HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The US Army must rebuild its ability to deploy quickly and into contested areas, the service's senior leaders said Wednesday.
"We've been deploying for 15 years, but I would suggest we haven't been doing it the way we need to be doing it for the future," said Lt. Gen. Gustave Perna, the Army's deputy chief of staff for logistics. "The [Army Force Generation] model served us well while we were fighting those two wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan], but it won't serve us as we need to be ready to execute expeditionary deployments and then expeditionary operations."
Lt. Gen. Patrick Donahue, the deputy commander of US Army Forces Command, agreed.
"The way we've been deploying is not useful for the world we live in now," Donahue said. "We've gotten rusty."
The men spoke Wednesday as part of a panel on deployment readiness at the Association of the United States Global Force Symposium and Exposition here.
For the last 15 years, the Army has executed back-to-back Iraq and Afghanistan deployments, but soldiers rotated in and out of already-established theaters and fell in on equipment that was already in place, Perna said.
They also trained very specifically for the mission they were scheduled to undertake, Donahue said.
But as the Army transitions out of those two theaters and prepares for contingencies around the world, the service must realign its focus.
"We need to be ready to go tonight," Perna said. "We need to assume that we will be contested wherever we go. We need to understand that these are new skills that we have to relearn, and that we have to train and then execute those skills."
US Army M1A2 Abrams tanks, M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and various trucks and vehicles from 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, conduct combined assault river crossing operations at the river Elbe with German Army M3 amphibious bridging vehicles.
Photo Credit: Markus Rauchenberger/Army
One area where industry can partner with the Army is to find ways to reduce weight, Perna said.
"Taking an 80-ton tank to war is not an easy task," he said. "We must figure out how to make things lighter."
To help soldiers rebuild some of those skills, deployment operations "are being added back on" to the Mission Essential Task List "so units have to train to execute deployment operations," Perna said.
The Army also is directing units to conduct brigade-level Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercises, or EDREs, he said.
"We were skirting around the capability by conducting some company and battalion EDREs, but we're going to up to ante with brigade EDREs," Perna said.
The 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division conducts an Emergency Deployment Response Exercise in February.
Photo Credit: Sgt. Juan F. Jimenez/Army
FORSCOM is already pushing out several units on high-level EDREs, Donahue said.
For example, the 82nd Airborne Division's Global Response Force element conducted a no-notice exercise in February, jumping into Fort Hood, Texas, to conduct a weapons of mass destruction-elimination mission.
Three weeks ago, the Army alerted and then deployed an air defense artillery brigade to the Pacific Command theater of operations for a training exercise.
In April, when one of the brigades from the 101st Airborne Division travels to Fort Polk, Louisiana, for its Joint Readiness Training Center rotation, instead of moving its vehicles over land as it normally would, it will have to ship its vehicles by sea, Donahue said.
This means moving 800 vehicles and 200 containers by rail to the port, then loading them onto a ship and sending them off to Port Arthur, Texas, Donahue said. The unit will then meet its equipment at Port Arthur and transport it to Fort Polk.
"We're executing the whole process from fort to port and see if we can make it work," Donahue said.
Pfc. Barrett Harrington, of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, uses a chemical detector to check a fellow paratrooper for contamination after a simulated chemical weapons mission Feb. 10, 2016, at Fort Hood, Texas. Paratroopers from the division conducted an Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise by flying into Fort Hood.
Photo Credit: Sgt. Alexander Skripnichuk/Army
The Army also is changing the way soldiers train for an upcoming mission, Donahue said.
In the past, a unit would receive orders to deploy for a specific mission in Iraq, for example, he said. The unit would then train specifically for that mission.
Today, FORSCOM units must be "surge-ready and rotationally-focused," Donahue said.
This means brigades will train to conduct decisive action operations, which includes the full range of operations, first before honing in on mission-specific tasks, he said.
"You never know when you'll get the call to go somewhere besides that rotational mission," Donahue said. "FORSCOM is still focused on combatant commander requirements, but now we're adding the surge requirement as well. That's a big change in how we've been doing training and building readiness the last 13 years."
In addition to sharpening soldiers' deployment skills, the Army also must focus on making sure its installations have the ability to push out a deploying unit quickly and effectively, Perna said.
"We need to make sure we have the capability to execute deployment operations," he said. "We need to exercise this capability so we can see the seams and the gaps, and we can mitigate them before the emergency hits. If we can do that, we'll be prepared for the next operation."
Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.