Unlike in 1970, when Connecticut pol Richard Blumenthal served, reservists today deploy regularly to war zones.
The Richard Blumenthal military service scandal is a useful reminder of just how far the nation’s military reserve forces have come and why the reserves are more important today then they’ve ever been.
Blumenthal, it seems, joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1970 with the explicit intent of avoiding service in Vietnam. That’s because during the Vietnam era, relatively few military reserve units deployed overseas.
Not anymore. Today America has an operational reserve that is increasingly integrated into the nation’s active-duty force structure. As such, reservists deploy regularly and often to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and elsewhere in support of the Global War on Terror.
And although we hear a lot of hand wringing about this from the legacy or dinosaur media, so-called defense experts, and posturing politicians, the truth is that most reservists want to be part of the war-fighting effort. They want and expect to deploy overseas to where the fighting and the action is.
The alternative is to be a de facto second-class citizen who isn’t a real or serious member of the United States military. But no reservist wants that. Especially today, in wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, reservists want and expect to be full and equal members of the war-fighting team.
Significantly, reservists cost the taxpayer considerably less than an active-duty soldier, sailor, airman or marine. That’s because they only draw a salary and benefits when deployed or on active duty. Their pensions, moreover, don’t kick in until age sixty. Active-duty personnel, by contrast, collect a pension immediately upon retiring and after completing 20 years of active-duty service.
For these reasons, reservists make especially wise economic sense in an era of constrained finances and defense budget cuts.
There are, however, upfront costs associated with putting military reserve units on a more equal footing with their active-duty counterparts. And, to avert these upfront costs as its budget is being cut, the active-duty military likely will revert to form if and when the United States withdraws from Iraq and Afghanistan.
That is to say, the active-duty military can be expected to fight the concept of a fully integrated operational reserve during a purported time of peace.
Congress mustn’t let this happen. America’s military reserve personnel have proven themselves on the field of battle. Indeed, they are an integral part of the American military and its war-fighting team. And unlike Richard Blumenthal’s phantom military service in Vietnam, that’s no lie.
John R. Guardiano deployed to Iraq in 2003 as an enlisted Marine Corps reservist. You can follow him on twitter @Guardian0.