Military Downsizing Effecting Disaster Relief Efforts

When we talk about military downsizing, attention usually focuses on the terrorist threat, the continued existence of potential enemies with large armed forces and the difficulty of fighting a sustained war without a large reserve of manpower and equipment. What we often overlook is the military’s other function as a source of trained, disciplined manpower for dealing with disasters – natural or otherwise.

Right now, large parts of the UK are under water as rivers in the north of England burst their banks after heavy rain. There’s a lot of debate about the cause, with some blaming climate change and others pointing out that deliberate neglect of flood defences by environmentalists probably didn’t help much. While journalists and politicians argue about whose fault it is, though, 700 British Army soldiers are hard at work trying to deal with the mess. They’re rescuing people from flooded homes, filling sandbags for temporary flood defenses and using helicopters to ferry essential supplies around.

ReliefObviously, this sort of event isn’t the Army’s actual job. Flood prevention is up to the local council; the police and medical services are in charge of evacuating anyone who’s trapped, and private companies will be contracted to repair the damage later. Inevitably, though, when there’s a serious problem, the troops are called in. Exactly the same happens in the USA – the National Guard will likely be among the first people called out, and regulars will join them if more manpower is needed. At the end of the day it makes perfect sense. When you have thousands of people who’re used to working under pressure and in dangerous environments, equipped with basic protective gear and all-terrain transport, it would be pretty daft not to use them. The military, in short, is the first line of disaster relief until the civilian agencies can get up to speed.

There’s no doubt that having soldiers available to cope with storms, floods or other freak events saves lives, and that means it’s vital to make sure we have enough soldiers that some can be spared. If the Army is already stretched to the limit finding enough troops for current deployments, training the next rotation and recuperating the ones who’ve just come back, there won’t be any slack in the system. When this happens, responding to a disaster will take a toll on operational effectiveness, and that’s too high a price. Yes, politicians always want to save money; but, if you cut troop numbers, that capability has to be replaced by civilian relief services – and they’re not going to be any cheaper. In fact, they’ll probably cost more and be less flexible.

The military’s job is to protect the nation and its people, from anything. That includes the forces of nature. But, to do that, the manpower needs to be available, and force levels in the west have fallen dangerously low. This is a problem when it comes to fighting the wars we all hope will never happen, but it’s just as bad when the enemy is the planet we live on.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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