- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2004

Ronald Reagan restored the prestige and the might of the U.S. armed forces, delivering more than $2 trillion for new weapons and more professional troops in a grand strategy to defeat Soviet communism.

In 1981, he inherited a dispirited force plagued by poor morale, increasing drug use and aging equipment.

There were no new heavy bombers and about half the Air Force’s tactical aircraft were not fully mission-capable. The Navy fleet was shrinking. Its petty officers were quitting at the rate of 1,000 per month. And the Army acknowledged it could no longer carry out its mission. It took on the unwanted label of “hollow” — meaning units existed more in name than in actual firepower.

In 1989, as he handed the mantle of commander in chief to George H.W. Bush and boarded a helicopter at the Capitol, the former president left behind a completely revamped military.

The fleet approached 600 ships, and brandished a new long-range missile launcher, the Trident submarine. The Army fielded the new 70-ton Abrams main battle tank and sophisticated Apache attack helicopters. The Air Force commissioned the B-1B bomber, which had been canceled by President Carter.

Rewarded with a 12.5 percent pay raise, the 2 million-member, all-volunteer force, born at the end of the draft in 1973, was being all that it could be.

“Reagan, as commander in chief, was a decisive factor in my deciding to join not only the Army, but to be a combat leader in elite units,” said former Army Capt. John Hillen, who joined in 1984.

Vice President Dick Cheney was defense secretary when the Reagan force moved like a juggernaut through Iraqi-occupied Kuwait. He telephoned his thanks to former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who had had the job of selling Mr. Reagan’s $2 trillion buildup.

“His two greatest assets that he gave to the U.S. military were better equipment and training, and inspiration,” said House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter, California Republican.

The nation’s first peacetime military expansion brought another dividend. Today, more and more historians are crediting rearmament with putting so much pressure on the Soviet Union that it turned to a reform movement to try to keep bankrupt systems sputtering along. But the move backfired on the apparatchiks, who saw limited reforms blossoming into a grass-roots democracy tidal wave.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John W. Warner, who helped shepherd Mr. Reagan’s defense bills through Congress, said the Soviet collapse “was a direct result” of increased spending.

“Clearly, it was the foundation of the most historic acts on the Soviet Union,” the Virginia Republican said yesterday. “It was a warning to the Soviet Union that no way they were ever going to go toe-to-toe, given their economic condition, with the United States.”

Added Mr. Hunter, “He did the right thing. Robustly funding defense was the card we needed to play vis-a-vis the Soviet Union.”

The congressman said the two-track policies of increasing long-rang nuclear warheads while launching research into space-based missile defenses unnerved Moscow.

Mr. Reagan also shared the wealth. He believed that strong alliances meant selling some of American’s new military technologies overseas, even to Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, over the objections of Israel.

“He was very much of the view our defense was predicated on strong alliances,” Mr. Warner said.

Mr. Reagan told the nation in 1986 that, “Strength is the most persuasive argument we have to convince our adversaries to negotiate seriously and to cease bullying other nations.”

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