Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Because You Fight the Way You Train

Unit cohesion is a little-appreciated factor in an effective military unit. You have but to watch an All Star game where even talented individuals fail to perform with other individual stars. Teamwork is but another name for it. The Germans in World War II taught us how unit cohesion can make units effective even when they take heavy casualties. We are now making the effort to forge unit cohesiveness in our Army:

After decades of effort by a determined group of officers, the army has finally accepted lessons learned during World War II. The most important lesson is that small units of troops must be kept together, and replacements for casualties integrated into the unit carefully. This has been done during the current war, and the capabilities of the combat units has been astounding. But many journalists and politicians are still unaware of how important this "cohesion" thing is.

This has not only been done for the active component but for the reserves. And the lack of understanding is clear when you recall complaints that stop-loss is a "backdoor draft" or that it is unfair that the Guard is moving to deploying units as a whole since individual soldiers moving into a unit could deploy despite being home after being in another unit that returned home.

This cohesion is probably one of the factors that has kept our Army so effective despite multiple tours of duty in Iraq and increased anti-war sentiment at home. Contrast this with the the unraveling of our Army during the Vietnam drawdown. I am reasonably sure that this was caused not by the war itself or anti-war sentiment at home but by the complete destruction of unit cohesion by the decision to withdraw soldiers and not units. In A Better War, Lewis Sorley recounts (see pg. 129) that Abrams wanted to withdraw units to meet lower troop ceilings imposed by Washington. Abrams was overruled by Westmoreland back in the states who argued it was unfair to soldiers:

In Washington, Army Chief of Staff General William C. Westmoreland argued for sending home the poeople who had served longest in Vietnam. This meant that there would have to be wholesale transfers of people in an out of redeploying units to repopulate them with only the longest-serving people. This was, insisted Westmoreland, the only fair way to do it.

It was also, and this was not hard to figure out, the most disruptive thing that could be done to the remaining forces. Ripped apart by having all their most experienced people taken out, they were then reconstituted with a collection of individuals whose only shared attribute was relatively less experience in Vietnam, a formula for destroying any semblance of unit cohesion.

Unfair! Life is unfair, let alone the military. I couldn't believe that an Army general would fail to figure this out. This "fair" policy led to more casualties because units were less effective and nearly broke our Army for a decade after Vietnam. I don't know what was fair about that.

Unit cohesion falls below even training as a factor appreciated by people in judging how we create effective military units. Mostly, people just look at the equipment and that is how a military is judged. (Remember all the complaints by the anti-war side about various purported equipment shortages.) This is not only the most obvious metric but the least valuable.

Don't let the civilians (or generals) in charge mess up this long-overdue change once the guns fall silent. It shouldn't be hard to figure out that this lesson won't sink in.