Former Defense Secretary Gates Describes Obama-Era Morale Problem in Military

By Susan Jones | October 22, 2015 | 6:40am EDT
Robert Gates served as Defense Secretary under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. (AP File Photo)

( - At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave three reasons for declining morale in the U.S. military, as the war in Afghanistan ramps down and budget constraints persist.

Sen. Ted Cruz asked Gates, "Do you share my concerns about declining morale in the military, and if so, what do you see as the cause of these challenges?"

Gates replied: "I don't have any statistics, but I do have the sense that there is a morale problem, and I think it's due to several things.

"First of all, I think it is due to the substantial and growing cutbacks in the number of men and women in the military, so people in the military now are less confident that they will be allowed to remain in the military -- that in the force reductions, they will be turned out, in essence, be fired, particularly for those who have some years in and probably have families -- concerns about what they will do, if because of force downsizing they end up out in the civilian world again.

"I think there is a morale problem that derives from a lot of the budgetary uncertainty in the sense that, as I suggested earlier, people who joined the military to fly airplanes, sail on ships or drive tanks are finding they don't have the same opportunities to do that anymore. That's the stuff that made it fun, and that was one of the things that encouraged them to stay.

"So I think that these and the budgetary uncertainties and so on are all -- are all part of a challenge for our young men and women in uniform.

"And then the final one that I mentioned just a few minutes ago -- and that is you go, particularly the ground forces, you go from mostly young men who have been out in Iraq and Afghanistan, and on these deployments they have this great sense of camaraderie and brotherhood with their fellow soldiers and Marines. They have been given a lot of opportunity to operate independently and in an entrepreneurial way and be innovative and so on. And they're being brought back and put in cubicles and asked to do Power Points.

"So I think all those things together are having a real impact on morale," Gates concluded.

Cruz opined that another factor may be "having a commander-in-chief that fails to set clear objectives, and in particular, an objective of winning clearly and decisively the military conflicts in which we're engaged."

Cruz pointed to Gates's book "Duty," in which Gates wrote that President Obama didn't appear to believe in his own strategy for Afghanistan and the Middle East. "Is that still a concern you share?" Cruz asked Gates.

Gates responded that in his book, he wrote that, "If a commander in chief or secretary of defense is going to send a young man or a young women into harm's way, they need to be able to explain to that young person in uniform why that mission is important; why the cause is noble and just, why their sacrifice is worthwhile. And that was, I think, the easiest way to put it. That was not a speech I heard the president give."

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