According to an article in the Washington Post, the Army is supposedly fighting a turf war with the Marines over who will have the dominant role in countering threats in the Asia-Pacific region.
True, the Army is looking to modify its capability as we draw down from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially in these times of budget cuts. And unfortunately, as we reported here, the civilian and contractor force seems to grow while combat capability lessens.
But clearly the Post conveniently ignores history and misses the point about a comprehensive national military strategy for the 21st Century battlefield.
The writer, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, sets up his story aboard the USS Lake Erie off the Hawaii coast where the Navy crew apparently watches with “trepidation” as US Army helicopter practices landing on the ship.
It’s amazing the reporter finds this odd, because he obviously has no idea it was a contingent from the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division that was loaded on a US Navy aircraft carrier for the potential invasion of Haiti back in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton.
Also, a study of history would have shown Chandrasekaran that the US Army participated in countless amphibious operations during World War II in the Pacific and European theaters, including the largest; Operation Overlord, the Normandy invasion.
The Army, which fights on terra firma, does not usually land its helicopters on ships — the domain of the Navy and the Marine Corps — but these are not usual times in the U.S. military. As the Obama administration winds down the Army-centric war in Afghanistan, Pentagon leaders are seeking to place the Air Force, Navy and Marines in dominant roles to counter threats in the Asia-Pacific region, which they have deemed to be the nation’s next big national security challenge.
But that certainly doesn’t mean the Army is fighting for relevancy, nor should there be some sort of competition between the forces. I spent three years on an exchange assignment with the II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF) and learned much about expeditionary operations at the MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) and MEB (Marine Expeditionary Brigade) level. It was without a doubt one of the best assignments in my career for advanced professional development.
The Senior US Commander in the Pacific, Gen. Vincent K. Brooks (one half of the famous Brooks Brothers, both of whom I have the pleasure of knowing), wants his forces to more quickly and effectively respond to small conflicts, isolated acts of aggression and natural disasters.
Chandraeskaran points out:
Doing so, however, has traditionally been a challenge for the Army, which bases most of its soldiers assigned to the Orient, outside of Korea, in Hawaii, Alaska and Washington state. To overcome what he calls “the tyranny of distance,” Brooks is trying to make his forces more maritime and expeditionary.
This “Pacific Pathways Initiative” is a brilliant vision, coming from a very adept combat Commander, General Brooks.
However, what is also necessary is a national military strategy for this 21st century battlefield. We must carefully examine all geographic areas of responsibility (AORs); PACOM, EUCOM, CENTCOM, AFRICOM, SOUTHCOM, NORTHCOM. We should conduct a bottom-up assessment of the capability and capacity required to conduct full-scale combat and disaster relief operations in all of them – not just the Pacific.
Our force should be tailored in these AORs for full-spectrum engagement along definitive mission sets and have dedicated forces for each. Our US military should have a force structure that has a primary and a secondary AOR to support with proper force mix and joint training in deployment and employment.
What the writer fails to present is that after any major combat operation, America has always sought to use the military as a bill payer in order to expand domestic spending. What results is a dangerous catch-up after a crisis, because our enemies are always looking to advance their nefarious objectives.
We must prioritize spending in Washington DC — don’t forget, the primary mission for the federal government per the Constitution is supposed to be to “provide for the common defense.”
We are playing a very bad game of “whack-a-mole” with Islamic totalitarianism. Instead, we must demonstrate the ability to conduct strike-oriented operations and not nation-building expeditions. Of course, a good national military strategy emanates from a good national security strategy, one that does not list fighting global climate change as a mission.
I have personally experienced strategy transitions in the military. It is natural and desirable. I was commissioned into the US Army in 1982 and entered active duty the following year after graduating from college.
I entered an Army that had 18 combat divisions, four Cavalry regiments, and complimentary artillery formations to support. I would see the Army transform from M-60 tanks to M1 Abrams, from M113 armored personnel carriers (APCs) to M2 Bradley fighting vehicles (BFVs). The Army went from AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters to AH-64 Apache’s, from UH-1 Huey’s to UH-60 Blackhawks.
I had the distinct honor to command the oldest Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) batteries in the Army as a Captain. This was the modernization and transformation the Army underwent in the Reagan years to make it a potent land force.
I applaud General Brooks. Contrary to what the Washington Post may want you to believe, Brooks isn’t trying to stoke the flames of inter-service competition but is expanding the mission-set capability of his forces in the Pacific AOR. He represents the kind of visionary leader we need in our military – unfortunately we just need comparable civilian leadership to back it up.