WASHINGTON — Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said Thursday he is taking a hard look at developing advise-and-assist brigades that could be bolstered with more soldiers in times of emergency.
Milley has said the service needs to come up with ways to quickly regenerate the force as its end strength shrinks and threats around the world continue to crop up unexpectedly.
"One of the ones we are looking at pretty hard right now is the development of advise-and-assist brigades," Milley said at an Association of the US Army breakfast in Arlington, Virginia. "They would look a lot like the chains of command of units, brigades and battalions, they just wouldn't have soldiers."
The general said perhaps each combatant commander would be assigned one of these advise-and-assist brigades and they would "on a day-to-day basis do train, advise and assist of foreign armies on behalf of the United States like what you see happening around the world today, things like you see happening in Afghanistan and Iraq today."
The Army, for instance, now has roughly 4,500 Army personnel serving in a train, advise and assist role in Iraq, and that number is likely to grow. The advise-and-assist role has also grown more popular as a mission as a way to avoid combat "boots on the ground," something to which the current administration is opposed.
If required, if there was an emergency, Milley said, the force could be regenerated where "coherent cohesive chains of command" then could take soldiers through basic training, add a team and "then roll that underneath those existing chains of command."
The method would "significantly shorten the amount of time it would take for that brigade to get combat ready," he added.
The advise-and-assist role is something the Army is already comfortable with, having conducted those types of operations for 15 years. The difference, Milley explained, is that the Army had to break apart brigades to meet those missions.
"We've taken brigades apart, active-duty, full-up infantry and armor brigades, and ripped them apart, ripped the leadership up, so what is the effect? The effect is several thousand soldiers left at home station with very little if any inherent organic chain of command, so then you have discipline, cohesion problems, so and so forth, training problems."
With the leadership of a unit absent for nine to 12 months serving advise-and-assist missions abroad with troops left at home, "you sort of have a situation that is not conducive to readiness" and can take three years to put the unit back together again before it "can do what we are advertised to do," Milley said. "I think that is unacceptable."
While the Army had good reasons for breaking apart units at the time because it didn't have a choice, now the service has choices in how it can build its force structure, according to Milley.
The general also said he’s still assessing possible initiatives with the Army National Guard and the US Army Reserve in order to accelerate the delivery of combat capabilities resident in the reserve component.
Under consideration are things like increasing the Guard's Combat Training Center rotations, as well as exchanging active duty officers and putting them inside the National Guard units, and vice versa.
Milley is also assessing whether the Guard's 39 days of annual training requirement — a policy in place since 1915 — should be adjusted.
"We want the Guard to be more responsive," he said. It's possible, Milley noted, that a conflict in the future will unfold at a much faster rate than anticipated. "We may take a hard look at increasing training days pre-mobilization up to 60 or 90 days a year of some units so that we can accelerate" their mobilization and deployment.