Napoleon's observation that "an army travels on its stomach" is correct as far as it goes. Today's American military, however, also needs rifle ranges, dental clinics, day care centers, barracks, motor pools and mess halls. In those respects, a modern U.S. military base is not so different from a civilian community.
Such an expansive infrastructure to support the all-volunteer military is both necessary and costly. The professionals who serve their nation have every right to expect that they and their families will have comfortable quarters, as well as adequate training and maintenance facilities to keep them and their equipment in fighting trim.
The nation's military leaders have asked Congress to quickly pass a $14 billion military construction bill that died in the previous Republican-controlled session. They say stateside facilities are inadequate and getting worse. Fort Bragg alone needs $300 million for barracks, a vehicle maintenance shop and training ranges to accommodate an assortment of high-tech weapons.
Complicating the military's immediate construction needs is the base-closing and realignment process. Under the latest plan, Fort Bragg is expected to become home to an additional full combat brigade, as well as additional special operations troops.
That means more people who must be housed, fed and trained. Many will bring families and that means more schools, dependent quarters and medical facilities. The military expects in the long run to save money by consolidating and closing bases, but such long-term savings come with a short-term price.
Republican Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma has introduced legislation to fund the military's pressing construction needs. He warns that not moving ahead will delay the base-closing effort and ultimately make it more expensive.
Congress should heed Inhofe's timely warning and make sure that our troops have the facilities they deserve.