Friday, September 22, 2006


More Template News

Here’s the template so familiar to the New York Times, that their editors and reporters feel compelled to use it for every story about the military.

Strains are Severe!

But not so bad just yet.

We may have to take drastic action immediately!

But maybe not so drastic, and maybe we can wait a year or two, and do something about it in a couple of years.

So is it any wonder, when you come to the end of an article based on this TemplateTM, that you find yourself asking, what was all that about?

The latest example of NYT mal-journalism was this scare-mongering report about ongoing considerations of additional National Guard activations to meet Active Duty military commitments.

Let’s walk through the template, shall we?

Strains are Severe (Lead paragraph):

Strains on the Army from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become so severe that Army officials say they may be forced to make greater use of the National Guard to provide enough troops for overseas deployments.

But not so bad just yet (second and third paragraph):

Senior Army officers have discussed that analysis — and described the possible need to use more members of the National Guard — with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s senior adviser on personnel, David S. C. Chu, according to Pentagon officials.

While no decision has been made to mobilize more Guard forces, and may not need to be before midterm elections, the prospect presents the Bush administration with a politically vexing problem: how, without expanding the Army, to balance the pressing need for troops in the field against promises to limit overseas deployments for the Guard.

Note phrasing, “possible need,” and the caveat that any decision or implementation would not be urgent. Kind of undercuts the lead, doesn’t it? Note also the immediate mention of competing priorities and trade-offs. Reasonable criticism, of course, acknowledges that these kinds of complex considerations are realities for leaders.

We may have to take drastic action immediately:

So many are deployed or only recently returned from combat duty that only two or three combat brigades — perhaps 7,000 to 10,000 troops — are fully ready to respond in case of unexpected crises, according to a senior Army general.

Who of course, won’t allow attribution for his remarks. Perhaps he’s one of the Senior Army Generals who are eying a political career? Wow, our entire National Security hinges on the readiness of no more than 10,000 Guard soldiers. Pretty scary

The alarmism of this anonymous assessment, as well as the opening lead, is further diminished by an assessment from the head of the Guard, but this is deep into the latter half of the story:

Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, the head of the Guard, said his forces would be prepared to meet current requirements and to send more forces if needed.

“Can I sustain that?” General Blum said. “I say the answer is, ‘Absolutely’ — if three things remain, three critical things.”

He said Guard members must continue to feel that what they are doing is important and that they have the support of the American people. Finally, he said, “We’ve got to give them some predictability or some kind of certainty so they can balance their civilian life, with their employers and their family, with their military service to the nation.”

But maybe not so drastic:

Given the lengthy lead time required for calling up, training, equipping and deploying Guard forces, Pentagon officials said that if more Guard members were mobilized, it would probably be for a rotation that begins in 2008.

Even so, Pentagon and military officials said that it was unlikely that any decision on a Guard mobilization would be necessary for several months or even into next year, which would place any announcement beyond the November mid-term Congressional elections.

To take on a greater load in Iraq and remedy existing equipment shortfalls, the Guard needs $23 billion over five years, Guard officials say.

Which underscores the real motivation for these anonymously floated stories, leaked power point slides, budget summaries, and other background noise. Budgets. Getting resources.

I know our National Guard Division mobilized, and while we received 110% of everything we needed and then some, we left a lot of mission essential equipment in theater to help the unit that took over after us. Along the way, we discarded a lot of obsolete equipment when we received the best and latest. And yes, getting us back to 100% fully mission capable will now cost some money. Deep in this story, it looks to me as if that’s 90% of what the data content of this story is about.

With the other 10% the packaging and spin that “puts it all in context.” The context of the TemplateTM, that is. The Army, to quote the hapless and befuddled Murtha, is “broken.”

So is it any wonder we wonder, what was all that about?

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