Monday, March 24, 2008

The Army Not Broken

Major General Scales (retired) is a good military analyst. And when he said last year that our Army was broken, I paid attention. I didn't see any evidence that it was broken but the stress was clear and I worried he was right. Or would be right if we didn't reduce the stress on the Army at some point.

Well, he now says he was wrong:

"If you haven't heard the news, I'm afraid your Army is broken, a victim of too many missions for too few soldiers for too long. ... Today, anecdotal evidence of collapse is all around."

But now, one year later, Scales has done an about-face. He says that he was wrong. Despite all the predictions of imminent collapse, the U.S. Army and the combat brigades have proven to be surprisingly resilient.

One of the reasons?

Scales said he didn’t take into account that, unlike Vietnam, this Army is sending soldiers to fight as a unit — not as individuals. He also neglected the "Band of Brothers" phenomenon — the feeling of responsibility to fellow soldiers that prompts members of service to re-enlist.

I can understand this belated realization. It wasn't until I read a book on the Vietnam war recently that I was reminded of the terrible policy about withdrawing soldiers instead of units. At this point it finally hit me that this was a key reason for the resiliency of our Army and Marine units despite the tempo in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lawrence Korb disagrees with Scales. But Korb is unfit to comment on military matters as far as I'm concerned. Says Korb:

Not all the military analysts who made similar predictions last year agree. Lawrence Korb, who worked on personnel issues during the Reagan administration, testified to Congress last July: "As Gen. Barry McCaffrey pointed out when we testified together before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April, ‘the ground combat capability of the U.S. armed forces is shot.'"

Korb, a resident scholar at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, told FOX News the Army is worse off than it was a year ago. He suggested that the Army is not being honest with its re-enlistment and retention numbers, an accusation echoed by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo.

The Army’s use of stop-loss — the automatic re-enlistment of soldiers whose units are being redeployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, even if their service time is up — has distorted the figures, Korb said.

He also said that while the numbers of captains leaving the military may not be alarming, the number of captains educated at West Point is. According to Korb, half of the eligible captains from West Point’s class of 2002 have left the service.

And then there are the re-enlistment bonuses, which rose from $50 million in 1998 to $562 million per year in 2007. The amount of re-enlistment bonuses paid is now five times what it was at the start of the Iraq war, according to U.S. Army figures.

Korb is mixing things up to argue the Army is broken. He says the Army is worse than last year and that our "ground combat capability is shot" is not the same as saying the Army is broken. Truly, our ability to fight conventional combat operations is shot. This means that the Army is "unbalanced" in that we are--rightly--focusing on counter-insurgency training to win the wars we are in. When we can free up troops--troops who've gained valuable combat experience--we will retrain them in conventional combat operations.

And Korb does not understand stop-loss. This is about defending unit cohesion when a unit is about to deploy so it will remain effective. It is not any type of "back door draft." This policy saves lives by keeping units intact when they go to war.

As for his charge of distorting retention numbers, the Army is expanding its ranks successfully during war so how exactly is the Army hiding something? Somebody is manning our new units.

On the captain loss, I've yet to see anything that shows we are losing more than we usually do to any significant extent. This charge has been raised before yet our Army still wins.

Finally, enlistment and reenlistment bonuses are certianly higher, but they are a tool to recruit troops. How on Earth is this proof the Army is broken? Korb may not like the fact that we've had to pay more to put soldiers into the field during war with an economy that still has historically low unemployment, but the fact is we have maintained our strength using tools like the higher bonuses.

Our Army is stressed. And we need to take actions to counter and eventually relieve that stress. So far, we seem to be doing that successfully. Don't confuse this, as Korb seems to do, with the other problem of being unbalanced--so focused on counter-insurgency that we are slighting conventional warfighting skills. But once Iraq deployments slow after victory, the problems of both stress and balance will be resolved. And we will retain the combat experienced troops for a generation.

But winning the Iraq War is priority one. Remember that the Army exists to win our wars--we don't lose wars to preserve the Army. And if we lose the Iraq War in order to relieve stress on the Army, the defeat will break the Army far more effectively than stress will.

Our Army has performed magnificently. And don't you forget for one moment that this pisses our Left off more than anything. They'd hoped for an Army that frags its officers, torches villages, and smokes dope.

Instead our Army is breaking enemies all over Iraq and Afghanistan.