Category Archives: Military

AThe Truth About Who Fights for Us

God bless each and every service man and woman…
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By ANN MARLOWE

It should no more be necessary to write this article than to prove that there were Jews killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11. And yet the mythology refuses to die. Just last week, two well-educated and well-known writer acquaintances of mine remarked in passing on the “fact” that those who serve in the U.S. military typically have no other career options. America’s soldiers, they said, were poor and black.

They don’t mean this to denigrate their service—no, they mean it as a critique of American society, which turns its unemployed into cannon fodder. Especially today with high unemployment, the charge goes, hapless youths we fail to educate are embarking on a one-way trip to Afghanistan.

These allegations—most frequently leveled at the Army, the military’s biggest service and the one with the highest casualty rate—are false.

In 2008, using data provided by the Defense Department, the Heritage Foundation found that only 11% of enlisted military recruits in 2007 came from the poorest one-fifth, or quintile, of American neighborhoods (as of the 2000 Census), while 25% came from the wealthiest quintile. Heritage reported that “these trends are even more pronounced in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, in which 40% of enrollees come from the wealthiest neighborhoods, a number that has increased substantially over the past four years.”

Indeed, the Heritage report showed that “low-income families are underrepresented in the military and high-income families are overrepresented. Individuals from the bottom household income quintile make up 20.0 percent of Americans who are age 18-24 years old but only 10.6 percent of the 2006 recruits and 10.7 percent of the 2007 recruits. Individuals in the top two quintiles make up 40.0 percent of the population, but 49.3 percent of the recruits in both years.”

What about the charge that our Army is disproportionately black? This too is false, as is clear from data for fiscal 2010 available on the Army’s website: Whereas blacks comprise 17% of Americans ages 18-39 with high school degrees, they represent only a slightly larger proportion of enlisted soldiers, at 21%.

Meanwhile, whites were significantly overrepresented among enlisted Army personnel in 2010. While 58% of Americans 18-39 years old are white, 64% of the Army’s enlisted men and women are. Whites are underrepresented to a minor degree in only one category, in which blacks are overrepresented: Army officers. While 74% of 25-54 year-olds with bachelor’s degrees are white, 72% of Army officers are white. While 8% of 25-54 year-olds with B.A.s are black, 13% of Army officers are.

Is it true that with a shaky economy, blacks have been driven to enlist in the Army in dramatically increased numbers? The 2010 numbers say otherwise. While 60% of 18-24 year-olds with a high school degree are white and 17% are black, 64% of new enlistees are white and 19% are black.

The missing bit of explanation for Army demographics is that Asians and Pacific Islanders, which make up the fastest-growing American demographic, are underrepresented in the Army, as are Hispanics. The explanation for the former is probably cultural, while for the latter it is a matter of difficulty speaking English. Only 12% of Army enlisted personnel are Hispanic, as opposed to 21% in the 18-39 year old population with a high school degree.

Why do myths persist despite all the evidence? One reason is lack of firsthand exposure to the military: Doing a journalistic embed with American troops or visiting a U.S. military base—or simply having some friends in the military—would disabuse my acquaintances of their beliefs.

This detachment is the result of a withdrawal of our urban elites from military service. And it suits the interests of many members of the urban elite to believe that the military they do not join is composed of poor, uneducated victims of an unfair society.

The hidden assumption in this myth is that an institution that is heavily black is an inferior institution. The myth of the ghetto Army is as nastily racist as it is false.

Ms. Marlowe, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, blogs at World Affairs.
Ann Marlowe: The Truth About Who Fights for Us – WSJ.com.

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China Says Aircraft Carrier Only for Research, Training

Research and training… ?  Right.

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BEIJING—China’s Defense Ministry said its first aircraft carrier would be used for “research, experiments and training” and would not affect its defensive naval strategy, in an apparent attempt to ease regional concerns that the vessel could be used to enforce Chinese territorial claims.

Senior Col. Geng Yansheng, a Defense Ministry spokesman, also confirmed for the first time that Chinese pilots were training to operate from the carrier, which is based on an empty hull bought from Ukraine, and which is due to start sea trials this summer. But he said it would take a long time to become fully operational.

“Building an aircraft carrier is extremely complex and at present we are using a scrapped aircraft carrier platform to carry out refurbishment for the purposes of technological research, experiments and training,” Col. Geng said, according to a Chinese transcript of a monthly Defense Ministry news conference published on its web site.

Asked about media reports that the vessel would be launched on Aug. 1, China’s Army Day, he said: “There is not a question of when this ship is launched, because it has been in the water all along. As for the precise timetable for the ship beginning sea trials, it will be decided according to the schedule of the refurbishment project.”

He also dismissed a question suggesting that China’s sudden relative openness about the carrier was linked to recent tensions in the South China Sea, where China has conflicting territorial claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, and has warned the U.S. to stop reconnaissance operations.

“To construct and use a carrier requires the integration of various types of weaponry, and requires synergy in every area,” Col. Geng said. “This will be a long and slow process.”

A Chinese company purchased the empty hull of a carrier called the Varyag from Ukraine in 1998, on the understanding that it would be used as a floating casino, but it was later towed to the northeastern port of Dalian, where it has been undergoing refurbishment ever since.

China’s plans to reactivate the carrier for its navy have been known for years. The vessel is easily visible from parts of Dalian and photographs and video footage of the refurbishing have been published online.

But China did not officially confirm its plans until earlier this month, when Gen. Cheng Bingde, the Chief of General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, spoke about it at a news conference after meeting Mike Mullen, the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Beijing. Gen. Chen did not, however, say how China planned to use the carrier.

The vessel is significant as it will give China, for the first time, the theoretical ability to project air power far from its shores, as well as providing crucial experience for developing its own, larger indigenous carriers, the first of which some defense experts say is already under construction.

It would take China several decades to match the U.S.’s current carrier fleet of 11, but Beijing only needs a few to enhance its ability to deny U.S. forces access to waters around China in the event of a regional conflict, or to protect its shipping lanes and other perceived national interests overseas.

To be effective, at least two or three carriers are required, so that at least one can remain active while another undergoes repairs, and each active one requires its own carrier group including several other vessels, according to Chinese and foreign defense experts.

For the moment, therefore, they say the Varyag—which has yet to be renamed—will likely be used mainly to test equipment and train personnel, especially pilots who must learn to take off from and land on the carrier while it is moving.

Some also say that it could be used for limited patrols around China’s territorial waters, as well as visits to foreign countries to try to enhance military relations and help them grow accustomed to China’s newfound naval strength.

Col. Geng said that a carrier could be used for offensive or defensive purposes as well as for disaster relief, and that China was pursuing its carrier program “in order to increase its ability to protect national security and world peace.”

“China’s firm adherence to a defensive national defense policy will not change because of the development of advanced weapons,” he said. “China’s naval strategy of inshore defense also has not changed.”

Col. Geng declined to provide further details.

But the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Cao Weidong, a researcher with the PLA Navy’s Academic Research Institute, as saying that China’s first carrier was a conventionally-powered medium-sized carrier equipped with indigenous Chinese engines, ship-borne aircraft, radar and other hardware.

 

China Says Aircraft Carrier Only for Research, Training – WSJ.com.

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While My Son Serves in Iraq

As America celebrates Independence Day this weekend, it’s a good time to think of the men and women serving their country overseas. Kelsey Hubbard talks with WSJ contributor Dave Shiflett as his son is about to be deployed to Iraq.

[DEPLOY1] Ted Aljibe/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Today, less than 1% of Americans wear the uniform.

What’s it like seeing a family member off to Iraq, and perhaps beyond?

The question comes up regularly these days as our 26-year-old son prepares to ship out. Kids in our middle-class world tend to head for college or for the sort of job that eventually convinces them that college isn’t such a bad idea after all. Some friends wonder how our son ended up a sergeant in the Army National Guard.

“Sarge” (as we call him now) didn’t volunteer because of family influence. We are Virginians and have served, but only when called. The Vietnam War ended before I got called up, but my father was a World War II navigator in the Naval Air Corps, transporting troops from Hawaii to Guam, and Sarge’s grandfather on the other side was in a front-line artillery unit in Korea. A century before, the man I was named after did some surveillance work for Robert E. Lee, and in something of that spirit, our son became an Army Scout.

He is, to be sure, a good demographic fit: Over two-thirds of our armed forces are white, most are male, and Southerners continue to be well-represented in the ranks. There was also his early fascination with soldiers and guns, but that’s true of many boys.

Sarge has always possessed one habit of mind seemingly at odds with military life, which many critics insist is fit only for drones. He possesses what we lovingly call a hard head, an independent streak that, as it happens, is an inherited characteristic.

After his enlistment I had to ask why he would join an organization where taking orders is a way of life. “It’s how you get to the big game,” he replied. Put another way, he’s a single young man looking for adventure—and perhaps meaning—and tends to believe that the people who man the office cubicles are the real drones.

He certainly chose an unusual path: Fewer than 1% of Americans wear the uniform these days. That, in turn, puts families of deployed soldiers in something of a world of their own.

For one thing, you’re unlikely to bump into someone at the local tavern to commiserate with (which is not an argument for avoiding taverns, tavern life being one of the traditions that our children cross the oceans to protect).

New acquaintances sometimes seem shocked to meet someone with a deployed family member. “I’m so sorry,” is their typical response. You’d almost think the lad was heading into rehab or entering the slave trade.

‘When I’m out in the desert, I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,’ our son said after returning home. Sometimes you have to travel 7,000 miles to find a sense of purpose.

Others simply have no experience with the phenomenon of military service. At a Christmas party a few years ago, a colleague told me, very earnestly, that I was the only person he knew with someone in the military and that my son (whom he had never met) was his only link to that world.

Sheldon Kelly, an old family friend who served with the 82nd Airborne and whose own son has done multiple tours, recalls a lunch in Washington, D.C., with professional friends when the Iraq war was at a high point. “They were all war hawks,” he recalled, “but when I told them my son was in Iraq, they were stunned. It was like I was in a different class.” None, he added, had children in the military.

All of which can result in a feeling of isolation for some service families and an assumption of societal indifference. With so few people deployed, it’s almost as if these conflicts are not really happening.

One local couple, whose son earned a Purple Heart in Iraq, told me that while plenty of people are happy to “ribbon up”—attach those “Support Our Troops” stickers to their cars—that’s pretty much the extent of their outreach.

For the most part, however, the usual response when we tell people about Sarge is to say that we must be proud—which we are—and we must also be worried. Well, sure. We’re parents—worry is our fate. Yet we try to worry wisely. And thankfully, at this point in his life, Sarge is not leaving behind a family of his own.

His first deployment, in 2007, was supposed to take him to Baghdad, but he ended up in a much quieter area at the southern border. He did not like that, but my wife and I sure did. This time around his gun truck will be driving point on convoys taking troops out of Iraq.

While the Iraq war has wound down, there are still dangers. In June, 11 servicemen were killed, five in a single rocket attack. Death by improvised explosive device is a possibility for anyone riding those roads, and so visions of your son bleeding out as he screams for his mother can appear, unsolicited, in the middle of the night. Some level of apprehension is unavoidable.

Then again, why do we have children if not to give us plenty to think about at 3 a.m.?

Sarge shows few signs of coffin phobia, though he is not looking forward to dealing with intense heat, scorpions and camel spiders (which, he tells us, can grow to the size of your hand, hiss loudly, and sometimes charge in packs). As for other hazards: Sandstorms can be blinding, it’s not advisable to date the locals, and a cold beer can be very hard to come by.

And you never know where his service might eventually lead him. The U.S. is supposed to be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, but that could change. With Sarge’s new deployment set at 400 days, we suspect a bonus trip to Afghanistan may be in the bargain. Who knows—maybe he’ll end up seeing wild, wonderful Tripoli!

There’s a saying that when one family member deploys, the entire family deploys. What often isn’t said is that, despite the definite downsides to military deployment (including the possibility of becoming a casualty and, at the very least, long separations), it has a strange knack for bringing people together and even making life better.

There’s a saying that when one family member deploys, the entire family deploys.

Sarge’s 2007 deployment had some positive health benefits for me, though for nonheroic reasons. Here’s why: If your soldier is killed (not a great possibility, though some parents lose sight of that), there will be a knock at your door. Accordingly, if you happen to be home in the afternoon when the FedEx guy drops by, you might experience an unwelcome cardiac jolt.

To avoid that experience I took up walking, often logging 30 to 40 miles per week. Not quite boot camp, but the exercise probably added a few years to my life.

There are also moments that simply would not have happened were it not for deployment. I remember a call from our son (via cellphone) who said he was out in the middle of the desert under a bright canopy of stars. Despite a short voice delay, the reception was incredible.

“You out there by yourself?” I asked.

“No, Dad. I have my machine gun.”

It was a strange, intense moment of bonding, even though he was probably 7,000 miles away.

Deployment also cured me of a lingering cable-TV habit. Whatever patience I once had for the chattering class—make that the braying class—disappeared. I don’t know what is worse: raving about how our soldiers are “mercenaries” or hearing a parlor patriot (go get ’em, boys!) suggest that because recent conflicts are “low-casualty” (compared with Vietnam, Korea and the world wars), they are nothing to get worked up about. As my friend Sheldon pointed out, it does seem that the people with the biggest heart for war never seem to have any blood on the line.

It is undoubtedly true that war is good not only for munitions makers but also for what a friend calls the “prayer life.” In the run-up to Sarge’s 2007 deployment, a celestial petition entered my mind so effortlessly and naturally that I assumed the same has been true for soldiers’ parents through the ages: If a life must be taken, take mine and spare his.

Deployment can also be a positive experience for soldiers. After returning home, our son said that “when I’m out in the desert, I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.” Sometimes you have to travel 7,000 miles to find a sense of purpose, and many men, I suspect, may come to wish they had made a similar journey.

It’s my impression that men like me, who never served, often feel that we’ve missed out on an important part of life. We don’t know what it’s like to be young and far away from home, vulnerable to instant personal extinction but also part of the comradeship that such danger creates. In this sense my son’s service is a far greater thing than I have ever done.

Back home from deployments, soldiers can experience a vast array of problems, from nervousness while driving under an overpass (ambush?) or in traffic (since cars in today’s war zones can carry bombs) to the more serious manifestations of post-traumatic stress disorder. The military offers some support. A Department of Defense service called MilitaryHomefront provides support for those suffering from various maladies, including combat stress, domestic abuse and suicide prevention.

For families whose soldiers didn’t make it home, of course, there is an unfathomable depth of sorrow.

On a happier note, the one area in which deployment is nearly unsurpassed lies in its ability to bring people together for a grand sendoff.

We held Sarge’s farewell party just before June 1, his official deployment date (he won’t arrive in Iraq until this month), so grilling burgers on July 4th will be tame by comparison.

This was definitely not a Norman Rockwell scene, though one suspects Norman would have had a rocking time. A smoky cooking fire (my idea to roast an octopus was vetoed; our oldest son flew in from San Francisco to butcher and cook a pig) cast a rich haze over 100 or so friends, relatives and a few thirsty strangers, some bearing musical instruments while many others, including soldiers with hard combat experience, came armed with a host of jugs.

When soldiers and musicians gather, the alcohol deities smile broadly. Thirsts worthy of condemned pirates were slaked with passion, and as the smoke and noise levels rose, neighbors could be forgiven for thinking the Vikings had landed (though none sounded the alarm down at the local sheriff’s office, for which we are thankful). One senses that many serious head wounds required treatment the next morning, but there was the solace of knowing that the damage was sustained in the line of duty.

This party was not as raucous as the one for Sarge’s first deployment, where lights-out came around 5 a.m. This time, all was quiet by 2. The last departure was also officially marked by a ceremony in which Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine traveled to Portsmouth to shake the hands of the hundreds of soldiers departing with my son’s unit. Families appreciated that. This time, the current governor didn’t show up at the sendoff, which was held in downtown Richmond.

For now, memories of Sarge’s sendoff will keep us smiling as we ride out the 400-day deployment.

Grandmother: “Will the vehicle you’re riding around in have any weapons?”

Sarge: “Yes, Grandma. We’ll be taking along a .50-cal.”

While Sarge is away, we’re likely to see the local boys who have completed their tours and sometimes gather in a home-built “speakeasy,” bedecked with the flags of their respective services: Army, Marines, Navy.

I recall a conversation with them one night about an American flag that has accompanied them on various deployments, sometimes tucked under their battle armor to keep it—and perhaps themselves—safe. The cable TV brayers would scoff at this as “gaudy patriotism,” but to my eye this level of communal devotion is another thing soldiers have that most of us don’t.

Despite the definite downsides to deployment, it has a strange knack for bringing people together.

These vets—young in years but in some cases having witnessed profound horrors—were in full hoot at the send-off, singing along to woozily brilliant renditions of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” Paul Simon’s “The Boxer,” a deeply fractured rendition of the Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon,” and the Grateful Dead’s “Dire Wolf,” with its resoundingly appropriate chorus, “Don’t murder me!”

There was also a glorious “Over the Rainbow,” sung by a woman whose voice brought hope for better days, and then the farewell toast:

Know that you will be constantly in our thoughts and prayers.

We look forward to gathering together again to welcome you home.

Until then, don’t mess with the women.

Keep your head down, and

Godspeed.

Now, off he goes.

—Mr. Shiflett posts his writing and original music at www.daveshiflett.com.

While My Son Serves in Iraq – WSJ.com.

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