Drinking From the Fire Hose
It's Military 101 on the first official day of the journalists conference at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Inside Lewis and Clark Hall, men and some women stream through wearing the Army combat uniforms: tan, grey and green camouflage that blends well in the desert. Occasionally, you see officers from other countries like Brazil, Botswana, and Singapore, who are also here to study at the Command and General Staff College.
At 0800, we meet Lt Colonel Vern Jakoby. He's the Commander of the Recruiting Battalion in Kansas City. He goes through all the levels of command in the U.S Army before giving us statistics. Here's a number that may surprise you: there are well over 600,000 servicemembers in the U.S Army alone! That includes officers, enlisted, and Reserves.
Jakoby also talks about the challenges facing the military today. The biggest challenge? He says it's struggling with a public perception that joining the military is a second or last option. He says the Army wants qualified men and women, the more highly qualified the better. So that means a high school graduate, having just a GED doesn't get you in anymore. They also want individuals who don't have criminal records. But Jakoby admits this wasn't always the case. He points to immediately after 9-11 when standards were lowered to get the necessary number of troops deployed. He says "those days are done."
Budgets cuts to the Department of Defense will impact recruiting numbers. Jakoby says with the stagnant economy, retention is high and the Army has individuals who keep re-enlisting. Right now, recruiting hasn't had to turn those qualified away but Jakoby says that won't be the case in the future.
In the afternoon, we learn about garrisons-the Army word for a military base or post. Besides providing housing for soldiers and their families, military and civilian staff run the base like a city by keeping up the infrastructure and quality of life. That means there are potholes to fill, garbage to be picked up, and traffic lights that must stay on.
We also hear from Colonel Fred Taylor, a Staff Judge Advocate who expains military law and the court martial process. For those soldiers who are convicted of a crime, there's the maximum security prison called the U.S Disciplinary Barracks at Ft Leavenworth, not to be confused with the federal penitentiary down the road. We're told journalists are not allowed interviews with military prisoners. That's disappointing when prisoners like Bradley Manning are on base. He's the Army soldier accused of passing restricted information to wikileaks last year. Another interesting note about Manning, he went through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, in Missouri where we'll be heading Tuesday evening. More then....