Campaign Promises

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Armed Forces - GeneralGrade
The Promise: "Barack Obama supports plans to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and the Marines by 27,000 troops."
When/Where: Obama Campaign Document "A 21st Century Military for America" dated 11/26/07.
Status:Under the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for FY2007 (Public Law 109-364) in effect when this promise was made, the authorized strength of the U.S. Army was 512,400. An increase by 65,000 would bring the authorized strength to 577,400.

In FY2007 when this promise was made, the Marine Corps (USMC) authorized strength was 180,000. Adding 27,000 would bring the Marine Corps end strength to 207,000.

Based on annual reporting by the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), here's how the end-strength flutuated during President Obama's two terms in office:

*As of 06/30/16

During President Obama's tenure in office, at no time was the U.S. Army and USMC end-strength at the level promised during his first presidential campaign, even during temporary increases to support Overseas Contingency Operations. In fact, under President Obama, the U.S. Army strength for FY2016 is the lowest since World War II.

This promise was not fulfilled.
The Promise: "I will work for a full repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell."
When/Where: Statement to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) dated 11/29/07.
Status:"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) was codified under Public Law 103-160 signed by President Clinton on 11/30/93. This law permitted gay service members to serve as long as they hid their sexual orientation and the armed services could not prove that they engaged in homosexual conduct. The act also specified that service members who disclosed that they were homosexual or engaged in homosexual conduct should be discharged except when a service member's conduct was "for the purpose of avoiding or terminating military service" or when it "would not be in the best interest of the armed forces." Approximately 13,650 gay personnel were kicked out of the military under DADT.

Repeal of the DADT law required Congressional action. On 05/24/10, a compromise was reached between the White House and Capitol Hill allowing votes on amendments that would repeal the 1993 law, but deferred its effectivity until the Pentagon concluded an implementation study by 12/01/10.

The Pentagon's study findings, revealed on 11/30/10, indicated that repealing the DADT law would present only a low risk to the armed forces' ability to fulfill their missions. 70% of service members polled during the Pentagon study opined that repeal of the DADT law would have little, if any, effect on their individual units. The principal recommendations of the study:
- Gays would not be restricted from any career fields such as combat arms or service in submarines;
- Prohibition against separate berthing or shower facilities for gays;
- Service members discharged under "Don's Ask, Don't Tell" could seek to re-enlist or re-commission.

President Obama signed the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 (H.R.2965/S.4023) into law on 12/22/10. The law was not enforceable while procedural steps were in place within the Department of Defense to ensure that the repeal would be consistent with military standards for military "readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention."

The Pentagon's certification was presented to President Obama on 07/22/11, who in turn signed a certification ending DADT. The repeal became effective on 09/20/11.

This promise was fulfilled.
The Promise: "Existing U.S. programs of military to military exchanges, joint training, education, and human rights programs must be reoriented from their current Cold War standards to reflect new strategic priorities and ethical standards."
When/Where: Obama Campaign Document "A 21st Century Military for America" dated 11/26/07.
Status:During CY2009, President Obama effectively engaged with his Russian counterpart with a view to enhancing our respective bilateral/military-to-military relationship.

In CY2011, U.S. and Russian military forces successfully cooperated in bilateral anti-terrorism engagements such as Exercise Vigilant Eagle and Exercise Crimson Rider, as well as a Russian visit to the Pentagon's Joint Improvised Explosive Devise Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) in Northern Virginia.

On 04/18/12, senior U.S. and Russian military officials signed a "Military Cooperation Work Plan." This Work Plan included 110 events such as joint exercises, senior leadership exchange visits, subject matter expert exchanges, and port visits by respective navies.

Joint training and education exercises with Russia focused on the interoperability of U.S. and Russian forces and equipment to address respective national priorities. For example, a 05/12 joint exercise was conducted in Colorado between U.S. and Russian forces in parachuting, operation planning, reconnaissance, assault operations, and helicopter evacuations.

U.S. and Russian military organizations also established a working relationship in 05/12 to ensure improved energy, security and equipment interoperability, as well as a fuel-only Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement.

In March CY2014, the short-lived U.S.-Russian military engagements, including military exercises, meetings and port visits, were halted due to Russian adventurism in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. This brought the U.S.-Russian military relationship back to Cold War levels.

This promise was initially on the path toward fulfillment during President Obama's first term in office, but fell apart during his second through no fault of his own. It's even nearly impossible for the U.S. and Russia to coordinate their air operations over Syria against the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, which is primarily fighting forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, as of end-CY2016.

The USA wants to remove Al-Assad. Russia wants to protect him. All things considered, the two countries appear headed toward a new Cold War.

This promise was not fulfilled.
The Promise: "Invest in foreign language training, cultural awareness, and human intelligence and other needed counterinsurgency and stabilization skillsets."
When/Where: Obama Campaign Document "A 21st Century Military for America" dated 11/26/07.
Status:Section 529 of the Defense Budget signed into law by President Obama on 10/28/09 authorized the Secretary of Defense to "establish language training centers at accredited universities, senior military colleges, or other similar institutions of higher education for purposes of accelerating the development of foundational expertise in critical and strategic languages and regional area studies."

The "cultural awareness" aspect of this promise is usually satisfied via intense regional area studies, provided for under Section 529.

For Marines deploying to Iraq (until end-CY2011) and Afghanistan (until end-CY2014), the Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL) at Camp Pendleton, CA developed training modules that incorporated language and cultural training.

The U.S. Army's pre-commissioning programs at West Point include the Center for Language, Culture, and Regional Studies -- all cadets must learn a foreign language. Further, the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) has language programs at 12 universities designed to increase cadet skills in languages considered strategic to future DoD initiatives.

The Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and Defense Language Institute's Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) are other avenues where linguistic and cultural awareness training were developed and/or provided.

As to investments in "human intelligence and other needed counterinsurgency and stabilization skillsets", such investments were dealt a serious blow on 08/09/10 when the Secretary of Defense announced the cost-cutting elimination of the U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFC). This command had as its mission, other than managing forces and coordinating deployments, the following responsibilities that were tied directly to this promise: (1) to train and provide forces from all services to commanders around the world to work together as a joint team; (2) to ensure the equipment each team brings to an operation is compatible; and (3) to provide teams with unique skills that can deploy at a moment's notice to assist an operation. This SecDef budget reduction proposal received significant pushback from Virginia's state and congressional elected officials, in a "not in my backyard" reaction, but President Obama sealed the fate of USJFC on 01/10/11 when he signed the order for its closure.

As to "cultural awareness," training programs appear to be sound but a few troops on the ground appear oblivious to putting that training to practical use. The culturally insensitive burning of Korans (also referred to as "Qur'an") in Afghanistan in 02/12 was deemed reprehensible by the entire Muslim population and most of the rest of the world. This stupid action incited anti-U.S. manifestations, caused the killing of at least six U.S. soldiers, and further soured already-fragile bilateral Afghan-U.S. relations.

Nonetheless, considering the balance between the positive and negative developments articulated above, President Obama continued to push for the promised investments. This promise has been fulfilled.
The Promise: "Create a specialized military advisers corps, which will enable us to better build up local allies' capacities to take on mutual threats."
When/Where: Obama Campaign Document "A 21st Century Military for America" dated 11/26/07.
Status:The re-cloning of combat troops in a few brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan as "advisors" does not count toward the promise of creating of a specialized Military Advisors Corps.

This promise was not fulfilled.
The Promise: "Create a Military Families Advisory Board: Consisting of experts and family representatives from each service, it would help identify and develop actionable policies to ease the burden on spouses and families."
When/Where: Obama Campaign Document "A 21st Century Military for America" dated 11/26/07.
Status:The promised board should not be confused with "Operation Military Family," created in CY2007 and run by a defense industry contractor.

The "Board" was actually created under the 2008 Defense Authorization Act signed into law by President George W. Bush on 01/28/08 and is known as the Military Family Readiness Council (MFRC). Thus, credit cannot be given to President Obama for creating the MFRC.

The MFRC is chaired by the UnderSecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and consists of (1) one representative of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, (2) three individuals representing military family organizations, and (3) senior enlisted advisors of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps or the spouse of a senior enlisted member of these armed services. Meetings are open to the public on a space available basis. The MRFC must submit an annual report to the Secretary of Defense by 1 February.

Another advisory board referred to as "Joining Forces" announced on 04/12/11 fails to meet the specific criteria reflected in this promise.

Because the Military Families Advisory Board already existed under another name when President Obama came into office, this promise was not fulfilled.
The Promise: "Restore the Deployment Policies Under Which the Reserve and Guard Enlisted...An Obama administration will...End the "Stop-Loss" program of forcing troops to stay in service beyond their expected commitments."
When/Where: Obama Campaign Document "A 21st Century Military for America" dated 11/26/07.
Status:On 03/18/09, Secretary of Defense Gates announced that the U.S. Army would phase out its "Stop-Loss" program, which forced soldiers to stay on active duty with the Army past their service obligations. The new policy prohibited the Army Reserve from mobilizing units under the "Stop-Loss" policy effective 08/09, with the Army National Guard following suit in 09/09 and the active U.S. Army in 01/10.

On 06/15/11, Defense Secretary Gates testified to the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee that the Bush Administration's initiatives to increase manpower levels in the Army and Marine Corps to reduce troop deployment times and increase their at-home time had succeeded. He announced that stop-loss deployments had been terminated. Promise fulfillment appeared to be on track.

Not so. On 10/16/14, President Obama signed Executive Order 13680 authorizing the secretaries of defense and homeland security to recall Reserve and Individual Ready Reserve members to active duty in support of Operation United Assistance, a mission to fight the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa. This move allowed the Army to continue reducing the active force by its goal of 80,000 soldiers while at the same time permitting the involuntary recall of former service members back to active duty beyond their original enlistment and Reserve Component service commitments.

Further, in 10/15, in the aftermath of ill-advised manpower reductions (discharging 19,000 airmen from its ranks in CY2014), the U.S. Air Force formalized its "stop-loss" program.

This promise was not fulfilled.
The Promise: "Build up our special operations forces, civil affairs, information operations, engineers, foreign area officers, and other units and capabilities that remain in chronic short supply"
When/Where: Obama Campaign Document "A 21st Century Military for America" dated 11/26/07.
Status:Special Forces: While actual manpower numbers are tightly controlled, we do know that when President Obama was first elected, the U.S. Army operated 7 groups consisting of 3 battions apiece. At an average strengh of 800 personnel per battalion, the Army Special Forces strengh was estimated to be about 16,800.

In FY2011, the Department of Defense authorized the US Army Special Operations Command (SOCOM) to increase the authorized U.S. Army Special Forces strength by one third. To accomplish this, each of the 7 Special Forces groups would be augmented by one battalion by end-CY2012 for an estimated total Special Forces strength of 23,000. According to the 2016 SOCOM Fact Book, Special Forces personnel strength has risen to about 27,000. While the exact numbers may be off target, the promise was to "build up" the Special Forces, and this was accomplished.

Foreign Area Officers (FAO): As of CY2010, there were 1,940 FAOs in active operational capacities, with about 25% of this number in training. Of that number, 1,236 were Army officers, 285 in the Marine Corps, 224 in the Navy, and about 195 in the Air Force. The services planned to add at least 1,239 to the rolls by FY2016.

In late-11/16, the Obama Administration announced the creation of a new "Counter-External Operations Task Force," known within the Pentagon as "Ex-Ops," operating under the Joint Special Operation Command (JSOC) which is subordinate to SOCOM. Its mission: in collaboration with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), pursue terrorist networks and individuals plotting attacks against the USA and its allies.

This promise was fulfilled.
The Promise: "Establish regularity in that active duty and reserves know what they must expect, rather than the current trend of changing the deployment schedules after they have left home, which harms the morale of troops and their families."
When/Where: Obama Campaign Document "A 21st Century Military for America" dated 11/26/07.
Status:On 06/02/10, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), Admiral Michael Mullen, announced at Fort Bragg, NC that between 06/11 and 06/12, active and reserve Army units would stay in the United States for two years before deploying again for 12 months. On 08/05/11, the U.S. Army announced that except for headquarters units, aviation specialties and military police, troop deployments would be curtailed from 12 to 9 months starting in CY2012.

Six months after Admiral Mullen's 06/11 announcement, in early 12/11, the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division from Fort Bliss, Texas returned from Iraq in time to spend Christmas with families. A few days later on 12/21/11, however, this unit was advised that it would be re-deployed to Afghanistan 7 months later in 05/12. The brigade stayed in Afghanistan until 06/13, playing havoc with family relations and morale.

The above is but one example where this promise, despite best intentions and supportive policy changes, was not fulfilled.