Good Company

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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Troop Strength

The American Thinker has an interesting read in Troop Strength and Congress, based on an open letter appearing in The Weekly Standard (link here). The question posed is the right size of the U.S. military and the proper mix of active forces and reserve and Guard forces. Much of this touches on the issues of the "Abrams doctrine" (described here):
The Abrams Doctrine is widely interpreted as an expression of General Creighton Abrams’ determination to maintain a clear linkage between the employment of the Army and the engagement of public support for military operations. Abrams, according to the doctrine, established this bond by creating a force structure that integrated Reserve and Active Components so closely as to make them inextricable, ensuring after Vietnam that presidents would never be able to again send the Army to war without the Reserves and the commitment of the American people.

Getting the military and reserves components exactly "right-sized" is probably impossible, since the needs that need to be addressed shift over time. Today's "hot" unit is tomorrow's backwater... What The Weekly Standard open letter addresses is a simple "up sizing" of the Army and Marines:
The United States military is too small for the responsibilities we are asking it to assume. Those responsibilities are real and important. They are not going away. The United States will not and should not become less engaged in the world in the years to come. But our national security, global peace and stability, and the defense and promotion of freedom in the post-9/11 world require a larger military force than we have today. The administration has unfortunately resisted increasing our ground forces to the size needed to meet today's (and tomorrow's) missions and challenges.

Once again we seem to be rediscovering the lessons of the importance of boots on the ground:
“You may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life,” wrote T.R. Fehrenbach. “But if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud.”(This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History by T. R. Fehrenbach>
Kosovo should have taught us some of the limits of high level air power against a smart enemy, and our prior experiences in Kosovo, Iraq, Rawanda, etc, should have taught us of the need for more active duty "civil affairs" units (although there is much to be said for such units being composed of mayors and city council members who have had practical experience the politics of governing instead of just theory).

None of us wants to return to the days of excess manpower, much of it poorly trained except in marching and painting rocks for base beautification projects. However, there is recognition that something needs to be done:
So we write to ask you and your colleagues in the legislative branch to take the steps necessary to increase substantially the size of the active duty Army and Marine Corps. While estimates vary about just how large an increase is required, and Congress will make its own determination as to size and structure, it is our judgment that we should aim for an increase in the active duty Army and Marine Corps, together, of at least 25,000 troops each year over the next several years. There is abundant evidence that the demands of the ongoing missions in the greater Middle East, along with our continuing defense and alliance commitments elsewhere in the world, are close to exhausting current U.S. ground forces. For example, just late last month, Lieutenant General James Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve, reported that "overuse" in Iraq and Afghanistan could be
leading to a "broken force." Yet after almost two years in Iraq and almost three years in Afghanistan, it should be evident that our engagement in the greater Middle East is truly, in Condoleezza Rice's term, a "generational commitment." The only way to fulfill the military aspect of this commitment is by increasing the size of the force available to our civilian leadership.
(I think the "broke force" matter needs more context as I set out here)

I am one of those who served in the reserves who believes that it is important to have well-trained and equipped reserve component and who believes that in the long run having our reserves gain experience in places like Iraq and Afghanistan helps the "total force" but I also agree that the unwise reductions of the Clinton era need to be reversed and the size of the active ground forces bolstered.

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