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Sunday | June 08, 2003

Rummy's New Model Army

Rumsfeld Turns Eye To Future of Army
Mobility, Cohesion Sought for Units

By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 8, 2003; Page A12

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, buoyed by the war in Iraq, is preparing to launch another campaign to change the organization and structure of the U.S. Army in ways that could transform how the country's largest military service fights in future conflicts.

After forcing the resignation of Army Secretary Thomas E. White in late April and, in an unusual move, selecting Air Force Secretary James Roche to replace him, Rumsfeld has said little publicly about how he intends to reshape the Army or who he will select to replace Gen. Eric K. Shinseki as its next chief of staff. Shinseki is set to retire on Wednesday.

But senior defense officials and military analysts close to the Pentagon said Rumsfeld is considering ways to reorganize some or all of the service's 10 active duty divisions into smaller and more easily deployable "battle groups." He has also begun to realign its reserve and active duty forces. He is considering the withdrawal of thousands of Army forces from Germany. And he is contemplating major changes to the Army's archaic personnel system.

Rumsfeld's agenda is ambitious, given the Army's tradition-bound reputation and a resistance to change by many senior officers. But analysts said it is even more remarkable given Rumsfeld's badly strained relationship with the Army, which his advisers have criticized for being trapped by Cold War doctrine based on a single adversary -- the Soviet Union -- and ill-equipped for what he sees as a new strategic environment in which the United States could find itself fighting small wars in distant corners of the globe.

The Army's recent defeat of Iraq's Republican Guard and the rapid seizure of Baghdad has done little inside the Pentagon to bring the Army and Rumsfeld closer together, given the level of mistrust both sides have built up over the past two and a half years, according to Rumsfeld associates and Army officers. Much of the distrust, both sides agree, stems from strained personal relations between Rumsfeld and Shinseki.

Shinseki's supporters inside and outside the Army say they are puzzled by the divide because both men have, to a great degree, defined their tenures by their commitment to "transforming" the military.

Rumsfeld's agenda includes an extensive review of Shinseki's "transformation" plan, which is designed to make the Army lighter and more deployable over the next decade, beginning this fall with the activation of the first medium-weight Stryker Brigade Combat Team, defense officials said.

But more than anything else, they said, he will be trying to foster "cultural" change to reward risk-taking and encourage innovation so that Army forces can become more deployable through new organizational concepts, well in advance of new, lighter combat vehicles now on the drawing board.

"An Army division contains elements and capabilities designed in 1942 to sustain large linear formations for months and months of warfare," one official said. "But we're not going to fight wars on the scale of World War II."

By far the most dramatic change being contemplated by Rumsfeld's inner circle is a move from large, heavy, slow-moving divisions -- 15,000 to 20,000 troops -- to smaller, more mobile units known as "battle groups." These would be organized to perform discrete combat missions such as airborne assaults, helicopter attacks, armed reconnaissance or advanced logistics support. They also would be built to achieve another Rumsfeld objective -- allowing the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy to fight together more effectively.

As described in a forthcoming book by Army Col. Douglas Macgregor, these 5,000-troop battle groups could be deployed much more quickly, without a division's huge headquarters staff, and more seamlessly mesh into a new joint force headquarters -- made up of officers from the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy -- under development by the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk. Instead of relying on 10 active duty divisions, this more modular Army would enable commanders to pick from 30 or more battle groups, a dozen of which could be kept on alert for quick deployment.

A couple of points: first, this isn't Rummy's idea. These ideas have been floating around since the end of the cold war. The US's idea of a division is antiquated in the modern world. We won't be facing 30,000 men in a single corps unless we fight the Chinese. The average division in armies which have them tend to be 5-6000 men.

The move to brigade-sized units has been pushed for some time. And it seems to be a sound idea, if the Army decides to keep the lineages intact or do what the Brits do and use divisions as regional and organizational formations.

Second, the Army tried the unit manning program in the late 80's, early 90's. OKC Bomber Timothy McVeigh was in one such unit. The soldiers hated it because you couldn't apply to jump school, ranger school, airmobile school or anything which sounded fun and exciting to a teenager. You had to serve in your cohort unit and by the end of the enlistment, some units, like Mcveigh's, had people at each other's throats. The kinds of perks which appealed to soldiers weren't available to these guys and they didn't much like it.

In theory, it's a great idea. It's used worldwide. In practice, Americans don't much like being stuck. They want the option to get more skills, take more training and unit manning prevents that.

Third, the generals absolutely detest Rumsfeld. He's a naval aviator and he's never lost his arrogance. The idea of placing the Air Force Secretary in charge of the Army is novel. Whether it's wise is another story entirely. He humiliated Shinseki repeatedly for no good reason and the Army has a long memory. They are none too happy about the current deployment in Iraq either. They're trapped in Indian country and things are not looking up. The leaks about the 3ID's diminshing capabilities are no small thing. The death of the Crusader Artillery program and the backlash in Iraq are clearly sore points with the Army's senior leadership.

They are derisive when they discuss the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) which has robot planes and small, fast units running around. The generals, embarassed by their inability to control Iraq, see a disaster coming their way. They certainly didn't expect to be running house to house searches and being cursed at in Arabic every day. Small and light is fine, if all you're doing is peacekeeping. If you get into a real fight, you're done.

Battle groups are cursed words in Army organizational history. In the late 1950's divisions were scrapped for a Pentomic organization, designed to exploit the atomic battle field. The problem was that these units would have been rolled in a conventional war, because they wound up with five battalions instead of 9.

So, so far, the "new" Army will used a failed name and a failed concept to rebuild itself. This should draw brutal opposition from the Army, if for no other reason, to frustrate a man they hate and feel humiliates them. The problem with Rumsfeld is that he has no respect for the Army leadership and no empathy for the soldiers. He and his chickenhawk planners think the Army just shows up and kills things. The fact that the 3ID is going to have a stream of out of marriage births and divorces, just like what happened after the first Gulf War, seems not to be an issue for him. Nor is the job that the Army Recruiting Command is going to have when all those 30-something reservists quit to save their careers and marriages and the privates and corporals on their first enlistment are not only not going to join up for a second hitch, they aren't going to join ROTC in college or join the Guard and Reserve. Most Guard and Reserve units have a high proportion of soldiers who did an active duty hitch.

Do you think they're going to sign up for a second one if it's going to cost them their marriage? Or a good job?

We're running down the Army in ways which will affect manning requirements for years to come. And the draft, which would scoop up people outside of the Catagories I-III which enlistees come from now, is not practical. It's expensive, would meet organized, intense opposition in a way which would dwarf the 1960's protests, and would do nothing to encourage military careers in either the active Army or reserves.

The mythology that it would cross class lines is just that. Poor and working class kids would still wind up where they wind up today, with a rifle searching an angry Iraqi. Middle class, educated kids would get office jobs or avoid service by flunking the physical, declaring their bisexuality or some other dodge. You'll see entire websites dedicated to dodging the draft or life in Canada or some other thing while the same group of kids get it in the neck. At least with the reserve system in place today, there is a far better racial and economic balance in units as people have used their education to get better jobs.

So there is no easy solution for this, except limiting deployments and encouraging cohesion in ways which doesn't trap soldiers in units they don't want to serve in. Because the message from Iraq, to many soldiers who would have made a career or joined the reserves, is if you want to not have your life disrupted, become a volunteer fireman instead. More excitement and it doesn't ruin your marriage with six month deployments to Kosovo or Iraq. And unlike the Army, they can't prevent you from leaving.

The Army's policies only reflect the government's priorities. Until those changes, the soldiers will continue to bear the burden for them.

Steve Gilliard

Posted June 08, 2003 03:52 PM | Comments (29)


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