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A nation must think before it acts.
Beyond theory and beyond the important issue of how we should be fighting the war on terrorism, what is the public understanding of what our Army represents today and where is it going in the future to enhance our national security? The security environment is of course dynamic, and our/your Army must be ever flexible and agile to meet the threat that might still be over the horizon. But some observations may nevertheless be made.
In September, I traveled to Ft. Riley, Kansas, to visit the 1st Battalion of the 16th Infantry of the First Infantry Division, with which I served in Vietnam. Ft. Riley is a city unto itself, with schools for the children of soldiers, housing, hospitals, playgrounds, gas stations, shopping centers, and social centers. It is at these bases that families wait and pray as their fathers and mothers are deployed. For the Active Force, civil-military relations is in a different context than for the Guard and Reserves. Families of deployed soldiers from the Active Force have a support base at these military installations. If there is a casualty from among them, they rally to each other. With our Guard and Reserves so heavily deployed into the theater of operations, our civilian communities take on a special responsibility to support our soldiers and their families. This is why with an all-volunteer Army we need to keep the lines open between the military and civilian communities. Each soldier serves for us, and each soldier, whether Guard, Reserve, or Active component, needs and merits our support. We are a nation at war, but the sacrifices are being made by but a few Americans.
As Secretary of the Army Dr. Francis Harvey recently said, “Grassroots support for America’s Army can only be achieved”—and I would add maintained—“when the people know and understand the sacrifices of its soldiers and the value of the Army to the Nation. That is why this year’s theme “A Call to Duty” is so appropriate.” FPRI president Harvey Sicherman was correct when he said that the concept of the citizen-soldier itself is under stress. “Patriotism” should be redefined, he suggested, to include a call to national service. Our Army’s call to national service is just that, a “Call to Duty.”
Our Army leaders face five critical challenges today:
Where is our Army deployed today? Of a total component strength of just over 1 million, 254,000 are deployed overseas, in 120 countries. Operation Enduring Freedom in the war on terror is being waged in Afghanistan, where today there are 18,000 troops, along with our troops in the Philippines and elsewhere; in Operation Iraqi Freedom, troops are concentrated in Iraq and Kuwait. Our Army is busy and stretched thin. And we have some 14,000 soldiers assigned stateside for Homeland Security and disaster relief, as during Hurricane Katrina.
Our Army is our soldiers. They are the “boots on the ground” that determine victory. They are indispensable in any conflict and in any nation-building or stability operation. Neither the Navy, Air Force, nor the Marines can do what the soldier does. He and she are the best trained, best equipped, best led, most disciplined, with the highest morale, and enormous individual courage. I know; I visit with them regularly. And to quote General (Ret.) Barry McCaffery, a friend and a hero of Vietnam and the Gulf War, who recently visited soldiers in Iraq, “Unit effectiveness is as good as we can get. This is the most competent and battle-wise force in our nation’s history.”
In full battle gear, a soldier carries a backpack that might weigh 125 pounds, protective mask, extra ammunition for his M-16 or M-4 rifle, 210 rounds as the basic load; a Kevlar helmet with night-vision device, water, extra clothes as called for, Meals Ready to Eat and body armor that can stop most small-arm hits.
Sixty-six percent of our soldiers are married; 19,000 are dual married couples, meaning 38,000 soldiers where both husband and wife are in service; 54 percent of Army spouses are employed (child care is a major issue at big posts but especially for the Guard and Reserves); 3.7 percent of single soldiers are parents; 90 percent of the enlisted are high school graduates; 35 percent of the Army is comprised of minorities; 90 percent of the officers have a master’s or higher degree; 15 percent of Army officers are women. The bulk of our enlisted and NCOs are age 17 to 42. Twenty years service leads to a retirement with 50 percent of the pay earned while on active duty and medical care for life. Senior NCOs and officers of course serve for 30 years or more. Thirty years of service results in retirement pay of 75 percent of base pay upon retirement. But direct pay is not enough, especially to retain soldiers who are married.
RCI: Residential Communities Initiative. To retain soldiers, we need to provide housing that is commensurate with the quality of service that our soldiers give. The new Residential Community Initiative addresses this need. The RCI is a partnership between the Army and the private sector under which, instead of having Army Post Engineers maintain military housing, as had always been the practice, base housing is leased to private investors who assume the obligation to upgrade residential housing and maintain these facilities under the terms of a 50-year contract. The residential investors are guaranteed to receive the housing allowance authorized per year for the soldier. All houses have at least three or four bedrooms. Soldiers love the new quarters, and for our Army, it’s a good business practice. And since families of soldiers are increasingly going to be stabilized at the same military base for 6 to 7 years, their housing will become their homes, with their children staying more extended times in the same school system, often on the Army base. Soldiers can focus on the national security operations they are trained for and let others be the landlords.
Compensation. We are in a competitive employment market. Individuals of the age of 17 to 20, a prime group for recruitment, have many career choices. We as an Army need to be competitive. How much does a soldier get paid? An E-1, a new recruit, earns some $14,000 per year in addition to housing and full medical coverage. This may not be enough to buy a Ferrari, but it’s a career start. Military service still counts in getting an added edge in the job market. In addition, after a three-year tour of duty, a soldier is eligible for VA educational benefits to use toward college or graduate school. In addition, enlistment incentives today for special skills might be $20,000, with new legislation proposed to offer $40,000. A soldier who deploys to a combat zone receives a $225 per month Family Support pay add-on and $110 per month in nontaxable Hostile-Fire pay. So a married 18-year-old just out of high school, after serving stateside in training for less than two years and being promoted to E- 3 (a private first-class), could earn $1,501 per month plus housing for his or her family; with Family Support and Hostile-Fire pay bringing that to $1,836 per month, or some $22,000 per year in addition to the $20,000 enlistment bonus.
As a start to a 20-year career, this just might be attractive for many when one adds the special skills learned (i.e., medical technician, law enforcement, engineering, etc.), many of which have high value in the private sector. Despite the hazards attendant with our nation’s being at war, soldiering is attractive to many. Patriotism also counts with our youth as an incentive to enlist. There are conflicting studies, but the latest results point out that the middle-class is well represented in our enlisted ranks, which are therefore not made up only of poor inner-city or farm youth, as many believe.
An enlistee volunteer who succeeds, stays for 26 years, and attains the rank of E-9 (Sergeant Major, the top NCO rank) receives retirement pay at 75 percent of base salary, or $45,000 per year plus family medical and college benefits for life. This is not bad in today’s market, but our Army needs to retain its NCOs, the backbone of our Army.
The Cold War Army asked me to “join the Army and see the world,” and they kept their promise. Today, our Army is coming home. A combination of (i) the cost of maintaining forward-deployed divisions with soldiers accompanied by families living on three-year tours in foreign lands, (ii) the risk to these facilities from terrorism, (iii) political complications created with our allies by having forward-deployed forces, and (iv) most important, the adoption of new technologies has prompted a redeployment of forces to the continental United States. Seventy thousand soldiers will be returning from Germany and Korea. Our basic force structure will be stateside, except for the 2nd Armored Cav Regiment in Germany, elements of the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, who serve as a tripwire against any North Korean attack, and the 173rd Airborne in Italy. This of course does not include forces now in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait, which are not expected to be overseas long-term. We are becoming a continental U.S.-based expeditionary force able to respond in short order to distant challenges to our national security while being well positioned to meet homeland security requirements.
The Army is adapting and adjusting to strains on the Guard and Reserves. The National Guard units are supported by the states, but with 95 percent federal funding, they will remain identical for the most part in structure and equipment as the Active Force. The Reserves, however, will be structured, trained, and equipped to meet combat service and combat service support special functions on call; hence, the plan to reduce artillery, for example, and increase the availability of military police units. The Reserve Force will be rebalanced to do what it was intended to do: fill in needs where the Active Components might be in need of additional soldiers with special skills.
One new, very critical, change is the plan to building stability and predictability into the force. Members of the Active Component will be stabilized at their home bases for six to seven years, rather than relocating them every three years, to enhance both unit cohesion and family stability. When a soldier deploys from theater as in Iraq, the plan is to have him or her expect to be stateside at their home base for three years before the next deployment. The Guard and Reserve is to be stabilized for six years. Guard and Reserve units according to the current plan are not to be deployed more than once in a six-year cycle.
Our Army is being restructured from the division-centric structure to a Brigade Unit of Action model. A division has some 16,000 soldiers, with units possessing unique combat capabilities—Heavy or Armor; Stryker units; and light infantry. The operational Army is undergoing a total redesign, to create a full-spectrum force that is larger and more powerful, more flexible, more rapidly deployable and inherently more joint and expeditionary. At the center of the Army Modular Force is a stand-alone, self-sufficient Brigade Combat Team that is organized the way it fights, as well as headquarters that are joint capable and organized, manned and equipped the way they will operate in theater. The plan is to increase from 33 to 43 Brigade Combat Teams of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers in the Active Component and to have 34 of these Teams in the Guard and Reserves.
Main fighting vehicles. A heavy BCT is equipped with the M1-A2 Abrams Tank that can attain speeds of more than 40mph, with a 120mm gun, armor protection, a computerized firing and operating system, and a crew of four. It weighs, however, some 67 tons. The Bradley Fighting Vehicle is also part of the Heavy Brigade Combat Team. It provides protective transport of an infantry squad of ten, providing with its armament to support dismounted infantrymen. Fully combat loaded, it weighs 67,000 pounds, can reach speeds of 38 mph, and is armed with a 25mm cannon, a Tow missile system, and a machine gun. It, too, is computerized with a GPS system and advanced communications system.
The Stryker is the newest vehicle in the inventory, and was added to meet the need for a strategically deployable vehicle, air lifted by C-17s and C-5s anywhere in the world, and placed into local environments by C-130 aircraft. It can be an infantry troop carrier, a Mobile Gun System, a medical evacuation vehicle, an antitank missile system, an engineer squad vehicle, or a recon vehicle. It carries nine soldiers and can be armored. It weighs 19 tons and can reach 60 mph. In urban settings, it is the vehicle of choice. Throughout our Army we also have Humvees, a multi-purpose vehicle for transport.
Encompassing 1.6 million people—Soldiers, civilians, and contractors—the Army is big business: 110,000 plus in Iraq, 18,000 in Afghanistan; 14,000 for Homeland Defense; 237,000 vehicles; 4,100 installations, all of which cost $160 billion this year. National security cannot be done on the cheap. A large portion of this is for personnel, a must with an all-volunteer force. The $160 billion is exclusive of depreciation on worn-out equipment now in use in the theaters of operation. Vehicles are being used six to ten times more heavily than they we designed for. Vehicles used in a high-tempo environment will wear out well before their planned maturity. There will be significant costs to not just reset the Force but in many cases completely reequip elements of it.
The Future Combat System is a major effort to integrate new and developing technologies to make our Army more lethal, mobile, and flexible. It is a set of technologies and equipment (including vehicle and weapons systems, manned and unmanned systems) connected by a common network that will enable the modular force to dominate in complex environments. It is being designed to deter potential opponents, while ensuring that we can win the land war whatever might be its character. As these technologies are developed and adapted to lessons learned even today, they will be integrated into the current force.
The M1 tank, Stryker, and Bradley are still expected to be around into the years 2025-30. But by 2025, we expect to have 20-ton variants of our heavy vehicles in the modernized force that will enable us to load three tanks on a C-17 and fly it anywhere and to fit one each on a C-130 for forward engagement. Parts and components of vehicles are to be interchangeable to reduce the number of specialized mechanics and streamline the spare parts chain. Networks will be advanced to enable forward infantry units to interface with air and naval assets. The price tag is $20 billion for design and development and an estimated $80 billion to construct. But these systems will gather information for the soldier and link him or her to intelligence and weapons systems that are immediately responsive to the battle at hand. One Brigade Combat Team is to be FCS equipped by 2014, and fifteen by 2030.
There are today some 350 companies working to bring FCS to reality, under the leadership of our Army, with a corporate consortium led by Boeing and SAIC. When realized, it will put battle command software into the hands of forward- deployed troops and give them real-time intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance; networked logistics systems; unattended sensors; non-line-of-sight missile launch systems; intelligent unattended munitions; unmanned aerial vehicles, some with vertical takeoff and landing and some fixed wing; armed robotic vehicles; small unmanned ground vehicles; lighter-weight mounted gun systems; new infantry vehicles; and a medical vehicle equipped with medical diagnosis capabilities and telemedicine interfaces. Our Army deserves no less.
Americans can be proud of those who serve. For more than 230 years our soldiers have answered the Call to Duty. Those who serve merit our unwavering support.
Editor’s Note: There are many programs and organizations that honor our soldiers’ service and provide support to them and their families. Here are a few:
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