Are you and I going to be there to save the Harrys? Ever since the deployment of the carrier Harry S. Truman was canceled last week, I keep running that scene in my head from It's a Wonderful Life.
George Bailey is standing in front of his brother’s grave exclaiming, “Harry Bailey went to war! He got the Congressional Medal of Honor! He saved the lives of every man on that transport!”
“Every man on that transport died,” Clarence the Angel replies. “Harry wasn't there to save them because you weren't there to save Harry.”
In this time of sequestration, I think we regular taxpayers, we bystanders, we Georges are supposed to be saving the Harrys.
Right now, we Georges are just watching the worst of bipartisan politics as the two parties battle it out over the military budget. We stand by while the services desperately slash deployments and trainings and repairs to get under the magic number. Why aren’t we Georges saving the Harrys?
Before this week, I would have said it was because I’m the kind of George who thought the Harrys could use a canceled deployment. With a decade of compressed schedules and lengthening deployments and increased commitments, I would have said that a canceled deployment was as good of a rest as anyone needed.
Then the Navy canceled the summer deployment of the carrier George H.W. Bush because we will no long keep two carriers in the Middle East. The carrier Abraham Lincoln’s $3.3 billion overhaul was cut and she was tied to the pier at a cost of $10 million per month. Numerous other cuts, cancellations, shortened trainings and eliminated maintenance plans were announced.
And suddenly I am a George who is aware that one of the consequences of all these money-saving efforts is that we may not be making enough Harrys.
Neurologists have found that every human skill -- whether it is shooting perfect foul shots or playing a violin concerto or landing a helicopter on the deck of a ship -- is created by chains of nerve fibers carrying a tiny electrical impulse. Each new layer adds speed and skill.
That is a biological process in the brain that can’t be rushed. All those cuts mean we are not spending the time creating Harrys. We have less time to train the kind of pilots capable of saving the transports. We have fewer opportunities to create the kind of chiefs who hear a fuel pump make a funny noise and know exactly when it is going to break. We are not making that generation of ship drivers who can tell something is off around a coral reef because they have been in that part of the world so often. We are not paying the shipyard workers to learn with the kinds of skills it takes to service our own fleet.
The Navy -- being the Navy -- will do whatever it takes to train and prepare to the best of their ability on the money we provide.
But at a certain point, we Georges must know that we are no longer making Harrys. Instead, we are standing by while the fight goes on to divide the Benjamins. And the Harrys will just have to look out for themselves.