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A larger U.S. military?

January 12, 2004

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Sixth, visited The Herald-Mail offices last week to talk about a variety of things, but mostly about his recent visit to Iraq. What he saw should be of interest to anyone who cares about the welfare of the troops there.

Bartlett went to Iraq with a Congressional delegation that stayed there from Dec. 19 to Dec. 23. While there, Bartlett said he met with American troops, who he said were proud of what they were accomplishing in a country where the poverty is acute and freedom a rarity.

But Bartlett also said he was concerned by the long-term deployment of soldiers, including those in the Reserve and National Guard.

Unlike regular armed forces personnel, who enter knowing they could be deployed for extended periods, Bartlett said that Reserve and National Guard soldiers don't expect to be separated from their jobs and families for extended periods.

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These people have made commitments - mortgages, for example - based on the pay they received as civilians. Now, Bartlett said, they are on the front lines, while spouses back home try to cope, not only with the separation, but with the financial pressure of running the household on a reduced income.

And though some might say that such circumstances were a possibility when they signed up, Bartlett said that members of the Reserves and National Guard have skills developed over years, that young soldiers haven't had the time to master.

Without some relief, Bartlett said, people won't sign up, or stay when their hitch is up.

Because the U.S. went into a country where the Iraqis really have no allegiance to the idea of "nation" as we know it, Bartlett said said that building a democratic republic won't be easy. It will likely take a larger military than the U.S. has at present, he said.

The debate over enlarging the armed forces will likely feature two arguments. One is that a larger military would encourage more military action at a time when citizens are already facing daily reports of American deaths overseas.

The other and more persuasive argument will be that those who've volunteered to serve should be able to anticipate a time when they can come home and resume some semblance of a normal life. This will cost money, to be sure, but when the object is making life easier for our troops, it should be a cost we're willing to pay.

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