Guest Op-Ed: Bill Connor, "The Hollow United States Military?"

Today's Guest Op-ed comes from Bill Connor, an Orangeburg attorney and Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army reserve. Guest submittals will be considered for publication if sent via email to All op-eds will be published in their entirety and attributed to the original author.

On September 22, 2011, while testifying in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, stated: "If you took a trillion dollars out of defense that would break us”. He was referring to the mandatory cuts in Defense if the “Super Committee” failed to reach a plan for a budget. At the same hearing, Admiral Mullen warned that further cuts going past the $315 Billion planned “has forced us to look into the abyss”. The new Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, testified that further cuts would cause "catastrophic damage to military and ability to protect this country." Unfortunately, the new military drawdown and defense cuts are the most drastic seen since the post-Vietnam period of the 1970s. While the media and Presidential candidates put all focus on the nation’s economic problems, they ignore a gathering storm on the horizon: A “hollow” military.

The term “hollow”, in reference to the military, was first used by Army Chief of Staff “Shy” Meyers in describing the post-Vietnam, 1970s Army as the “hollow Army”. At this time, many units existed on paper, but were not prepared, manned, or equipped to defend the nation. Having grown up as the son of a career Army officer (and Vietnam veteran) in the 1970s, I can personally remember the poor state of our nation’s military due to the lack of support by our politicians. That is in comparison to my own time of military service from the 1980s until today. The hollow Army was not only due to the massive cut in funds, but also the rapid drawdown in personnel. Major Garry Thompson, in his thesis for a Master of Military Arts and Sciences described the infamous Hollow Army of the 1970s:

“By the mid-1970s the Army was not a pleasant place to be. Drug use, racial
tensions, low quality troops, and inexperienced NCOs left the Army in a state of disarray.
Officers and NCOs were occasionally mugged by their own troops and some were even
murdered. Many officers and NCOs were reluctant to enter barracks alone, or without a
pistol on their hip. Troubles were made worse by the efforts of many senior officers to
cover up or play down the incidents. Thus many guilty soldiers were not court-martialed
and were often quietly let out of the service (and sometimes not). One battalion
commander stated, “If they didn’t like being in the Army, all they had to do was badmouth
an officer (or worse) and then be rewarded with their walking papers.”

Master Sergeant (retired) Richard C. Cox recalled of the conditions of the
Army in 1976 and 1977 thus:

“The only reason I stayed in the Army was the fact that I knew it couldn’t get any
worse. As crazy as it sounds I had a high school diploma and a few college
credits so I was one of the smart ones. I knew that I would be promoted. The
only thing that nearly drove me out was the inconsistent disciplinary practices.
Receiving a DUI was almost a right of passage in some units. In others you were
kicked out right away. I also remember seeing a platoon leader stuffed in a wall
locker and thrown down a flight of stairs. I wasn’t particularly proud to wear the
uniform back then.”

By the mid-1970s, reenlistment rates fell to the lowest levels in history. First term attrition
rate was 26 percent in 1971 and steadily peaked 38 percent in 1974.

The results of the “hollow” Army were obvious. During the Carter years we were helpless as Iranians to our fellow countrymen hostage, and we failed miserably during the “Desert One” rescue attempt of those hostages. We were also helpless to stop the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, which came partly from the Soviet analysis of our weakness and inability to fight back. Thank God the Cold War did not become “hot” during the late 1970s.

The way out of that terrible period was with the support of the Reagan Administration after Reagan took office in 19981. Ronald Reagan was a true “comprehensive” conservative, who believed that despite conservative “small government” values, it was the obligation of conservatives to ensure our national defense. National Defense was the most important function of the Federal Government and one of the only functions only Government could provide. Under Reagan, defense spending rose dramatically, as did the salaries and benefits to keep the best people in uniform. The Army Reagan built deterred any direct confrontation with the Soviets, and was proven during Desert Storm. It is the military that has defended us since the attacks of 9/11.

Having rebuilt the military of the 80’s 90’s and today, are we now taking it back to the hollowness of the 1970s? Similar to the 1970s, we are now redeploying from a long war. In the case of Vietnam, we had substantial numbers of troops deployed from 1964 until 1973. We are all aware of the decade of sustained combat during operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. This period of recovery from sustained periods of combat is a critical time and one of the worst time to make massive cuts and rapid drawdown.
If, as happened during the 1970s, we cut benefits, salaries and support, we will see a similar dynamic as then. Many of the best officers and non-commissioned officers will opt to leave the service. Those remaining will be stuck with sub-standard training, equipment, and personnel. We will have “paper” units, which are only a shadow of the authorized strength.

From my own experience over the last few years, those within the military are already becoming concerned that promised benefits, like health care and pension, are becoming open to the chopping block. These are benefits promised to those who put their lives on the line and gave their best years to the nation. Our nation keeps its word and will end up paying a price if it fails to honor these types of commitments.

America should have the proper debate about the future of our Armed Forces. We may make the conscious decision to sacrifice national security for a period of time due to the perceived economic crisis. Though I would disagree with this decision (at least if there is any entitlement left to cut), at least we would know and could control the risk. It’s absolutely wrong to continue down the road we are heading: The neglect of our great military to the point it becomes hollow. If that happens, economic concerns will be the least of our problems.

1 Response to "Guest Op-Ed: Bill Connor, "The Hollow United States Military?""

  1. Anonymous 5/10/11 19:02
    never knew bill connor was in the military... guess he hardly ever mentions it

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