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Mitchell: How much can we ask of our military?

I read an article in The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 25 by Nancy Youssef which I can just not get off of my mind. The article referenced the recent accidents of the U.S. Navy, the most recent of which took the life of Timothy Eckels, of Manchester, who served on the USS John S. McCain. I worked with Tim's father early in my career at Legg Mason and grieve for him and his family.

Youssef reported that our U.S. Navy fleet is one-half the size it was in 1980 and has declined by 18 percent since 1998, though we have maintained 100 ships deployed continuously during that time. There has always been a rotation of deployment, but the periods of time between deployments have become shorter and the deployments have become longer. We continue to ask the military to do more with less, and I believe we have reached a point that maybe the mission and what we ask of them has reached the unrealistic point.

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Youssef referenced congressional investigators and military officials had sounded the alarm about reduced training schedules, overworked sailors and budget cuts to the military. The Government Accounting Office found that Navy sailors are working an average of 108 hours a week, instead of the Navy standard of 80 hours, the report found. Imagine your boss told you the new standard work week is now 80 hours.

Many military jobs require significant attention to detail for the safety of their fellow service members and long hours can create challenges for military leaders. Civilian laws regulate how long a trucker can drive and how many breaks an air traffic controller can work without a break, but our military has always operated under the priorities of Mission, Men (now men and women), Equipment.

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Military recruiters struggle to meet the personnel demands and fill the need of the military. The Associated Press reported that the Army alone plans to spend $380 million on bonuses this year. The military is struggling to keep its service members and offering bonuses to try to convince the service members to re-enlist. With the military currently continuously deployed all over the globe, many new recruits are sent on deployments upon completing their training.

Let's say a man or woman enlists to be an Army helicopter repairer, which is the basic level repairman. They are sent to seven-week basic combat training (boot camp) and then go on to a 17-week advanced individual training school.

So it is a minimum of 24 weeks from the time the service member starts their training until they have met just the basic qualifications to do their job. But we all know, realistically, they are still inexperienced and may take many months before they become proficient in their position. So the military is paying up to keep their talent with the belief it is cheaper and more efficient to pay up than it is to find and train someone new.

The Reserves and National Guard are not exempt from this challenge. With units deploying multiple times, often from 6 to 18 months, the leadership is finding it difficult to retain reservist who are also trying to maintain civilian careers.

In the past, we have turned to the draft to help the military meet their needs during wars or extended periods of conflict, yet I have heard no mention of this being considered. One way or another, it is time to consider a plan B for meeting our country's security needs.

Todd Mitchell, of Hampstead, is retired from the Army National Guard as deputy provost marshal and is the director of the nonprofit Business Advocates for Veterans. Reach him at veteranfriendlyemployers@gmail.com.

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