I wrote a little bit about this earlier today, but I was a little too angry at the time to write anything meaningful or coherent. I’m still pretty angry, but I’m going to take another swing at it anyway.
Last night, around this time, I wrote a little rant venting my frustration at the way that the White House has been using the military as political cover. I was pretty angry last night – so angry that I couldn’t remember ever being angrier – and I said just that. I’m a scientist, and I pride myself on being a man of reason and rationality, but I’ve still got a sneaking suspicion that I jinxed myself pretty good by saying that. It turns out that a few of today’s events added a bit of fuel to the fire.
Things got interesting right after my morning statistics class. I swing by the campus center on my way back to my office to grab a soda. On my way by, I pass a television. The TV’s set to a news station, and the news item that was being discussed was the press conference that the Secretary of Defense had just had, announcing that the tours of duty for all active duty Army units in Iraq and Afghanistan – and all active duty Army units that will be deploying to those areas in the foreseeable future – will be serving 15 month tours rather than their previously scheduled 12 month deployments.
I had heard rumors that extensions were going to be announced – that was one of the motivators behind last night’s rant – but nothing had officially been confirmed. Now, instead of being informed about this through the unit Family Readiness Group, I’m learn about it from CNN. It’s strange, really. Nothing about this situation doesn’t suck, but that’s the single thing I’m angriest about. That’s probably because getting the news from the media said, much more loudly than anything else I could think of, exactly how much these people really value the military community.
Gates, in his press conference, blamed a press leak for forcing him to go public before informing the involved units and their families about the decision:
In terms of why we’re announcing it simultaneously with the unit commanders, I’ll be very blunt. Some very thoughtless person in this building made the unilateral decision yesterday to deny the Army the opportunity to notify unit commanders who could then talk to their troops 48 hours before we made a public announcement. And I can’t tell you how angry it makes many of us that one individual would create potentially so much hardship not only for our service men and women, but their families, by giving — by letting them read about something like this in the newspapers.
To put it very bluntly, the man is full of crap.
First of all, it took me all of about five minutes with Google News to come up with AP-based newspaper stories that came from leaked information. Up until the decision was made to have the press conference, the leak was being reported as just that, a leak, and the specifically said that no final decision had been made. The leaks that happened today before the press conference came from multiple sources, and included the information that the secretary and chairman of the joint chiefs would make the announcement later in the day. They could easily have told the media that they were considering multiple options, that no final decisions had been made, and that they would inform the media of any decision after they informed the affected troops.
Second, he didn’t announce it “simultaneously with the unit commanders.” He announced it at 3 pm on a weekday. That’s 11 pm in Baghdad, but it’s a convenient time for a Washington news conference, especially if you want to make sure that the networks get time to find the right talking heads for the story before the evening broadcasts.
I know that he didn’t announce things simultaneously with the units because I’ve talked with the Family Readiness Group folks from my wife’s unit. The people I’m talking about here are (mostly) the wives of the senior officers in the unit. When the unit is deployed, they do an absolutely tremendous job of handling the assorted crises that come up on a daily basis. They are in regular contact with the unit chain of command, and are the first ones informed when something goes wrong. They’re the folks who have the dubious privilege of getting told about casualties first so that they can make sure that friends and neighbors are there to help the families right after the casualty notification team leaves.
Today, they found out about the decision to extend everyone by watching TV. They then got to spend the next few hours taking phone calls from other families who had also been watching TV, and had to tell all of those folks that they didn’t know anything official yet, and would have to call back later. They also called over to the Rear Detachment – the handful of folks from the unit who remain at the home base during the deployment to handle the necessary administrative chores – to find out what was going on, but the Rear-D folks didn’t know anything more than they had found out by watching TV.
The “official” confirmation made it to Rear-D and the FRG later on, but it took about four hours.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who’s this pissed about the crappy way the announcement was made. The sad thing, though, is that there wasn’t as much surprise about it as I’d expected. I guess it’s because we’ve gotten used to being treated like this.