An Army at a Crossroads

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We had a couple great pieces up yesterday at Military.com on the Army's accelerating manpower issues.

One of the perspectives comes from that CSBA seminar I've been talking about here for the last couple of days. Basically, Andrew Krepinevich -- a former Army colonel and 10-pound brain on strategic issues -- made the case that the Army should curtail its plans to expand by 65,000 Soldiers over the next few years.

His justification is labor pool one: the Army's having too hard a time getting good recruits and the drain of senior NCOs and junior officers creates a leadership vacuum.

Here's part of Greg Grant's story on the issue and you can read the rest of it HERE:

His central message is alarming: the quality of the Armys soldiers is in sharp decline, from enlisted personnel to NCOs to officers. Its a particularly discouraging trend for the Army as it is happening despite the services increasingly aggressive use of financial incentives including bonuses and a salary increase of 33 percent between 1999 and 2005.

The Army has lowered standards to fill recruitment quotas, including weight and body fat restrictions, number of high school graduates and is allowing in more recruits with moral waivers. Krepinevich sees troubling signs of a repeat of the Vietnam era shake-and-bake sergeants, with the widespread promotion of inexperienced enlisted soldiers ill suited to the challenge of leading small units in combat.

The officer corps is also dropping in quality. Of the nearly 1,000 cadets from the West Point class of 2002, 58 percent are no longer on active duty. The Army is forced to pull soldiers from the ranks who have not graduated college and send them to OCS. Today, over 98 percent of eligible captains are promoted to major. The number of involuntary stop loss extensions has increased, by 43 percent between 2007 and 2008. Nearly half of those affected are NCOs.

This, at a time when the ongoing counterinsurgency wars demand much more intellectual horsepower in its soldiers. As the Armys new doctrine manual FM 3-0, states: current and future conflicts will be waged in an environment that is complex, multidimensional, and rooted in the human dimension.

He goes on to recommend that the Army should specialize by creating Security Cooperation BCTs that are trained in the hard work of nation building, foreign internal defense in a permissive environment and mil-to-mil relations. This idea has been tossed around a lot in Washington and has been summarily rejected by the Army at every turn. Krep argues that it takes too long to refocus a line unit to stability ops and risks losing the "Golden Hour" before insurgencies take root.

That's true, but my experience has been that aside from the numbers and stats and "big think," the Army has learned a heck of a lot in a very short time during the post 9/11 conflict environment. I tend to agree that a broadly trained force is a stronger one: "Jack of all Trades, Master of None" so to speak, so that when that third block of the "three block war" erupts, we've got guys who can close with and destroy when needed.

One thing that Krep does say that I think bears some thinking is that the Army needs to recognize that it can't do everything and shouldn't be postured thereto. I thought to myself that that's easy to say until you have Capitol Hill screaming about "why can't we solve this NOW!" It's one thing for the Army to say "sorry, not in our lane" and quite another to tell Congress and the President to call someone else.

We also ran a great story from our friends at Aviation Week looking at the flip side of the force sized coin. Bettina Chevanne wrote up a dispatch on Army Sec Pete Geren's justification for the continued Army buildup.

"We're growing the U.S. Army, but is it enough? If demand stays the same, the answer is no," Geren said. Determining the right end strength for the Army begins with a "realistic" Quadrennial Defense Review and a national security strategy, he added.

So to Krep's point...'if the demand stays the same...' I've never understood the justification for the demand and the Army has never really been publicly explicit about it. If the Iraq commitment shrinks by, say, 100,000 troops and the other 40,000 goes to Afghanistan (which would be a bad idea in my view given the Afghans fiercely anti-occupation streak) that leaves a 100,000 buffer. Now, don't come down on my too quickly there, dear readers, that's just back of the envelope math. But it seems to me the Army is arguing for a force increase during a time when the demand for a large occupying force is going to shrink.

And that doesn't even take into account budgetary pressure and rumblings from Congress that saving jobs on the F-22 production line might be more important to them than adding more personnel at Fort Hood.

Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see how reality collides with the shrinking momentum from an Iraq hangover over the next 12-to-18 months for the Army.

-- Christian

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