Appraising Army Needs

Article excerpt

The October 2007 AUSA Annual Meeting was rewarding, particularly when one was witness to the reactions, comments and appreciation of soldiers as they beheld, many for the first time, the wonders offered by American industry for the future of our Army.

This year, among many excellent speeches, presentations, panel discussions and more, secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates provided a thoughtprovoking appraisal of the state of the Army. (see the December 2007 issue of ARMY Magazine.) The immediate reaction to that speech by members of the news media, however, was to negatively portray the Army whenever possible. Well, I've read that speech a number of times, can find no justification for the slanted interpretations and believe, instead, that it was a thoughtful appraisal with which the Army can agree and to which it can respond positively. secretary Gates' words are an invitation for the Army to propose requirements for recovery and future capabilities.

First, the Army is too small, a fact recognized generally but not universally among those speaking out on the subject. Nevertheless, the Army is now adding end strength, and it must contrive to do so as rapidly as possible until it is able to meet its current and future needs. Size matters when commitment becomes long-term. Even in World War II, the Army found it appropriate to rotate soldiers home after 30 to 36 months overseas.

Second, the Army must be allowed to fit its mission load to its resources. Current mission demands, which have 280,000 troops deployed overseas, guarantee a continuing rotation that has committed soldiers to multiple tours in a combat or hardship zone on a pace that cannot be sustained without serious or enduring damage. After four years of the stressful demands of annual rotations back into combat, too many experienced officers and noncommissioned officers are leaving the service. We are 6,000 captains short; more than 50 percent of the West Point class of 2002 left the Army at the end of their obligated tours; NCO losses are felt in every unit and organization as recruits and second lieutenants, who maintain the overall end strength, cannot replace the experience being lost. There must be a reduction in mission requirements to return the Army to the policy of two years at a home station after one year in combat. There are a large number of candidate areas that can be considered for mission reductions: Korea, the Sinai, the Balkans and myriad small detachments around the world. Sustaining our capabilities to wage our current wars is our first priority, but we will have to reduce or eliminate the strength-sapping commitments that infringe on that mission.

Third, the structure of the Army for the long-term war in which we are now engaged must also be a total force that can respond adequately across the combat spectrum while simultaneously attracting soldiers to a career commitment. But the wartime policy of one year of combat (hardship) followed by two years at home is hardly an attractive proposition when it means a family separation for 10 years in a 30-year career. Thus the Army must be large enough to reduce the demand to something less, such as the one year in every five or six now planned for the reserve components. …