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By Brian Castner
Best Defense Guest Columnist
There was a time when an officer’s appointment to the divisional staff was a sign that it was safe to unpack the deployment bags. To quench the global flare-ups that inevitably arise, it was fashionable to create a streamlined task force: a high ranking general, a stripped-down support staff, a flat organizational chart with a maximum number of door-kickers and a minimum logistical tail.
Think Task Force Ranger in Somalia in 1993, or the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan; Major General Hagenbeck and the 10th Mountain Division weren’t ordered into country until February 2002, five months after bombs were dropped, and even then it was a skeleton crew that arrived in Bagram. It took a big war, such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003, to get a stout division headquarters to move.
Those times have passed. This month, two divisional headquarters will deploy, the Big Red One to Baghdad
and the 101st Airborne to Liberia
. Both staffs will be larger than Hagenback’s in 2002. Earlier this year, special forces teams were sent to Iraq to determine what the Iraqi Army needed, and the answer was, at least in part, adult supervision: professional organizers, planners, paymasters, book-keepers, and paperwork shufflers. The mission of the 101st in Liberia will be to oversee hospital construction and support to aid agencies, a job that looks more like FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina than any of the Screaming Eagles’ recent combat roles in Mosul, Kirkuk, or Kandahar.
All those officers kicked upstairs, out of line units, in the rear with the gear, eager for a deployment rest after thirteen years of war or despondent to be out of the field, are now headed back into harm’s way before the line battalions under their command. Boots on the ground are politically untenable, but uniformed bureaucrats slip in under the radar.
We may now have an emerging military paradigm, the need for middle management. "Fighting" ebola will take endless planning and resource allocation. In Iraq we have plenty of local gun men and American aircraft, but what the Iraqi Army lacks most are the professional power-pointers that get everyone on the same page. The Big Red One is not a special operations task force. It is a competent, conventional general staff, perhaps the thing furthest thing from an irregular unit in the US military. And that’s the point.
Brian Castner is a former Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer and the author of The Long Walk, an Amazon Best Book of 2012.