to both.

Mabus did not back down. In an emailed retort to Kendall, he referred to the ill-fated Defense Business Board study. “I did not say anything yesterday that I have not said both publicly ... and privately inside this building,” he said. “There have been numerous studies, which I am sure you are aware of, pointing out excessive overhead.”

That prompted a stern intervention from Work. “Ray, please refrain from taking any more public pot shots,” Work said in an email. “I do not want this spilling over into further public discourse.”

– edited from an article by Craig Whitlock and Bob Woodward, The Washington Post, December 5, 2016
PeaceMeal, May/June 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Retired generals oppose proposed foreign aid cuts

Now is not the time to slash U.S. foreign aid, more than 120 retired generals and admirals said in a letter to House and Senate majority and minority leaders, while citing past comments from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to buttress their case.

The letter was released by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, which includes business executives, foreign-policy experts and retired senior military officials, as the Trump administration signaled that it will slash international spending while boosting funding for the U.S. military.

“The State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way,” the letter said. “As Secretary James Mattis said while Commander of U.S. Central Command, ‘If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.’ ”

Many of the officers who signed the letter retired within the past few years, and some led U.S. forces in combat.

– edited from The Washington Post, February 27, 2017
PeaceMeal, May/June 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Militarism is financially and morally bankrupting the USA

Reverend Doak M. Mansfield, Kennewick
Letter, Tri-City Herald, November 4, 2016

As a father, grandfather, veteran (U.S. Army chaplain) and minister, I am deeply troubled about our nation’s priorities.

Has anybody noticed that the perpetual (overtly for over 15 years) war in the Middle East (aka “war on terrorism”) is about to get worse. It looks open-ended and forever. It is a third rail no one dare touch. It is un-American to question! Responsible citizenship and political leadership appears silent or feeble. More for the military is an unassailable demand.

The costs rob our public services and distort our economy. The loss of life is tragic. Our military casualties and wounded veterans are precious, senseless sacrifices. There are millions of other victims round the world.

Is anybody investigating the obscene profiteering and the collaboration by the government, military and corporations to spend us into cynical disaster? Anybody auditing the shift of the USA in 70 years from savior of civilization to international villain?

Militarism is financially and morally bankrupting the USA. It’s product is destruction, not safety. It has long lost any pretense at defense. We have been on offensive military operations for generations protecting, we are told, “national interests.” What exactly are our national interests? Profits, death?

Rev. Mansfield is the minister at the Community Unitarian Universalist Church in Pasco, Washington. His letter was reprinted in PeaceMeal. Jan/February 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Military plans for climate change despite skeptics

W.J. Hennigan
Los Angeles Times, November 20, 2106

Naval Station Norfolk, Va. — A bitter wind blew across Sewell’s Point recently as ocean waves crashed against a concrete pier. Pier 3 was taking the last hits of a severe storm that came ashore a few days before. It flooded four buildings, tore up rooftops, knocked down trees and briefly cut electricity at the world’s largest naval station. Storms obviously aren't new here, but they are worse than ever — and the Pentagon blames climate change. “We see the rising sea levels and flooding events,” said Capt. Dean VanderLey, who oversees Navy infrastructure in the mid-Atlantic region. “We have a responsibility to prepare for the future. We don’t have the luxury of just burying our heads in the sand.”President-elect Donald Trump has described global warming as a hoax, and Republicans in Congress who reject science showing that greenhouse gases have warmed the planet have blocked funding for the Pentagon to assess the damage and plan for the future. The House voted in June to bar the DOD from spending money to evaluate how climate change would affect military training, combat, weapons purchases and other needs.

Partly as a result, the Pentagon says it does not keep figures on what climate change may mean for the military budget. Planners sometimes list upgrades to infrastructure as maintenance or repairs to avoid scrutiny from lawmakers.

But the debate is settled at the Pentagon. Rising sea levels and temperatures have forced it to rebuild or move roads, housing, airfields and other vulnerable facilities damaged by mudslides in Hawaii, floods in Virginia, drought in California, and thawing permafrost in Alaska.

It also has led to a shift in strategic challenges around the world. The Pentagon doesn’t say that climate change alone will cause wars. But the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Defense Department’s major planning plan for the next four years, calls it an “accelerant of instability” and a “threat multiplier.”

“The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on econo-mies, societies, and governance institutions around the world,” the document said.

In Africa, extended droughts have been a factor in several sub-Saharan and North African conflicts. When rising temperatures created food and water shortages, for example, increased poverty and migration created breeding grounds for terrorist groups in Mali, Nigeria and elsewhere.

Similarly, increasingly powerful typhoons spawned by warming oceans have battered U.S. allies in the western and central Pacific. Humanitarian aid operations, once a rarity, are expected to become a core Pentagon mission as the number of natural disasters has steadily increased.

In the Asia Pacific region, rising sea levels could inundate island nations such as Fiji and Micronesia, push saltwater into groundwater supplies and croplands in Vietnam and Indonesia, and threaten major cities, including Manila, Shanghai and Jakarta, Indonesia.

Climate change is the “biggest long-term security threat” facing the region, Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, then head of U.S. Pacific Command, said in 2013.

The Pentagon also expects to expand operations in the Arctic, the world’s fastest-warming region. So much sea ice has melted that a northern shipping route over Russia and a northwest passage over Canada are now open to navigation and oil and gas exploitation for much of the year. Partly as a result, Russia is reopening Cold War-era military bases on its Arctic coastline.

The Pentagon’s “Climate Adaptation Roadmap,” issued in 2014, said the Hampton Roads area in Virginia, which includes Naval Station Norfolk and Langley Air Force Base, is a top concern. The sea-level rise and land subsidence is causing increased tidal and storm flooding in the area. Saltwater intrusion already is a problem, with three rivers flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. The low-lying region has recorded the fastest sea-level rise on the East Coast: 18 inches in the past century, according to the Navy.

By 2030, scientists project the sea to rise 6 more inches. The Navy expects the main road into the base to be underwater for two or three hours a day by 2040.

Incremental changes often are irreversible, so it’s important to plan ahead, said David Adams, director of climate policy on the White House’s National Security Council. “It takes a while for people to get it,” he said at an Oct. 19 panel on Norfolk at the World Resources Institute in Washington. “It doesn't go boom.”

 – PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2016

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Deglamorizing the symbols and trinkets of militarism

Katrina Alton, CSJP

On a beautiful summer’s day in central London, three men walked down Whitehall. They stopped directly outside 10 Downing Street, the seat of the UK government. Their silence was broken with this statement: “We are members of Veterans For Peace UK, an ex-services organization of men and women who have served this country in every conflict since the Second World War. We exist in the hope of convincing you that war is not the solution to the problems of the 21st century. We have come here today to hand back things, given to us as soldiers, that we no longer require or want,” said Ben Griffin, founder of Veterans For Peace.

Tourists looked on quizzically, and people began to take photos. Armed police awaited orders.

One of the veterans reached into his pocket and held up a piece of paper. “This is my Oath of Allegiance. It is something I had to recite in order to get the job as a soldier. At 15-years-old, I had little understanding of its true meaning. Now I fully understand the words; they have no meaning at all,” said John Boulton, who then discarded his Oath of Allegiance.

Another veteran took off his beret. “This is my Army hat. This was given to me as a 16-year-old boy. I reject militarism. I reject war, and it means nothing to me,” said Kieran Devlin who then discarded the beret.

Finally, a veteran removed the row of medals displayed on his jacket. “I was given these medals for service on operations with the British Army. This particular medal here was given to me for my part in the occupation of Iraq. Whilst I was over there, I attacked civilians in their homes and took away their men, off to be tortured in prison. I no longer want these despicable things,” said Ben Griffin who then discarded his medals. ...

Veterans For Peace UK is a growing organization of men and women who have gone through, what I can only imagine to be, a long and at times painful conversion and transformation. They are letting go not only of a job, a role, but of their identity, and trying to come to terms with the part they played in the military machine where civilians are killed and men are taken to be tortured.

In a culture where the military is systematically deified, it has become a blasphemy to criticize them. In this context, the work of Veterans For Peace UK in schools, and with young people, is essential.

In 2014, all schools in England and Wales received a copy of a book titled The British Armed Forces. This was part of a wider militarizing agenda by the UK government’s Department of Education.

Its goals are clear:

• Expansion of cadet forces in state schools (550 by 2020)

• Funding of projects in schools with a “military ethos”

• Partnering of schools and colleges with the military and arms companies

• Ongoing recruitment of under-18-year-olds.

Curiously, the words “death” and “killing” are nowhere to be found in this document; and while it refers to the victories of war, neither wars in Iraq or Afghanistan are mentioned. The book also states that “Nuclear deterrents have saved millions of lives” and that “Arms companies boost the British economy.” With no differentiation between fact and opinion, this piece of propaganda attempts to sanitize war, push recruitment and exclude any voices for peace.

Against this backdrop, Veterans For Peace UK speak truth to power and hold to account those perpetuating the economy of war without regard to the cost of life, society or the environment.

So why did these three men give back their oath of allegiance, beret and medals? “We carried out the action in an attempt to deglamorize the symbols and trinkets of militarism,” said Griffin. “The action had great personal significance for all three of us. Each of us felt that we had released ourselves from the grip of militarism by publicly disowning these items.”

Sister Katrina Alton currently lives in Scotland where she is completing training as a psychodynamic counselor. As a peace activist, Sr. Katrina’s main focus is on the arms trade and nuclear disarmament. Her article from Living Peace, Winter 2016, was reprinted in PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2016.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Amazing things America could have bought instead of a $1.45-trillion jet fighter

The F-35 fighter project has been one of the most expensive military projects in history. It will cost upwards of $1.45 trillion by the time it’s over. No, that’s not a typo. The project price is trillion with a T.

What’s more, the plane is not even ready for service yet and has already cost $400 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office, which is twice what it was supposed to have cost by now. And it's not even that good by military standards, a think tank reported last year, and not worth the $135 million cost per plane, of which the U.S. stands to order 2,443.

In fact, the Congressional Budget Office recommended that updating the stalwart F/A-18 and the F-16 fighters would be sufficient — a move that could save around $48.5 billion.

The project was back in the news again recently, as the Senate Armed Forces Committee heard testimony. It didn't go well: John McCain (R.-AZ), an Air Force veteran, blasted the project as a “scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule, and performance.”

Christopher Mimms of the Wall Street Journal fired off a tweet that noted the plane’s projected opportunity cost through 2038 could have provided 20 years of free college for every student in the United States. Opportunity costs are the benefits a firm foregoes by selecting a strategic option. In layman’s terms, by choosing to do one thing, it means you can’t do another.

Mimms’ suggestion got us thinking: What are some other things that $1.45 trillion could buy?

• A $4,500 gift for every single American— $18,000 for a family of four

• Four years of picking up the tab on every American’s health insurance premiums

• Instantly wipe out all student loan debt — a staggering $1.3 trillion

• Fix 40 percent of our crumbling national infrastructure

• Skip paying the entire military budget for two years

– edited from an article by Ethan Wolff-Mann in Money, May 2, 2016
PeaceMeal, May/June 2016

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Once a Soldier, Always a Soldier

Emma Neal

As a mother and onetime soldier reading the headlines each day, I am unable to keep the plight of returning troops from my mind. Many of them will find themselves scarred, both physically and mentally, for good. Many will find themselves abandoned too – not only by society at large, but also by their families.

Each returning soldier is my damaged son or daughter. Their suffering is my suffering. Yet what can one person like me do for them?

Soldiers returning to civilian life face massive problems. When you are in the military, you are in an unreal world, a world light years away from the one you knew before you put on a uniform. Once in the military, you are encouraged to party and drink alcohol at every base function and in your free time, and there is little to do but sit in your room, listen to music, go to nightclubs, and get high on drugs or alcohol.

Outside the gates of every military base in the U.S. and around the world are hustlers, prostitutes, bars (gay and straight), strip joints, pool halls, discos, tattoo parlors, adult movie houses, gambling and clip joints, sex shops, pawn shops, liquor stores, drug dealers and worse, depending on the country. I still have nightmares of Amsterdam, where women's bodies are for sale in storefront windows and sex shop windows advertise the worst filth imaginable.

I especially remember the night I left my friends to go back to my hotel room and cry the hours away while they prowled the streets looking for “fun.” On Sunday morning I wandered the sidewalks, vainly searching for a church – any church – to attend, but found none. The Lord seemed to have left the city to its own perverted excesses.

After only six years of military service and no war experiences, I found it extremely hard to get used to civilian life. I had changed so much. It had become normal to practice shooting an M16 assault rifle, to throw hand grenades for fun, and to practice killing other human beings. Evil conversation and profanity had become commonplace for me. I could hardly get through a sentence without the “F” word. I was hard, cold, jaded and bitter. Worse, I was full of rage. Not anger. Rage. And unlike many of the GIs around me, I was a Christian!

I was born on a military base (Fort Jackson, South Carolina) and grew up as a military brat. Almost all the men in my family – my father, brothers, uncles, cousins, and brothers-in-law – were soldiers. It was considered an honorable, respectable, wonderful way of life. There were no officers in our family. We were proud to consider ourselves “grunts.” We were hard-core warriors, and all the boys longed to be in the Army or, even better, the Marines.

War talk was common around the dinner table. I can still hear them talking about how it feels to gut the enemy with a bayonet, to see your buddies blown to bits, to live for days out in the field eating out of your helmet, and sloshing through the mud during field maneuvers. We were all encouraged to go into the military, if for no other reason than that black people and women received the same pay as everyone else.

There were no Christians in my large, loud, aggressive family. Not one. No one felt they needed God. We were taught to depend on ourselves – on our own personal courage, ambition and initiative. When I became a Christian at age twenty, it was one of the few times I ever disappointed my family. I had gone against the grain, broken out of the mold, gone against the family. I had been a closet Christian for years and they suspected something was “wrong” with me. Something was “wrong.” Because of my faith, I’d begun to question almost everything I had ever been taught about how to live life.

After three years of putting up with my going to church, my praying and my being full of joy, my family told me I had to go. They said I had three months to “find a place.” I was twenty-two years old. I had only been away from home alone once. My greatest joys were working, going to church, reading, crocheting afghans, visiting nursing homes and shut-ins. I dreamed about becoming a missionary one day…

For now, however, I had no money, no real skills and no place to go. Unless you counted the armed forces, which seemed the obvious thing to a military brat like me. So, I joined up.

Unfortunately, the military is an all-or-nothing proposition. Once you have passed a certain point in your career, you become unfit to do anything else. You become unable to function again in civilian society. You can never predict when any one person will reach that point. You just wake up one day unable to be anything else but a soldier.

I never reached that point, thank God. In fact, I found military life hell on earth. I found it hard to imagine actually killing a person, and wondered how I would be able to justify doing it if the time ever came. I felt angry and frustrated enough to want to kill most of the time. That’s the nature of military life. I had also held up my hand and sworn to do so if ordered. But I always prayed I would never be called upon to make that decision.

When I got pregnant with my son, John, I had to make a choice. I had to chose between life (my son) or death (advancement in my military “career”). I chose life, and my parents have never forgiven me for it. That is the problem with warriors and those with a military mentality. Anyone can become a potential enemy, even your own family. Like the Spartans of old who left their weak, sickly children outdoors to die, so it was with my family. To their way of thinking, I had proved myself weak. I was “soft.” I had chosen to throw my life away when I didn’t have to.

It was hard to raise a child alone. I barely survived – and I had the moral (and sometimes financial) help from my church family. How are these guys coming back from Iraq [and Afghanistan] going to make it, with their severe medical and mental problems?

They’ll make it the same way John and I did, if they know someone who loves them enough to give them practical help. We found people who really loved us. They showed it in a hundred ways – crying with us, laughing with us, and sharing whatever they had – even if it was only their own poverty.

If we love those returning from war with the love of a parent for his or her own child – a child who was lost but has now been found – I think we can help them find peace and acceptance and forgiveness. As a mother who’s always depended upon the kindness of strangers, I am determined to give it a try.

Emma Neal served as a US Air Force sergeant in Germany and England from 1977 to 1983. She now works for Sacred Heart Church in Camden, New Jersey. Her article was reprinted in PeaceMeal, May/June 2014.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


War funds needed at least until 2017, services say

Our country has spent more money on war in the last decade than at any other time in history. Although Pentagon spending would come down under President Obama’s proposed 2015 budget, don’t count on any “peace dividend.” We’ll still be spending as much on the military as we were during the height of the Vietnam War and the Cold War.

As the president and Congress are cutting back on what’s available to help people in our communities have an affordable place to live, enough food for their families, and the support they need to get a job, military officials are pushing back against the very idea that the Pentagon budget could come down at all.

Although U.S. military operations in Afghanistan will end this year, bills for the war will be coming in until at least 2017. Army and Marine Corps officials told Congress on March 27 that they will need at least three years of overseas contingency funding to pay for repair and reset of equipment after the last troops leave Afghanistan. Navy and Air Force leaders said they expect to continue relying on the contingency funds too, at least for a few more years.

For this fiscal year, money for overseas contingency operations — known as “OCO funding” — is expected to reach $85 billion. Over the last decade, that “temporary” war funding has been used to fund not only combat operations, but also a host of other — and critics would argue unconnected — overseas missions.

Service officials said less than half of the funds now pay for activities in Afghanistan. OCO money also is used to pay in part for U.S. missions in Africa, base support costs in Kuwait and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ship deployments around the globe, and increased end-strength expenses.

Watchdog groups have railed against the continued use of OCO money as a slush fund to enhance the military’s base budget. At the same time, lawmakers have eyed the impending drawdown of the war accounts as a potential deficit reduction maneuver, counting the “saved” costs of decreased spending against other programs.

But service chiefs warned that billions of dollars in so-called war spending will still be needed in coming years, unless lawmakers find ways to expand base-budget spending to absorb the lingering costs.

– edited from Military Times, March 27, 2014, and Friends Committee on National Legislation
PeaceMeal, May/June 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)