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No Identity Crisis for U.S. Army

May. 13, 2012 - 12:48PM   |  
By Rickey Smith   |   Comments
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Although Nadia Schadlow’s thought-provoking article in the May 1 edition, “Validating the U.S. Army’s Future,” raises some interesting points, I am concerned that she has greatly misdiagnosed what she calls an “identity crisis.” Although Dr. Schadlow cites four compelling reasons for the uncertainty that causes this “crisis,” I would challenge the assertion of an Army “identity crisis” by reminding everyone that the drawdown of the standing Army reflects our nation’s historic response to the success of Army formations — a sure sign of value.

‘Political will’: Dr. Schadlow states, “There is widespread belief that after 10 years of war, the political will to use ground forces has diminished.” Differences exist between the desire to bring current operations to a successful close, and the political will to defend our nation. Time and time again, history has proved the “no more land war” pundits wrong for two very important reasons. First, there is a limit to the effect and influence air and sea capabilities have, particularly against enemies that operate among the population while threatening our security at home and abroad.

Second, the enemy gets a vote and often determines the time, place and way to challenge the U.S. Our enemies have underestimated U.S. national will in the past and will likely do so in the future.

‘Left at the pier’: While some may view the Army as left “at the pier” by the Air-Sea Battle concept, to fully implement the concept requires Army forces for the network and communications backbone, and air and missile defense, among other capabilities.

Additionally, the Air-Sea Battle concept addresses a portion of the anti-access area denial operational challenge, but not the entire problem. The January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” and the Joint Operational Access Concept both identify mission areas for Army forces. Defeating an adversary’s anti-access capability sets the stage for the essential task of gaining and maintaining access. Gaining and maintaining access is the key to furthering long-term relationships, building partner capacity, and enhancing regional stability. As Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, has stated, “Our Army must help shape the international environment so our friends are enabled and our enemies contained.”

‘Expensive people’: People are expensive? Wrong — they are priceless. People are also the most adaptable and versatile elements of military power. The adaptability of soldiers, Marines and their leaders secured freedom and provided a “new dawn” for Iraq while setting conditions for “enduring freedom” in Afghanistan. The cost associated with manning the Army must be viewed in terms of the benefits gained, especially during times of fiscal austerity.

For example, consider the cost associated with the soldiers and Marines who served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 10 years against their combat success. Manning costs are highest for the Army, but that does not equate to a simple math problem for cutting soldiers to save funds. Strategic, operational and tactical risks along with the benefits of an adaptable force must be part of the equation.

‘Institutional disunity’: Remarkably, this assessment appears to label professional discourse as “disunity.” What learning organization does not have robust debate? During combat operations, innovations are driven by the operating force as they must adapt or die in many cases. As these operations subside, the generating force will resume their role as the engine of change. Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), part of the generating force, is leading the examination of future security challenges, including resource constraints, while applying the lessons learned from 10 years of war.

Additionally, TRADOC produced the April 2012 Army Profession Campaign Annual Report that notes, “this is an appropriate time for such a critical self-evaluation, so as to build upon our strength and confront our weaknesses.” The report also concludes “the foundation of our Army is solid.”

Of the 10 primary missions of the U.S. armed forces provided in the new Defense Strategic Guidance, ground forces provide the decisive force in eight. The key question is not the relevance of ground forces, but how does the Defense Department provide the capability and capacity required across the range of military operations as resources become more limited in a period of fiscal austerity? Sir Winston Churchill is credited with the statement, “We have run out of money; now we have to think.” The Army is “thinking” in order to provide a capable, adaptable force to meet the requirements of combatant commanders in a fiscally responsible manner.

If one is concerned about the Army’s “identity,” don’t be. Our identity is on patrol in Afghanistan, training counterpart security forces in the Philippines, defending freedom along the demilitarized zone in South Korea, assisting earthquake and disaster victims around the world, and standing ready to deploy for future operations. Our identity can be found in the quiet of Arlington National Cemetery, and in the commitment of young men and women who volunteer to serve.

The Army has been and will continue to be the strength of our nation, providing the decisive force to prevent conflict, shape the global security environment and win our nation’s wars.

Rickey Smith, director of the U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center (Forward).

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