The Army is out of one war and trying to wind down its second, but service officials are not waiting until they cross the Afghan finish line to begin plotting for what’s next.
The service has two major problems. First: It will likely get smaller as it goes, winding up with an end strength in the low 500,000s or even high 400,000s. Still larger than it was before Sept. 11, but down from its wartime peak. Second: The Army really wants to keep its highly valuable corps of battle-hardened noncommissioned officers and mid-grade officers. But if it goes back to a “Sgt. Bilko” life inside the garrison, cleaning latrines with toothbrushes, those troops are going to walk.
What’s old is new again. First, the article talks about bringing back two of the four BCTs currently in Europe (or more likely, disbanding those brigades) and replacing them with by rotating stateside BCTs to Europe for exercises. The other initiative discussed is “regional alignment” in which stateside BCTs would focus their training on certain regions of the globe, becoming subject matter experts on those regions.
In truth, this isn’t some radical new approach. Back in the Cold War, REFORGER, or Redeployment of Forces to Germany, was an annual exercise in which stateside units practiced moving to Germany to reinforce forces already in theater in case of a Soviet invasion. While much of the higher level focus was on the logistics of the movement, at the tactical level, troop units participated in exercises on the very ground they might be expected to fight on.
As to the regional alignment, that too was very much a part of the Cold War Army.
In the Pacific, the 2nd Infantry Division was obviously focused on Korea, since it was stationed right there on the DMZ. The 25th ID, stationed in Hawaii, obviously focused a lot of its attention on Korea as well, as it was the first logical unit to reinforce the 2nd ID. Other divisions along the west coast during the 80s, such as the 7th and 9th IDs also prepared for operations in Korea.
Similarly, those units of the III Corps, the primary heavy “contingency corps” of the Army focused on deployment to Germany, and later, to the Persian Gulf region.
I sometimes wonder if any of the Army leadership reads history, or even remembers what the early days of their service was like.
Undoubtedly, there will be some more involved aspects of this, such as BCTs routinely sending Liaison Officers on Temporary Duty to work with partner nations during peacetime to establish relationships and learn the lay of the land. This would be in addition to the Foreign Area Officer fields of expertise, and the Defense Attaches from the local embassy.
But that’s tinkering on the edges. To claim the two new initiatives are a paradigm shift is to stretch the truth more than a little.