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Whither Army: A Frontline View


The Army is trying to figure out how to take advantage of the coming period of retrenchment and restructuring. The presumptive Army Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey started the early stage of the discussion during Unified Quest, the annual Army war games designed to figure out what to do down the road. There was talk of another battalion for each Army brigade and much worrying about just what constitutes a full spectrum force.

The 22,000 people brought in to cushion the Army for the Iraq and Afghan surges and help its troops recover from the grueling pace of the last decade will be vanishing. The fights in Afghanistan and Iraq will be waning for the US over the next five years, raising the question of just how should the Army be structured to cope with the future. One of the most original thinkers on the issue of Army organization has been retired Col. Doug Macgregor. Knowing an opportunity when he sees it, Macgregor has been pushing his ideas within the Army and to senior Pentagon leaders.

But his reputation as a disruptive influence has often blunted the impact of Macgregor's ideas, along with the Big Army's deep and abiding reluctance to engage in major change, especially in time of war. (Of course, Army leaders have also resisted change in time of peace; just look at the Clinton era.)

We got a glimpse at the internal Army debate from an email sent from a lieutenant colonel in Afghanistan, who said "the same forces of obstruction and unwillingness to make meaningful change that held sway then still do today."

If the service had adopted Macgregor-style changes in organization and weapons, this officer says he thinks the Army "would have saved tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars and had a significantly more capable military."

This officer wonders what it will take to get the Army to change as he and others believe it must to ensure the service can respond effectively and rapidly to the nation's needs. "So on that inevitable day when we plunge off the cliff, once the wreckage has come to a halt and the pieces have settled from their tumult, those who survived will say, 'you know, that Macgregor fellow seemed to have warned about this in the past. Had we followed his recommendations, maybe we wouldn't have crashed and burned just now. Hmmm, maybe it would be a wonderful idea if we listened to him NOW and tried to rebuild on the ashes of the disastrous past..."

We hear senior OSD officials are considering proposals derived from Macgregor's work as they struggle to rebuild the Army. More on this later this week.

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