Before you crush my take, insult me for being anti-American, and soft on China, I ask that you let your guard down. Take everything you’ve heard in the last 20  years and put it aside. I don’t want to focus on the threat of terrorism, China’s expansion as a geo-political rival, Nuclear armed Russia, or cross training with allies. Let’s talk about the men and women who put on the uniform, not policies and pipe dreams.

While some would have you believe that it’s of the utmost importance to spend trillions of dollars on weapons, keep our young fighting men halfway across the world, and act as world police, I would beg to differ. At the height of the cold war in the late 1960s and early 1970s the number of active duty military members was roughly 1.3 million. What is that number today? Yep. You guessed it. 1.3 million. For what reason? We don’t have multiple divisions fighting the Chinese, VIet Cong, and Laotian mercenaries. The Soviet Union has collapsed, 9/11 was twenty years ago, and the threat of all out war (from any adversary) seems pretty far fetched.

No one on the Republican side of the aisle ever gives a straight answer. There are the age old platitudes of “projecting strength” “bringing democracy to (insert country)” and “defeating terrorism” but really what is the rationale for having the 3rd largest standing military in the world when congress hasn’t issued a declaration of war since WWII? While I understand the need for (some) foreign military bases to protect vital trade routes, economic interests and incursions by enemies towards allies, does that justify a 715 Billion with a B budget? In my opinion, the answer is no.

Although the economic cost of maintaining such a massive force is an issue that fiscal conservatives should scoff at, I’m most concerned with the impact military service has on the communities and young families left behind by our men. It’s safe to say there’s a growing anti-American sentiment here in the heartland and who better to combat it than the young, go-getter, patriotic, leaders who are shipped halfway across the world to bring “American Values” to third world countries that don’t want them there?

Most of our fighting men are fathers, leaving their families behind. Mothers are raising children alone, infidelity is rampant and divorce rates are high among front line military members at almost 1 in 3. We can reduce the size of the Active duty and transfer Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines to our National Guard and Reserves. It’s time to transition from a war time fighting force to a peace-time  “ready when called upon” force.

One of the common complaints is that Gen Z and young millennials aren’t patriotic, and have no work ethic, but that’s not the case in the military is it? That’s what you see in your town because all of the young leaders have been shipped off to foreign countries after enlisting in the military. Imagine how much different the political and cultural climate would be if close to one  million intelligent, hard working, patriotic, leaders were back home making a difference in their own communities. Now, that’s a strategy I can get behind.

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The Military has become so big, branches now vie for enlistees by bribing them with cash.  Budgets are based on numbers and shrinking the size equals less money for the upcoming year. The state will continue to beg Congress for money to lure (mostly conservative) young men away from their hometowns and use them as pawns on a global chess board. Somehow, we conservatives have been duped into supporting this.

The administrative state has its grubby paws wrapped around our most trusted and honorable institution and is strangling it to death. Most Soldiers get married young in order to qualify for thousands of dollars a month in BAH (Basic Housing Allowance) and request duty stations based on the BAH rate. It’s gotten to the point where a significant number of military members look at it as a job rather than a duty.  A 20 year old married man can easily make 60k a year in salary and benefits without spending a day in college or trade school. They buy houses and cars, put themselves in debt and see no other option when it’s time to re-enlist. Lured by money and retained by indebtedness, this is our fighting force in 2021.

Service in the military is a duty. A duty that you volunteered for. The United States can release you from that duty at any time for any reason. A reduction in force is normal, has happened before, and needs to happen again. The image of the military is tainted and the only way to restore its formerly spotless reputation is to clean house. This means loss of financial security for hundreds of thousands of men and women in uniform, but trust me, they will survive. Most of the fat that needs to be trimmed is from the logistical and administrative parts of the DoD. As Americans we can agree that a reduction in force can and should come with a state funded transition program, and local nonprofits and businesses can lend a hand with hiring and job searches. This is the way forward.

Let’s return to the days of the Monroe Doctrine. Defend the Western Hemisphere and let people  on the other side of the world take responsibility for their own countries. Let economic strength mean economic strength, not economic strength backed by the threat of force from our military camped in your backyard. As conservatives we need to come to grips with the fact that we absolutely have become the world’s bullies at the expense of our own young men and women, and it’s time to stop. We can project strength by improving our own communities, protecting our own families, and defending democracy here at home.

About the author: Jared Waning  is a Husband, Father, and OIF veteran- US Army Infantry

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