WASHINGTON — US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said the service's plan to create advise-and-assist brigades would come to fruition in the 2018 or 2019 time frame.
The concept of developing advise-and-assist brigades is something the chief has considered since he took the job nearly a year ago as a means to regenerate the force if necessary as the Army plans to draw down its end strength in the coming years. The total Army — the active and reserves — will be sized at 980,000 troops by fiscal 2018.
The Army, in a way, already employs the concept of advise-and-assist units in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, but the problem with the current organization is that leadership from a unit is ripped away from its soldiers when deployed overseas to do the training and advising, thus destroying the force structure of those units.
The new concept would raise advise-and-assist brigades from the ground up using the existing chain of command consisting of sergeants and officers of infantry brigades, for example, but they wouldn’t have the privates or the soldiers serving underneath that leadership chain, according to Milley.
The first of the advise-and-assist brigades as designed under Milley’s leadership will move from concept to real-life units in the upcoming five-year plan covering FY18 through FY22.
The plan is to first develop a pilot brigade to “make sure we get the design right, take it slow at first, not rush to failure, make sure we do it right,” Milley said Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “So we will probably look at the first one being real, probably about, my guess, is probably about two years from now, about 2018 or 2019, in that range.”
Milley said the pilot brigade would be organized and used with a combatant commander and “then we will tweak it for the next version.”
Ultimately, “what I would like to do, it may not be achievable, but what I want to do is probably try to create five of these — one for each of the geographic combatant commanders,” he said.
One benefit for creating advise-and-assist brigades is it would foster the development of a cohesive unit. “Their task on a normal day-to-day basis would be to deploy overseas to advise and assist and help train partners and allies,” he said. The units would stay together for about three years, Milley added.
But there’s a secondary benefit to forming the brigades. If a national emergency were to happen that would require the Army to surge back to higher end strength in order to respond to the crisis, new volunteers would train up for several months together and then the Army could “marry up” those soldiers to the advise-and-assist units creating brigades and battalions, Milley said. “That would considerably shorten the length of time it would take to create units of brigades and battalion."
The chief also noted that building units consisting solely of the leadership is not creating a whole hollow force.
“This idea is not hollow at all — these guys would be operationally used all the time. There is a little flavor of special forces, there is a flavor of foreign officer program,” he said.
The units, for example, would receive training in language and cultural awareness, according to Milley, and the leaders chosen for the units would likely already have a background serving as a commander of a company or battalion before joining an advise-and-assist brigade.
Yet even as the advise-and-assist brigades are formed, Milley has warned there is no magic bullet for regenerating the force if needed. He stressed again Thursday that it’s untrue that it’s easy to regenerate a force, saying that rebuilding an army takes time.
“The idea you can raise armies and you can do that in short order is a big mistake,” Milley said.