Morale Goes into the Tank

By Hickey, Jennifer G.; Wagner, David | Insight on the News, June 9, 1997 | Go to article overview

Morale Goes into the Tank

Hickey, Jennifer G., Wagner, David, Insight on the News

Has Bill Clinton turned the U.S. military into social workers with guns? Some experts say yes.

President Clinton declared in December 1994 that "our No. 1 commitment is to the readiness and well-being of our men and women in uniform." The president's critics say that commitment has turned out to be as hollow as the military forces his policies have created. They cite premature aging of weaponry, shortages of personnel, a low level of general readiness, a falling rate of retention, increasing attrition during basic training -- and a sense among service personnel that their "quality of life" is substandard.

Maryland Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a member of the House National Security Committee, translates the state of military morale into layman's terms: "Morale ... sucks."

Downsizing and base closures at the end of the Cold War shook morale, senior military sources say, but it went into a free fall following the 1992 presidential campaign after it was revealed that during the Vietnam War the new commander in chief had written to the University of Arkansas ROTC recruitment officer, Col. Eugene Holmes, to express "loathing" for the military.

The initial discomfort about Clinton's lack of military service was exacerbated among the armed forces when he immediately attempted to lift the ban on homosexuals in the services, to feminize the combat arms and to eliminate a military pay raise. When he sought protection under the 1940 Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act to try to avoid a sexual-harassment suit, respect for Clinton as commander in chief plummeted. Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Defense Readiness observes, "Morale is not easily quantifiable, but there is a sense that the people in the military are not being well-served. [The military leadership] is almost in a state of denial."

The recent focus on sexual-harassment cases in the Army's basic training has had an extremely negative impact on military morale. An alleged climate of fear "is now hurting training because the Army drill instructors are afraid to do anything to discipline the recruits," says Bartlett. He has introduced the Military Recruit Training Policy Restoration Act of 1997, which would allow drill instructors to train only recruits of their own gender. Bartlett notes that the Department of Defense, or DoD, already has failed in attempts to integrate the sexes in the armed forces. "The military tried this for five years, between 1977 and 1982, and it did not work," he says.

Army Col. Ray Whitehead, a public-affairs officer, says the recent furor surrounding "gender norming" to reduce physical requirements for women and the sexual-harassment cases have hurt military recruitment, although "99 percent of the drill sergeants honor their sacred responsibility to mentor, lead and train" women as well as men. Whitehead sees it the official Army way -- that the cases are "not a matter of sexual attraction or distraction but a matter of abuse of power and authority."

Rep. Steve Buyer, an Indiana Republican, heads the House National Security subcommittee on military Personnel. He will release an interim report on June 15, 1997, examining the issues of gender norming, integrated training, sexual harassment and sexual fraternization. He describes the report as "methodical and theoretical" and says it "will not leap to any conclusions."

Another contributing factor in the decline of morale, say military professionals, is the increase in operational tempo, or the rate at which units must conduct operations and training exercises.

In 1993, the Clinton administration issued its so-called Bottom-Up Review, which was intended to define military goals and purposes for the post-Cold War world. There is widespread concern that the use of U.S. forces as world police officers is running them ragged and weakening their war-fighting potential. Thomas Moore, deputy director of foreign policy and defense studies at the Heritage Foundation, fears that the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review, or QDR, will "simply be warmed-over Bottom-Up Review" and that it will call "for more extended deployments which have created a morale problem. …

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