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I have known a lot of Marines and former Marines in my lifetime.  To a man and woman, they are tough as nails, and as loyal as they come to this nation and to the Corps.  That whole jarhead stereotype isn’t far from the mark with a few folks that I know — and they’d be proud to know that I thought so, knowing a couple of them, and their carefully maintained buzz cuts. I’ve also got a number of friends who are lifers in the Army, and who have served multiple tours in the Gulf region, including as far back as the first Gulf War.

Which makes this all the more painful:

On Tuesday, the Marines announced plans to recall as many as 2,500 inactive reservists to involuntary active-duty service to meet manpower needs, the first such call-up since nearly 2,700 Marines were recalled to active-duty before U.S. forces invaded Iraq in 2003.

The announcement coincided with a report to be issued Wednesday by two military experts who say that the Marines are having to borrow equipment from non-deployed units and pre-positioned stockpiles to replace tanks, trucks, armored vehicles and other hardware worn out by more than three years of combat duty in Iraq.

The two events are the latest signs that the U.S. military is having difficulty maintaining its combat readiness with the Iraq war well into its fourth year….

The move follows similar call-ups by the Army, which has recalled about 5,100 former soldiers back to service since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Most of those have been activated since 2004, and 2,100 remain on active duty, according to Army officials….

The war has forced the Marines to keep about 40 percent of its ground combat equipment, 50 percent of its communications gear and 20 percent of its aircraft in Iraq, the report says.

Helicopters fly two to three times more hours than they should, tanks are being used four times as much as anticipated, and Humvees are being driven an average of 480 miles a month, 70 percent of which is off-road.

The harsh desert and combat losses are chewing up other gear at nine times their planned rates. Humvees that were expected to last 14 years need to be replaced after only four years in the extreme conditions of the Iraqi desert, the report says.

"This war in Iraq, in addition to the human cost, has a very heavy equipment cost, and this bill is going to have to be paid for years to come," said Larry J. Korb, a former Pentagon official and co-author of the report.  (emphasis mine)

In case you are wondering why it is that I’m focusing on military readiness this morning, it’s because of this:

Because of the situation, the Marines, like the Army, have been forced to take equipment from non-deployed units and pre-positioned stockpiles in Europe and elsewhere to maintain sufficient combat gear for units in Iraq, seriously hampering their ability to respond to a crisis elsewhere, said Korb, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.  (emphasis mine)

And this:

For the past few years, the Marines have used volunteers from the IRR, but the number of Marines volunteering to be mobilized has decreased over the past two years, and now the Marine Corps is about 1,200 Marines short of its needs, Stratton said.  (emphasis mine)

And this:

The Army struggled to bring IRR soldiers back initially. Half of the Individual Ready Reserve members given orders in 2004 by the Army asked for either a delay or an exemption to the order, according to a report in Stars and Stripes from January 2005.

Hundreds of other IRR members failed to show up at deployment stations when ordered to do so, the story noted.  (emphasis mine)

And also this:

The authority for involuntary recalls is until the end of the "Global War on Terror" — a conflict for which there is no realistic end in sight. That could mean thousands of Marines could be involuntary activated over coming years….

Some members of Congress have characterized the involuntary recalls and other measures as a "back-door draft" employed because wars have overly stressed the military. Other measures include "stop-loss" orders, which keep soldiers on active duty longer than expected.  (emphasis mine)

And then there is this:

The military has had to scramble to meet the manpower requirements of the Iraq war, which have not abated in the face of a continuing insurgency and growing civil strife. Earlier this year, the military called forward its reserve force stationed in Kuwait, sending one battalion to secure Baghdad and two to Ramadi. Last month, the yearlong deployment of the Alaska-based 172nd Stryker Brigade was extended by four months in order to provide extra troops to roll back escalating sectarian violence in Baghdad.

For much of the conflict, the Army has had to use "stop-loss orders," which keep soldiers in their units even after their active-duty commitment is complete, and involuntarily call-ups of reservists to supplement their forces.

The call-ups and the stop-loss orders have been criticized as a "back-door draft" and are unpopular with service members, many of whom believe they have already done their part.

"You can send Marines back for a third or fourth time, but you have to understand you are destroying their lives," said Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "It is not what they intended the all-volunteer military to look like." (emphasis mine)

As I said yesterday morning, there has been no real accountability expected of the Bush Administration from the Republican-controlled Congress, which prefers to simply rubber-stamp the requests from Bush and the Pentagon rather than perform their Constitutional responsibility of oversight.

Guess they would rather "unilateral executive" themselves out of a job…if I have my way in November, they’ll do just that.

Our nation’s military deserves better.  After the debacle that was Vietnam, our military services were devastated — in manpower, in budgetary constraints and in equipment problems — for years.  The ill-planned, poorly managed occupation of Iraq is providing the same drain on our resources, with no end in sight at a time when we can ill afford to be so low on response capability should a terrorist or other small state actor move against our nation or our interests abroad.  

The piss poor planning and the responsibility for this entire mess goes right back to the Bush Administration:  George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld will pay a heavy price in history if they continue down this path without any accountability and checks on this quagmire, because they are close to breaking the Army, the Marines and the Reserves. 

As Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) said:

…the involuntary recall reflects the "wear and tear" on the U.S. military.

"The drain on our soldiers, their families and the military’s resources caused by today’s operations in Iraq and Afghanistan need to be addressed immediately, or there will be severe long term consequences for the nation and our military," Reed said.

Republicans have proven for the last five and a half years that they will not do adequate oversight, nor will they expect any accountability for any screw-up by the Bush Administration. Don’t our men and women in uniform deserve better than that?  Why would anyone trust them to do better after more than five years of continual screw-ups?

And that’s not even mentioning the fact that the Taliban is having a resurgance in the southern region of Afghanistan, and we do not have the troops to help beyond what we are already doing.  And so many other potential hotspots just looming out there on the horizon — with or without any pro-active planning on our part to deal with them before they become a crisis.  (Yeah, like that whole Lebanon/Israel thing which the Bush Administration was SO on top of from the get go, weren’t they?  *rolling eyes*)

Do you trust George Bush to make correct decisions without someone outside the Administration forcing the issue of accountabiity?  Me neither — and since the GOP hasn’t bothered to do their damn jobs, it is up to the Democrats to do it.  Had enough? 

UPDATEFiredUpMissouri has some thoughts on problems with combat readiness from Rep. Ike Skelton.