The Army is emerging from 13 years of war, battle-tested but weary. It is under pressure from budget cuts, the return of nearly the entire force to domestic bases, and a nation wary of deploying land power after two long conflicts. Yet perhaps the most important challenge facing the Army is not about finances, logistics or public opinion, but about culture — its own.
A conflict looms between the Army’s wartime ethos of individual initiative and the bureaucratic malaise that peacetime brings. The Army is about to make an abrupt shift: from a sizable, well-resourced, forward-deployed, combat-focused force to a much smaller, austerely funded, home-stationed service. Training and preparation for war will take the place of actually waging it. The Army is moving from 13 straight years of playing in the Super Bowl to an indefinite number of seasons scrimmaging with itself.
While few in the service would prefer unending wartime deployments over some semblance of peace, the end of full-scale conflict brings unique challenges to those in uniform — especially to those millennials in active service who, since 2001, have experienced nothing but the adrenaline rush of an Army at war. This transition could weaken the Army’s warfighting capabilities and drive talented, combat-experienced young leaders from the force.
LTG Barno is spot on in this piece.
My study of the history of the Army in the immediate post-Vietnam era, and incidentally the evolution of AirLand Battle doctrine shows that the Army leadership then was well aware that they were seeing a massive “brightsizing” where so much of the talent they wanted to keep left for greener pastures, and those that stayed behind were those least suited for it. It took a great deal of effort to keep a core of talent that could tolerate the burdens of petty bureaucracy and zero-defect mentality in the service long enough to reap the rewards of the Reagan era spending on defense.
There are some signs the Army is making the right choices now. H. R. McMaster’s tour at the Maneuver Center of Excellence, and subsequent promotion to Lieutenant General and his new job at Training and Doctrine Command suggests that Big Army wants to keep deep thinkers with initiative in key roles. He may not be getting groomed for future duty as Chief of Staff, but he’s certainly being groomed for something.