Herman: The Army comes to Austin

Things that somehow don’t seem like natural fits: Army khaki and tie dye. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett. Austin and the U.S. Army.

Austin is lots of things, most of them very, very good. But military town we’re not. In fact, Our Fair City has a pretty solid history of anti-war protests. Yes, we had Bergstrom Air Force Base (it’s now our airport) from 1942 to 1993, and its local impact was important but far from pervasive.

But now, thanks to winning a nationwide competition, we have the new U.S. Army Futures Command, which, according to the program for Friday’s activation ceremony, will “lead the future force modernization enterprise and deliver lightning fast innovative solutions with leading talent, technology and ideas.”

Way to go, marketing department.

Gen. Mark A. Milley was more blunt about the mission in his remarks at the ceremony in the University of Texas System building’s 19th-floor space that will house the new Army unit.

“What is this Futures Command thing all about?” said Milley, the Army’s chief of staff. “It’s about a three-letter word. It’s called war.”

“Nobody wants war,” he continued. “But war is a human behavior that unfortunately has not been purged yet from humankind. And the possibility or probability of war in the future is not small. So we need to do everything we can to prevent it.”

The general then talked about “peace through strength” and how the new Army presence in Austin is “going to look over the hill” to find what’s next in that quest.

Milley, understandably, has a warfighter’s view of war.

“The only thing that is more expensive than preventing a war is fighting a war. And the only thing more expensive than fighting a war is fighting a war and losing a war,” he told the crowd. “So this command is all about setting the United States Army up to be not only winning on the battlefield but being decisive and absolutely dominant on a battlefield so that we inflict punishment and destroy the enemy at least cost to ourselves.”

And if that wasn’t blunt enough, moments later he offered this definition: “War is really the human act of imposing your political will on your opponents through the use of violence.”

So that, fellow Austinites, is what this new local enterprise will be working on. Some of you might not be comfortable with that. War, as someone once sort of said, is heck.

The notion of dissonance between the Army and what some people think of when they think of Austin was the first question when U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Ryan McCarthy, under secretary of the Army, sat down with reporters prior to the Friday event.

Austin “is known as a pretty liberal city,” Texas Monthly’s Michael Hardy said in setting up his question. “In 2003, there was a 10,000-person protest march against the Iraq War. UT Austin itself has historically been known as a center of anti-war protest. Did any of that give you any pause when you were selecting Austin and do you anticipate any kind of culture clash?”

“No,” McCarthy said without hesitation. “It was not a consideration at all. This was entirely about the capability and the innovative nature of this city, and it was entirely objective criteria that led us to this conclusion.”

After attending the Friday ceremony, Doggett, an Austin Democrat who’s been at an anti-war protest or two in his long time on the local political scene, told me he’s fielded some flak from local folks uncomfortable with his support for the new Army presence here.

“I believe that the most concerned person about the size of our military has to recognize that this is a very dangerous world we live in, with China in the South China Sea, and with Russia and with some of our other adversaries,” he said. “And the best way to protect our force, the best way to get the most bang for our dollar is to think about tomorrow and plan.”

Austin, Doggett said, “is the ideal place” for the new Army program.

“It will fit with Austin,” Doggett said. “We never have a shortage of democracy here, so I think we’ll hear different points of view. But I have no problem at all in opposing some of our unnecessary military interventions abroad and supporting being ready for the future to protect our country.”

And Doggett’s been around long enough to know real news when he sees it. He saw it at the post-event news conference he did with Republican Senators Cruz and Cornyn and U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock and Roger Williams of Austin.

“I know you were glad to see me and Ted (Cruz) working together,” Doggett said.

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