Fort Hood.

My prayers and thoughts go out to the community of Fort Hood today. I have dear friends that are currently stationed there, and they were on their way back to Georgia on leave when all of this happened.

There is a strange socioeconomic driver created by standing armies that this event throws into stark relief against the tragedy.

Maintaining a standing all volunteer Army requires that a significant portion of your population (about 1 in 100 Americans, currently) voluntarily agree to serve as soldiers (and associated combat support personnel).

In the 21st century, soldiering has become something for which very few people are fit. I have good friends, close friends, men of strong character and conviction, who have--for one reason or another--been unable to serve more than handful of years, even though they thought military service was to be their whole career.

I know others, of course, who are perfect for the career, but the number of men fit for military service and willing to serve is outstripped by the number of people the US military is told they need, and for which they are funded.

And as a result, we become part of a culture that runs recruitment commercials that ignore the premise of the military entirely. The Army is probably the worst offender. "Go Infantry: You might get Shot!" makes for poor copy, and so we get ads that either run directly counter to actual military culture ("Army of One" anybody?) or ads that mean very little ("Army strong!").

As a result, the Military becomes the way you get out of your small town, the way you pay for college, or the way you get out of your parent's house rather than the warrior culture which you join because you are wired up to fight battles in defense of your country.

Let me be clear: I am not criticizing the military for this problem. I believe in the mission and goals of the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, (and yes, Coast guard). Those organizations did not create this problem, we did.

We did it by funding the military beyond need and beyond sustainable amount, so that when they ran out of people who were a genuine fit they were forced to cast the net too wide. We did it by deciding that we need three million military personnel and millions of civilian contractors. We did it by signing up to play international policeman.

As a single example, we decided that the Global War on Terror meant we should invade Iraq. Now we have over 130,000 personnel there.

As a thought: if we had, instead, decided that the American military should invade our own domestic air transportation system, we could put a trained Air Marshall on every single commercial airline flight (all 30,000 of them per day) and still send 100,000+ people home to their families.

What happened in Fort Hood was tragic, unexpected, and entirely the fault of a single man. A man who has survived, and who will be tried for his crimes and hopefully receive a just trial and sentencing if he is convicted.

But it raises the question: how many people are pulled into the military for the wrong reasons, and are unfit for the assignments they are given?

Friday, November 06, 2009