Academic journal article Military Review

What We Haven't Learned

Academic journal article Military Review

What We Haven't Learned

Article excerpt

EARLY SUMMER 1950 marked an unnecessary nadir for the professionals of the US Army. Following World War II, the United States once again disarmed to a degree far below the level of force that it expected to be able to project. The Army maintained 10 understrength divisions, four in Japan, one in Germany and the remaining five in the Continental United States (CONUS).1 Despite the fact that this phenomenon had already occurred twice in the past 50 years, Army doctrine did not acknowledge the realities of congressionally imposed force structure.2

Doctrine is the core of a military institution. NVt doctrine is only half the solution. The US Army has demonstrated an incredible capacity to create doctrine that it cannot execute. We develop complex doctrine that requires trained and cohesive units, but we have repeatedly failed our soldiers by committing them to combat without one component or the other. We are all comfortable with our various definitions of "trained." Numerous Army regulations and divisional training publications established standards that individuals and units must meet to earn the rating "trained." The same cannot be said for the term, or even the concept, of cohesion.

The capstone doctrinal manual of the Army, Field Manual (FM) 100-5, Operations, and the primary leadership manual, FM 22-100, Army Leadership, do not even define the term cohesion or use it in the context of their historical examples. Should this concern professional leaders?

On 25 June 1950, eight divisions of the North Korean army rolled across the border at the 38th parallel, invading our allies and prompting the United States to intervene to contain communism. Among the US units that went ashore in the first weeks of combat was the 2d Battalion, 7th CaN airy of the 1st Cavalry Division. Its soldiers were unprepared for combat.3 In this they were not alone. The dissolution of 2/7 Cavalry on their second night in combat was a phenomenon repeated by numerous American units in the early days of the Korean War. Starting with the now-famous Task Force Smith and ending, largely, with the "stand or die" order in the Pusan Perimeter along the Naktong, American units broke and ran more often than we are comfortable remembering today. What lessons have we learned from this?

The Army has, for the past century, written doctrine with the presupposition that the implementing units are fully trained, manned and equipped. Personnel policies, however, operated contrary to the doctrine.4 Committing tactical units to combat at anything but full strength with a trained and cohesive leadership team at the helm is irresponsible and dangerous. As any professional would readily agree, there is no excuse for committing men unfamiliar with one another to combat. Cohesion is a relatively new term used to describe an ancient concept.5 It is the cement that holds units together. Sending men into combat without this factor is negligence. The fault, however, often lies at many echelons, and because of this, the blame may be diffused. The Army overall, however, is at fault for allowing personnel policies that destroy cohesion and committing ad hoc units to combat.

This article addresses the interrelationship of doctrine and Armywide personnel policies in the periods before combat in both Korea and Vietnam. The central thesis here is that the Army has twice failed to match its doctrinal assumptions with the realities of the military force that exists in peacetime. In this developing age of limited, come-as-you-are wars, we can no longer afford to ignore the effects that Armywide manpower policies have on our units. Few dispute the claim that the luxury of the buildup and training period the United States and its allies had prior to Desert Storm was an anomaly. Political and social pressures place greater and greater pressures upon the military to execute perfect tactical operations. We will not accomplish them in the next war if we maintain the current trajectory. …

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