Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Is the Army’s armor branch defunct?

Col. Gian Gentile, a West Point history professor and a leading critic of the Army’s emphasis on counterinsurgency, says that the Army’s tank and other armored vehicle branch is increasingly incompetent. He mentions that he has heard that there are staff sergeants in the armor branch "who have never qualified on a M1 Tank." I ...

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Col. Gian Gentile, a West Point history professor and a leading critic of the Army's emphasis on counterinsurgency, says that the Army's tank and other armored vehicle branch is increasingly incompetent. He mentions that he has heard that there are staff sergeants in the armor branch "who have never qualified on a M1 Tank."

I disagree with Gentile a lot, but always find him provocative, and generally worth reading if a bit touchy. I've never understood why he thinks he is an expert on the Iraq war in 2006 because he was there, but thinks he somehow knows the war in 2007-08, which he didn't see. At any rate, one thing I would add to his article is that armor has a clear morale value for troops in a counterinsurgency campaign -- when they are in a bad fix, there is nothing like hearing an M1 clanking around the corner to help out. Also, I also remember reading that in the summer of 2006, Hezbollah light infantry without armor or aviation support stopped an Israeli tank column. So the question may be a bit more complex than Col. Gentile's take.   

Starbuck has a stronger response to Gentile's commentary, suggesting how it might get on the nerves of American soldiers who have been fighting recently in Afghanistan:

Col. Gian Gentile, a West Point history professor and a leading critic of the Army’s emphasis on counterinsurgency, says that the Army’s tank and other armored vehicle branch is increasingly incompetent. He mentions that he has heard that there are staff sergeants in the armor branch "who have never qualified on a M1 Tank."

I disagree with Gentile a lot, but always find him provocative, and generally worth reading if a bit touchy. I’ve never understood why he thinks he is an expert on the Iraq war in 2006 because he was there, but thinks he somehow knows the war in 2007-08, which he didn’t see. At any rate, one thing I would add to his article is that armor has a clear morale value for troops in a counterinsurgency campaign — when they are in a bad fix, there is nothing like hearing an M1 clanking around the corner to help out. Also, I also remember reading that in the summer of 2006, Hezbollah light infantry without armor or aviation support stopped an Israeli tank column. So the question may be a bit more complex than Col. Gentile’s take.   

Starbuck has a stronger response to Gentile’s commentary, suggesting how it might get on the nerves of American soldiers who have been fighting recently in Afghanistan:

Listen up, everyone: we are no longer a fighting Army. To all you veterans of COP Keating and Wanat — you must have been doing nothing else but touchy-feely tea parties and absolutely no combat whatsoever.

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 ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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