President Bush's worst broken promise: help for the troops

The Baltimore Sun

"Help is on the way."

That's what presidential candidate George W. Bush promised our military seven years ago. Of all the broken promises of the Uniter-Not-Divider's 2000 campaign of mass deception, this has to be the most shameful, because our military, though still the strongest in the world, is under severe duress.

Strains can be seen almost everywhere you look.

Before he left his position as Army chief of staff last month, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker told the Senate Armed Services Committee that our troops in the field are underserved because of a lack of support personnel, such as translators. "We are continuing today to get requests for forces that continue to stress us," General Schoomaker said.

As The Sun's David Wood reported in January, when President Bush announced his escalation plan, the military didn't have enough of the V-hull armored vehicles that prevent injuries and fatalities by deflecting the blasts of roadside explosives outward.

Help for those in the middle of the fight must still be on the way.

"The harmful effects on the readiness crisis of the president's escalation plan are just beginning to be seen," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has warned, citing the two Army brigades scheduled to go to Iraq this spring despite not completing normal training.

And the place where these brigades got their training in counterinsurgency tactics? Their home bases - not the California facility that specializes in such training. After all, soldiers on their way to Iraq hardly need special training in fighting an insurgency.

Help for those heading into the fight must still be on the way.

How about reserve units? According to a recent report by the U.S. Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, 88 percent of units are unready for combat, and the commission's chairman foresees little relief.

"It's gotten worse in the three weeks since we issued our report, not better," retired Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro told the House Armed Services Committee a few days ago.

Help for those in civilian life who might be called up to fight (again) must still be on the way.

As for those returning from battle, a presidential task force led by the American Psychological Association recently released its investigation of the military's treatment of troops' mental health issues.

"Although several recent studies document the mental health impact and service needs of military personnel during and following combat deployments, the task force did not find evidence of comprehensive, systemwide research efforts to address questions of importance to the clinical needs and care of military personnel and their families," the report stated. "Also of concern is the absence of research examining the unique needs of special populations (e.g., female service members, National Guard members, reservists, and minorities)."

Help for those back from the fight must still be on the way.

Did you know that as many as 1,000 Iraq war vets are now homeless?

"There are only about 15,000 beds available in [Department of Veterans Affairs]-funded shelters or hospitals nationwide, and nearly every one is taken," reports Newsweek magazine. "In some smaller cities, there simply aren't many places for a homeless veteran to go."

Help for those who fought but are now fighting to stay off the streets must still be on the way, too.

General Schoomaker says the military needs to expand. He advocates a permanent increase of 65,000 troops by 2013. "The Army's too small for the century we're in," he said.

But recruiters are having a harder time enlisting people. To "fix" this problem, the military now accepts more recruits with low test scores or who need "moral waivers" because they have committed felonies or misdemeanors.

Of course, Mr. Bush continues to justify his decision to go to war by wrapping himself in the troops every chance he gets. On Friday, he dropped by Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the facility recently exposed to be in sad disrepair, for a photo op.

What did the president tell those who have suffered life-altering injuries?

"The problems at Walter Reed were caused by bureaucratic and administrative failures," the president explained. "The system failed you, and it failed our troops. And we're going to fix it."

Yeah, the system did it. "It" failed the troops.

No worries: With President Bush on the job, surely help is on the way.

Thomas F. Schaller is an associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and author of "Whistling Past Dixie." His e-mail is His column appears Wednesdays in The Sun.

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