Transformation Not Yet Done

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Judging by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s (search ) reported interest in devoting Army troops to a non-U.N., standing international peacekeeping force, his highly unusual decision to pass over the current crop of Army leaders to choose a retired general as Army chief of staff, and his evident clash of vision with those Army leaders before, during and after the Iraq war, that service is due for some major changes.

That’s a good thing, as long as newly nominated Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker (search), a retired special forces general and Army Secretary James Roche (search ), currently Air Force Secretary, focus their attention on the three changes Army soldiers need most.

As soon as they’re confirmed this summer, Roche and Schoomaker need to rethink Army deployments so the same exhausted guys aren’t fighting war one minute and cleaning up after war the next. Second, they need to focus the Army’s transformation efforts on addressing the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, answering how technology can help the individual solider get to the conflict most quickly and prevail in close combat. Third, the new leaders will need to minister to the Army’s morale, seriously battered after a few years in which the service has felt, rightly or wrongly, that it has as many enemies in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as it does in Iraq.

Deployment and Stability Operations: The best illustration of the deployment problem is offered by the Third Infantry division. (search) Its 17,000 weary soldiers have been in the Gulf region since last September, first training, then fighting the war on the ground in Iraq (search), and now doing stability operations. While they may come home soon, the fact that two-thirds of active Army brigades are deployed in Iraq or in the Balkans (search) and Afghanistan (search ) has forced an unreasonably long wait.

Not only has the long, varied deployment been too much of a strain on the Army soldiers and their families, it’s also highly unusual for the Army or any service. Consider that when Navy personnel do tours overseas with their families for six months at a time, they do so only once every few years. Or that the Air Force tries to make sure that only two of its ten “air and space expeditionary forces” are deployed at any one time. The Army tradition, meanwhile, has been to “garrison” soldiers at bases around the world with their families, rather than to send them overseas for long periods alone. Even service in Korea, which is done without family members, is limited to a few tours in the course of a soldier’s career. By contrast, the long deployments in Iraq are very taxing.

Given the country’s post-Sept. 11 needs for warfighting and long-lasting stability operations, the days of the “garrison Army” may be behind us. The service needs to join the Navy, Air Force and Marines in becoming an “expeditionary force.” To make that change effectively, Army leaders need to work quickly to figure out how to dedicate certain troops to warfighting and others to stability operations, all the while developing a deployment rotation that protects soldiers from unnecessarily long and wearying deployments away from their homes and families.

Transformation: The Iraq war, like the Afghanistan war before it, showed the military and Americans that precision strikes from the air and sea have largely eliminated the Army’s need to fight an enemy that is beyond its line of sight or to defend itself from enemy attacks from the air. In other words, the Army no longer needs better and fancier ways to lug heavy artillery and air defense weaponry with it into battle. Instead, the Army needs to focus on moving in close to the enemy quickly and exploiting the openings that precision strikes provide. While the Army has improved its speed considerably -- deploying to Iraq in three months compared to six months in 1991 -- it still has a ways to go.

Real Army transformation will require Roche and Schoomaker to ensure that the Pentagon (search) invests in greater mobility, sea lift and bigger air lift for the service. They also need to invest in Army aircraft that will improve operational or battlefield mobility, perhaps including tilt-rotor aircraft (search ) such as the V-22. In addition, investment needs to go into technologies that will protect the individual soldier who is fighting the enemy close up in an urban environment, as was -- and is -- the case with many a skirmish in Iraq. Among the technologies that could help are see-through-wall equipment, unmanned vehicles and other sensors for the individual soldier, and robotics to improve his strength, endurance and survivability.

Morale: After a war in which the Army was criticized for slowness (Kosovo (search )), another where the non-special-operations Army sat on the sidelines (Afghanistan), and another in which the Army’s great achievements were overshadowed by acrimony between the service leadership and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Iraq), the Army has developed a bruised ego and a bunker mentality. It’s only natural that its membership will perceive the appointment of outsiders Roche and Schoomaker as a sign of the service’s further estrangement from Bush administration leaders.

But that doesn’t need to be the case. Roche and Schoomaker will have to work hard to show the troops that they have the secretary’s ear, and that their appointments bring the whole Army back into the inner circle.

Building morale won’t be any easier than solving the Army’s deployment and transformation challenges. But surely the Army’s new top man in uniform and new top civilian understand that Donald Rumsfeld didn’t stick his neck out with bold appointments so that the two of them could keep things going as they have been in the past.

Melana Zyla Vickers is a contributing editor to