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Do You Know Where Your Soldiers Are?

Dateline 09/12/99

President B.J. Habibie of Indonesia, approved on Sunday the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force to ravaged East Timor, a stunning about-face for the Indonesian government.

Before Sunday, Indonesia adamantly refused U.N. assistance..

That stance crumpled under pressure from governments around the world horrified by the chaos sweeping the province of 800,000 people.

DoD photo by Spc. Daniel Ernst, U.S. Army.

''I have made the decision to give our approval to a peacekeeping force, together with the Indonesian military, to maintain the security of East Timor,'' Habibie said.
Soldiers of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 77th Armored Regiment wait in the rain by their Humvees as their fellow soldiers search for automatic weapons in the town of Zitinje, Kosovo, on July 26, 1999. The soldiers of the 77th are deployed to Kosovo as part of KFOR. KFOR is the NATO-led, international military force in Kosovo on the peacekeeping mission known as Operation Joint Guardian.

Sandy Berger, the U.S. national security adviser, said the U.N. mission would be an ''overwhelmingly Asian force.''

''This will involve U.S. troops. Some of those troops will be in Timor but they will be, I think, in limited number,'' Berger said. ''I don't want to rule out anything categorically, but the focus will not be on (U.S.) infantry troops.''

For the 60th time since President Clinton took office, American troops are being sent into potential combat. Once again, this news is "Headline News," and CNN will probably be waiting on the ground in E. Timor to greet us, and to relay our latest war directly into the laps of the American people.

Once again, Americans throughout the land will forsake their favorite TV programs to watch the latest in America's War mini-series. Members of Congress will quietly criticize our purpose, but loudly state their support of our American troops. A month or so from now the U.N. will announce "victory," and the TV cameras will go home.

Two U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons are framed by the boom operator's window as they move into position to take on fuel behind a KC-135 Stratotanker over the Mediterranean Sea on Feb. 26, 1999. U.S. aircraft and support personnel are deployed to their forward staging bases in Europe for potential NATO air operations in Bosnia. The Fighting Falcons are from the 555th Fighter Squadron, while the Stratotanker is flown by the 186th Air Refueling Wing, Meridian, Miss. DoD photo by Senior Airman Jeffrey Allen, U.S. Air Force.

But, not the soldiers.

As an experiment yesterday, I went down to my favorite neighborhood watering hole. I was pleased to find a modest crowd (The Nebraska game was just finishing).
I asked people when they thought the Gulf War was going to end?

"End?" I was asked. "Why, everyone knows, it ended years and years ago."

"Oh? Then why are there several thousand American troops still in Bosnia, The Gulf Region, Kosovo, and Korea?"

Sigh. Most people thought we only had a couple of hundred troops there. So I asked about Bosnia. You know? The country that President Clinton promised we would only stay in for a maximum of one year? 75 percent of those present did not know we had thousands of troops in Bosnia. Several thought we only had a few hundred still in Kosovo.

For that matter, how about the Korean War? That war "ended" nearly 50 years ago, and we have several thousand troops stationed there to keep it from flaring up again.

The cameras go home, but the troops remain silently behind. A complete listing of the military combat deployments of the past 10 years would shock most civilians. Many can't believe that we are still deployed to many of these places.

U.S. Air Force airmen from the 20th Component Repair Squadron board a C-141 Starlifter bound for Southwest Asia at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., on Jan. 15, 1999. The airmen are deploying from Shaw in support of Operation Southern Watch, which is the U.S. and coalition enforcement of the no-fly-zone over Southern Iraq. DoD photo by Airman 1st Class Scott A. Nichols, U.S. Air Force.

In my humble opinion, the operational tempo is the primary cause for the services low retention rates today.
The United States Military has been dramatically reduced in size over the past 10 years. Active duty strength has been cut over 40 percent from 2.1 million to 1.3 million, yet operational commitments (deployments) have increased 100-fold.

Today, American has the best military in the entire world. There is no country who can even come close. However, you can only abuse a tool for so long before it breaks. We are now starting to see the first serious signs of wear.

Very soon now, the TV cameras and U.S. troops will begin arriving in E. Timor. America will once again see its U.S. Armed Forces in action, and they will be proud. A few weeks later, the cameras will go home. Americans will return to watching reruns of M.A.S.H. The lonely soldier will remain, as she has in Kosovo, in Bosnia, in Kuwait, in Korea -- with family half of a World away.

Do you think I'm wrong? Do you think I'm right? Do you have your own point of view?

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