"Rose Covered Glasses" is a serious essay, satire and photo-poetry commentary from a group of US Military Veterans in Minnesota.
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“A retired two-star general has come up with a new explanation for what’s wrong with Congress – Not enough veterans in the House and Senate. “Veterans would instinctively understand when mutual sacrifice was necessary to achieve a common goal”
“I really do believe that,” said retired Marine
Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, who has a unique perspective on the ways and
mores of Capitol Hill from his 24 years as a staffer with former Sen.
Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat and an iconic figure on defense issues as
chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The temptation would be to pass off Punaro’s analysis as yet another
insider’s gripe-fest, but he has made the case at length in his book “On
War And Politics: The Battlefield Inside Washington’s Beltway” (Naval
“Today’s so-called ‘leaders’ are fully aware of the problems that
need solving. They just don’t seem to have the courage to make the hard
choices — not if it means they may lose votes or campaign
contributions,” Punaro said. “I believe it’s because most of today’s
bureaucrats and elected officials have never faced a real battle or had
to risk their very lives in a shared effort.”
He pointed to statistics showing that “in 1981, when we could still
compromise, 64 percent of the members of Congress were veterans. In
2015, only 18 percent had served.” Veterans would instinctively understand “when mutual sacrifice was
necessary to achieve a common goal,” Punaro said, but compromise has
become a dirty word in the how-do-I-avoid-a-primary era of gridlock,
government shutdowns, and perennial failures to pass a defense budget.
In his book, and in a phone interview, Punaro said the decline in the
number of veterans in Congress could be traced directly to the
scrapping of the draft and the introduction of the all-volunteer force,
which he continues to support — with reservations.
In 1970, as protests against the Vietnam War rattled the nation,
President Richard Nixon issued an executive order creating a 15-member
Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force, led by former Defense
Secretary Thomas Gates, “to develop a comprehensive plan for eliminating
conscription and moving toward an all-volunteer armed force.”
Nixon directed the commission to study the various aspects of an
all-volunteer force, such as pay, recruitment incentives, benefits and
selection standards. The all-volunteer force went into effect over the
objections of much of the Pentagon’s leadership, who feared the impact
“A lot of people were skeptical about replacing the draft,” which
happened in 1973, “but I wasn’t in their ranks. I’d seen firsthand what
it did to both our country and men who never should have been put behind
a trigger,” Punaro said.
But by the late 1970s, the all-volunteer force was on the verge of
collapse as the services could not meet recruiting and retention goals
and costs were ballooning far beyond original estimates.
Nunn put together hearings detailing the problems and calling on the
Defense Department to boost standards and increase pay and benefits to
attract recruits. The bottom line — “The quality of the force was more
important to him [Nunn] than the price tag,” Punaro said.
“Today, the AVF is again unsustainable from the standpoint of
fully-burdened life-cycle costs. DoD spends more than half of its budget
supporting people,” Puinaro said, but he remained a supporter of the
AVF. “I’m amused when some people label me as a critic of the AVF. I’m
still a supporter of the concept but our force as it stands today is no
longer sustainable in the long-term,” he said.
Punaro wrote that “The Gates commission foresaw this circumstance,
stating in 1970 that a volunteer force would not be sustainable unless
lawmakers eliminated the 20-year cliff retirement, reformed the ‘up or
out’ promotion system, and changed the pay and compensation from a
simple time-in-grade to a skill and performance-based system. None of
these recommendations were adopted and reforms in those areas are long
While praising individual Pentagon leaders, such as current Defense
Secretary Ashton Carter, Punaro’s book said the institution itself could
be as hidebound as Congress when it came to reform. Sometimes, head
fakes were required to get anything done. Punaro cited the 1986 passage of the landmark Goldwater-Nichols Act
reforming the structure and responsibilities of the Joint Chiefs
Chairman, the service chiefs and the Combatant Commanders with the goal
of improving joint operations.
To get the bill passed, Nunn and Sen Barry Goldwater “fought every
single civilian and military leader,” including then-Defense Secretary
Caspar Weinberger, Punaro said. “From my early days as a staffer, I knew
that the Pentagon always overreacted to reform efforts, so we included
fake provisions in our proposal to keep them diverted in their
response.” “One was to get rid of the Joint Chiefs of Staff entirely. We
obviously had no desire to actually do this but while the Pentagon was
busy pummeling our straw man, we were gathering votes for the real
elements of change, like unifying the Joint Chiefs through a more
powerful chairman and vice chairman.”
The book goes on to detail other legislative battles won and lost but
frequently returns to the lessons learned by 2nd Lt. Punaro in Vietnam
as leader of 1st Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Regiment, 1st
The book is dedicated to Corp. Roy Lee Hammonds, who was from another
platoon in Lima Company but raced to rescue Punaro when he was wounded
in an ambush on Jan. 4, 1970.
“Someone had come after me,” Punaro wrote. “Incredibly brave.
Incredibly risky. I grabbed his flak jacket and yelled ‘Let’s go. Let’s
go.’ No answer. My hand came back covered with blood. An unfamiliar
pale, long face fell back. I didn’t know him. ‘I can’t move,’ I yelled,
but he didn’t’ respond. Just lay there on top of me, jerking as the
bullets hammered his flak jacket.”
“I didn’t know what had caused Corp. Roy Lee Hammonds, 21, of
Waxahachie, Texas, to come to my rescue. He’d been in country since Feb.
25, 1969, and was within weeks of going home.”
Aboard the medevac helicopter, “in the last fading golden light, I
looked out over the rolling hills of the battle-scarred country we were
leaving and laid a protective arm over Roy’s body.”
“He died saving my life,” Punaro said over the phone. In writing the
book, “I wanted to tell the story of those Marines and what they did,”
of their dedication to a mission and to each other. “The second thing
was – I was becoming increasingly concerned, watching the deterioration
of the executive and legislative process to where we weren’t solving
anything.” What was needed, he said, was finding a way to imbue in current
members of the House and Senate that same commitment to a cause greater
than themselves that is ingrained in those who serve in the military.
“The best advocates for the military are our troops,” and members
need to spend more time with them, Punaro said. “I think if we could get
more people in Congress to spend less time politicking and more time
learning about what’s going on in the military that would take the place
of some of the experience” gained by actually being in the ranks.
“If you haven’t been there, it’s hard to explain to somebody who’s
never served in the military, never knew anybody who ever served in the
military, what our military goes through.”
In his foreword to the book, former Sen. John Warner, a Virginia
Republican who was once Punaro’s boss as chairman of the Senate Armed
Services Committee, gently warned him to expect some blowback from those
who might be offended by Punaro’s characterizations. Warner said Punaro should give himself the same advice he gave his
platoon in Vietnam: “Every man must now put on his flak jacket, zip it
up, for the incoming will soon be targeting down on us.”
has permitted marvelous advances and opportunities in communication and
has also impacted independent thought and created concerns with respect to
privacy and transparency in government. Our focus has shifted recently to sophisticated
forms of government technological control that may be both legal and illegal, and are being challenged in our
marketing and communications have created expectations beyond reality in venues
from romance web sites to building wealth. They have also confused us about our government functions, our elected representatives and where they are taking us.
have grown used to the convenience of viewing the world through media sound
bites, opinionated, biased, news and insincere, short sighted, money driven
politicians, who are financed by loosely controlled contributors and influenced
by lobbying firms that spend enormous amounts of money made available by the
wealthy to impact our opinions.
have become less competitive in the global economy, as a concentration of
wealth has shifted to a very few and our corporations evolve operations outside
the country, taking the resulting tax relief, profits, investments and
resources with them.
Consider simpler times a few years past (say 50). Trust was
necessary in many venues as a means of survival on a day-to-day basis. We
relied on others extensively for our well-being from our local store to our
banker, from the policeman to the politician. And we knew them all better, we
could reach out and touch them and we were not viewing them in sound bites and
web sites, nor were we being bombarded with multiple forms of input to digest
Americans have very little trust in the current era.We see a negative, idealistically bound,
bloated government, growing like a money- eating beast and putting generations
in hock with unwarranted incursions into foreign countries and a focus on big
corporations and big business.
key to our true independence is in becoming involved as individuals, taking flight on wings that grow
strong by exercising our intellect, our shared opinions and our participation
in government.We must research a
personal perspective based on our personal values and take time in the fast
pace our culture demands to communicate with those we elect to government –
before and after the election.
Trust is hard to establish in the modern era.We see very little true statesmanship in the good people we send to
Washington, who promptly become ground up in the huge machine there in order to
survive.That machine must change and
the people we send to change it must share that objective with us.
HOW STRONG ARE OUR WINGS?
and expectations are two vital elements in measuring trust.
To an extraordinary extent, the age in which we live is requiring us to
redefine trust and the degree to which communication and expectations
contribute to it. To
become truly independent, we must become much more sophisticated ourselves in
the manner with which we view all this input and sift it in a meaningful way to
have true trust.
a very large degree this is a personal responsibility. We must become involved,
make prudent judgments and think for ourselves, then communicate our
expectations to those who represent us.
we do not, we run a high risk of tyranny and that fact is inescapable.