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Patriotic Article
By Van E. Harl

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Washing Ice Cubes
(May 6, 2010)

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My mother-in-law was at the sink running water. I asked her what she was doing and she replied “washing ice cubes.” One of the other people in the kitchen stated that what “mom” had just said about ice cubes sounded like something his old sergeant would have made him do. Keep the young airman or private occupied. We all know that empty hands are the devil's tools. If you don't keep those junior troops busy, even if it is doing something totally useless, such as cleaning a sidewalk with a toothbrush, they will get into trouble.

Have you ever looked at the word trouble? It comes from the Spanish word “trabajo” which means work. In this case the perception is the lack of work will generate trouble. I do need to explain that the ice cubes I am talking about are the plastic type. They are filled with liquid and

Van E. Harl
Van E. Harl

frozen. Placed in your drink they cool it without melting, thereby avoiding a watering down of your drink.
The discussion about make-work projects for young enlisted troops and for that matter the odd second lieutenant continued. All the veterans in my kitchen had to tell their favorite unnecessary work “war-story.” How someone with just a little more rank than they had, forced a junior veteran to perform some meaningless task, just because that senior military person could get away with it. There is room for interpretation here depending on rank and age. What may be a genuine needed project in the eyes of the old NCO is just a lot of Bravo Sierra to the Airman.

There will always be the need for “detail' troops; troops who have to sweep and pick-up and haul and of course, paint the rocks. But in today's lean military we are running out of junior troops to do details.

When I first came in the Air Force as a security police officer I had 5.4 people for every 24 hour post I was required to man (such as the main gate.) This multiple factor gave me a few extra bodies hanging around the squadron to get “details” done. By the time I retired the “cops” had a multiple factor of 3.9 to man the same 24-hour post. There just are no extra troops sitting around in the dorm idle that can be tasked to pick up litter.

The number of airmen you are authorized for your unit is based on your stateside, peacetime mission. In today's Air Force you will get to deploy to forward bases such as in Iraq. The problem is the peacetime mission back at your home base still has to be accomplished. Gates have to be guarded, aircraft have to be fixed, people want to get paid and folks still get sick. We definitely don't have time or manpower to paint rocks.

So whom do you pull away from their regular duties for details, the cops on the gates? They are already “stealing” from other career fields to create part time (augmentee) cops. Remember in time of crisis everyone becomes a security expert and the first thing they order, is “double the guard.” Do we take the surgical technician right out of the operating room? Or, do we take the maintenance troop from that aircraft he is trying to repair and return to the “fight?”

Since the downsizing of the military in the early 1990's and the end of the cold war, the real-world mission not only failed to get smaller, it has grown. We are doing more with a whole lot less troops. I don't even want to hear the “work smarter not harder” stuff. The Department of Defense needs more people if the US plans to keep up the current rate of deployment.

When I observe some senior military official, either in uniform or a civilian, trying to tell the public that our military does not need more active duty troops, I just don't believe it. We don't have enough active duty troops, even with the Guard and Reserve helping, to meet all our future short term deployment commitments, let alone long range plans. At the rate we are using up the Guard and Reserve we are going to cripple those organizations for years to come.

No, nobody is going to be “washing ice cubes” in today's military. There are no extra troops just sitting around doing nothing, waiting to be misused on make-work details. We need more troops and we need fewer rocks to paint.

By Van E. Harl
Copyright 2004

About Author:
Major Van E. Harl, USAF Ret., was a career police officer in the U.S. Air Force. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. Major Harl is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School, the Air Force Squadron Officer School and the Air Command and Staff College. After retiring from the Air Force he was a state police officer in Nevada.

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