Friday, March 30, 2007

Airborne All the Way

Reason Magazine - Airborne All the Way: "Airborne All the Way
America's ongoing battle with reality
Jeff Taylor March 30, 2007
Massive recent media coverage to the contrary, the most important story out of North Carolina regarding the 2008 presidential election and beyond did not involve a recurrence of Elizabeth Edwards' breast cancer.

It does not diminish the Edwards' somber news in any way to note that there is more significance for the United States in reports that the 82nd Airborne Division has given up its long-held 'first responder' status among American ground units. Both the ongoing foreign policy debate and the task that awaits the next president are immediately impacted by the news.

For several decades now, the 82nd has been home to the United States' only 'division ready brigade.' This means that at any time, one of its four combat brigades is ready to deploy 3,300 troops from Ft. Bragg to anywhere in the world within hours. However, that will change later this year when the entire 82nd will be deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

This presents a rather concrete case of the strain on the U.S. military five years into major ground combat operations across the Middle East. The next President, whoever he or she might be, will have to manage that strain.Paratroopers are not born, they are made. It takes more than a little training to convince men with explosives strapped to themselves to jump out of airplanes in the dead of night, land on people who want to kill them, and then proceed to kill those people non-stop until they are relieved or they run out of bad guys.Yet the current pace and scope of operations has made the 82nd a victim of its own competency and unit cohesion. Need a unit to run interference for elections across wild Afghanistan? Send the 82nd. Baghdad looking a little too hot? Send the 82nd on a tour of Downtown.That America is using such highly trained assault troops in essentially a para-military police role should inform and temper the likes of Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) who yesterday wrote in USA Today that "things are at last beginning to look up in Iraq." Assume that is true, but at what cost?"


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