This Web Page is Provided with written Permission from the
of Special Operations.Com, Tom Hunter!
Here are Tom's comments from his site which serves as an
introduction to the very
eloquent and accurate letter from U.S. Army CSM Clifton O-Brien II, reproduced below:
"This is a recent letter written by the Command
Sergeant Major of the 160th Special
Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) to Senator Warner explaining why he is retiring
earlier than planned. It is a sombering and articulate accounting of the state of our military.
This letter was forwarded with the idea that one must understand a problem in order to fix it.
I agree that this retiring CSM's thoughts are very much worth considering. It is also
published here due to the fact that it very astutely and genuinely describes a situation that
I have heard repeated time and time again in recent months, both from the U.S. special
operations community and the conventional military."
Tom Hunter - Owner and Webmaster, Special Operations.Com
Dear Senator Warner,
My name is Clifton P. O'Brien II and I serve as the
Regimental Command Sergeant Major
of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) based at FT Campbell, Ky.
We are the only Special Operations Aviation Regiment in the US Military and we have
played a major role in every conflict since Operation "Urgent Fury" in Grenada. I am
very proud of the 160th and the soldiers that serve here. I am a career soldier with 25
years of service. I have served 11 years in the 160th and other tours include the 82nd
Airborne, 101st Airborne, 2nd Infantry Division, Miltary District of Washington,
Recruiting Command, 8th Infantry Division and the 25th Infantry Division. Last month,
I submitted my retirement paperwork and will end my career at 26 years instead of 30.
I could easily stay to 30, but I choose not to do so as I will try to explain in this letter.
I watched the hearings on C-Span yesterday and that is what
has prompted me to write
you. The Joint Chiefs are truly great men dealing with some very complicated issues
during some tough times. I am not politically astute, but will try to give you a soldier's
perspective on why we are starting a nosedive. If we don't start taking steps now to
correct the issues we face the dollar amount and energy expended to turn things around
may be more than we can afford.
I disagree with General Reimer in one area. I think we will
reach the "hollow" Army in
3 to 5 years, maybe sooner. The pace of operations is exhausting the force and combined
with reductions in what soldiers perceive as benefits is causing us to lose many good soldiers.
We are losing many of our very best in large numbers and potential recruits are not beating
the doors down. This is not good and we can't afford it. I have a daughter serving in the
Army and her mother and I have advised her to get out when her enlistment is up.
She will get out next year, finish her college and become a Registered Nurse in the civilian
Listed below are the areas that is hurting recruiting, retention AND our credibility:
TRUST IN LEADERSHIP
This applies to our elected representatives. Many feel we
are simply pawns with little
value until we are needed. Promises are made, and quickly broken based on political
climate. Unneeded programs are pushed and money not used to take care of the force.
Pork Barrel politics are evident. Do we need what we did 20 years ago? Probably not.
But we do need good, high quality soldiers and individuals with the desire to serve and
make a career out of defending our nation and our interest.
Every time a program or benefit that was promised is cut it
damages the credibility of
our leaders. "Implied Promises" are a verbal contract, not written and we all understand
that. But a contract is a contract and the old saying "you are only as good as your word"
applies here. Break enough promises and people will walk away.
QUALITY OF LIFE
It's not where it should be. Too many deployments coupled
with a shortage of personnel
makes everyone work harder. The infrastructure at most Army installations is in bad
shape with limited funds to fix problems, no money to make improvements and sometimes
needed services are delayed or cancelled. My Commander reminds all of us leaders that
we enlist soldiers, but we almost always reenlist families. If we don't provide what the
families need or mom and dad are never there they look for a different lifestyle.
MEDICAL AND DENTAL BENEFITS
What a farce this turned out to be. Tri-Care and Delta
Dental don't meet the needs and
don't even come close to what was promised to most soldiers and families. Once again,
an implied promise that has been broken. Young soldiers at FT Campbell come in contact
with retirees every day and the retirees let them know if you stay to retirement you will
be treated like a 3d class citizen, you can't count on any commitments or promises made
and the truth will always change to meet current popular politics. I don't think the retirees
mean any harm but they are frustrated and disillusioned. After attending my retirement brief
I can honestly say I don't blame them. I just choose to say nothing to my soldiers.
"Being a soldier is more than about money". I've
heard this a hundred times and it is true.
If it wasn't I would not have stayed. I make a decent living, but not a great living.
Compared to my peers in the civilian world with the level of responsibility I have, I can say
I am well behind them. That has been my choice and have no regrets. Keep in mind we
haven't had a decent pay raise in years and the economy is booming. A soldier can
get out of the Army and work at unskilled labor earning $9.00 to $10.00 per hour in
Nashville. If a soldier has a marketable technical skill they can land a well paying job
with good benefits that exceed what we can offer. As a civilian, they aren't faced with
16 hour workdays, constant deployments, family separations, alert recalls, field exercises
year round etc etc. The bottom line is "Patriotism is great, but it don't put food on the
table or provide for your family". One soldier that requires food stamps or a program like
WIC is a shame. We can do better for those we ask so much from.
Another huge sore spot. The vast majority of kids coming in
today will not make a career
out of the Army for 35% of their base pay. What makes our Army the best in the world is
a professional NCO corps. Ask any General from the former Warsaw pact countries.
The soldiers coming in today won't stay and suffer the hardships for so little in return.
They will vote with their feet and we are starting to see that now. They get out, go to
college, get a higher paying job with the ability to make and save more with none of the
danger or hardship the Army provides. Last year my son-in-law turned down promotion
to Staff Sergeant (E-6) and got out of the Army after five years. He was a stellar soldier
that was selected as Battalion Soldier of the Year and Brigade Soldier of the Year.
He was qualified to work on two different types of helicopters and was top-rated on
every evaluation report.
He returned to Louisiana where he is employed as a
helicopter mechanic. He works
7 days on, 12 hour days and gets 7 days off. He makes $16.50 per hour starting and
can earn more by working overtime. Just working normal hours, he makes considerably
more than if he stayed in uniform. His medical and dental benefits are easily equal to
what we offer. My daughter was raised as an Army brat and wanted him to stay in. She
is now very happy he got out. They own a home, have a stable life and she knows he is
home at night and safe.
If you want a committed professional force you have to make
commitments, but even
more importantly, you have to keep your commitments. Our National leadership has not
done that. Freedom isn't free and you must be willing to pay for that security. My son in
law told me " I'm not staying in the Army because they make promises they don't keep,
they say you will get this, then they take it away". We've cut the Army by more than
40%, stagnated pay, cut funding at every level, increased deployment time and took
away promised programs and benefits. Then we wonder why our recruiting and retention
is low. You can't expect folks to make the commitment required or the sacrifice needed
if you keep reducing all they were promised or expect. The very best, like my son in law
will leave for a better life.
As a final thought I want to share with you what bothers me
most. You don't fund them,
you don't train them, you don't properly equip them or take care of them, they may fail
when we need them most. The price we will pay can't be measured in dollars or social
program gains. Our sons and daughters will pay the price in blood. We will fill many
more bodybags than we should because of politics. Rhetoric and social programs haven't
won a war yet. We are in a dive. It gets worse monthly. If we don't take some steps to
remedy the situation I advise our leaders to dust off the draft, and make it fair this time
by granting no exemptions except medical. We all live here in the greatest nation on earth
because that freedom has been bought with soldiers blood. Everyone bears a responsibility
I have enjoyed the Army. I am proud of the Army, my country
and the service I was
allowed to provide. It has been an honor for me to serve. I just don't like what I see
happening to our military.
Clifton P. O'Brien II
Command Sergeant Major
United States Army