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Dempsey's soldier dilemma

If Army Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey had taken his job, say, 50 years ago, he would probably be most concerned about tank divisions and how best to set them up for the giant battles with the Soviets that everyone knew were coming. Dempsey isn't unconcerned about tanks, or armored vehicles, but y'know what he named this week as one of his top priorities? The humble infantry squad.

"We don't want to send a soldier into harm's way who doesn't overmatch his potential enemies," Dempsey told attendees at an Institute of Land Warfare breakfast. "It's at the squad level where it becomes too much of a fair fight. So, the motivation was to lie on my back and look up and look at the Army from the bottom up, and see what that does. It's a focus area," Dempsey said.

One example of something that needs the attention of Big Army, Dempsey said, is the reliance of today's soldiers on all their doodads and gizmos, from GPS navigators to radios to high-tech future devices such as the AN/PPS-26 Sense Through The Wall system. The Army is pushing this kind of technology to the edge -- "In so doing, we're learning as we push these things to the edge. So you push all these 'emitters,' let's call them, all of which require some kind of power and energy to drive them, and all of a sudden you find yourself in a situation where the squad is almost overwhelmed by the requirement for batteries," he said. "You can follow a U.S. infantry patrol by the disposable batteries that it trails behind it, almost like breadcrumbs, to find their way back to their FOB. The question is, what does the squad need? When we figure that out, then we figure out a way to deliver it," he said.

Dempsey didn't have a quick answer. According to this week's official story, the chief has asked his old pals at Training and Doctrine Command to put together "a capabilities-based assessment and an integrated capabilities document that will actually establish the requirements -- what it means to be a squad and how does the Army empower that squad to do its job?" So until that comes out, and assuming it recommends lightening or simplifying the load on today's Joes, the troops will get to keep right on humping all that gear and all those little batteries.

 

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