In preparing for this, my final column as a Defense News staffer, I thought a lot about former President Dwight D. Eisenhower's famous warning: "We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."
Paradoxically, the longer I covered the military-industrial-congressional complex, the less I understood it. As the last dozen years piled up, so did the questionable outcomes, from the Iraq misadventure to all the troubled and canceled weapon programs.
The most fascinating part of this gig was covering the political fallout of the 2011 Budget Control Act. I can't help but wonder what Ike, himself an American war hero, would think of this period.
Consider Feb. 12, 2013. That morning, the chiefs of the armed services delivered hours of bleak testimony. But even to a guy who at the time was working on his second liberal arts degree, the numbers behind their warnings just didn't add up.
As on that day, defense officials' primary public strategy against the budget caps has been to scare the bejesus out of everyone. They have warned that capped defense budgets represent a "doomsday mechanism" and a "sword of Damocles."
As I wrote in my first column last May, the rhetoric has been one of a falling sky. Yet, years later, the defense sky remains intact. And budget guru Gordon Adams says annual defense budgets are headed up.
DoD officials have never quite succeeded in proving national security is at serious risk. Even pro-military defense analysts are distancing themselves from the bleak budgetary warnings.
It's not that the scare tactics worked. They haven't flipped that many lawmakers' votes. Rather, it feels like Pentagon officials and their allies on the Hill merely wore down everyone else.
For instance, even top Democrats seem resigned to increasing defense spending. Sure, Democrats oppose giving DoD an additional $38 billion next year — but they merely oppose how Republicans want to deliver that extra cash.
The sky is still not falling. US troops are remarkably adaptable on the ever-changing battlefield. It's time their superiors, especially the civilians who by law control the military, finally adapt to a political battlefield that has changed very little since 2011 and is unlikely to do so until at least 2017.
Some parting advice: Sheathe the sword. Or at least return it to Damocles like a grateful neighbor who achieved some home-repair victory with a borrowed tool — even if clumsily.
No final column would be complete without some sincere thank yous. First, to Defense News Editor Vago Muradian. Thank you, Vago. For molding me as a younger reporter. For being a mentor and a friend.
To all those with whom I've worked since 2003: I learned a lot from each of you. Thank you for your camaraderie and hard work.
Thank you to all the sources who provided information, tips and insights.
And thanks to our readers — your collective loyalty still amazes me.
Now, it's time for a new beat and new adventures. Forever forward.