Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Army Question: Part One

The size of our Army is the question of the day.

This is really about two questions. One, how big should our Army be? And two, how many of them should be in iraq?

On the first question, our Army is clearly too small. It has been since the mid-1990s when we started stressing it with peacekeeping missions. The war has increased the stress.

The Army has responded in four ways.

One, the Army expanded by about 30,000 slots for the active component.

Two, the Army is rebalancing the force by converting units suited to the cold War era to units needed today. Less artillery and more Military Police, for example. Rebalancing also includes moving types of units between the reserve and active components.

Three, the Army has identified Army jobs that can be performed by civilians and transferred those jobs to civilians thus freeing up soldiers for combat jobs.

As a result of these responses, the Army is getting more of the units it needs and is expanding from 33 combat brigades to 43 combat brigades.

A fourth response has been to reorganize the Army National Guard to be an operational reserve. Instead of the Army Guard serving as a strategic reserve at low readiness with only a portion of the force earmarked for early mobilization, all of the Guard combat brigades will be organized to be mobilized on a rotating schedule that puts about five combat brigades available each year for mobilization.

But the first three measures may no longer be enough to reduce the strain on the active Army, so the Army may want to grow in the years ahead. The Marines, too, I might add. But adding Marines requires more soldiers, too, who provide their long-term logisitics.

And the fourth is such a new concept--reserves who regularly fight--that it may not work when there is actually a war to fight. So adding even more active troops to avoid such a reliance on reserves may be necessary.

Still, I hope there is more discussion of the best way to reduce the stress on the military--winning in Iraq. Win there and experienced troops will reenlist with pride in their accomplishment and we won't have to worry about that long-term rotation problem.

We are winning and can win. Will we? I'm ashamed I even have to ask.

But the bottom line on the first question is yes, expand the Army. I've long wanted a larger Army; came to accept the Pentagon method for effectively adding troops to the active force as a substitute; and now agree that we need to add more troops since the outside-the-box methods the Pentagon put in place are close to exhausting those methods.

My question now is do we add complete combat brigades or add separate battalions that can be plugged into the existing and planned 43 combat brigades in the active force? Or some combination of those two methods?