Friday, July 30, 2004

  How the Iraq disaster is making the U.S. Army stronger

An excellent must read article:

The Army's chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, likes to call the March 2003 ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company--during which Jessica Lynch was taken captive--part of the Army's "report card." He doesn't mean it as a compliment. That engagement revealed an unfortunate truth about many of the Army's support units: They were poorly-led, badly-equipped, and unready for the brutal rigors of combat.
Because American troops in Iraq must both beat back the insurgency and rebuild a war-torn nation, they can't stay behind barbed wire. And unfortunately, the Army doesn't have enough troops to both take the offensive and secure logistics units that can't protect themselves. So, it has returned to the old maxim, long embraced by the Marines, that every soldier--regardless of occupational specialty--must be able to fight as an infantryman. In practical terms, this means that every soldier must be physically fit and tactically competent enough to fight his or her way out of a firefight when necessary, to patrol on foot when necessary, and to kill the enemy when necessary.

This new training regimen has yet to reach all 482,000 soldiers in the Army, but there are more tangible signs of progress. Before Iraq, support units often did not participate in large-scale, live-fire exercises with real bullets the way their combat brethren did. Now, every support unit preparing to deploy to Iraq goes through a convoy-ambush exercise with real bullets. Before Iraq, support units lacked enough war-fighting equipment--heavy machine guns, truck-mounted grenade launchers, night-vision goggles, and GPS devices--to protect themselves. Now the Pentagon has shipped these items to support units in the field and revised plans so that future deployments include the right equipment as a matter of course. Before Iraq, most Army Humvees and trucks had nothing but canvas and thin aluminum for armor--which keeps out the rain, but not bullets. Today, the Army is rushing thousands of armored Humvees into the field, and retrofitting other vehicles with armor plates and sandbags.
Despite dire predictions about recruiting and retention, the Army Reserve has largely met both sets of targets since 2001, even with the extremely high operational tempo. If anything, today's deployment pace has been a reality check for prospective recruits and those already in uniform; they now know that joining or reenlisting is not a good idea if you're hoping to avoid deployment overseas.

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