Service Members, Families Look to Future Combat Deployments with Uncertainty

On Wednesday, President Obama sent a formal request to Congress seeking the authority to wage a ground offensive against the Islamic State in Iraq, something the defense department (DoD) previously said was not on the table. This is the third time since the dawn of the 21st century that a president has sought congressional approval for the use of force in the Middle East and the first since President George W. Bush sent such a request in 2002, also regarding hostilities in Iraq.

While President Obama’s intentions will continue to be hotly debated, the request brings to mind long deployments and potential harm to many military personnel and their families.

News channel WWAY in Jacksonville, North Carolina, home of Camp Lejeune (one of the largest Marine Corps installations in the world), recently reported on the various responses from military members and veterans about the plan. Many service members say such deployments are just part of the job, but they recognize the toll they have on family, friends, and their communities.

“It affects friends and families foremost,” Air Force veteran Emory Keck told reporters. “No family wants to see another son get lost in a situation like that. No spilled blood.”

He added that he believes the decision to fight the Islamic State is the right one.

In another interview, an active duty serviceman who asked to remain anonymous took a reasoned look at the matter.

“Our job is to, you know, defend the nation. We are a force ready to answer that call,” he said.

Whitney Street, a Marine Corps wife, thinks it’s better to be fighting overseas than here at home.

“From what I hear and from what I see on the news and stuff, [the Islamic State] pretty much are on their A game and they’ll be over here soon,” she said. “So I would agree that we need to go over there.”

Kayla Verderame, whose fiancé is in the Corps, had a different outlook.

“It’s scary for a military family. You don’t want to lose your husband or fiancee [sic] or anybody to a war, and we just came out of one and it feels like we are going right back into one,” she told reporters.

President Obama met with reporters on Wednesday in an attempt to allay concerns about extended deployments and another long, drawn out war that America and its military might not have the stomach for.

NBC News reports that during the press event, the president laid out some of the details of his request, saying that his plan would limit American military engagement to 3 years and prohibit “enduring offensive ground forces.”

“I am convinced that the United States should not get dragged back into another prolonged ground war in the Middle East,” President Obama said.

Politically speaking, Obama could be playing with fire with the military and their families in the balance. The New York Times reports that his request “would open what is expected to be a monthslong debate over presidential war powers and the wisdom of committing to another unpredictable mission in the Middle East while the nation is still struggling with the consequences of two prolonged wars.”

The Pensacola News Journal said military leaders were involved in drafting the document sent to Congress, noting that these leaders:

“…were satisfied with the language in the proposed authorization but would have preferred a measure that had no restrictions on the kinds of troops that can deploy, what they can do and how long they can stay, according to a senior Defense Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity…”

“Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided Obama and [Secretary of Defense Chuck] Hagel with his ‘best military advice’ for the proposed authorization as it was drafted,” Dempsey’s spokesman, Air Force Col. Ed Thomas, said.

Concern among service members and their families is rooted in a sense of apprehension given the years of war these families have endured already, in addition to the looming sequestration and the troop drawdown currently taking place.

“The three-year limit, Obama said, ‘is not a timetable.’ Rather, it would allow the next Congress and the next president to ‘revisit the issue,'” the Journal added.

I am convinced that the United States should not get dragged back into another prolonged ground war in the Middle East.
President Barack Obama
As previously addressed during a recent sequestration hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Ray Odierno noted
that, “In the last 3 years, the Army’s active component end strength has been reduced by 80,000; the reserve component by 18,000,” and that “[c]ombat training center rotations for seven brigade combat teams were cancelled and over half a billion dollars of maintenance was deferred, both affecting training and readiness of our units.”

With this in mind, along with additional deployment extensions in combat zones, military members and their families may see longer tours with a lower standard of equipment, a formula that doesn’t add up to a successful mission with minimal losses.

Additionally, the force reduction drawdowns raise the possibility of “stop loss” for current soldiers, sailors, and airmen involved in combat operations should the fight with the Islamic State extend into the next administration.

While it is unclear at this point how long a fight with the Islamic State would last, it appears that Congress and the White House agree that action needs to be taken. Many military members and veterans believe we should already be there, and question Obama and the Joint Chiefs’ leadership on the issue.

Others wonder why American troops were withdrawn from Iraq in the first place, a move that some argue allowed the Islamic State a foothold in an already unstable country.

Currently, there are approximately 320 Marines pinned down by the Islamic State at al-Asad air base near Baghdad. Despite statements to the contrary, fighting has been intense. There is concern about the base being overrun, as there are reports that more Islamic State fighters are headed to the area. For these Marines, help can’t come soon enough. They may not have time for a protracted congressional debate.

It is unclear at this time when the requested troop deployment would begin.

Photo Source: Reuters