Chill Bill: The US Military's A/C Bill for Iraq and Afghanistan Gives Me the Shivers

The United States Military is spending $20.2 billion a year for air-conditioning the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Read that again please: $20.2 billion every year just to provide air-conditioning for our troops in these two desert countries.

How much is $20.2 billion?

Well, I live in Pennsylvania, where the eighth-largest school district in the country, here in Philadelphia, is about to lose 1300 of its 11,000 teachers–that’s 12% of the teaching staff in an already overcrowded school system–because the state’s Republican governor and legislature want to cut some $500 million in education funding from the state’s $27-billion budget. That military air-conditioning bill could not only restore those teachers by closing the $400 million budget deficit facing the Philadelphia School District. It could almost fund the entire budget of the state! In fact, it could probably fund the school budget deficit in almost all the school districts in the nation.

$20.2 billion is more than the entire budget of the state of North Carolina!

It is the same as the $20-billion shortfall expected next year in the federal Pell Grant program that provides scholarship aid to low-income students attending college.

It is about one-forth of the entire budget of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

It is two-and-a-half times the size of the entire 50-state federal Head Start program of early childhood education.

Now I know our soldiers have it tough over there in the 120-130-degree heat in Iraq, and it’s pretty hot in Afghanistan too, at least in the valleys. But then again, very few Iraqis and even fewer Afghans have air-conditioning. Many have probably never even seen an air-conditioner. And most, if they had one, wouldn’t have any electricity to run it with. (That’s why air conditioning is so costly for the US military. Not only do they have to ship in the A/C units. They have to truck in the gas to run the generators to produce the electricity to run the A/C, at great personal risk to the drivers of the fuel trucks.)

That $20.2 billion, by the way, is also about a tenth of the total cost of the two ongoing wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It's cool to be a soldier in Afghanistan or IraqIt's cool to be a soldier in Afghanistan or Iraq

I’m tempted to say something about what an incredible waste this is, and about how far we’ve come from the days when soldiers were expected to crawl through the mud, live off the land, sweat to death in the summer and freeze to death in the winter, but I think I’ll just leave you with the numbers above.

Ten years the US has been fighting in Afghanistan, and eight in Iraq, and the best we can say is that we sure can air-condition our military in tough terrain.

What I will say is that if we’re spending $20 billion to air-condition the troops (most of whom, by the way, are not out in the field fighting (those grunts probably don’t have A/C). It’s the ones my colleague, Vietnam veteran John Grant, calls the REMFs (for rear-echelon MF-ers) who get all the cooling.

But this is just the tip of the absurdist iceberg. Just to give one example from this Lewis Carroll war: Recall that it was exposed a while ago that the NATO forces have been paying bribes to the Taliban to not attack the fuel trucks that truck the gas for the machinery of the US-led war effort in from Pakistan. Since a good deal of the fuel is for air-conditioning, this means that we’re secretly bribing the very guys whom our guys are fighting so that our guys can be air-conditioned while they’re fighting the guys we just bribed! (I doubt that the bribes are being factored into that $20.2-billion air-conditioning bill–unless it’s factored quietly into the price of the gas.) Anyhow, I’m sure we’re spending hundreds of billions more on equally outrageous stuff. How else to explain the astonishing fact that, according to the Pentagon, each US soldier in Afghanistan costs $1.2 million a year! (Air-conditioning them only accounts for $120,000 of that amount.)

How much is $1.2 million? Well, my town of Upper Dublin, PA just spent $140 million to build a new high school. So that entire high school could have been financed by the return of 117 US troops. The current budget deficit of my town’s school district is exactly that: $1.2 million. So bring one soldier home from Afghanistan and we could replace my district’s missing state funds.

I’m told $1.2 million is also the cost of a commercial scale 1 megawatt wind turbine, so if we brought home all 100,000 US troops from Afghanistan, hell, we’d be able to put up 150,000 wind turbines each year, and in the time it took us to battle to fight the Afghan War to date, we could be generating one-tenth of the total US electric energy needs from wind! Talk about your swords into plowshares! (I don’t know what the unit cost of a soldier in Iraq is, but it’s probably close. Add the savings from bringing those people home too, and we could have a gigawatt wind generating capacity in more like seven years.)

The irony is that our top-of-the-line military has been fought to a standstill not by another air-conditioned army, but by a small group of guys with no bullet-proof vests, no Kevlar helmets (no helmets at all, actually), no fancy guns, no heavy artillery, no air support, no satellite positioning devices, no armored personnel carriers or armored Humvees, no tanks, no drones and no night-vision equipment. And no A/C.

I’ve got a easy solution to cut the military’s cooling bill: bring all the troops home. They can have all the air-conditioning they want here. It’s cheap. And if we were creating the electric power with those windmills financed by the savings on not having troops abroad, it would be cheaper still.


Note: We got this comment today from a reader in Afghanistan

Hi, My name is G. and I’m a contract field service rep for MRAP’s here in Afghanistan. I would say the biggest Army downfall is efficiency. Case in point, I’m lucky enough to have a room built from a bunker. There was no A/C in my room. We happened to have a bunch of used A/C units, but when they were removed from a replaced tent they were hacked all to death. Pretty much unusable afterward. Had they requested Dyncorp to properly remove them, it would’ve saved about 8 or 9 units. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Most are damaged from neglect, poor education on installation, or lack of maintenance. The typical mindset of the soldier is “it doesn’t come out of my pocket”. And that goes for all cost aspects. I have to remind them that they, and their family members….pay taxes.

And don’t forget the A/C on the vehicles. I would bet part of that A/C budget takes that into consideration. Logistics costs to bring this stuff in is outrageous too. Also, don’t forget the price gouging of the military from vendors. FYI, I ordered a portable AC unit for my room out of my own pocket.