Right to the Point (4/16/09)

Our professional military

April 16, 2009

By Mike Benevento

If you were like most Vermonters, you intensely followed last week’s hijacking of the Maersk Alabama and kidnapping of its captain, Richard Phillips of Underhill. In order to ensure his crew’s safety, Capt. Phillips ransomed himself to Somali pirates who attacked and boarded his cargo ship. The crisis ended when extremely well-trained Navy SEALs onboard a destroyer shot and killed three young pirates holding Phillips hostage on a lifeboat.

Following her husband’s rescue, Andrea Phillips thanked Vermonters and the rest of the nation for their thoughts, prayers and support of her family during the five-day ordeal. According to The Burlington Free Press, she said Richard told her that the “real heroes” were the members of the U.S. military who rescued him. She said he called them the “most dedicated and capable group of professionals around.”

President Barack Obama — who ordered the use of deadly force — said, “I’m very proud of the efforts of the U.S. military and many other departments and agencies that worked tirelessly to resolve this situation.” He added, “I share our nation’s admiration for Capt. Phillips’ courage and leadership, selfless concern for his crew.”

I echo Capt. Phillips and President Obama’s observations about the dedication and professionalism of America’s military. Having served with thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines — including tours in Europe and in the Pacific — I am convinced beyond any doubt that America has the world’s best armed forces. No other military on earth compares to ours. We should never wish to let another get even close.

Today’s military consists entirely of volunteers. Reinstituting the draft is unnecessary. Those who serve want to do so. Service members do not do their job for the money or for any glory. They proudly serve out of a sense of duty. Conscription would only damage that dynamic.

Our military is superbly trained and well-equipped. It is expensive to run a top-notch military, but in the long-term, it is well worth it. When called to fight, America needs its military to be swift, adept, decisive and overwhelmingly effective. To be otherwise actually causes needless death and destruction.

Ironically, the more effective the military is at killing the enemy, the less death and destruction fighting causes. For example, the SEALs’ sharp-shooting skills limited the deaths only to the pirates while preventing injury to the captain. “Smart” munitions are another example of increased military effectiveness saving lives.

During the Vietnam War, aircraft flew more than 800 sorties attempting to destroy the Thanh Hoa Bridge in North Vietnam. Thousands of bombs were dropped, but the bridge was pretty much left standing following each air raid. Eleven aircraft were lost attacking the bridge. Finally, in May 1972, aircraft equipped with precision-guided bombs destroyed the bridge in one mission, avoiding further loss of American lives.

Fast forward to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, where F-111Fs and F-117s destroyed bridges in one pass using laser-guided bombs, risking only a few crewmembers. Since the planes usually scored direct hits, the only civilians killed were those few unfortunate enough to be on the bridges when their spans collapsed.

While many more times expensive than “dumb” gravity bombs, the effectiveness of “smart” bombs allows fewer aircraft to destroy a target. These weapons are costly — and require lots of training to use — but they are well worth it in the end. Fewer flyers are risked and the loss of civilian lives is minimized. The savings in lives more than enough makes up for the relatively high cost of the weapons.

Although a well-organized, trained and equipped military is expensive, service members ask for little in return. All most ask for is a decent wage and for their family to be taken care of. That way, they can do their job without worrying about their loved ones back home.

I would be amiss not to mention other unsung heroes across the United States. Those include police officers, firefighters, rescue and many other people who daily risk their lives protecting Americans. Along with the military, these professionals serve fellow citizens while receiving little thanks and praise.

Typically, we remember military members and their families during Veterans Day or Memorial Day. Events like the Somali hijacking help remind us of just how important the military is and how much we are indebted to those ready to answer the call of duty. As the Vermont Army National Guard prepares for its upcoming deployment to Afghanistan, we need to continue supporting the troops and their families. May we never take them for granted.

Michael Benevento is a former Air Force fighter jet weapon systems officer. He has a bachelor’s degree in Military History and a master’s in International Relations. Mike resides in Williston with his wife Kristine and their two sons, Matthew and Calvin.