Academic journal article Military Review

Task Force Smith Revisited

Academic journal article Military Review

Task Force Smith Revisited

Article excerpt

Half a century ago the US ignored a potential threat that still opposes us today. The Korean War is not over, and the United States is still taking casualties. This was America's first major UN operation, and since the end of the Cold War the number has increased many fold. An obvious question begs to be answered: Have we learned anything in the past fifty years?

"NO MORE Task Force Smiths." Former Army Chief of Staff General Gordon R. Sullivan outlined this battle cry for the Army of the 1990s. The tiny, ill-prepared and badly equipped force had put up a valiant but futile attempt to halt North Korean hordes in a war that broke out following the biggest drawdown in US history.1

Ironically, the number of divisions in the active Army--10--was the same when Sullivan retired as it was at the beginning of the Korean War in 1950. The division that prepared and deployed Task Force (TF) Smith, the 24th Infantry Division, was reflagged in the early 1990s but is now being reactivated, along with the 7th Infantry Division, as the Army adds two "cadre" divisions to the 10 active ones.2 As the Army enters the year 2000 with units deployed in Bosnia and Kosovo, a decade after the end of the Cold War, and 50 years after the "limited war" in Korea, a heated debate continues over its proper organization, equipment, manning and role.

The traditional problems normally associated with military readiness--personnel, training and equipment shortfalls--that led to the disaster in Korea in 1950 seem to have been largely avoided today. While demands for further reductions in the budget and manpower have receded, the requirement for changes in the Army's roles and missions and the reality that manpower costs must be trimmed to pay for modernization are not likely to go away anytime soon. As General Eric K. Shinseki takes over the leadership of the Army, valuable lessons from TF Smith merit re-examination.3 The Army's duties and missions in Japan during the occupation have parallels to today's missions in Bosnia and Kosovo.

TF Smith is generally seen as a failure in tactical preparedness. However, for long-term US national security, the occupation of Japan arguably was a great success since Japan remains our key Asian ally today. Army leaders face parallel situations and choices today in building and maintaining the land component of the world's only superpower with national interests around the world.

The Army must be prepared to "fight and win the nation's wars," but it also must be able to conduct other missions in support of this nation's national security objectives.4 The real debate over the future role of the Army should not concern whether to prepare for warfighting or for military operations other than war (MOOTW) or stability and support operations (SASO) activities. The deliberations and decisions must address bow to man, train, equip, organize and plan all the missions assigned by the National Command Authorities (NCA). In reevaluating TF Smith, this article briefly reviews not only the personnel, training and equipment elements of readiness, but also the strategic environment, the leadership and morale factors and the effects of the nontraditional missions conducted by the Army during the Occupation of Japan.

This evaluation must be done at all three levels-- strategic (Washington, D.C.), operational (Tokyo and Seoul) and tactical (the occupation zone and battlefield). The US Army in the post-Cold War, post-Desert Storm era, as it was in the aftermath of World War II, is being required to conduct military duties in other than a war environment. The Army has already been tasked to conduct or support unilateral, coalition and UN-led humanitarian, peaceenforcement, peacekeeping and peace-building operations in northern Iraq, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, Bosnia and now Kosovo and East Timor.5 The status and results of these operations are mixed and controversial. However, the military's role and performance in Japan and Korea after World War II were no less controversial at the time. …

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