One particular narrative I see driven hard through most news reports, op-eds and editorials is that the military is being beaten down in Iraq:
"Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain", which is excerpted from a letter from House Democrats to President Bush.Victor Davis Hanson, on the other hand, wrote a strong counter to the broken Army mantra, dispensing it as a myth:
"It's clear that the surge option will break the Army and Marine Corps, already stretched so thin that they're barely able to meet the current requirements for maintaining a force of 140,000 troops in Iraq and 20,000 in Afghanistan, leaving few if any in reserve for emergencies elsewhere", from Joe Galloway's column.
Is the Army Broken? Yeah, I think so. We're on the brink. We are in a situation where we are grossly overdeployed, and it is unlike any other period in the 229-year history of the Army. We have never conducted a sustained combat operation with a volunteer force, with a force that we have to compete in the job market to hire every year. Every other force that we've ever done this with, going back to the Vietnam period to something comparable, has been a draftee conscript force. So what we are all worried about is that the manpower situation will come unglued. ... from Thomas White, Former Secretary of the Army in a PBS interview.Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. Army is ``about broken'' from the Iraq conflict and cast doubt on whether the military could or should boost the number of troops in the country.
There is often voiced pessimism about our current military, to such a degree that it is termed broken or exhausted. But how true is that? The traveler to Iraq is struck not by dearth, but opulence—everything imaginable from new SUVs to Eskimo Pies. Internet Service there was far faster than from my home in rural Fresno County. So far recruitment levels are being met. No one in the military has warned that it is a bad idea to create more brigades of ground troops. Such a caveat about the current proposed expansion we would expect if we could not even meet our present manpower targets. . .There might be thousands of trashed humvees and worn out Bradleys, but not frigates, F-16s, or carriers. This is not 1943 when the US military was fighting in Sicily, as B-17s fell from the sky, as our merchant marine was under U-boat attack.Hanson goes on to write about the problems this military is having achieving objectives in Iraq, compares these problems to past military campaigns, and proposes a way ahead to succeed in Iraq. All interesting of course, and worthy of debate. But let us focus on the state of the military, the subject of this post.
Is the Army any less lethal, competent, seasoned, disciplined, equipped, or spirited than it was on September 10th, 2001? The answer to that question is a resounding NO on all counts!
The Army deployed in theater is arguably the best equipped and best trained force ever fielded by this nation. The Soldiers who comprise its ranks continue to reenlist, and there has been no critical shortage of recruits throughout the past four years, despite the unpopularity of the war here at home.
Assertions that this Army is a broken one are based upon the belief that rotations into and out of theater are wearing Soldiers and equipment out and cannot be sustained, and that conducting counterinsurgency degrades the ability of combat arms units to conduct major combat operations. These assumptions are not entirely valid, however.
Currently, most conventional Army forces rotate into theater for a year, redeploy to the States for 12-24 months, then rotate back to one of the theaters, and not necessarily in the same area where they previously operated.
Nowhere, however, is it written in stone that units will disentegrate if deployed more than 365 days into theater. Leadership in the DOD decided upon the year rotation policy at some point, and now this nation is fighting the long war, one combat tour after the other. When a unit is relieved in place by another, nearly all of the experience, contacts, and cultural orientation dissipate as the old unit departs, replaced by the new personnel and commanders. It takes the incoming unit weeks, if not months, to build rapport, get a feel for its area, and reach a high level of operational competence in its assigned AO; months later, a new, green Army unit arrives to take its place, and the cycle starts over again. Not for the insurgents, the militias, the criminals, or the Iraqi civilians, however; they remain in place, and watch as the gringos come and go.
While longer tours drastically increase the hardship and level of sacrifice demanded of Soldiers, the benefits of seasoned units operationally attuned to the nuances of their areas of responsibility outweigh the costs. Would T.E. Lawrence have been effective, had he knowingly been on a one year tour in the desert? I think not.
Longer tours in theater mean extended periods at home base to rest soldiers and refit equipment, too.
And what of the notion that military units deployed in counterinsurgency operations are less prepared for major combat operations, a la Desert Storm? While some units (ie Armor and mechanized forces) may not be exercising all of their required skill sets, most of their officers and Soldiers are conducting combat operations in theater. The men of these units are acquiring the judgement and seasoning of combat veterans, which will no doubt serve them well in whatever type of operations they conduct in the future. While some of their combat skills may atrophy temporarily, they are easily regained via a combat training center rotation, and more than offset by the skills and experience gained via actual combat in Iraq.
Other units, like light infantry and special operations forces, are able to exercise all of their organic capabilities in this sort of environment; the experience in Iraq more than prepares them for any future combat operation.
The Army is thus far from exhaustion, collapse, or the veritable breaking point. It is a seasoned, disciplined, spirited, lethal force, and is well equipped for the rigors it faces. Unfounded, panic-laden discussions of "the broken Army" are easily debunked, and serve little purpose other than to obfuscate the problems we face as a nation in Iraq.