By: Peter Sessum
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has resigned but veterans are not celebrating like the Munchkins singing Ding Dong the Witch is Dead. The resignation is isn’t bitter sweet it is just bitter. As much as his resignation should make us feel better, nothing has been fixed by his exit. If nothing else the chaos following his departure will create more problems. Unfortunately, no one is looking at the real issues which is how did he get the job in the first place?
Our political system is very polarizing but our leaders should be smart enough to look at the big picture. Maybe it is because democrats and republicans hate each other so much that President Obama dropped the ball on giving Shinseki the job. President Bush had cause to fire Shinseki and Obama should have taken that into account before appointing Shinseki to take care of such an important part of the government.
When he was Chief of Staff for the Army, Shinseki was responsible for the decision to get rid of the Patrol Cap (PC) and switch to black berets. The Rangers were angry because the black beret was kind of their thing and old school soldiers were pissed because the beret serves no function like the PC does. The only ones happy about it were new troops that thought it looked cool.
All of that was pretty minor compared to the biggest issue with the berets that might not have come to light had it not been for a Navy P-3 having to land in China because of a midair collision. The crew was held for 10 days in China and people in the U.S. were talking about boycotting Chinese made goods. In that time it came to light that the most of the berets for the Army were made in China. Many people thought that the headgear for American Soldiers should be made in America and the switch was made and due to the order changeover the deadline for everyone to be wearing berets had to be pushed back. That should have been a huge red flag. How can we trust a man to work with the broken system that is the VA when he can’t even get a hat order right?
His next big fiasco was the Stryker. He developed a bright idea to streamline the Army and get rid of the heavy and light units and make everyone medium with the Stryker fighting vehicles. It was pre-GWOT and seemed like a safe idea. Make a radical change, get a gold star on the OER and retire saying a major bureaucratic system was transformed under his leadership. But then someone opened a can of war and that spoiled his plans.
The U.S. invaded a country with wide-open spaces that would be harder on Infantry than the jungle and no serious armor threat so medium was perfect. A fast vehicle that could carry troops around seemed like the perfect tactical choice. Shinseki delayed the deployment claiming that all the kinks were not worked out in testing. Then the U.S. invaded Iraq with a heavy urban fighting where an armored vehicle was needed to minimize the exposure of troops getting to and from the fight. Again, Shinseki tried to stall. Finally, the president accepted his resignation and sent the Stryker to Iraq.
It did not take long for people to figure out that the Strykers were not equipped properly. It was discovered that the armor couldn’t stop a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) which was what we could expect to be fired at them all the time. If the armor does not protect against the enemy munitions then it isn’t effective armor. This was Shinseki’s project for almost four years, how had that slipped through the cracks? Units in Kuwait were welding rebar cages around their armored vehicles to protect them from RPGs and Shinseki didn’t have to answer for his SNAFU.
That should have been another huge red flag the size of Texas. How can you trust a man to look out for veterans when he couldn’t even protect the soldiers that he was supposed to look out for? For some reason no one seems to remember that. Shinseki was underqualified for the job he was given and a lot of mistakes were made on his watch that cost some veterans their lives.
Now that he is gone the system is still broken and politicians are going to be playing pass the blame to fix it properly. What we need is a warrior not a politician. Instead of someone trying to play the political game we need someone that is going to kick down doors and stir up some trouble. We need an old school Command Sergeant Major or a Gen. Mattis type VA secretary that will make things happen. There are simple real world solutions to some of the issues that need to be fixed. Yearlong backlog? Create temp positions for vets going through school or out of work vets to help go through the backlog of claims. A two year temp or contract position could get claim times to a couple of months.
The problems still exist and Shinseki getting to retire isn’t going to fix any of them. Unfortunately, we will be too busy looking for blame and no one is asking how he got the job in the first place. If someone had done that a few years ago and a better person had been put in the position instead maybe those veterans would be alive today.