Jewish World Review Feb. 19, 2004 / 27 Shevat, 5764

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Remaking the military | Eight of the 10 divisions in the U.S. Army either are in Iraq and Afghanistan, or are preparing to go there. So when Gen. Peter Schoomaker revealed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is using his emergency powers to increase the size of the Army by about 30,000 soldiers, the reaction of many defense observers was "it's about time."

Schoomaker, the chief of staff of the Army, made the revelation at a congressional hearing Jan. 28 where he testified against a measure that would make the Army permanently larger.

Schoomaker opposes a permanent increase in end strength because Congress is more willing to authorize more soldiers than it is to pay for them. There currently are about 493,000 soldiers in the Army, 10,000 more than the congressionally authorized strength of 482,400. But Congress has only appropriated the money to pay for 480,000 soldiers.

Soldiers are expensive. Rumsfeld estimates that each additional 10,000 soldiers costs $1.2 billion. Since Congress hasn't authorized enough money, Schoomaker must pay for the additional troops by spending less than he planned on weapons and modernization.

I've long argued that it was a mistake for President Clinton to reduce the size of the Army below 12 division equivalents, and I believe that a force of that size is required effectively to prosecute the war on terror.

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But more combat and support units can be created without increasing end strength, if long overdue reforms are implemented. For instance, at any given time 63,000 to 70,000 soldiers - the equivalent of 4 divisions - are in transit from one assignment to another. Maj. Donald Vandergriff, a noted military reformer, said that number could be reduced substantially if the Army went to a unit manning system, and didn't move soldiers between units so often.

Vandergriff advocated these changes for reasons of military effectiveness - the individual replacement system was a disaster in Korea and Vietnam, and the longer soldiers serve together in the same units, the greater their combat effectiveness - but they'd also save a ton of money. If the number of soldiers in transit at any given time could be cut by 25 percent, that would be roughly the equivalent of creating another division.

Further savings could be made by trimming bloated headquarters and training establishments.

We've suffered less from a shortage of an absolute number of troops than from a shortage of the kinds of troops that would be most effective in the war on terror. The Army is still organized chiefly to fight the Soviet hordes on the central German plain, and that's not a good organization for the war on terror.

We need more infantry, special operations forces (Rangers and Green Berets), military police and civil affairs troops than we have, but we have more air defense artillery, field artillery and armor troops than we need.

Converting or disbanding less important units makes it possible to create more of the more necessary units without increasing overall end strength. For instance, the Pittsburgh-based Battery A of the 107th Field Artillery, Pennsylvania National Guard, is going to Iraq in the Spring rotation. But the Guardsmen are going as military policemen, not cannoneers.

Reorganizing units can make them more effective without increasing absolute numbers. Col. Douglas MacGregor argues that the division is too large to be moved anywhere quickly, and too unwieldy to be effective as a fighting unit. MacGregor argues that brigades (typically, there are three maneuver brigades in a division), should become the basic measurement of combat power.

Gen. Schoomaker is heading the advice of Vandergriff and MacGregor. Beginning at the end of this year, soldiers will spend roughly twice as much time assigned to one base as they do at present. And he's announced a plan to downsize brigades and to make them the Army's basic "units of action."

We may not have a larger Army at the end of the process. But we'll almo.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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