My daughter's name is Alamni. It means "the one who brings peace." She is in her second year at the United States Military Academy, the first in our family to join the ranks of the Long Gray Line.
As her name suggests, her dream of becoming a West Point cadet was not based on a desire to fight. Her motivation was simple patriotism: to serve her country—to stand in defense of her fellow Americans, as the cadet oath goes, "support the Constitution of the United States, and bear true allegiance...."
What first sparked her interest in military service was her sixth grade American History Day Project. Her topic: the Tuskegee Airmen. Alamni was inspired by the heroics of the Red Tails and their against-all-odds achievements, which helped pave the way for full integration of the U.S. military. She was particularly fascinated by their commander, Benjamin Davis Jr., who went on to become the Air Force's first African-American brigadier general. (Davis had a great role model; his father was the first African-American to reach the rank of Army Brigadier General.)
Davis Jr. had another admirer, too. Bill Clinton. In 1998, when presenting him with his fourth star, President Clinton characterized Davis as "living proof that a person can overcome adversity and discrimination, achieve great things, turn skeptics into believers; and through example and perseverance, one person can bring truly amazing change."
At West Point, my daughter is following the trail blazed by the Davises and many other great leaders who have achieved great things in the military. She is in the process of learning to transform her vulnerabilities into strengths and developing her leadership abilities. I hope that one day she, too, will achieve great things and bring amazing change.
Naturally, as a mother, I am always concerned about her and her fellow cadets. If they are called to war, I want the confidence of knowing they will have the equipment they need to do the job; that their troops will have the training they need to succeed; that they will have the full backing of our political leadership.
Today I am not as confident. There is all too much reason for me to have concerns. According to The Heritage Foundation's recently released 2020 Index of Military Strength, today's U.S. military is "only marginally able to meet the demands of defending America's vital national interests."
While the Army's combat readiness levels are rated higher than all other services, it is still struggling to rebuild its end strength—deteriorated by almost two decades of near continuous use, combined with inadequate funding for most of the last decade.
Today's army is low on manpower. It now has only 31 Brigade Combat Teams—down from 45 just eight years ago. As the National Defense Strategy Commission warned Congress last year: "Simply put, the United States needs a larger force than it has today if it is to meet the objectives of the [National Security] Strategy."
It also is ill-equipped for the modern battlefield. The Army is using equipment designed primarily in the 1970s, fielded in the '80s and then only incrementally upgraded since then. The Index labels it "a modernization gap."
As the mother of a cadet, I pray that none of our sons and daughters have to go into combat. But if they do, I don't want them going into "a fair fight." I want them going in with the troops, the training and the equipment needed to make them the prohibitive favorites—and to win with minimal casualties.
To get those kinds of odds, America has a lot of rebuilding to do. Overall, the Index rates the Army as being in better shape than the Navy and Marines, and arguably better off than the Air Force.
But rebuilding won't come cheap—and it will require a sustained commitment from our political leaders to make it happen. Will rebuilding be worth the cost? I certainly think so—and not just because it may be my daughter's life that's on the line.
The main reason for rebuilding America's military, for making it the prohibitive favorite against all of our foes, is that a strong military is our greatest hope for peace. We all know so well that President Reagan's strategy of "peace through strength" won the Cold War. No sane person picks a fight with a reigning world champion in his prime. But when the champ lets himself get out of shape, when he's perceived as weakened and getting weaker, it encourages challengers—sometimes several challengers—to come forward.
Alamni wants nothing more than to live up to her name, to be "the one who brings peace." It's the hope—and the mission—of all those proudly wearing the uniform of our nation. But it is up to our leaders—and, ultimately, all of us—to make sure they have what they need to do the job.
This piece originally appeared in the Houston Style Magazine