Transition of power in Afghanistan a significant hurdle for US

Source: Lance Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde/ DVIDS
Source: Lance Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde/ DVIDS

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (RNN) - Last year, Lt. Gen. Allen Peck, commander of Air University at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, told business executives in Montgomery, AL, the single biggest challenge facing the military is recruiting a qualified force.

He explained that so many young people are overweight, using illegal substances or can't pass basic academic assessments that it has become harder and harder to assemble qualified soldiers ready to serve.

What a difference a year makes.

A year later, the economy remains stagnant, jobs have been lost, soldiers' mental health has continued to waver, and the U.S. military's challenges have become much more immediate.

We talked with Rear Adm. Vic Beck, director of Public Affairs for the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, in Afghanistan about what he sees as the biggest challenges facing the U.S. military today.

Beck doesn't share Peck's concerns. He says many more qualified candidates are lining up to serve than in years past when a bustling economy and fighting in Iraq deterred potential soldiers from enlisting.

"What some don't realize is it's fairly darn competitive these days," Beck said, "We have the best and brightest."

It's common to see a rise in enlistment during a weak economy, Beck said, when jobs are scarce and retention rates are high. It's a formula that feeds in more degree-toting recruits, who, almost 10 years later, continue to line up to support the war in Afghanistan.

Beck said of much greater concern to the U.S. military is the transition from coalition-supported security in Afghanistan to the forces in their own country.

Transitions will begin in July, but Beck said, "It feels like it's [going to happen] tomorrow."

The daunting task will slowly shift power from the current military force of the 48 countries that make up the ISAF by 2014.

Maintaining troop morale is proving to be another challenge for the military, according to a report study released by the Army earlier this month.

The report, compiled the Joint Mental Health Advisory Team 7 from surveys taken in 2010, found that U.S. soldiers reported plunging morale and the highest rates of mental problems in five years.

Beck said he could not comment on the overall morale of the military forces in Afghanistan, but stressed that everyone there has good days and bad days.

He said the soldiers there are continuously facing tough fighting and, "if you don't lose someone in a day, that's a darn good day."

With the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 1, this Memorial Day will hold special significance to many. However, Beck reserves all emotion on the subject.

"They got their target, that's important," Beck said. "There are many more where he came from. We will continue to fight."

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