Summary: As our 9-11 wars wind down, the US Army must confront not only the bitter truth of these failures, but also the serious structural problems temporarily masked by the wars. They’ll do so while DoD downsizes their numbers and Congress looks to cut their pay and benefits. Today we have a brief analysis of the situation by Mike Few (Major, retired, former Editor of the Small Wars Journal).
“People, ideas and hardware, in that order!”
— The late John R. Boyd (Colonel, USAF), “A Discourse on Winning and Losing” (unpublished), August 1987.
- The challenges facing the US ArmyT
- he state of the Army
- About Mike Few
- For More Information
(1) Challenges facing the US Army
For years I accumulated articles and studies starting in the late 1990s about deteriorating recruitment and retention at “Army at the breaking point“. The wars masked these problems. Now that the wars are ending, what happens? None of the Army’s problems have been fixed. Will they return?
Perhaps the slow economy combined with the longer-term decline in opportunities for America’s lower middle class, will more than compensate for internal weaknesses in the Army’s culture.
The Army’s ability to recovery depends on many things. Perhaps most importantly on morale of the officers and senior NCOs — history suggests lost wars are often followed by a “dreamtime” in which the army constructs a narrative of a valiant war followed by good things. Such as applause and rewards. When those things don’t happen, as they usually don’t after wars, the reaction is rarely strong — but those rare cases can be significant. (for details see The Culture of Defeat – On National Trauma, Mourning, and Recovery by Wolfgang Schivelbusch (2001).
The Army might already have began this next phase: “Army morale declines, survey shows“, Boston Globe, 19 August 2012 — ” Only 1/4 of the Army’s officers and enlisted soldiers believe the nation’s largest military branch is headed in the right direction, the lowest on record”
Another wild card: how the public sees our troops. The far-Right grows increasingly paranoid and rebellious to the Republic, fires stoked by conservatives for generations. This might tip their love-hate relationship with the military to hate. The Left is soured by accounts of US war crimes, and the evolution of the USAF and Spec Ops into assassins. The Left has maintained a pretense of supporting the troops, but this could change now that the wars end.
The military might find itself friendless, except for contractors leaching its blood. Not an uncommon situation in 19th C America. Mike, Your thoughts?
(2) Mike Few’s reply, warning us about the state of the Army
It’s important that you brought up the past behavior of the military and the stats on the breaking points. Here’s some thoughts that qualify what you’re thinking.
(a) About the military’s people, then and now
The military is probably much worse off than in the 1990’s due to lowering the bar on recruitment and rapid promotion rate that started around 2005. While some of this is tempered by the massive amounts of combat experience, there is a good percentage that have no business being in the military. Moreover, many young officers and NCO’s don’t know the basics (land navigation, planning, etc.). These are real concerns.
(b) DoD’s likely solutions
The military will try to combat this problems with restoring “good order and discipline.” Don’t be fooled by the word play. It equals haircuts, uniform inspections, check the block risk assessments, and eight hour long days of PowerPoint briefings. These measures will stifle any good leadership slowly lulling them to sleep, and it will allow mediocre leaders continue to excel in the bureaucracy. Very similar to what I think happened in the VA.
This is what happens to large bureaucracies over time. Same thing happened to some degree in Iraq on the larger Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) with folks more concerned with how things looked rather than winning a war.
See General Officers and Reflective Belts at the Small Wars Council.
(c) Continued Bureaucratic Drift
Staffs are growing larger. Do a Google search on Centers of Excellence. Even the mess halls have a Culinary Center of Excellence.
(d) Good Leaders are tired
If the human resources folks wanted to measure good leaders, they can with a simple search of valor awards and number of tours in the database. Those folks, who excelled in leading in war, are tired and simply trying to make it to 20 years and keep their families together. Many of them have no desire for battalion or above command.
(3) About Mike Few
Mike Few (Major, US Army, Retired) served multiple tours in various command and staff positions in Iraq, and was a former Editor of the Small Wars Journal. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and studied small wars at the Defense Analysis Department at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA
Today he focuses on nation-building back home in North Carolina. See his articles at the Small Wars Journal, and the other post by Mike Few here:
- Tell Me How This Ends: Restoring American Power in the 21st Century, 21 November 2012
- Things we need to know about the Long War, 11 January 2014
(4) For More Information
If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more posts about this see posts about America’s military, and those about An Army near the Breaking Point: studies & reports. Especially see those about the skill and integrity of our senior military leaders:
- The Core Competence of America’s Military Leaders, 27 May 2007
- The moral courage of our senior generals, or their lack of it, 3 July 2008
- Obama vs. the Generals, 1 October 2010
- Careerism and Psychopathy in the US Military leadership, GI Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired), 2 May 2011
- Rolling Stone releases Colonel Davis’ blockbuster report about Afghanistan – and our senior generals!, 12 February 2012