The arguments continue, but the war in Afghanistan is over, and that will bring big changes across the military.

Counter-insurgency training is already being forgotten as ground-pounding Army formations prepare for what has been called a “hyper war” that brings in electronic warfare along with combat in the air, space and sea.

And a military that rebuilt itself to take on terrorists and insurgents is getting back to Cold War basics.

“It's our duty to defend this nation and we're not going to take our eye off the ball,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said this month. “And that means relentless counter-terrorism efforts against any threat to the American people from any place. It means working with our partners to shore up stability in the region around Afghanistan, and it means a new focus to our leadership in this young century, to meet the security challenges from China, to seize new opportunities in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere, and to deepen our ties with old allies and new partners, and to defend our democracy against all enemies.”

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What Austin didn’t mention is that it also means spending a tremendous amount of money. In the House, lawmakers who initially were talking about Pentagon cuts are mulling a Pentagon budget that would spend more than $2 billion a day in 2022.

The Navy wants new ballistic missile submarines, the Army needs new tanks, the Air Force wants new bombers and ICBMs, the Space Force needs a new generation of satellites and the Marine Corps wants new radar, amphibious vehicles and drones.

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It’s 1975 all over again. Then, at the end of the Vietnam War, the military had to retool, rethink how it recruited troops upon the death of the draft and come up with tactics to face off with the Soviet Union and China.

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That era brought us many of the weapons still in use today, from F-16 fighters and Nimitz-class carriers to Kevlar helmets and M-1 tanks. It also brought us the modern, all-volunteer military.

All of that may need replacement.

The equipment is dated, and China is rapidly matching and even surpassing U.S. capabilities. The Pentagon wants even more cash to meet the challenge.

A bigger question for congress and the Pentagon, though, might be what to do about the troops. It’s time to ask whether the all-volunteer military works for America in the decades ahead.

On its face, there’s little wrong with the volunteer force. They are the best trained troops in the world, and boast an unbeaten combat record over the past two decades in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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But since Vietnam, the military has continually drifted further away from American society. The bravery and sacrifice of volunteer troops was only truly felt in the gated communities of the Defense Department, creating 20 years of warfare barely noticed by too much of the nation.

Colorado Springs felt the war. But in the nation’s cities far from military fences, many residents only noticed increased airport security after 9/11.

It is heresy in the Pentagon to discuss bringing back the draft.

But the draft makes the military look more like America, and makes America pay more attention to the military. Civilians just care more when we are thinking about our children rather than our checkbooks.

And the past 20 years of war proved one thing: The all-volunteer military, even with the Guard and Reserve called in, was too small to tackle Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously.

To pacify Japan after its surrender in 1945, America dedicated more than 1 million troops. Another 1.6 million remained in Germany after the Nazi surrender.

At the height of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007, fewer than 200,000 troops were deployed.

Even backed by an army of contractors overseas, the Pentagon never had the kind of force needed to bring real change to those tortured nations.

And those were small wars.

If we wind up taking on Russia, China, North Korea or even Iran, the military may need everything the nation can offer, including our kids.

So as we mourn the return of the Taliban, let’s have a real discussion about how, when and why we would call up America’s youth to defend the country.

It’s time.

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

City Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's City Editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom has covered the military at home and overseas and has covered statehouses in Denver and Olympia, Wash. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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