11 April 2012

US Army, After 10 Years of War

Comparing the state of the Army today to about 1974 or so (after 10 years of Vietnam), and Abu Muqawama notes that it's not in bad shape. That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement, mind you. An excerpt:

The survey makes explicit what has been implied in defense policy conversations for the past several years: The all-volunteer force, which was never intended to fight a decade of continuous conflict, has nonetheless succeeded beyond all expectations in Iraq and Afghanistan in terms of maintaining its health and professionalism. High-profile stories such as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ massacre of civilians in Afghanistan have convinced many Americans and others that a decade of war has broken the Army and Marine Corps. But military officers are quick to point out that Bales is the exception, not the rule, in an Army in which 51,270 other soldiers have seen four or more combat deployments, and in which an additional 81,000 soldiers on active duty have seen at least three.

Six out of seven soldiers and Army civilians, the study reveals, trust their senior leaders to make the right decisions for the Army, and 90 percent of those surveyed remain willing to put the Army’s needs above their own. Whereas the soldiers who fought in Vietnam considered themselves amateurs and conscripts, 98 percent of the soldiers in the Army today consider themselves professional fighting men and women. As such, those who serve in the U.S. Army today are in no danger of losing their pride, heart or soul. And based on personal observations from the field, I can report the U.S. Army is today more combat effective than it was when I myself first led a light infantry platoon in Afghanistan in 2002.

There is still cause for concern, though. Among them is the common complaint that, due to the focus on the counterinsurgency fight in Afghanistan, combat units are losing some of their traditional core skills. And indeed, I spent some time a year ago with an armor unit that, having been retrained as light infantry, had not touched its tanks in a year. But also worrisome is the fact that, according to the survey, the Army as an institution is not enforcing high standards in its initial training. New soldiers, commanders have told me, often report to their first units with low levels of physical fitness, which would be less of a concern if many of those units were not walking up and down the hills of eastern Afghanistan each day. Anecdotally, two friends who recently completed Army basic training at Fort Benning -- traditionally, the more difficult Army post for such training -- described the program as easy and reported that their levels of physical fitness had actually declined during the training. I have a tough time believing folks at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island are saying similar things.

In terms of their leaders, meanwhile, soldiers report that their commanding officers are tactically and technically sound in combat, but that they have lost some of their willingness to teach, train and mentor those beneath them -- all critical to preparing the next generation of leaders.

Good article - go read the rest.

By: Brant

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