A military medal for thriftiness

Published 10:02 pm Friday, August 5, 2011

In a carefully choreographed bit of theater designed to put the best possible public face on a widely unpopular decision, Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and hundreds of other military and civilian guests on Thursday to celebrate the disestablishment of U.S. Joint Forces Command.

When the Pentagon a year ago called for the outfit to be completely closed, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the move would save the government $450 million a year. Despite pressure from Congressman J. Randy Forbes (R-04th) and other members of the House Armed Services Committee, the Pentagon never provided backup for that figure, and Forbes questioned whether there was even a way to guess how much would be saved, considering the Pentagon’s convoluted accounting practices.

Forbes and other government and administrative officials from the area fought hard during the ensuing year to save JFCOM, citing the important work it did to establish and promote “jointness” among the various U.S. armed forces and among the military forces of the U.S. and its allies. They were ultimately unsuccessful in saving JFCOM, which was headquartered in Norfolk but employed more than 2,000 people at a sprawling complex in North Suffolk, but they did save about half of the command’s workforce from the chopping block.

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Surely, things could have wound up worse for Hampton Roads. About 1,900 former JFCOM employees will keep their posting under other commands. And about 1,000 of those people work in Suffolk, where all four of the technology-laden buildings that once housed the command are expected to be filled by various military agencies within the next year or so, bringing even more employment back into the city.

But there are still nagging questions about the purported savings from disestablishment. Many people still wonder whether the breakup will have strategic repercussions. And considering that Congress could agree to impose less than a trillion dollars in spending cuts throughout all of federal government during the next 10 years, it’s hard to fathom why the Obama administration would single out national defense for austerity measures.

When he announced last year his plan to close JFCOM, Gates said he was responding to a presidential directive to find $100 billion in savings within the Pentagon. One wonders why such a directive hasn’t been issued for the Department of Education or the Department of Energy. If disestablishment were truly about eliminating expensive redundancies, it boggles the mind how either of those agencies continues to exist today. But legislators who insisted on budget cuts to reign in U.S. spending during the recent debt crisis have been labeled “terrorists” by officials in the president’s party.

In fact, the administration trumpets its disdain for the American military with this disestablishment. Need more evidence of that contempt? On Thursday, one soldier from JFCOM received the highest non-combat-related award issued by the Department of Defense. It wasn’t one of the analysts working there to provide training and support for the troops in the field. It wasn’t someone organizing the fight against al-Qaeda. Instead, this prestigious award went to Gen. Odierno, the man brought to JFCOM earlier this year to effect its closure.

It’s a twisted-up world we live in when warriors get medals for their thrift, and budget-conscious legislators who dare to call for a constitutionally restrained government are labeled terrorists.