Military History

Blogging about the Battlefield since 2005

Reinventing the Army-Part I

Posted by William F. Sauerwein on September 20, 2008

My son, Daniel, informed me of something he read regarding the latest “transformation” of the US Army.  When he explained what he found I immediately wondered just how many times must we “reinvent the wheel?”  Following this conversation the only information I found on the Internet concerning this subject seemed somewhat like “old news.”  I read all the “expert” rhetoric of the thirty-two page document and it did not really solve the Army’s two problems:  personnel and transportation.  Nor did it address the political-military problems that shape our military strategy, normally for the worst.  It barely covered the biggest “variable” of any military “experiment,” the enemy, who rarely follows the plan.  Instead, it creates a military force based on domestic budgetary constraints and not on real global threats.

The document did deride the “Cold War mentality” and those who champion the Cold War military, people like me.  Although I lack the “academic credentials” of these “experts,” I fought the Cold War throughout most of my Army career.  Additionally I attended every level of military education culminating in my graduation from the US Army Sergeants Major Academy.  I believe this gives me the “credentials” for offering my opinion, and makes my opinion equally relevant.

This information appeared in Wikipedia, a questionable source at best, however “where there is smoke, there is fire.”  I do know that many “experts” advocated this theory for at least a decade, as if they suddenly discovered something new.  Like many theories, especially those advanced during the 1990’s regarding the military, they work well “on paper.”  However, the reality often falls short, and one often finds the military tried these theories before.

Furthermore, these “transformations” usually create more problems than they solve and often lead the Army back where it started.  I searched the US Army’s website for information regarding my son’s information and found nothing confirming it.  The site mentioned the scheduled Iraq rotation of four brigades under the Multi-National Division-Baghdad.  From the website of this organization I found that an American Army division currently “headquarters” this division.

The prominent document I found discussing this proposed “transformation” came from the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress.  Coded at RL32476, titled “U.S. Army’s Modular Redesign:  Issues for Congress,” and authored by Andrew Feickert, it described a glowing program for “saving the Army.”  Feickert described himself as a “Specialist in National Defense, Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division,” and does not mention any military experience.  I searched the Internet in hope of finding a biography of the author, but without any success.  If Mr. Fieckert possesses military experience he must mention it for building any credibility for his document.

I do not know if Feickert’s document represents the source of information provided by my son, however it covers the theory.  Since the document contains thirty-two pages of rhetoric, a response probably requires at least an equal number of pages.  Hopefully, my response serves as a rebuttal for this policy that does little for alleviating the Army’s long-term problems.  The document explains that the Army plans on “transforming” its ten combat divisions into a forty-three brigade force.  By eliminating, or reducing, the division headquarters the plan assumes that these personnel become available for these additional brigades.

The document proclaims that these “modular” brigades suddenly become a, “more responsive, deployable, joint, and expeditionary force.”  It further cites “experts” that state that these “additional deployable units” provide more “stability to soldiers and their families.”  However, it comes with a caveat, provided that no “additional significant long-term troop commitments arise.”

During my Army career I endured three “transformations,” with only one achieving positive results for the Army.  All of these transformations promised great things, using key phrases, such as: “streamlining, more efficient,” and other “buzz words” meant for “dazzling with brilliance.”  As someone who studies military history I found similar phrases used when the Army demobilized following World War I.  World War II veteran and military historian Charles MacDonald wrote, The Mighty Endeavor, and described this era as “twenty years of neglect.”  The National Defense Act of 1920, glowing promised the future Army as a “hard, lean force of 280,000.”  Unfortunately it created “a neglected, spavined, meager force of only 135,000,” an Army ranked seventeenth in the world.

The problem remains that once an “expert” creates one of these programs, influential politicians adopts it.  Subsequently the Army must exert the blood, sweat and sacrifice for implementing the policy, often with substandard results.  Meanwhile most of these “experts,” most of whom never served in the military, never suffer the results of their “genius.”

As stated previously, I found no biography of Mr. Feickert, or any other mention of military service.  In fairness, after reading the document I believe that Feickert compiled information provided by other “experts” and offered his observations.  The document cites many military professionals supporting this “transformation,” however that does not alter my opinion.

Too often senior officers become “dazzled with brilliance” by these theories and disregard the problems they create for junior leaders.  Since Congress controls the careers of these officers, they often bend with the political winds, and break the Army.  Furthermore, I believe these men found themselves in a losing situation today, and made the best decision possible.  They adapted their doctrine for meeting the restrictions imposed by our civilian leadership, who continue waging war under peacetime conditions.

I face no such distractions and believe our civilian leadership disregards the requirements of a military superpower at war.  That includes the “experts” who believe themselves smarter than military professionals, and who “pontificate” in the media.  What further irritates me, many “experts” obtained their experience by “studying” military affairs in a classroom.  In other words, they never lived where “the rubber meets the road,” or face the dangers their policies impose.  Their theories sound good and work well, in the classroom, and their Ph. D.’s impress those who hire them.

If I sound angry about the influence wielded by these “experts,” good, I resent their influence based on no experience.  I researched the websites of our prominent civilian leaders and perused their biographies, and the results disturbed me.  Of the thirteen highest civilians in the Defense Department only six mentioned military service in their biography.

The results grow worse when examining the congressional armed services committees; the pompous “experts” who scold military professionals.  The House Armed Services Committee possesses 62 members, with 15 mentioning personal military service.  The Senate Armed Services Committee possesses 25 members with nine mentioning their military service. Powerful politicians often reward loyal “political hacks” with these positions, disregarding any personal military experience.  These “hacks” then confirm the civilian appointees and senior military leaders, often with military experience a minor concern.

Personal military experience does not necessarily qualify one for leadership at this level; particularly given the predominant venal “Washington” environment.  However, military experience certainly helps and at least gives one a basic understanding of military affairs.  Would the president recommend a federal judge with no legal experience, or a surgeon general with no medical degree?  Unfortunately, legions of “experts” with no military service eagerly seek these positions for enhancing their resumes.  Others seek these positions for “showing” the “Neanderthals” in the Pentagon “how to do business.”

I do not know when this phenomenon started; however, I do know when it gained significant momentum.  H.R. McMaster wrote the book, Dereliction of Duty, and sharply criticized the leadership of then-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara.  McNamara, once called the “smartest man I ever knew,” by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ), filled the Pentagon with civilian “experts.”

Derisively called “McNamara’s whiz kids,” McNamara gave these people wide latitude of authority over the military service chiefs.  They believed in McNamara’s theories regarding statistics, quantitative analysis, centralization of authority and arrogance regarding the military professionals.  Most of them possessed advanced degrees from the most prestigious universities in the country, but little military experience.  They further believed that military experience proved a “disadvantage” when determining strategy because it ignores the “bigger picture.”

These “whiz kids” soon alienated most of the senior military leadership, and the mutual contempt resulted in the “Viet Nam quagmire.”  McMaster states that Alain Enthoven of the System Analysis Division found “little” that made a military officer a “better strategic planner” than a “graduate of Harvard Business School.”  Then-Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay stated that the “whiz kids” believed themselves “better than the rest of us; otherwise they wouldn’t have gotten their superior education.”

Again, military experience does not guarantee competent military leadership, or determine a sound military strategy.  The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) during the Viet Nam War proved this when they did not forcefully challenge McNamara.  While this seems obvious in hindsight, the events as they occurred might not prove so conclusive.  The U.S. Constitution codifies civilian control over the military under a civilian Commander-in-Chief.  Congress declares war and holds the responsibility for maintaining the funding for the nation’s military forces.  The JCS serves as the primary military advisers for the President and the Congress, a role with many “double-edged swords.”

The JCS serve under civilian service secretaries and the secretary of defense, all appointed by the President.  McMaster states what I must summarize as the deliberate policy of the civilian leadership for appointing the most submissive of military chiefs.  This began under then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who felt that his military experience made him more qualified than anyone else.  It continued under then-President John F. Kennedy (JFK), who “retired” any JCS member who disagreed with him.  He nominated General Maxwell Taylor, with whom he enjoyed a special relationship, as JCS Chairman.  McNamara began micro-managing the military and denied the JCS presidential access without his permission.

This provides a dilemma for the JCS, establishing just where their loyalties and responsibilities lay.  The Constitution subordinates them under civilian authority and the chain of command requires obedience of the accepted policies.  If they publicly challenge this authority it sets the example for the questioning of orders at all levels of the military.  The Armed Forces potentially degenerate into a mob, obeying what orders suit them, with disastrous results.

Ample evidence exists that during the Viet Nam War the JCS stated their disagreements with accepted policies.  However, these disagreements occurred in closed meetings, and both LBJ and McNamara chastised them for this.  Under such circumstances the JCS face two choices, resign or try changing the system from within.  At one time then-Army Chief of Staff General Harold K. Johnson considered resigning; however he felt that this abandoned his responsibilities.  If the JCS resigns en masse, it implies mutiny, and the possibility of the “mob” described above.

During the Viet Nam War we often heard the statement, “War is too important to trust to the generals.”  However, the results of the Viet Nam War prove war “too important” for trusting amateurs in developing military strategy.  Enough blame resulted from the Viet Nam War for spreading around for all those who shaped the policy: military professionals, politicians, “experts,” diplomats, journalists, “anti-war activists” and ordinary citizens.

The post-Viet Nam era provided the first “transformation” that I experienced as a young non-commissioned officer (NCO).  This gave us the first iteration of the “All-Volunteer Army” (VOLAR), for ending the unpopular draft.  However, the unpopularity of the Viet Nam War caused a reduction in the number of recruits for filling the ranks.  Unfortunately, global events did not allow for disbanding the “hated” military, we must still confront global threats.

Forced into an untenable situation the Army tried a series of policies for achieving the personnel needed for its missions.  First came this ludicrous policy of “civilianizing” the Army with the relaxation of disciplinary standards and eroding the authority of military leaders.  However, when the standards and combat readiness eroded, the senior leadership and the “experts” wondered what happened. Subsequently, they blamed the junior officers and NCO’s for not enforcing the standards, standards that did not exist.

This period of neglect also saw a drastic reduction in the pay and benefits for military personnel.  Subsequently, the number of enlistments declined, resulting in under strength units, particularly combat units.  Potential recruits enlisted for the less-stressful combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) military occupational specialties (MOS).  This severely strained the personnel serving in the combat MOS’es: infantry, armor, artillery and combat engineers.

During this time I never served in a combat unit with above 75% of its authorized strength.  However, doctrine demanded that we still execute our missions as if we possessed full-strength units.  The Army prioritized the “forward deployed” units, those serving overseas (OCONUS) keeping them at the highest levels of readiness.  With limited men and materiel remaining, the stateside (CONUS) units suffered, and many fell below acceptable readiness levels.  Soldiers often returned from one OCONUS tour and received orders for another within one year.  Mid-career NCO’s left the Army in steadily increasing numbers, creating that “hollow force.”

In 1980 while assigned with the 2nd Infantry Division (2nd ID) at Camp Greaves, Korea I participated in a panel for Charles Moskos.  Moskos, a sociology professor at Northwestern University, displayed an uncanny interest in military affairs, probably based on his service.  The panel consisted of men like me, junior and mid-grade NCO’s, serving as small unit leaders.

This period marked the lowest point in the “hollow force,” and American impotence because of the Iran hostage crisis.  We immediately told Moskos of the problems we experienced as junior leaders, many of them previously mentioned.  Because of manpower needs we found ridding our units of disciplinary problems and substandard performers almost impossible.

Within fifteen minutes of our “opening barrage” all of the brigade’s command sergeants major, who monitored this panel, shut us down.  They dominated the conversation, minimized our problems, stated that no problems really existed and accused us of “routine bitching.”  In effect, they treated us as McNamara treated his JCS, and “good order and discipline” harnessed our responses.  The bottom line of this tactic, reveal no shortcomings and present the same rosy picture of an Army at its best.

This brilliant “transformation,” that promised so much almost broke the Army, despite the erroneous statistics presented in public.  The dedicated NCO corps, painstakingly rebuilt following the Viet Nam War, kept the Army intact.  We did this often without the help of our senior leaders, politicians and the “experts” populating the military bureaucracies.

For the record, the majority of the soldiers I served with during this period performed their duties well.  Good leadership often overcomes many disadvantages; however it does not alter official policies.  Every organization possesses between 5 and 10% of its numbers as “substandard performers,” the Army included.  Unfortunately during the “hollow force” this number increased because of a lowering of standards across the board. The “system” required that we retain in service disciplinary problems, substance abusers and those mentally incapable of achieving the standards.

The leaders spent so much time with the substandard soldiers that sometimes the good soldiers felt neglected.  Reduced personnel strength meant that the soldier’s name appeared on the duty roster far more frequently.  It also meant that fewer people existed for carrying all of the squad’s equipment in the field.  The infantry squad doctrine for this time authorized eleven men; however, I never led a squad with over eight men.

While the Army deteriorated during this time, so did the US decline as a superpower.  Following the Viet Nam War the Soviet Union began an expansionist policy that took advantage of America’s weakness.  Liberal Democrats increased their control in both houses of Congress in 1972, promising an end of American “military adventurism.”

Many of these politicians began their careers as “anti-war activists” and continued this trend in Congress.  Under their policies the Congress made the US Armed Forces the “aggressor” in the world.  They subsequently reduced the American military budgets, thinking that this prevented our military leaders from “fomenting aggression.”  Furthermore, they passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973 that restricted the president’s commander-in-chief powers.  Then-President Richard M. Nixon faced the “Watergate” problem that eventually terminated his presidency, and offered no veto threat.  Nixon’s successor, Gerald R. Ford, faced enormous opposition from Congress and American impotence on the global stage continued.

While the US idly watched, Southeast Asia, where we lost over 58,000 troops, fell under North Vietnamese aggression.  Using surrogate Cuban troops, the Soviet Union launched military interventions throughout Africa in support of “revolutions.”  Central America erupted into communist-led insurrections and communist “revolutionaries” toppled the government of a long-time ally in Nicaragua.  We may debate the “usefulness” of Anastasio Somoza; however the results of his demise proved disastrous for the US.  The Soviet Union openly invaded Afghanistan, at the “request” of the local communist dictator.  They further threatened our Western European allies by positioning nuclear-armed missiles in Eastern Europe.

Then-President Jimmy Carter did nothing, the Congress continued reducing the military budget and our military readiness steadily eroded.  Our Western European allies questioned our reliability and cracks appeared in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  Intelligence discovered the presence of a Soviet combat brigade in Cuba, deemed not a threat by Carter’s “experts.”  Today most revisionists call this period a “thawing of the Cold War,” implying a warm relationship with the Soviet Union.  Truthfully, the Soviet Union aggressively expanded around the world and the US did nothing for preventing this threat.

All of these problems, a bad economy and the crisis in Iran proved the impotence Carter.  When Carter became president Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran served as our strongest ally in the Persian Gulf.  At the time the US lacked the capabilities for projecting power in this region, and Iran filled that “dead space.”  Carter’s naiveté in foreign affairs resulted in the toppling of Pahlavi for the radical Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.  “Radicals” seized the American embassy in Teheran and held our citizens for over one year.  Carter’s public appearances showed a lack of resolve and Ronald Reagan won the election in a landslide.

Then-President Reagan came into office promising a reversal of these policies, and for a time the Democrat-controlled Congress helped him.  The American people gave Reagan a significant landslide, and this made the “loyal opposition” fearful for their political futures.  He vowed not just the “containment” of Soviet aggression, but “rolling it back” where possible.  This began the second “transformation” of the Armed Forces that I experienced, and the only one that delivered.

Reagan began the largest peacetime military build-up since World War II, and revitalized America’s leadership.  First, he emphasized patriotism and made us, military personnel, feel proud of our service.  He provided a significant increase in pay and benefits, which helped recruit and retain quality people in a competitive job market.  Combat units achieved combat readiness standards in both personnel and equipment, and the number of combat units increased.  Second, he launched a program for providing the most high-tech equipment, the most comprehensive doctrine and the time and money for training.  It resulted in the unprecedented 1991 victory of Operation Desert Storm, and the collapse of the Soviet Union one year later.

Then came the third “transformation,” the irresponsible “downsizing” of the 1990’s, which really meant demobilizing our forces.  I watched the Army that I helped build, for which myself and others like me sacrificed, erode into another “hollow force.”  Of course the “experts” who championed this demobilization used all the right “buzz words” for justifying the policy.  Phrases like “more bang for the buck” and “we can do more with less” dominated the media regarding this “downsizing.”  Furthermore, any senior officer that cautioned against this policy found their “services no longer needed.”  I retired from active duty in 1994 rather than serve in this developing farce of an army.

A new crowd of civilian “experts” entered the Pentagon bent on creating a new, “politically correct army.”  They engaged in “social engineering,” with the first priority of then-President Bill Clinton, homosexuals in the military.  These “experts” further surrendered American leadership in the world, making the United Nations (UN) secretary-general the de facto commander-in-chief.  The US military then engaged in a series of “humanitarian” missions that spread our rapidly diminishing forces around the world.

One of these “humanitarian” missions went awry in Somalia, one that most Americans know from the movie, “Blackhawk Down.”  I highly recommend reading Mark Bowden’s book of the same title, it delves into far more detail.  The ground commander, Major General William F. Garrison, requested a “heavy force” for backup for executing his missions.  “Washington” denied this support for “political reasons,” and ordered that the missions proceed.  No one knows for sure whether “Washington” meant Clinton, or his defense secretary, former Representative Les Aspin (D-WI).  Aspin, a long-time critic of the Pentagon, previously served on the House Armed Services Committee.  He criticized every military program, except those benefiting Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, and made few friends among military professionals.

The denial of heavy forces for “political reasons” supposed that the insurgents in Somalia proved unworthy of a heavy force.  Everyone knows the consequences of this military action, and the heroism demonstrated by American troops when faced with insurmountable circumstances.  For carrying out his mission without proper support, “Washington” relieved Garrison of command, although “Washington” denied this support.  The only suffering done by the “experts,” Clinton fired Aspin as defense secretary, and Congress forced our retreat from Somalia.  This retreat helped create the circumstances we find ourselves in today.

For the record, after this debacle the Army deployed a heavy force in Somalia and prepared for the offensive.  However, our civilian leadership lacked the will and these forces merely covered our withdrawal.  Our enemies learned that if you want the retreat of American forces, you inflict casualties.  A policy championed today by many major American politicians as they all believe themselves “military experts.”

While the active duty forces, particularly the Army, steadily decreased in size, the deployments significantly increased.  The Army lost 40% of its strength, 286,000 personnel and 8 combat divisions, while its deployments increased by 300%.  These deployments proved very “personnel intensive,” meaning they taxed the Army’s units beyond their capabilities.

This initiated an increased use of the National Guard and Reserve forces, the largest since World War II.  A policy embraced by most of the leaders of the National Guard and Reserve components at the time.  I remember reading the late Colonel David Hackworth’s Internet publication, now known as DefenseWatch, during this time.  Guardsmen and Reservists complained of deploying almost as frequently as the Regulars; and how this threatened their civilian occupations.  People from all the Army’s components left the service for the same reason they left during the post-Viet Nam era.

Cracks appeared in the Army’s force structure in 1996, as I read in the Army Times newspaper at the time.  Unfortunately my lack of storage space forced the disposal of these issues, meaning that I cannot cite specific articles.  I do remember that Army leaders warned of their decreasing ability at providing the adequate forces for meeting global missions.  However, when Congress, now controlled by Republicans, called hearings, the Army’s leaders changed their stories.  It seems the JCS suffered the same dilemma as it did during the Viet Nam War; support policy or resign.

This reveals another reason why I retired from active duty, the Army’s senior leadership “transformed” into politicians.  Before this “downsizing” began I remember serving under officers who exhibited all the qualities required for engaging the Soviet armies.  Now I watched as these “warriors” competed for the ever-shrinking number of command positions, and turned into “ticket-punchers.”  These officers saved their careers, continued up the ladder for promotion and achieved political acumen.  They led the Army through this “transformation,” but at what cost for the nation, the Army and the soldiers they commanded?

Coincidently, Feickert’s document cites one of the combat operations of this era as a reason for justifying the “modular” brigades.  This occurred following the 1999 aerial war in the Balkans regarding Kosovo, then part of Serbia.  It states, “the Army deployed a unit consisting of units from different divisions that had never trained together,” for promoting this idea.  However, the whole concept of “modular” brigades embraces the example it criticized.  Unless somehow the “experts” envisioning this new policy corrected every deficiency, human and mechanical, and fixed the transportation shortfalls.

One problem with Task Force Hawk, the unit cited in the report, it suffered from the “cracks” revealed in 1996.  Anecdotal evidence from DefenseWatch at the time, provided by military personnel, revealed a system broken by years of abuse.  By this time reduced personnel strength forced that deploying units receive “fillers” from other units for meeting “ramp strength.”  It further required the “cannibalization” of parts and equipment from other units for achieving operational readiness for the deploying unit.  Maintaining readiness in both personnel and equipment requires funding, that steadily decreased through the 1990’s, severely harming combat readiness.

Another problem encountered by Task Force Hawk, as documented at www.d-n-i.net/fces/comments/c288.htm, mentions other critical shortcomings associated with the above-mentioned problems.  Budget cuts reduced the flight time for the pilots at below 500 hours during a three-year period.  None of the co-pilot gunners (CPG) possessed qualification for night flying with night vision goggles (NVG).  The ad hoc unit never executed any pre-deployment mission rehearsal exercises and they deployed with questionable aircraft survivability equipment (ASE).  Nor did the task force receive updated intelligence regarding the air defense threat posed by the enemy.

The AH-64 Apache attack helicopter achieved legendary status during Operation Desert Storm, and deservedly so.  It arose from the investment in technology from the Reagan build-up, as did most of the systems used during this war.  However, the Apache functions as part of a combined arms team, a “ground asset,” and the “experts” deployed it alone.

NATO also deployed an ad hoc ground force for “peacekeeping” after hostilities, called Kosovo Force (KFOR).  Commanded by a British lieutenant general, it consisted of American, British, French, German, Greek and Italian brigades.  The American brigade consisted of an airborne battalion, a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), a mechanized infantry task force and a cavalry troop.  Thankfully this conglomerate command did not engage in combat, because the potential for disaster existed.

I remember news stories of the time highlighting the problems with deploying this small American force.  Problems caused by the aforementioned budget constraints that harmed military readiness and raised doubts about American military dominance.  During the three days required for off-loading the equipment for the Americans, Russian peacekeepers beat us into Kosovo.  Few people know of these problems since the media often covers up problems with military operations that they champion.  Fewer people know that then-NATO commander, General Wesley Clark, risked starting a war with Russia.

NATO launched this air war supposedly for punishing the Serbs for “ethnic cleansing” in Kosovo.  This allied them with the Albanian Kosovars, and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) operating with US Special Forces.

Russia, the traditional protectors of the Serbs, sent its forces into Kosovo without prior coordination with NATO.  They moved swiftly into Kosovo while NATO forces awaited the still-deploying American brigade.  Crowds of Serbs cheered the Russians as they entered, believing them as their protectors.  They occupied an area reserved for NATO “peacekeepers,” operated outside NATO command, and jeopardized the fragile peace.

Feickert erroneously uses historical examples for justifying the “transformation,” as if the “experts” just discovered something new.  He begins with World War II describing divisions as “permanent organizations” composed of “three smaller units,” a reasonably accurate description.  However, he does not acknowledge the flexibility these units demonstrated during World War II and in wars thereafter.

Describing the subordinate units of a division as initially “regiments, but since the early 1960’s, known as brigades,” missed the major point.  First, the subordinate maneuver elements of these regiments consisted of units from the same combat arm: (i.e., 16th Infantry, 34th Armor, 5th Artillery).  However, this does not explain the entire situation, these regiments developed into regimental combat teams (RCT).  Each regiment contained combat elements and organic CS and CSS elements that supported it in battle.

The brigades evolved from the increased need for combined arms teams that emerged during World War I.  During World War II most infantry divisions received attached tank battalions and tank destroyer battalions for achieving this concept.  The true birth of modern combined arms teams arose with the World War II armored divisions.  These units used combat commands instead of traditional regiments for achieving combined arms teams.

Regimental combat teams evolved into the flawed battle groups (another “expert” idea) of the late 1950’s, and the “pentomic” divisions.  Ironically this arose from many of the problems faced by the Army today: seeming irrelevance in “modern” warfare, budgetary constraints and advanced technology.  McMaster describes Eisenhower, a famous “Army man,” as someone who placed domestic policies above military strategy.  I found a document, “The Pentomic Era (1956-1960),” at website www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1211, describing then-Army Chief of Staff General Maxwell Taylor as designing these “pentomic” divisions almost out of desperation.

This document outlines Eisenhower’s belief that our nuclear technology effectively counterbalanced the Warsaw Pact numerical superiority.  It further spared the American economy the burden of maintaining large ground forces during peacetime.  The Army focused on using tactical nuclear weapons as artillery for defeating the superior numbers of our enemies.  The document describes this division as emphasizing the concepts of, “dispersion, flexibility, and mobility.”  Reading the entire document seems almost like reading Feickert’s document today.

I strongly urge that the “experts” championing the “modular” brigades read this document, particularly the last two pages.  The division did not meet expectations for several reasons, including our failure at understanding the damage from nuclear weapons.  Most importantly, admitting failure did not result from a battlefield disaster, it resulted from reality on the ground.

As knowledge increased regarding the long-term damage from nuclear warfare, and our superiority over the Soviets decreased we refocused on conventional warfare.  This required rebuilding the Army and the European scenario, and the Army developed combined arms brigades.  Heavy brigades (armor and mechanized infantry) contained battalions of both armor and mechanized infantry and a “support slice.” This “slice” task organized other combat elements with the brigade: field artillery, combat engineers and air defense artillery.  It further provides other CS and CSS elements: signal, medical, maintenance, quartermaster and other essential personnel.  Under the AirLand Battle Doctrine this CS and CSS “slice” formed the forward support battalion (FSB) task organized with each maneuver brigade.

The Cold War era brigade called itself a brigade combat team (BCT) and functions as the “modular” force envisioned by those cited by Feickert.  I know, I deployed with these type of commands for both CONUS and OCONUS training exercises and combat.  The National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California focuses on combined arms training as it trains brigades and smaller units.  Probably some “expert” somewhere decided against deploying divisions because of the nightmare of providing all the needs.

Feickert first asks, “Is this redesign necessary or desirable?”  No, since the “redesigned force” demonstrates no significant change as it already exists within the current command structures.  Feickert’s document proposes “transforming” the division and higher echelon headquarters into units of deployment, capable of commanding at least six modular brigades.  The divisions I served in already possessed that capability, as did higher echelon headquarters.  For example, I served with the 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized) , or 1st ID(M), at Fort Riley, Kansas twice during my career.  At Fort Riley, the 1st ID(M) served under the command of III Corps at Fort Hood, Texas.  Coincidently, III Corps commanded five divisions and the required supporting units in CONUS, spread across several states.  When the 1st ID(M) deployed for its NATO mission it came under the command of VII Corps at Stuttgart, Germany.  Ironically this occurred during Operation Desert Shield with no significant problems, except those imposed by the desert.

Within the BCT’s, the subordinate battalions task organized by cross-attaching armor and infantry companies, creating task forces.  Within the companies they task organized armor and infantry platoons through similar cross-attachment, creating teams.  When this occurred each affected subordinate element took its “support slice” with it.  I experienced these task organizations throughout my career and found the experiences rewarding for the most part.

Most of the problems encountered proved administrative and logistical, based on inflexible high-tech systems designed by higher echelon “experts.”  Most of these I experienced as an infantry company first sergeant when I conducted company resupply operations.  For example, if the observer/controller/evaluator (OCE) assessed casualties the “system” prevented me from requesting replacements outside the MOS’es of my company.  If a tank experienced maintenance problems, my vehicle, tracked, recovery (VTR) proved incapable of towing it.  Eventually the Army eliminated this vehicle giving mechanized infantry units the same recovery vehicle as armor units.  The “system” prevented me from ordering parts for tanks, since my table of organization and equipment (TO & E) did not list them.  I solved these problems by contacting the first sergeant of the organic armor company of my attached platoon.

The military professionals cited by Feickert know of these BCT’s, or at least they should, which puzzles me.  Why make such an ordeal out of something that already exists, except if one desires recognition, and possible future “rewards.”  If I sound cynical, I am, for I know officers that weakened when offered such “rewards.”  Politics affects the careers of these officers, both active and retired, and developing these “dynamic” strategies gets noticed.  It seems that the document plans on the significant reduction in division-level and higher-level CS and CSS troops.  Since the establishment of the support MOS’es following the Spanish-American War the Army’s leadership debated the “tooth-to-tail” ratio.

MacDonald describes the military planning before the US entered World War II and the projected number of troops needed.  It seems that the Army severely under estimated the number of CSS troops needed for sustained combat operations.  Army planners further under estimated the length of the logistical “tail,” that lay between CONUS and the front lines.  Unfortunately Army planners did not learn this lesson very well, since they make the same mistakes today.

Regarding the number of CSS troops, budget constraints and personnel ceilings forced a major change during the post-Viet Nam era.  The Army transferred most of its highly specialized CSS MOS’es into the reserve components.  At most garrison installations civilian employees performed these duties, providing jobs for constituents, therefore the policy made sense.  A good example, military postal units, since each CONUS military installation possesses a post office manned by the US Postal Service.  It further included many medical, transportation, quartermaster, military police and other such units at corps and higher echelons.  The theory stated that many of these people held civilian jobs in these areas and required minimal post-mobilization training.

The theory worked haphazardly during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm for a variety of reasons.  Primarily I know of no extensive training, such as NTC rotations, that paired these units with the corps they supposedly supported.  As previously stated no CONUS command exercised division and higher echelon maneuvers except on OCONUS deployments.  However, these deployments decreased in number as funding decreased for these exercises.

Unfortunately the circumstances in the Middle East proved strikingly different from that experienced on previous deployments.  Pentagon planners directed all training toward NATO or Korea where American forces stationed there maintained the required infrastructure.  Prior OCONUS deployments outside these areas seemed short-term events for relatively small numbers of American forces, and no logistical challenge.

Operation Desert Shield became the largest short-notice deployment of the time, outside planned areas of operation.  Primarily no infrastructure existed in the desert, forcing a change in the equipment needed by these CSS units.  With no established support depots for drawing supplies, commands must deploy with a six-month supply.  This severely limited the maneuverability of the combat units, and strained relations with the CSS units.  Once in theater no one seemingly controlled the distribution of these CSS units and what corps they supported.  Fortunately the American soldier “adapted, overcame and persevered,” in the words of Clint Eastwood’s character, Gunny Highway.

Feickert’s document implies that the reduction of CSS personnel immediately translates into combat personnel.  Unfortunately many civilians with no military experience assume that we may interchange soldiers into any unit, and easily change their MOS.  Such an interchange requires a significant amount of time and funding for retraining the affected soldiers.  It requires even more time if this requires the retraining of officers and NCO’s.  Then we must address the issue of female soldiers, currently prohibited from serving in combat arms units.

Of course we may “downsize” all of these “excess” support troops, just as we “downsized” during the 1990’s.  We may transfer their positions into the reserve components, increasing the number of active duty positions for combat arms.  However, training the new combat personnel takes additional time and money for fielding these new brigades.  Then we must consider the benefit packages for these people “downsized” out of their jobs.

Unfortunately when we eliminate these CSS units we do not eliminate the requirement for their duties.  Maintaining ever-increasingly high tech equipment requires an ever-increasingly skilled CSS force.  As stated previously, we may transfer these units into the reserve components; however this does not solve the deployment issue.  Mobilized reservists require post-mobilization training, jeopardizing the sustainment of a combat unit rapidly deployed into theater.  When the Defense Department embraced the increased emphasis on reserve components in 1993, the “experts” estimated post-mobilization training at 60 days minimum.

This situation grows worse when one considers the theory of “civilianizing” these headquarters and CSS functions.  Do these civilians deploy into combat theaters when the brigade deploys, or does the brigade deploy at a disadvantage?  How about weapons and combat training for these civilians, and coverage under the Geneva Convention?  When attacked, do these civilians fight back, or sit idly by as civilian employees?  We already know that the terrorists torture and murder civilians just as they do military personnel.  Civilian employees provide valuable services at garrison installations; however, in combat units we need our “brothers-in-arms” in these positions.

To be continued

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One Response to “Reinventing the Army-Part I”

  1. Thomas Jackson said

    What an outstanding analysis of the problems that have plagued the US military. Such buzz words and mantras plague all organizations and yield similar results and herd thinking. Unfortunately, having seen this in the military, I saw it in all its glory in another federal agency where up or out policies yielded a no risk mentality and group think. As such no one ever made a decision and no one was ever accounable. Nothing was ever achieved. In twenty years I never saw an officer held accountable for the many disasters the nation witnessed. I never saw any individual held accountable for a policy that manifested itself in later years as the subject of a Congressional investigation.

    Leadership was so poor, that only one leader I served under could have led Tiger Woods to the Mustang Ranch.

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