For much of this year, Sgt. Maj. Raymond F. Chandler III, the Army’s top enlisted soldier, has traveled to bases around the world with a simple message: “We’ve allowed ourselves to get out of control.” His solution has been a raft of new regulations governing tattoos, the length of soldiers’ sideburns and the color of the backpacks they are allowed to carry while in uniform. The tighter standards are intended to improve discipline in a force that is recovering from an exhausting decade of war. But some of his fellow troops viewed the new regulations as one piece of a larger, more worrisome trend in the Army as it confronts an uncertain future. Instead of embracing change, some officers worry that the service is reverting to a more comfortable, rigid and predictable past.
“We are at a crossroads right now, and I don’t get the sense that we know what we are doing,” said Maj. Fernando Lujan, a Special Forces soldier who has served multiple combat tours. “I am worried about the Army.” (Wash Post)
So says Greg Jaffe in today's Washington Post. The Army may be at a crossroads, but I do not share the apparent trepidation over the Sergeant Major of the Army's raft of new regulations and tighter standards. Nor am I as worried about the Army as Major Lujan is.
The world is changing, belts will tighten and the Army will change. That is inevitable. SMA Chandler is doing what he can to manage this change. He wants a disciplined force capable of handling whatever comes its way. For more than a decade I've seen Army enlisted personnel and officers wearing every combination of uniform imaginable in the Military District of Washington. It bothered me. At times, it embarrassed me. I grew up with Army Summer and Army Winter. Our uniforms were… uniform. I'd say we're about due for some tighter regulations.
However this is not the focus of the story. What will the Army do with less resources and a changing defense strategy. We've been through this before. I began my career in the days of the hollow Army. We were undermanned and under equipped, supposedly suffering from a post Viet Nam syndrome or something. My twenty-five man rifle platoon was full of pot smokers and wise guys. They were a pain in the ass in garrison, but they were a fighting force to be proud of in the field. Their godfather was Command Sergeant Major Snead. The soldier in the picture. He would take each soldier arriving in the battalion on a tour of the hall of honor explaining the regimental history and pointing out each battle trophy. It was a chilling experience hearing him call out each battle streamer as he held it over his head before clipping it on the battalion colors during our organization day parades. To this day I can only refer to him as Command Sergeant Major Snead. This is the kind of intangible thing that glues the Army together during rough times.
We made do with what we had. When the battalion had no fuel for training, we walked to the training areas with the mortars and 90mm recoilless rifles. We trained heavily in strongpoint defense, withdrawal under pressure and breakout from encirclement. We also trained to meet every other ARTEP task. Knowing the basics, we would adapt to all else. We were prepared to deploy anywhere in the Pacific, SWA or even Europe. Ambiguity was a way of life. The Army emerged from this period as a strong disciplined fighting force. We will do so again this time.
Jaffe mentions the Army plan to "regionalize" combat units. Brigades and divisions will focus their training on specific deployment plans. They will conduct training missions and joint exercises with friendly forces in the region. This is nothing new. We did this in the hollow Army, too. However the added emphasis on cultural and language training is new. Jaffe probably learned this from Major Lujan. This is how Special Forces have always trained and always will train. I like this idea for combat units as long as the basic tasks of combat are not forgotten. Do not try to make the conventional Army into a Special Forces light. It won't work.
The Army will downsize. I hope they will start by replacing the vast majority of contractors with active duty personnel. We need mess halls and mess teams, not dining facilities run by DynCorp. Then dump half the generals. There will still be plenty. At some point the defense strategy must change. It should happen before the Army starts adapting to the new reality, but I'm not holding my breath. No matter what happens, the Army will emerge just fine and remain true to its motto… This we'll defend.