This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
The Obama administration’s plan to trim the defense budget by $487 billion over the next decade – about 8 percent – has some critics saying it cuts too deeply and others saying it doesn’t cut enough.
But hardly anyone is disputing that Washington state’s military facilities are as well poised as any to weather the cutbacks in the new age of austerity – and perhaps even benefit from them.
That’s because as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, the Pentagon’s focus is shifting to threats along the Pacific Rim. For operations in that region, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the state’s naval bases in Everett and on the Kitsap Peninsula have a geographical advantage over just about any other state’s military installations.
The defense cutbacks – primarily in the Army and Marine Corps – mean the nation would no longer be capable of fighting two ground wars simultaneously. Instead it would be prepared to fight one ground war and another from the sea and air. A state like Washington – with its Army, Air Force and Navy installations – is ideally situated to that challenge.
Also in JBLM’s plus column is that fact that it has been taking units from other bases that have closed in recent years as part of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission process. Pentagon strategy has been to consolidate resources at a few larger bases rather than spread them out at many smaller ones.
Because cutting back military spending inevitable, means thinning the ranks, the Pentagon shouldn’t be in a huge hurry to make its personnel trims. The last thing the slightly improving economy needs is to have tens of thousands of military veterans suddenly looking for work.
Although many now in the military at JBLM and elsewhere will ease into civilian life and jobs, many others have wartime specialties that might not translate as seamlessly. They’ll need further education and retraining in addition to any ongoing medical care.
It’s inevitable as the nation goes into deficit-cutting mode that the military will have to shoulder some share of the economizing. But when it comes to cutting the people who sometimes served at great sacrifice, the nation owes it to them to make the transition as painless as possible.