Our Nation, Our Military, Our Mission

By Alan Caruba

Americans know that we have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I suspect they have little idea that nearly a half-million of our soldiers, marines, airmen, sailors and coast guard are in far-flung places prepared to deter and defeat the enemies of, not just our nation, but of the freedom we enjoy and want to extend worldwide.

“About 490,000 U.S. service personnel are forward-deployed around the world.”

The quote above is from Major General Richard Sherlock, director of operational planning for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It should be noted that they are all volunteers.

In a nation with just over three hundred million population, their bravery, their dedication, their sacrifice strikes me as extraordinary, but I also think we probably need a lot more such people as the 21st century portends an “asymmetrical war” against fanatical jihadists bent on dragging everyone back to the 7th century.

A February article in The American Legion Magazine by Alan W. Dowd, drawing on available data from public records, including the Pentagon’s “Active-Duty Military Personnel Strengths by Regional Area and By Country” report, reveals just how committed the United States is to the mission of maintaining peace throughout of the entire world.

“To display every U.S. deployment on earth,” wrote Dowd, “would be to highlight virtually every country from Albania to Zimbabwe.” The Congressional Research Service reports that the U.S. has a military presence in 144 nations.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch of where Americans are “forward deployed” in a dangerous world.

After more than 50 years since the stalemate that ended the Korean conflict, 1950-53, we have 27,114 U.S. forces in South Korea. My former affiliation, the 2nd Infantry Division and several Air Force tactical squadrons are based there. Across the border is the criminal, Communist nation of North Korea. U.S. forces have fallen by 9,000 in the past three years.

Long since the end of World War II, having protected Europe against the possibility of an invasion by the Soviet Union, we have 10,152 personnel in England. A raft of Army, Navy and Air Force personnel are stationed there. We have 58,894 personnel in Germany. At the height of the Cold War, we had nearly 300,000 U.S. troops deployed there. Reunited with the fall of the Berlin Wall, today there is no East Germany controlled by the Soviet Union. We have military assets in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Portugal. We maintain a minor presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Kosovo/Serbia. Coming soon we will station “force protection” troops in the Czech Republic and Poland. We even have a small force in Greenland.

Keep in mind that we are in these nations and others at their invitation and as the result of mutual defense treaties.

Because 70 percent of the U.S. military’s Iraq-bound air cargo passes through Turkey, we have 1,668 Air Force personnel based at the Incirlik Air Base. We have been there since the 1950s. We’re building new air force facilities in Romania and some 2,500 in Bulgaria. Both are former Soviet satellite nations. A small force for naval support is based in Greece. There’s also a deep-water port and airfield at Souda Bay in Crete.

In addition to approximately 168,000 U.S. fighting forces based in Iraq, there are 26 other nations represented there for a total of 11,830 additional personnel. Approximately 3,830 Americans have given their lives to depose a homicidal dictator and bring about a democratic government in that nation. Nearby in Kuwait, which was liberated in 1991 after an Iraqi invasion, we have 16,500. Kuwait is the logistical hub and staging area for U.S. operations in Iraq.

There are approximately 24,800 U.S. troops conducting counter-insurgency and stability operations in Afghanistan. In addition, there are some 20,000 non-U.S. forces deployed there as well. About 700 coalition personnel have been killed, including 445 Americans.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, there are small forces deployed in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and even Saudi Arabia.

Turning toward Asia, there are 50,000 forces stationed there. Japan hosts a carrier battle group, the 111 Marine Expeditionary Force, the 5th Air Force, and elements of the Army’s I Corps. Approximately half are based in Okinawa. There are a small number of personnel in the Philippines, primarily in a training mission to help that nation deal with Islamic terrorist groups. Australia is host to just over 700 personnel and, in Guam, the U.S. maintains critical Navy and Air Force facilities and military units. There are plans to deploy F-22 fighter-bombers, aircraft carriers, and 20,000 more troops there. Major units of the U.S. military are based in Hawaii to the tune of 35,874 personnel.

The volatile continent of Africa and its strategically critical Horn has just over 2,000 personnel conducting humanitarian, training, and military operations. We have a small number of special operations units in the Trans-Sahara region, mostly concerned with counterterrorism. The U.S. presence is likely to increase, given the creation of an Africa Command.

In North America, we have major units based in Alaska, a forward-deployed position in the event of trouble in Asia. A handful is based in Canada as part of NATO and mutual defense commitments. As might be expected, there are 876,378 military personnel are based in the United States. Some 63.8 percent of America’s active-duty personnel are based here. There are, for example, 3,000 National Guard deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border to assist our border patrol units.

The Southern Command we maintain units that deploy in training exercises with troops from 19 nations in South America. Small units are maintained in Honduras and Columbia. There are just over 900 in Cuba at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay where we also have just over 300 detainees from the various fronts of the global war on terrorism. There’s even an Army garrison at Fort Buchanan in beautiful Puerto Rico.

All this sounds like a lot of military power and it is, but we need more and we need to upgrade our Air Force that is flying aircraft that are decades old and need replacement. We have been keeping at least two full carrier groups in the Persian Gulf for a very long time, along with troop strength in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are likely to do so as long as Iran and other factors continue to threaten the stability of that region.

The ancient Romans knew something about maintaining troops in a far-flung empire. “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” If you want peace, plan for war.

Alan Caruba writes a weekly column posted on the website of The National Anxiety Center, www.anxietycenter.com. He blogs at http://factsnotfantasy.blogspot.com.

(c) Alan Caruba, March 2008

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