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COLUMN: Protecting liberty
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In the wake of the horrible shooting of the Marines and the sailor in Chattanooga, I feel compelled to tell you about our changing military.

It is much harder to be in the military than a few decades ago. Back when I was a young ensign, the threat was the Big Bad Bear. While we felt confident we could win a war with the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), everyone knew that casualties would be staggering. Losing half of free Europe was expected, as was the launching of tactical nukes to preserve France. And of course, Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) meant the launching of ballistic misses by either side would result in the destruction of the planet. 

While that seems like a grim picture, the world was actually more peaceful then. There was no big war. Many presidents on both sides of the aisle showed great leadership in a decades-long struggle to defeat Communism. Reagan sealed the victory with his brilliant “Star Wars” initiative that frightened the Soviets into capitulating. The West won without firing a shot.

After the Wall came down, many wrote that war had become obsolete. Talk of civilization being “beyond history” meant our children could expect everlasting peace. The reality is quite the opposite. Smaller nations have, instead, followed the pattern of history by again warring upon each other. Throw in radical Islamic terrorists who are intent on being martyred, and the world has become a very dangerous place. 

The result is paradoxical. When we were opposing “the Evil Empire”, our military rarely went to war. Yet now that we’ve won that epic struggle, we are constantly at war, and our military is suffering for it. 

The military has shrunk a lot: 12 percent in the past few years. The Army is the smallest it’s been since before World War II, the Navy since before WWI, and the Air Force is the smallest (and oldest) it’s ever been. 

The regular Army is the by far the biggest portion of the military at 21 percent. The Army Guard, regular Navy, regular Air Force, and Army Reserve are all around 12 percent a piece. The Marines are only 8 percent, while the Navy Reserve, the Marine Reserve, the Air Guard and the Air Force Reserves are all about 4 percent. Overall, the Army is 35 percent of the military, the Air Force 20 percent, the Navy 16 percent, and the Marines 12 percent. The Coast Guard is 2 percent, but shockingly, the Civil Service is a whopping 24 percent of the entire DOD. Any future cuts in military resources must consider this segment for serious review.  We must prioritize assets so that they are used for those who are actually in uniform.

During the Cold War, the Reserves and the Guard rarely deployed. Now they are always deployed, sometimes even more than their regular counterparts. For example, the AF Reserves does 17 percent of the Air Force missions, yet only comprise 4 percent of the Air Force. This is a very difficult for “citizen-soldiers” who are constantly leaving their families and jobs. These days, it is not uncommon for a reservist to have deployed 7 times. At one point during the last war, one third of our entire military was deployed. This would have been unheard of when I joined the Navy. 

Half of the military is in 5 states: California, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia. Half of the military is under the age of 30, and 15 percent of the military is female. Back in 1970, 73 percent of Congress was former military. Now, only 19 percent have served. That is a huge difference. 

While I’m horrified at the recent massacre; unfortunately, I’m not surprised. Even in combat areas, the rules of engagement dictated by politicians have long required that our warrior’s lives be put in mortal jeopardy before they can return fire. I believe our uniformed soldiers should be armed and will work towards that end. After all, if we can’t trust these highly-trained professionals, who can we trust? Some states allow their military in uniform to be armed, others do not. I will work to make Georgia one that does. 

It’s not the poet or the politician or the writer or the lawyer who protects liberty: it is our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. 


Representative Dave Belton, 

Georgia House District 112

Major, United States Air Force (retired)