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Home Front
Every Soldier a Rifleman
2003-10-22
As Democratic presidential candidates trade sound-bite complaints about the Army being overextended in Iraq, one man in a position to make changes has announced a plan that could genuinely improve the Army’s predicament.
Donald Rumsfeld also proposed changes a while ago, but I haven’t heard anything since.
Schoomaker plans to fix the situation by taking the existing pool of soldiers and dividing them into 48 brigades instead of the current 33, according to Defense News. He will also re-train the troops to turn all soldiers into riflemen first, specialists in logistics and other subfields second. The reorganization will mark the most fundamental change in Army combat organization since the 1950s, and soon after it is implemented should relieve the Army’s current overextended state, by improving the ratio of soldiers deployed overseas relative to those at home.
Stealing the Marines’ playbook. About time too.
Though it might appear that Schoomaker is merely making an accounting change, he’ll actually have a deep impact. The main elements of Schoomaker’s reorganization:
1. Increase the number of brigades: Schoomaker plans to take the Army’s 33 maneuver brigades and spread their personnel across 48 brigades. He’ll then take support brigades — those that do artillery, supply and maintenance, for the most part — and sprinkle their personnel across the 48 as well. This will push support roles down to the brigade level.
I hope they’ll implement this along with Rumsfeld’s proposal to convert support personnel into combat. The current ration of 85% support to 15% combat soldiers is just insane.

2. Make every soldier a rifleman: The support troops in the new brigades will have to be more versatile as soldiers. Where under the current structure troops have completed basic training then gone immediately into their specialized fields of logistics, etc., the new structure will require a higher level of combat proficiency from each soldier.
Damm right.
To be sure, there may be some problems with the reorganization, which increases the mixture of weapons and functions at a lower level of the force. The changes will require a ramping up of training for soldiers, so that all can be skilled in combat arms. Commanders who previously dealt only with combat troops will now need to lead logistics and other supporting forces as well. And training support soldiers, who will now be spread across 48 brigades instead of concentrated in their own few brigades, will be decentralized and thus made more complicated.
Descentralizing a big organization usually makes things less complicated, not more.

This is the same economy of scale argument that see-saws back and forth, year by year. There are advantages to having support deployed at the brigade level, but there are other advantages to having support held centrally. For instance, the centralized supply and repair depot can maintain a larger and more varied parts inventory. Specialized skills — the kind that might get called upon from one brigade once or twice a year — can be kept efficiently employed servicing a number of widespread units. Think engine overhauls, for instance.

There are also the problems of command specialization. Maneuver brigade commanders concentrate on moving and shooting. They already have a certain number of supply and maintenanc people attached, but it's a minimal thing, just enough to keep moving (I'm assuming things haven't changed much since my day, back in the Paleolithic...) Taking a 3- or 4 battalion maneuver brigade and tacking on artillery and additional support battalions makes it not a brigade; it makes it a regiment, like the Soviets used to organize around, and like the Army used in WWII. Over the course of years, we've come to rely on the flexibility of the brigade concept, and we've moved away from the regimental idea. We've concentrated the bulk of direct support at division level because it's allowed us to task organize on the fly, rather than cross-leveling among subordinate regiments. Heavy (or heavier) maintenance is also concentrated at division level, for the same economy of scale reasons.

I think the ultimately workable solution is a separate supply and maintenance service, with military organization and maybe pay, but without the combat functions, for rear echelons — maybe corps and above, plus theater-level supply and maintenance depots and stateside. (A lot of these jobs are done by contractors now, by the way, and a few are sometimes done at division level.) I know the rear echelons can shift and in modern warfare there are no rear areas, but there are areas that are more secure and less susceptible to attack. (In that respect, there weren't any "rear areas" in WWII, either, at least not until we had absolute air superiority. Even though Saigon or Danang were susceptible to rocket attacks and sabotage, they were considerably more secure than, say Camp Carroll or the Rock Pile.) Training and maintaining the brigade and division-level supply and maintenance people as riflemen makes sense — though keep in mind that infantry tactics nowadays have moved away considerably from the rifleman in the trench. Training and maintaining the guys in the rear areas who're never going to see combat isn't cost-effective.
Posted by:Sorge

#18  One of the ways that the Navy dealt with a massive drawdown of forces during the Clinton years was to decommission most of the oilers and tenders and outsouced the work. My second ship was the USS Yellowstone(AD-41), a destroyer tender that was decommisioned in 1994.

The end result worked pretty well. I'm sure there were some sustainability issues, but the tooth to tail ratio improved and ships continue to deploy sucessfully.
Posted by: Super Hose   2003-10-22 2:55:41 PM  

#17  I think anyone serving outside the continental US or Alaska should be given combat orientation and taught a bit about small unit tactics before being deployed - that includes Air Force flyboys as well as Navy seamen. If nothing else, it'll give them a better idea what the guy in the foxhole or Humvee has to put up with ALL the time. In the time of war or conflict, drafting these folks for perimeter defense won't be such a stress for them, if they've had that much training.

I'm an old southern farm boy, so I've hunted most of my life - since I was five or so with my dad, finally 'graduating' at 13 or 14 to hunting on my own. When the Army grabbed the five of us Air Force enlisted for perimeter duty one day in Vietnam, I was the only one that had actually had much experience with guns. Two of the guys were from New Jersey and California, and had only fired weapons during basic training - not even on getting orders for Vietnam (mistake - they were SUPPOSED to, but the range was closed for some reason).

Combat is NOT something people should be forced to learn by "total immersion".
Posted by: Old Patriot   2003-10-22 1:47:01 PM  

#16  Question: Will this mean more riflemen or just the same over-stretched bunch of line doggies we have right now?

A buddy of mine whose boyfriend serves in the Old Guard claims that things have gotten tough enough that even those guys are going to be shipping out for Iraq, after a stop by Fort Polk for urban combat training.
Posted by: Hiryu   2003-10-22 1:32:07 PM  

#15  Sorge--I see some of your points, but I am very wary about migrating some jobs to civilian sectors. Civvies can choose to walk out or strike without notice, and the recent experience in Iraq in which insurance rates were too high for contractors to work there is also a problem. Additionally, civilians aren't required to adhere to the same code of conduct or COMJ.

I understand you're talking about positions in the rear, which I understand to mean here in the States, since there really is no "rear" in the areas like Afghanistan or Iraq. However, in times of crisis (e.g. another 9/11 attack), I wonder how many civvies in such positions would stick to their posts instead of saying, Screw it! and going home to their families. I certainly wouldn't trust them in anything but non-essential positions like many are now (food service, custodial duties, etc.).
Posted by: Dar   2003-10-22 1:14:56 PM  

#14   With all the known benefits of British-style Regimental system I have often wondered why no reformer hasn't tried introducing it in US Army.
Turn brigades into Regiments w/6 batt. sized units.3 combat,1 recon,supporting arms(art.,mortars,mlrs,etc.)and Regimental Support Sq.
(medical,eng.,supply,etc.).Soldiers assigned to Regiment stay in Regiment.The problem of Regimental insularity would be cured by tours w/Rangers,assorted Command schools,"aggressor"
units,schools,training units,etc.For every 6 or so combat Regiments a support Regiment.I would also break up Army Reserves and instead have a reserve company for each combat batt. and equivalent reserves for Regt.Support Squadrons.

Posted by: Stephen   2003-10-22 12:47:35 PM  

#13  Dar--Many rear positions can be moved to the civilian sectors, security guards at bases, for example. Others should be integrated into the combat units--like certain intelligence-gathering capabilities. I believe the Army needs some old-fashioned MOS increased; such as MP's (who might see as much combat as infantry), Infantry itself, and short-range artillery. (Short-range artillery being useful in mountain warfare.)
Posted by: Sorge   2003-10-22 12:31:12 PM  

#12  Zhang Fei

"Only a very brave man would NOT be a hero in the Red Army" Stalin

One of the reasons the Soviets suffered horrific casualties (even after Stalingrad) was their method for clearing minefields: sending people. Another one was their abyssal health service.
Posted by: JFM   2003-10-22 12:03:08 PM  

#11  "More shooters" doesn't necessarily hold true.
In the Air Force, only a very small number actually fire anything. The tooth/tail ratio is much lower. Steve denBeste wrote an excellent article on the subject, but I'm too lazy to look it up.

In conducting offensive maneuvers, you want to be able to concentrate capability into an unstoppable thrust. Armor works well in this regard because it concentrates the capabilities of the support personnel into a small focus. On the other hand, in attrition or defensive operations, armor gets chewed pretty heavily.

Another point is that the objective of war is not necessarily to kill the enemy. It is far more effective to force the enemy to surrender. Without basic supplies (like food) an army very quickly ceases to exist.
Posted by: Dishman   2003-10-22 11:06:32 AM  

#10  Basic now is much different then in 1974,In 74 we were not taught hand-to-hand,etc.,pugal sticks had been eliminated.Check out one of the History or Discovery Channels Documentories on military basic training,you old dogs will see the difference.After Basic the only time I picked-up a weapon was for gaurd duty and even then with no magazine,part of this time in Korea.
One of the greatest mistakes is support personel are given very little combat training after Basic.I believe basic should be longer,currently Basic training for the Army is 6.8 weeks as opposed to Marine Basic wich is 12 weeks.I believe that Army Basic should be at least 12 weeks with the last 4 weeks dedicated to Advanced Infantry Training.With a 4 week refresher training/year at a minimum.
One of my young cousins got back from Iraq a couple months ago(Army Reserve).He is truck driver and complained that almost as soon as he got in theater the Army stuck a rifle in his hand and assigined him to a combat unit.Guess he did not realize that a soldier's Primary MOS is 11b30(11bush).
He was part of the same convoy as Pvt.Jessica Lynch(I could swear she was one of the trainies I saw on one of those docus I mentioned above)
Posted by: Raptor   2003-10-22 11:01:54 AM  

#9  The current ration of 85% support to 15% combat soldiers is just insane.

Depends on what you mean by a combat soldier. American troops have a lot of assets at their fingertips, compared to even the British. The American combat infantryman's job is not to use his rifle to take out the enemy - it's to draw out the enemy so that he can be pounded to pieces by artillery (tube, rocket or flying). The support units cited probably include artillery and MLRS as well, since they stay well back from the front. The supply train for artillery units is probably significant as well. Given the extent to which we use area weapons (i.e. bombs and shells) to destroy the enemy, I'm not surprised about this ratio. Logistical demands for units equipped with attack (Apaches and Hueys) and transport (Blackhawks) helicopters are also non-trivial. Helicopters are even more maintenance intensive than fixed wing aircraft - note how many people are in the Air Force (hundreds of thousands) compared to how many aircraft are actually flying (thousands). But this emphasis on firepower is a good thing - this was why we sustained casualties at a much slower rate than the Soviets during WWII - we used shells while they used men.
Posted by: Zhang Fei   2003-10-22 10:46:22 AM  

#8  Lu--Um, yes, but how does that address the 85/15 ratio? 15% of 100,000 is 15,000, and 15% of 200,000 is 30,000, so should we just expand the military by a few hundred thousand to get more shooters, in your opinion?
Posted by: Dar   2003-10-22 10:43:37 AM  

#7  Dar: More GIs shooting IS more enemies dying, yeah?
Posted by: Lu Baihu   2003-10-22 10:18:46 AM  

#6  I believe Rumsfeld's biggest contribution to-date (solely in terms of hardware) has been his commitment to the "No Soldier is a Crusader crewman" principle. Apart from its similarity in size to Fred Silverman's "SuperTrain" concept, I'm envisioning the collective anguish-yodel that would sound when the Pentagon announced the shipment of several U.S. Crusader brigades to the Middle East...
Posted by: snellenr   2003-10-22 10:14:32 AM  

#5  The current ration of 85% support to 15% combat soldiers is just insane.
Sorge--I'm curious about your reasoning on that. One reason there is such a lopsided ratio is because modern combat requires so much more supplies than it used to. Automatic weapons go through ammo much faster, and the introduction of vehicles--land and air--added the requirements of fuel, spare parts, repair and recovery units, etc. Not too mention the expanded medical facilities, creature comforts, engineers, yada yada yada.

Then, take into account that we're one of only a handful of nations prepared to deploy and fight anywhere around the world, which only adds to the logistical needs.

This is intended as a criticism--I'm just curious why you feel that ratio is something that needs to be changed?
Posted by: Dar   2003-10-22 10:01:39 AM  

#4  I think they are missing something: operational mobility. The Armed Forces need a higher Airlift/Sealift capacity to become a true global menace. (Menace to our enemies of course.)

Note: Liberalhawk; I've posted the defense of yesterday's comment on my website.
Posted by: Sorge   2003-10-22 9:47:34 AM  

#3  This is a pretty logical reorganization, given that brigades now appear to have more firepower than divisions used to, just decades ago. Note that in the recent conflict, brigades sliced through entire Iraqi divisions like a knife through butter.
Posted by: Zhang Fei   2003-10-22 9:32:43 AM  

#2  Why reorganize around Brigades? Why not go back to the Regimental structure (currently, Brigade = Regiment, but without the name and link to history) - there is a lot of history there that could be useful for morale purposes. Current battalions have a "regimental link", but battalions from different "regiments" are combined to form a Brigade. Just reform the Regiments.
Posted by: Spot   2003-10-22 8:49:54 AM  

#1  Excellent article - and the logic behind Schoomaker's plan seems solid. I hope it proves true in the implementation. There are far more good guys than gutless Weasley Clark political climbers in this incarnation of the Army, so the odds are pretty good. Restructuring is inevitable in the face of changing conditions and missions. And without a doubt, at the individual's level, the jarheads have this one right! I hope the redeployment plans free up some garrisoned troops to go with this plan. Thx for the post!
Posted by: .com   2003-10-22 8:36:00 AM  

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