Old Traditions Die Hard: Division Reorganization

By Bell, Raymond E., Jr. | Military Review, September-November 1998 | Go to article overview

Old Traditions Die Hard: Division Reorganization


Bell, Raymond E., Jr., Military Review


ODAY, US ARMY force structure is tied to the organization known as the division. To be sure, at the highest levels of command, task forces (TFs), brigades, groups, corps and armies all play an important part in the Army's organizational milieu. But the basic standard, at least since the Mexican War, to which major combat formations have adhered, has been the division. The division as a military formation existed during the American Revolution. It is no wonder then that virtually all thinking about future force designs focus on the division, 10 of which are in the Active Component (AC) and eight in the Army National Guard (ARNG).

In the AC, the number of divisions required for national defense is staunchly defended by the military establishment at 10. Some analysts, looking at needs for modernization and the amount of money available, take exception to the number. In the ARNG, there is fear that the Guard's traditional combat role will be diminished because of a perceived notion that there is no realistic role for eight combat divisions in the immediate, or for that matter, distant future. Like AC, the ARNG remains ready to go to Congress to protect its position.

In most discussions, however, the US Army, regardless of component, has remained fixated on maintaining the time-tested standard. But there have been notable suggestions to change this thinking. Douglas A. Macgregor's Breaking the Phalanx has suggested the Army use reinforced, brigade-size elements fighting directly under corps command and control. Forerunners have stressed emphasis on making the brigade the standard. Historically, the ARNG had 18 divisions at the beginning of World War II. Although it is now down to eight, many of the former divisions now exist as brigades which carry their World War II designations. The US Army Reserve (USAR) gave up its combat divisions long ago, but the heritage of its World War II divisions is commemorated in its region support commands and "training divisions."

One of the utilities of maintaining the nomenclature of "army division" is that it keeps the focus on the "warrior" image our Army wants to preserve. In World War II, the talk was of "fighting divisions"there were no administrative, training or logistic divisions, only armored, infantry, airborne and cavalry divisions, all projecting the image of an organization designed to defeat the enemy in battle.

In our last large-scale combat action, the Gulf War, the Army division was the backbone of the swift and devastating victory. When it was all over, the division still remained the "fairest one of all." There was no question that the divisions, although most did not fight with all their own organic brigades, were here to stay. One might tinker with the division structure, as the Army has recently done, but not declare it irrelevant to future warfare. In fact, anyone reviewing any of the Division XXI redesign articles in the May-June 1998 Military Review will see that the Army division, albeit a smaller, more lethal division, is here to stay.

Operations in Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia all required the introduction of armed force and division-size units. Except for recent action in Rwanda, all tasks were assigned to combat divisions. The level of combat, or combat potential, ranged all the way from benign in Rwanda to armored unit intervention in Bosnia. But more important, all these situations represented a new overall kind of challenge to the entire military establishment-one widely known as operations other than war (OOTW).

However, the focus for dealing with the OOTW challenge remains on the combat division. Yet, in Bosnia one sees a growing realization that the US Army has certain other resources which are already available and suitable to meet OOTW challenges. These include military police (MP) brigades, light armored cavalry regiments, psychological operations (PSYOP) groups, civil affairs (CA) commands and special forces (SF) groups. …

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