Reconfiguring the US military for life after The Long War

Summary:   Slowly our political and military leaders recognize that the current level of military spending not only strains our resources but also does little to improve our national security.  Proposals to fix this deserve our attention, despite the reflexive — often hysterical and irrational — responses from those profiting from the status quo.  Here we look at a proposal by Congressman Mike Coffman, with an analysis by Doug Macgregor (Colonel, US Army, retired).


  1. Proposal by Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO)
  2. Analysis by Doug Macgregor (Colonel, US Army, retired)
  3. About Doug Macgregor
  4. For more information

(1)  Proposal by Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO)

Excerpt from his Press Release of 23 September 2011:

Today U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-CO, submitted a plan to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to highlight defense budget cuts that can be made without compromising national security.  “I’m a Marine Corps combat veteran who cares about making sure that we have the best equipped and best trained military defending this country, but I also believe that we can make additional cuts without harming national security,” Coffman said.

Coffman’s plan would cut an additional $103 billion over the next ten years, on top of spending reductions already planned for by drawing down our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and reducing the end strength of our military that will bring it just above the pre-Iraq War level of 2003.

Coffman’s plan does two things: The first part would expand the size of the National Guard and Reserve by 100,000 and require an equivalent reduction from the active duty force structure to save $90 billion in personnel cost. The second would save up to $13 billion in construction cost by suspending a plan to change the assignments in South Korea from a one-year unaccompanied tour to a three-year accompanied one that will allow service members to bring their families with them.

According to Coffman, transferring the equivalent of 100,000 active-duty positions to the National Guard and the Reserve would achieve a $90 billion savings in personnel cost over a ten year period. For example, the average cost of a U.S. Army soldier is $130,000 per year while that same soldier cost $43,000 in the National Guard and $37,000 in the Army Reserve. Currently, the military has 1.42 million on active duty with 740,000 in the National Guard and Reserve.

Coffman would like to see the 100,000 reduction in active duty personnel come out of the equivalent force structure assigned to Europe and South Korea where there are a combined total of 107,000 U.S troops. By redeploying the equivalent force structure into the National Guard and Reserve, Coffman argues there would be an additional savings beyond the $103 billion envisioned in his plan by closing overseas bases in Europe and South Korea.

Coffman, a first Gulf War and Iraq War veteran, sees a shift in strategy from the costly counterinsurgency/nation building doctrine, which has demanded large troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, to a counterterrorism approach that leverages a very light footprint of specialized personnel and equipment to carry out surgical strike operations as currently employed in the war against al Qaeda in Somalia and Yemen.

“I’ve served in the Army, the Army Reserve, the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Reserve and I know from experience that we can retain our capability while reducing cost by transferring some of our units from active-duty into the reserve,” Coffman said.

(2)  Analysis of Coffman’s proposal by guest author Douglas Macgregor

This strategy works if the National Guard is prohibited from deploying beyond America’s borders except in the event of a declared war or national emergency. This is a strategy I would strongly support, particularly if the Guard is refocused on homeland security and disaster relief.

The danger now is to assume that National Guardsmen are ever ready or capable of deploying and fighting a capable enemy; that is an enemy with air defenses, armies, air forces or coastal naval capability. The Guard has never been able to do that without months of preparation and the widespread replacement of its officers and senior non-commissioned officers with fresh blood from the ranks or regular army officers. I’ve trained numerous Guard units from Nebraska to South Carolina and never encountered one that was ready to do much more than constabulary work or static guard. As Patton observed during WW II when he was routinely frustrated with Guard units (from The Patton Papers, p142):

According to Patton himself, a soldier fought primarily for two reasons — hero worship of his commanding officer and desire for glory. Patriotism was not enough, for patriots could defend but glory hunters could attack.

People who insist we’ve fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan disregard this reality. Only about 10-15 percent of the Soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan were ever under fire and while our losses are tragic, they are a pittance. The opponents were and are pathetic, ill armed and ill trained individuals. The conflicts in these places were and remain colonial suppression campaigns. In the end, we will leave these areas because we cannot afford to stay and there will be no tangible impact on American national security. In fact, our own security may actually improve!

Today, the lesson of greatest importance from Iraq and Afghanistan is not counterinsurgency, but the necessity of avoiding occupation, reconstruction, nation-building, or the pretense of liberation inside backward societies with dysfunctional cultures we cannot change in three years or thirty years. Nothing will survive the withdrawal of our military power except the lingering hatred of the Muslim Arabs and Afghans we leave behind.

Indeed, if the United States is compelled to intervene with military power in the Middle East, Africa or Latin America, then, the United States should limit its commitment to a mix of forces designed to wipe out all known and suspected enemies in the country or region that genuinely threaten the United States and its interests. The target set for such operations must also include people and infrastructure that support the identified enemy. Then, we should withdraw our forces making sure the inhabitants of the region know with certainty that further threats emanating from their soil will result in the same devastating outcome. Clearly, this strategic approach eschews the kinds of missions we’ve seen for 20 years. It also requires a truthful and accurate evaluation of the presumed threat, not the sort of nonsense Douglas Feith and his NEOCON sponsors prepared in isolation from reality or accountability in the run-up to the Iraq intervention.

Organizing ground forces to operate within an integrated Aerospace-Maritime Framework to execute these missions should be the focus, not imaginary future mobilizations to fight on the Asian mainland against a grossly exaggerated Chinese threat. Of course, this approach suits neither the Army nor the Marine bureaucracies both of which stand to lose in the fight for flag officer overhead, money and “people in uniform.” This simply reinforces the desperate need to reorganize the Army and Marine Ground Forces to provide more ready deployable combat power that is complimentary, not competitive in content and capability on rotational readiness than is current the case. This can be achieved at lower manpower levels, but not without sweeping change in the structure and content of these forces to ensure the Army and Marine units bring different, but mutually reinforcing capabilities to the joint fight.

Until we shrink/clean out/reorganize the Defense and Intelligence bureaucracies and rid ourselves of politicians interested in squandering blood and treasure for reasons unconnected to American national security, this approach will be difficult to implement. The good news is that bankruptcy may yet provide the opportunity.

(3)  About Doug Macgregor

From his Wikipedia entry:

Douglas A. Macgregor PhD. (Colonel, US Army, retired) is widely recognized as one of the most influential military thinkers of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.

… Macgregor’s seminal work, Breaking the Phalanx: A New Design for Landpower in the 21st Century (Praeger, 1997) was the first book by an Active Duty military author since Brigadier General William Mitchell, U.S. Army Air Corps, to challenge the status quo and set forth detailed proposals for the radical reform and reorganization of U.S. Army ground forces. His follow-on work, Transformation under Fire: Revolutionizing How America Fights( Praeger, 2003) expands on the concepts and ideas for reform and includes a foreward by a former British four-star general, Sir Rupert Smith.

… Macgregor is now the lead partner with Exec VP with Burke-Macgregor Group LLC..

… Macgregor’s newest book is Warrior’s Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting (2009). In it Macgregor explains how the failure to finish the battle with the Republican Guard in 1991 led to Iraq’s second major confrontation with the United States in 2003 resulting in two hollow military “victories” and the tragic blood-letting that continues today in Iraq.

(4)  For more information

(a)  One of the many prescient presentations by Macgregor

(b)  Other posts about the work of Douglas Macgregor

  1. Colonel Macgregor sums up the state of the Iraq War, 2 July 2008
  2. Important reading for every American who wishes to understand our foreign wars, 7 April 2009
  3. Powerful and insightful new articles by Macgregor, 10 October 2009
  4. Macgregor sketches out the global geopolitical picture for us, 18 May 2010 — Includes links to many of his articles.
  5. Important new articles about reforming our military, a key to balancing the Federal budget, 29 April 2011

3 thoughts on “Reconfiguring the US military for life after The Long War”

  1. Well they call Afghanistan “the graveyard of Empires”. Wonder if it will be our graveyard or at least a humbling?

  2. General Patton was indeed not an admirer of the Guard moxy, assessing National Guard BG Teddy Roosevelt Jr. ‘Teddy’s brave but no Soldier’ (doesn’t act like one) before he tried to have him relieved in N. Africa. It appears spit and polish didn’t matter at Omaha Beach, where BG Teddy, like his National Guard Colonel, Father, successfully “inspired” and “led” assaulting units in the face of heavy fire, receiving the Medal of Honor. The well documented travails of the Guard’s 2003-04 OIF mobilization experience is probably a little more insightful in regards to it’s integration into the Active Army culture (reminiscent of 1940, see The Guard Century Series: 1920-1940, Not So Calm Before the Storm: 1920 to 1940 by Lt. Col. Michael D. Doubler).

    Colonel McGregor is correct about senior level strategic experience in the Guard (for now) but is reminiscing a generation in the area of ability or capability. The all-volunteer Guard took a couple of decades after conscription to build the leadership bench in the late 1990″s. The timeline was shorter for a much better resourced effort to transform the post-conscript “Hollow Army” having the benefit of a cadre of post-Vietnam careerists.

  3. All available evidence converges on the conclusion that the Long War will not end in the foreseeable future, but will expand and intensify until it includes not only all external countries as enemies and threats, but every American as an enemy and threat.

    In the process, the Long War will convert America into a garrison state in which all non-military values are deprecated and gradually vanish from our public life. As the process of militarization continues, police sobriety roadblocks will gradually be replaced with military loyalty roadblocks. Police, once sufficiently militarized, will enter the home or apartment of every American at night and do a complete search for contraband before locking the occupants inside their own houses and apartments and making sure state surveillance of their living rooms and bedrooms is set up and functioning properly.

    At some point in the not too distant future, the militarization will have come to the point where an American president gets inaugurated by sacrificing small children, in the Aztec manner. Virgins will be ritually slaughtered and buried underneath the podium at which the new president gives his inaugural address.

    We currently find ourselves in the midst of a heated debate about how deeply to cut basic social services like medicare and social security in order to fund more endless unwinnable foreign wars and build yet more Buck Rogers superweapons that don’t work. Seniors and others whose social services are about to be slashed appear highly supportive and enthusiastic. At the same time, the War of Drugs continues to expand to include ever more outlandish categories of “controlled substances” — the latest being caffeinated wine coolers.

    When we consider that Obama increased the Pentagon budget by 8% while freezing all other government spending, and when we realize that core inflation is currently at zero, we quickly realize that the real size of the American military as a budget component will double in just 7 years. Since America currently spends in excess of 1.2 trillion dollars per year on its military, broadly defined to include the CIA (global assassination teams, private army Xe, fleets of missile-equipped drones) and the NRO (military satellites) and the VA and military retirements, this is really saying something.

    So it seems unlikely that the American military-industrial-police-terror will reduce in size any time soon. On the contrary, as it endlessly expands, all other functions and services in America will wither away: we’ll stop building highways, we’ll shut down our hospitals, we’ll let old people get sick and die, we’ll watch with indifference and children sicken and die screaming on the streets, we’ll shut down our schools and close our universities…but the endless unwinnable wars and the laser-beam death ray anti-ballistic missle systems that don’t work will continue to get more elaborate, larger, more unwieldy, and will be more enthusiastically supported by American voters.

    Just ask yourself: is the annual Rolling Thunder demonstration of support outside the Pentagon getting larger every year? Or smaller?

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