News: “U.S. Army Isn’t Broken After All, Military Experts Say”

Important news, if accurate:  “U.S. Army Isn’t Broken After All, Military Experts Say“, Fox News (19 March 2008).   Of special note are the data they show in these nine charts.

Opening of the Fox News story

One year ago, as President Bush decided to send more troops to Iraq, the conventional wisdom in Washington among opponents of the war was that the U.S. Army was on the verge of breaking.  In December 2006 former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell warned, “The active Army is about broken.”

Ret. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, in a much-cited memo to West Point colleagues, wrote: “My bottom line is that the Army is unraveling, and if we don’t expend significant national energy to reverse that trend, sometime in the next two years we will break the Army just like we did during Vietnam.”  Army Maj. Gen. Bob Scales, the former head of the Army War College, agreed. He wrote in an editorial in the Washington Times on March 30:

“If you haven’t heard the news, I’m afraid your Army is broken, a victim of too many missions for too few soldiers for too long. … Today, anecdotal evidence of collapse is all around.”

But now, one year later, Scales has done an about-face. He says that he was wrong. Despite all the predictions of imminent collapse, the U.S. Army and the combat brigades have proven to be surprisingly resilient.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more on this, including several Army studies, see An Army near the Breaking Point — an archive of links.

4 thoughts on “News: “U.S. Army Isn’t Broken After All, Military Experts Say””

  1. I’d have more faith in these numbers if there were some sort of clarification on the methodology behind them. Are they counting stop-loss in these figures? Also, a comparison of the figures from the 60’s and 70’s is misleading because the draft existed then and it was a different military. I don’t see much credible about it since it only went to Fox News and came without any real explanation of the figures. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t noted in the article.
    Fabius Maximus replies: That is also my first take on this. But it deserves close attention. The article somewhat misprepresents the problem of officer retention, which long pre-dates the current wars — as shown by the studies at my archive page.

  2. Nicholas Weaver

    Also, on officer retention: not having good retension when the force is shrinking is OK, but when you are trying to expand your overall forces? Also, how does one measure quality? Is a captain in 2008 a better or worse captain then one in 1998 or 1988? What I’d be interested in is the following leading indicator: GPA + test scores on those enrolling in the military academies and ROTC, and how thats evolved over time.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Good point. Keeping the numbers up is good, but is the price a decline in quality?

  3. Interesting, the retention targets seem to move up or down with the number of soldiers retained. I would be interested to know if those targets have been adjusted the way the recruitment targets were. I certainly find it interesting that the targets were going down as the army was supposedly being expanded.

  4. The Army IS breaking. However, breaking an organization doesn’t just happen like breaking a stick; the break isn’t instantaneous or in sound bytes. Rather, the break takes time and is reversible if the organization acts quickly to remedy the growing fracture. That’s the challenge for the Army – to react to the growing problem. The key parts of the break are in the junior officer and NCO groups. The older cohorts – those who have put in 10+ years – a far less likely to leave than those who have put in less than 10 years time. Can the Army do anything to get these key leaders to stay? My personal professional opinion is no because this isn’t a monetary issue, it’s a (deployment) fatigue and lifestyle issue; the Army cannot control those things because it is fixed in its deployments and end strength.

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