Best Defense

The stoopiding of the Army (V): A view from the Pentagon

We’ve heard from smart Army generals on the hurdles to change in the Army and the lack of time and respect now given to serious thinking. Today an Army reserve captain at the Pentagon offers a similar, but more pessimistic, view. He thinks Barno is "dead on" correct, but that "the problem is much bigger" ...


We’ve heard from smart Army generals on the hurdles to change in the Army and the lack of time and respect now given to serious thinking. Today an Army reserve captain at the Pentagon offers a similar, but more pessimistic, view. He thinks Barno is "dead on" correct, but that "the problem is much bigger" than as described by Barno and Scales.

He explains:

The Military does not have a clear mission for the future. It used to be that we win large, conventional wars on two fronts and hold on a third. That has still remained the capability needed, but they added on "and fully occupy, stabilize and hand over two Stability Operations" to that capability without significantly increasing the budget, manpower allocated and resources necessary to do so.

If the National Security Strategy outlined the need to win 2 conventional wars and stabilize 2 failed states, we could organize appropriately. We could identify our two nearest competitors for conventional conflict, China and Russia, and organize our conventional forces to deal with them and then we could identify the two closest potential failed states, Pakistan and Somalia, for example, and organize our unconventional, i.e. USSOCOM, properly in order to deal with those simultaneous Stability Operations. However, there needs to be a clear capability addressed for our future. What exactly does our country expect us to do in the future based on the major threats? It is time to recognize that our military is also needed for Stability Operations because failed states have been the major threat since World War II. It doesn’t have to be conventional vs. unconventional/irregular. It can be both.

Personally, I believe that we need two separate organizations (conventional and unconventional) to deal with INTERstate wars and INTRAstate wars.  Our mission has never included the need to resolve INTRAstate wars, i.e. failed states w/insurgencies. If that was the case and we were using the time-testing formula for peacekeepers /counterinsurgents per capita (50:1), we would need 180K troops to occupy and stabilize Somalia and around 3.6 million troops to occupy and stabilize Pakistan, for example. That would increase our military 10-fold (given the amount of troops we would need to conduct two conventional wars simultaneously and occupy those two countries as well), but would adequately reflect what the country wanted us to do.

See, that is the problem. If the military had the 560,000 SOF troops it would need to occupy Afghanistan (based on 28million pop.) and the 620,000 SOF troops needed to occupy Iraq (based on 31million pop.), we wouldn’t be in the predicament we are in today in either of those countries. An insurgency would never have been able to build, foreign direct investment could have come sooner, and international support would have been flowing into both of these countries.

Tom, we have to be honest. If our country expects us to occupy and stabilize countries, then we need WAY more SOF troops! These are the guys (SF, CA, PSYOP) trained for INTRAstate conflict, i.e. FID/Security Force Assistance, building local Government Capacity and Information Operations. This is exactly what they do.

Up until now, no one has addressed this issue. Modularization works for the conventional Army with technology and better fire power winning the day, but in an INTRAstate conflict, boots on the ground and knowledge win out. … I think that occupying and stabilizing two failed states has thrown the military for a loop. Two distinct camps have emerged within the upper echelons of the military over the past 8 years, Tom. The first camp sees Irregular Warfare, consisting of the primarily SOF missions of COIN, Security Force Assistance/FID and Stability Operations becoming our main focus as the General Purpose Force (and not just the SF community which was its entire purpose) and the other camp sees these skills and these wars as temporary, that we will go back to being a conventional force that only fights conventional nation-states. 

Unfortunately for the Army, the 2nd camp holds the senior positions of power within TRADOC, FORSCOM and the ARSTAF. Hence, we have seen 0 Counter IED initiatives transferred from the OCO to the Base Budget and our HumanTerrain Teams, PRTs and Advise and Assist Brigades are all ad hoc. We have no new Officer Branches of Service. Where are the MOS and Branches that cover COIN, SFA, Stability Operations, C-IED, etc.? They are all being pulled from traditional Branches like Civil Affairs, Infantry and MP and taught these additional skills in 3-hour blocs of instruction, but as a SECONDARY skill set, not a PRIMARY skill set, while their primary skills sets (IN, MP) depreciate.

There are many questions as I sit here at the Pentagon.

1) What is our mission? Is it to fight two fronts with two nation-states and occupy/stabilize one/two failed states? Is it to win on two fronts and hold on a third. Just what is it that our country wants us to do. What our mission is will drastically change our organization.

2) Is our current structure with the Combatant Commands having no control over the training of the force coming to fight their fight correct? Should each Combatant Commander be tasked with training his/her own force to address the problem areas in their AORs?

3) Are separate services necessary in today’s world? Why wouldn’t we want the Combatant Commanders to recruit and train their own forces, regardless of a Navy/Army/USMC/Air Force?

These are big questions, but they haven’t been asked nor answered.  Here are some other questions that we should ask about our Officer Education and Promotion:

1) Why are officers not promoted the instant they receive a higher degree of civilian education? Why are they only promoted based on time-in-grade? During the Civil War, many Generals were in their 20s and 30s. Why is an officer not promoted based on merit, knowledge and intelligence?

2) Why are officers not required to have a specific degree as it pertains to their branch? My friend in the Infantry had a Chemistry degree. Go figure. Wouldn’t an International Relations degree be better suited?

3) Why don’t officers have continuous distance learning requirements so by the time they reach O-6 they have earned a PhD in something relevant? And the enlisted could have a Master’s Degree by the time they are a SGM?

4) Why are they not increasing the pay to attract the best and the brightest into the military officer and enlisted ranks? If you offered 150K right out of college and 40K enlisted, you would get the best and the brightest, yet we spend ridiculous amounts of money on contractors and technology and new weaponry. The bottom line is that we live or die based on the quality and quantity of our people. Period.

These questions have been asked, but the problem is they haven’t been solved. There are too many chiefs, too much red-tape, and the bureaucracy of the major commands is stifling. 

I hope you continue to bring these issues to life, Tom. The military needs to reform desperately.


I think this officer speaks much wisdom, but I do have quibbles with his specifics. I am big on education, but I think he takes it too far. Frankly, I think the last thing we need is sergeants major with master’s degrees. They need to impress the enlisted in many ways — but having advanced degrees is not one of them. That’s officer stuff, I think.

Three if by Bike/Flickr 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola