Old Story, New Title; No Time for Generals

By West, Woody | Insight on the News, November 4, 1996 | Go to article overview

Old Story, New Title; No Time for Generals


West, Woody, Insight on the News


Most Americans likely believe their tax dollars are more efficaciously spent by the armed forces than other warrens of Brobdingnagian government. The termites of waste and fraud gnaw away at the military, of course, but probably less voraciously than at the Department of Health, Wealth and Happiness.

Which brings us to Marine Corps generals, Navy admirals and the rest of those who perch at the top of the martial heap. The Marines asked for and Congress has approved 12 more generals for the Corps. This expands the number of general officers from 68 to 80.

That doesn't sound like a huge increase. Except that this will provide the Corps with one more general than it had at the end of World War II -- when there were 475,000 Marines, contrasted to today's 174,000.

The commandant, Gen. Charles C. Krulak, says the additional stars are needed to ensure that the Marine Corps has fair representation on joint military commands, for one thing. But the Marine Corps request agitated some on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Republican from Iowa. Grassley quoted Marine Gen. John J. Sheehan of the U.S. Atlantic Command: "Headquarters should not be growing as the force shrinks. The growth in headquarters staff jobs is threatening war-fighting capability." (Guess who's not going to be invited to the commandant's Christmas party.) Grassley, calling the process "top-sizing," is concerned that the other branches will decide to beef up their brass, too.

Last spring, the Navy informed the Senate Armed Services Committee that 25 to 30 new flag officers -- admirals, that is -- are needed "to have a manageable number of people to assign without having to rely on gapped billets or filling flag-officer billets with senior captains." Well, we don't want sailors tumbling into those gapped billets. But the Navy is scheduled to shrink from its current 428,000 officers and enlisted men to 395,000 by 1998.

The Army and Air Force haven't publicly weighed in on the matter. It just might be that both will discover a deficit of generals in their neighborhoods.

The Marine Corps is not profligate. To the contrary, it traditionally has had to make do with outdated and castoff gear. Still, the relatively heavy increase in globe-and-anchor generals suggests some interesting formations: A snappy Brigadier General Silent Drill Platoon or, to supplement the busy Marine Band, a chamber-music quartet of major generals. …

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