Right out of high school (after a well spent summer), I went into the Army.  First stop, Fort Benning – home of the Army Infantry School on “Sand Hill.”  In the woods of western Georgia I learned a lot of things: how to conduct drill and ceremony, how to properly fold my clothes and make my bed, how to maneuver under enemy fire and how to conduct myself while on patrol.  At one point I think it was literally knocked into my head that “security is the first priority of work.”

It was a recurring theme even after I left Fort Benning.  At Fort A.P. Hill in northern Virginia: security first.  At Fort Hood, Texas; security first.  It was written in the army field manual for “Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad,” FM 7-8: security first.  On my first year long deployment to Iraq in early 2004, it was my responsibility, as a non-commissioned officer, to ensure my Soldiers were abiding by this rule we had been taught since day one in uniform: security first.  It was in Baghdad that we really understood why.

Unlike the training we received before deployment in the United States, which was high quality and intense, there were real bullets being fired at us by real “bad guys” who really meant to kill us.  The lesson was reiterated on my second deployment to Iraq in late 2005 and my first deployment to Afghanistan in 2009.  In theater of combat operations, security must be first, otherwise nothing else mattered: chow halls for food; shower trailers for hygiene; morale, welfare and recreation, internet cafes were all rendered unimportant and useless if they couldn’t be protected, but more importantly, if their intended users were not alive to use them.

If you’re not in Iraq, Afghanistan, or some other war zone, what does security have to do with anything?  In my opinion, everything.  A nation with a bustling and growing economy, low unemployment, energy independence, and a strong leader will be insignificant if it cannot secure itself from enemies.  Apparently President Obama believes that since we do not have any if the aforementioned qualities we shall not have the ability to secure ourselves either.

Recently, President Obama unveiled his new strategy for defense.  Some aspects are laudable: expanding focus on Asia and an ability to react to a rising China and reinvigorating the ability of the military to fight traditional force-on-force battles by remaining focused on advanced equipment and other technological assets and not losing sight of what future warfare may entail; however, others aspect are unworthy of any commendation.

High-tech planes, manned or unmanned, new cyber capabilities and modern ships are great assets in modern warfare, but like the days of the Peloponnesian War, it is the basic Soldier (or Marine) with little more than a personal weapon who takes and holds the terrain on which war is waged.  Part of the new defense strategy cuts the number of active Soldiers and Marines, the very warfighters who risk their lives on a daily basis and secure victory against foes in Afghanistan and other locations outside our borders.

Today, we have men and women who deployed as part of the Global War on Terrorism in Afghanistan, Kuwait, the Horn of Africa, and other locations worldwide.  Though high-tech state-of-the-art equipment is beneficial, they are mere facilitators and enablers of the individual Soldiers and Marines who will place the sole of their boots on hostile terrain.

In addition to being ready and willing to fight our enemies, men and women stand ready to deploy in order to conduct contingency operations or humanitarian operations like the ones conducted in Haiti after their devastating earthquake in January 2010, in Pakistan after the floods which displaced hundreds of thousands in August 2010, and in Japan after the horrific tsunami in January 2011.  These humanitarian missions, though not directly defense related, build good-will with citizens of the beneficiary country, which can effect perception of the United States and can preempt those who would be willing to carry out hostile actions against our nation and our citizens.

In order to ensure our defense we must have adequate personnel in our military forces to be able to deploy, find, fix and kill our enemies; in more than one theater at the same time if necessary.  Under the new defense strategy, this will not likely be possible and the U.S. military will face the same problems encountered in the early days of the Global War on Terrorism: units were under strength; squad, platoon and company leaders were inexperienced as those with experience we turned loose after the Clinton drawdown of the 1990’s; the military was forced to add manpower out of a pool which sacrificed quality for the sake of quantity. (The last statement is not meant as an insult by any means, but it is undeniable that enlistment standards were lowered and more waivers for enlistment were granted to fill the void.)

We cannot draw down, not today, maybe not tomorrow either.  We face an ever changing and hostile world: Pakistan’s government, which has approximately 100 nuclear weapons, has moved their collusion with al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban out of the backroom and into the sunlight; Iran seeks to obtain nuclear “energy” and has been implicated in the intent and planning of carrying out attacks on U.S. soil; the corrupt, yet stable governments of Libya and Egypt are now controlled by Islamist; NATO partner Turkey’s ruling AK Parti has moved closer to undoing the secularism emplaced by Ataturk to a more theocratic regime; Russia bullies its former republicans, notably Georgia and the Ukraine, as Putin seeks to reclaim the nations lost position as a world power; and China, the number one holder of our foreign debt, looms over our friend and ally Taiwan, recently adding an aircraft carrier and a new stealth fighter to it’s armament as it seeks to enforce the “dibs” it called on west Pacific.

We all know we must do something to curb the deficit spending and debt the nation incurs, but not at the sake of our safety and security.  Defense of the nation and its citizens is an enumerated responsibility of the government and must be carried out and planned for responsibly; therefore, in the pie chart that shows government spending the defense portion should be the largest, because it ensures the others are possible.  The current and future risks we face as a nation are too ominous for us to be drawn into a gunfight only bearing a knife, if the military can still afford it.

Kenneth Depew :: University of St. Thomas :: Houston, Texas :: @DepewK