Reagan Policies Rebuilt U.S. Forces; 'Hollow' Military Got $2 Trillion for Personnel, Weapons Upgrades

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 8, 2004 | Go to article overview

Reagan Policies Rebuilt U.S. Forces; 'Hollow' Military Got $2 Trillion for Personnel, Weapons Upgrades


Byline: Rowan Scarborough, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Ronald Reagan restored the prestige and the might of the U.S. armed forces, delivering more than $2 trillion for new weapons and more professional troops in a grand strategy to defeat Soviet communism.

In 1981, he inherited a dispirited force plagued by poor morale, increasing drug use and aging equipment.

There were no new heavy bombers and about half the Air Force's tactical aircraft were not fully mission-capable. The Navy fleet was shrinking. Its petty officers were quitting at the rate of 1,000 per month. And the Army acknowledged it could no longer carry out its mission. It took on the unwanted label of "hollow" - meaning units existed more in name than in actual firepower.

In 1989, as he handed the mantle of commander in chief to George H.W. Bush and boarded a helicopter at the Capitol, the former president left behind a completely revamped military.

The fleet approached 600 ships, and brandished a new long-range missile launcher, the Trident submarine. The Army fielded the new 70-ton Abrams main battle tank and sophisticated Apache attack helicopters. The Air Force commissioned the B-1B bomber, which had been canceled by President Carter.

Rewarded with a 12.5 percent pay raise, the 2 million-member, all-volunteer force, born at the end of the draft in 1973, was being all that it could be.

"Reagan, as commander in chief, was a decisive factor in my deciding to join not only the Army, but to be a combat leader in elite units," said former Army Capt. John Hillen, who joined in 1984.

Vice President Dick Cheney was defense secretary when the Reagan force moved like a juggernaut through Iraqi-occupied Kuwait. He telephoned his thanks to former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who had had the job of selling Mr. Reagan's $2 trillion buildup. …

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