military personnel appropriation (MPA) – Money budgeted by the Active Duty Military to fund reservists brought on active duty to fill real-world requirements.

Operations IRAQI FREEDOM  and ENDURING FREEDOM put unusual stresses on all aspects of how the Department of Defense conducts its operations, not just in the war zone, but also at home.  On any given day, home stations (these could be in the US or US bases located in foreign countries) have a responsibility to carry out their mission of training, equipping and maintaining all of their resources.  After all, airplanes, vehicles break, become obsolete and require continual maintenance.  When it comes to obsolescence, there is a complex process involved bringing new systems from either a battlefield requirement or gee-whiz idea to a fully operational weapon system.  All of this requires people.  And lots of them.

On a good day, in peace time, keeping the world’s most advanced and powerful military ready to defend America and her allies is a daunting task.  When multiple hot spots around the world are thrown in, the system gets stressed, sometimes to the breaking point.  Enter America’s reserve force.

In order to meet its obligations the nation’s Armed Services have come to rely on Citizen Soldiers/Sailors/Airmen/Marines to either help get the job done at home or go forward to the battlefield and get the mission accomplished there.  But these are severely fiscally constrained times.

Already the pundits are dreaming of large Peace Dividends.

“With the withdrawal of its military forces in Iraq already under way and increasing talk of winding down operations in Afghanistan, the United States is poised to reap a “peace dividend.

But it won’t rival the one after the end of the cold war – a 40 percent drop in real defense spending during most of the 1990s, saving hundreds of billions of dollars. It won’t even be as big as the Obama administration expects, defense budget experts say.

The two wars are budgeted to cost $159 billion in fiscal 2011, which starts next October. That’s down a tad from 2010. From fiscal 2012 to 2015, the administration pegs the cost at $50 billion a year. But the US won’t really save $100 billion a year.

“That’s not realistic … not likely to happen even if everything goes as well as planned,” says Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank. The $50 billion is a “placeholder,” a number neither the Defense Department nor outsiders can estimate given the uncertainties of war and political stabilization.”  By David R. Francis / March 29, 2010, The Christian Science Monitor

The problem remains — America is involved in major conflict, yet the nation is burdened with incredible debt and something has to be done.  There is no doubt every branch of the US Government is being pressed to trim budgets.  Enter the Military Personnel Appropriation Day.

An easy target to reduce spending, immediately, is to “curtail” the orders of Reservists on MPA tours.  This has happened in a large and abrupt way.  Thousands of Reservists were notified last week that they would no longer be needed and should “polish their resumes” and begin looking for civilian work.  In some cases, these Reservists will return to civilian jobs they already have, but in many cases they are basically becoming unemployed.

Of course they’ll receive time to transition to their new civilian careers, well, not really. In order to accomplish an MPA tour, many military units require its Reservists to lump their Reserve time, you might call it one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer, all together in October.  This means, they’re not actually on Active Duty, rather they’re fulfilling “inactive duty training” requirements.  Typically many Reservists don’t start their MPA tours until the end of October every year (the Government’s year runs October to October).

This means these Reservists have been using their Reserve days, something they would normally space out across a calendar year, in anticipation of going on Active Duty for the remainder of the year.  Now many have been told they won’t be put on Active Duty at all, with virtually no notice.

The cuts have been draconian.  In some cases as many as 90% of man days have been cut.

Reserve man days are an easy target.  Reservists will go quietly into the night searching for work.  It’s not in their nature to stand up and ask the question “where’s my severance or support as I look for a job?  After all, I’ve served the nation and suddenly I’m an easy budget cut?”  Estimates for savings to the government by cutting thousands of Reservists are significant, probably in the hundreds of millions of dollars. An Active Duty Colonel was overheard saying “this is one day I’m not proud to serve.”  Many of his fellow Active Duty service members feel the same way. The Colonel knows what this action could mean to people who have made it possible for his mission to accomplished: unemployment, food stamps, foreclosures, possibly homelessness.  For the Active Duty force it means some part of their mission will “fall to the floor” and simply not get done.

Reservists understand their full-time work should be in the Civilian world, but the Active Duty asked for and truly needed their help.  Reservists are Patriots and many would prefer being in uniform to ensure our nation’s security. It’s truly that simple.  Little did they know the economy would crumble and unemployment would be at its highest in decades.

If you’re an HR person and you see a flood of resumes from Reservists come through, give them a second look.  You have no idea the sacrifices they’ve made for our nation and the abrupt nature of their release from government service.

By a Guest Contributor

The “long war” of today’s era poses challenges very different than those experienced by America during the numerous wars that populate her history.  These new challenges require not only a global strategic view and state-of-the-art military technologies, but also fresh approaches to engage a society far removed from the fight.  The ability of the United States to effectively resource this “long war” is predicated on changing its domestic strategy to rally the essential popular support.

Iraqi Army Soldiers at Checkpoint in Hit, Iraq (Copyright 2010 The PowerProcessor)

Although America is seasoned in global conflicts, the centerpiece of this war is fueled by radical ideology, not of conquering land or resources that normally define international competition.   Usama bin Laden’s Declaration of Jihad states “to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do.” The tragedies of September 11th demonstrated the fervor for which these radicals are determined to carry out their mission.  One generation removed from Pearl Harbor, most Americans experienced for the very first time the violence and violation felt when attacked on home soil.  The unmistakable targeting of the innocent and unarmed was horrifying and resulted in a short-term revitalization of long-lost national pride.  But in reality, very few people were impacted personally…the lives of most Americans after that day remained unaltered.  Because our self-centered, daily routines have not been challenged, neither has our individual or collective (national) sense of duty and sacrifice.

World Trade Center Memorial

A child touches a Fireman's bag from the 9/11 attack by Al Qaeda (Copyright 2010 The PowerProcessor)

Democracies historically have difficulty maintaining unified support for protracted wars.  It was the intent of both the Japanese and the North Vietnamese (and surely our current ideological foes) to wear us down by inflicting so much blood, expense, and time as to lose popular support.  But this popular support most often is directly correlated with economic support to fund war operations.  In sharp contrast to the reluctance of today’s leaders to tap into that resource pool, national pride was a primary spring for funding World War II.  In addition to the daily sacrifices and rationing imposed during WW II, President Roosevelt reached out directly to each American when he was hard-pressed to keep paying for military operations.  Through a much-publicized war bond campaign (which included bringing back the three surviving Mt. Suribachi flag-raisers to inspire further public giving), more than 85 million Americans – half of the population – purchased bonds totaling $185.7 billion.

LIberty Bond from World War Two

The recent economic crisis has further created a sense of “isolationism” from the individual accountability we have toward the war effort.  When a family is fraught to keep its home or put food on the table, the natural instinct is to focus inwardly.  And this fear spreads from community to community when the uncertainty of the future is questioned.  This personal (and national) detachment is further intensified as the events of 9-11 fade into distant memory.  The battle victories achieved in our current wars aren’t celebrated with parades.  They are victories of “preclusion”, the clandestine thwarting of terrorist activities before tragedy occurs.  The combination of these factors results in a narrowed world view and disinterest towards circumstances overseas, especially those with a lost connection to our personal lives.

As the duration of both current wars surpasses our previous records, we must become even more aggressive in engaging both the popular and financial support required to sustain our troops.  In return, government officials and military leaders must be more diligent in areas of fiscal and operational efficiency.  The financial cost to deploy a soldier or Marine in theater for one year is over $1M, and this huge sum cannot be passively “rolled up” and passed along to future generations.  We need to better align our defense budget so we can prioritize the spending and invest more wisely.  Because even though the financial costs of war are high, they are not comparable to the price of a warrior’s life lost unnecessarily because we have ignored the critical condition of our planes, ships, vehicles, weapons, and technology for far too long.

The United States’ ability to resource the “long war” must start with forging some manner of national consensus and rallying popular support at the grass roots level.  With troop levels and casualties rising, the American public is experiencing “war fatigue”.  It will become increasingly difficult to persuade Americans that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can be won, or are worth the human and financial costs.  But we cannot allow our growing preoccupation with domestic concerns sway commitment to our global strategy – or our commitment to the thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who have borne the “overwhelming burden of our security”.