An Enduring Army: Getting It Right

By Bolger, Daniel P. | Army, October 2010 | Go to article overview

An Enduring Army: Getting It Right


Bolger, Daniel P., Army


Ten years ago, if you asked American soldiers where they'd be in October 2010, few - if any - would have guessed the foothills of the HindLi Kush mountains or the palm groves along the Tigris River. And even fewer would figure that we'd have been in those places for nine and almost seven years respectively ... with more to come. We were an Army that planned for quick, decisive victories, like Desert Storm in Kuwait, or Just Cause in Panama. Though our opponents lack battle skills and exquisite technologies, they suffer no shortage of cunning and determination. They saw our strengths and elected to confront us on their ground, in their way, playing on what they think is our weakness - our staying power.

We're not the first American soldiers to face these challenges. Historians have recorded such events. So have authors and those who make movies. Think of John Ford's famous old Western, "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," about the wars on the Great Plains. The film turns on the pending retirement of two veteran Cavalry troopers, ISG Quincy Quincannon, played by Victor McLaglen, and CPT Nathan Brittles, played by John Wayne.

The first sergeant states, "The Army will never be the same when we retire, sir."

The captain knows better: "The Army is always the same. The sun and the moon change, but the Army knows no seasons."

That movie had it right - the Army is always the same. Uniforms change. Faces change. Weapons and tactics change. At its core, however, the Army is always the same.

Those frontier regulars endured months on end of cold camps and long predawn marches, choking dust and baking sun, a draining regimen broken only by quick, ugly skirmishes with pitiless foes. They did it decade after decade, unwavering, stalwart and, in the end, successful. Buffalo Soldiers and Yellowlegs of yore learned tough lessons. So did the draftees and volunteers who guarded the Korean Demilitarized Zone and the Vietnam firebases and the Fulda Gap. Hard as a roaring battle can be, the soldier's toughest lot is to endure the long campaign, to hold the line, to keep it up, to outfight, outlast and, in the end, out-soldier the opposition. This is what we ask of our soldiers and families today. It's what we must ask for a long time to come.

As much as in frontier days or the Cold War, our citizens need defending. Today's world is marked by persistent conflict. States square off across disputed borders, with farmland, water, oil and people at issue. Terrorist groups move in the shadows, bent on mayhem. Resources, climate effects, ideologies, religions - you can pick the reason, but the troubles are many. Americans like to think this sort of thing won't affect our land. But it has, with airliners used as battering rams, buildings smashed open and nearly 3,000 dead. There have been other attempts. There will be more.

Persistent conflict is our challenge, our "if" proposition. So what's our "then" statement? What are we doing about it?

As soldiers, we have an answer. We've planned, and are building, an Army ready to meet this violent 21st century. Our G-3/5/7 team has a big role in this. We're in league with the Army Staff, the Secretariat, the major commands and numerous uniquely capable direct-reporting units. In partnership with our allies and friends, linked with our country's other superb armed forces, we're moving out. The vision from our Secretary of Defense and our Chief of Staff is clear: a versatile mix of tailorable and networked organizations, operating on a rotational basis. This is the right answer for the long haul.

A versatile force mix characterizes our Army. At the broadest level, we combine full-time Regular Army soldiers with citizen-soldiers from our Army National Guard and Army Reserve. This multicomponent team realizes the farsighted thinking of former Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor and former Chief of Staff GEN Creighton Abrams. They saw what happened in Vietnam when America tried to persist in an unpopular conflict without calling out the strength of the nation. …

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