Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Military enlisted leadership needs to pursue the issue of troop support in Iraq

This week, I saw that Barack Obama met with the five senior enlisted advisers for the military on Jan. 30.   An official Air Force News Service release noted that our new president wanted to "get gain insight and perspective about the enlisted force through the accumulated experience of the military's most senior enlisted leaders."

And, that's great.  However, I am wondering if Mr. Obama got down to some real issues of leadership with them.  Case in point is the ongoing sloppy contracting work of KBR with the installation of showers.

Had Mr. Obama's staff told him about the 18 deaths of soldiers and contractors due to electrocution, not to mention the other injuries, I think he should have asked these senior enlisted advisers about what they think the Department of Defense can do to mitigate the problem.

Having spent 20 years in the Air Force, I know that the Air Force chief master sergeant of the air force travels throughout the world to hear about issues.  Surely, in Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley, he has probably heard from one or two of the troops he visited in Iraq about the showers.

The problem with Mr. Obama is lack of military experience.  He has never served in the military, and we haven't had a president with significant military experience since Jimmy Carter.  Without time in uniform, he would not know that it's the role of these senior enlisted advisers to report back to their boss, the senior military officer, about these kind of issues.

The problem too is the lack of military contracting supervision.  Dina Rasor, the author of the book Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War, noted in a 2007 blog that "the contractors have made life nice for troops at the large bases but the troops who are outside the safe perimeters have trouble getting even the basics of support, including decent food and water. The contractor billings are also threatening the money for basic fighting equipment such as night vision goggles and up armored vehicles."

What's missing is someone like Harry Truman, who took on defense contractors as a senator from Missouri.   It's time as well for our elected leadership to step up and deal with the issues of troop support.  As well, it's time for the Defense Department to pick an independent contracting team to go in country and do an audit of the money spent on troop support.

It's bad enough that our troops have deployed two to three times to the region away from their families and loved ones.  However, when they do support the operations in country, they should have the comfort of a shower that won't jolt them because an Iraqi, unlicensed plumber placed the water pipes next to an electrical line.

Our enlisted leadership, people like CMSAF McKinley, have to really address the issue with the people who can fix the problem.  As a retired Air Force noncom, I am outraged that someone like Chief McKinley hasn't shown the chutzpah to pursue this.

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