Army begins to remake itself

May 3, 2012 • Editorial

After nearly 10 years of relentless combat, the U.S. Army has begun to catch its breath and think about what’s next.

Army Chief of Staff Raymond T. Odierno, in an article published last week in the May/June edition of Foreign Affairs, writes [auth] that the coming decade will be a “vital period of transition” involving declining budgets, a new strategic emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region and a broadening of the Army’s capabilities.

Lt. Gen. David G. Perkins, who commands the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., spoke last week at the Boeing Company’s Leadership Center in north St. Louis County.

Nine years ago last month, then-Col. Perkins led the Second Brigade of the Third Infantry Division on the two “thunder runs” that established the U.S. presence in Baghdad. After that, anything else would seem tame. But command of the Combined Arms Center, “the intellectual center of the Army,” which oversees the Command and General Staff College and 17 other schools and training programs across the country, marks a general officer as a star.

Indeed, getting soldiers used to life after combat is one of the challenges facing Gen. Perkins.

Last year, then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates fretted that bright young officers who had held significant commands in Iraq and Afghanistan would be bored with post-war life “in a cube all day, reformatting PowerPoint slides.”

“When I was at Fort Carson, I had a young soldier ask me what he could possibly do at Fort Carson for two years,” Gen. Perkins said. He commanded the Fourth Infantry Division at the Colorado base before being assigned to his current job.

Most of the Army’s younger officers and nearly all of its enlisted personnel can’t remember life that wasn’t one combat deployment after another. Between now and 2014, when nearly all of the remaining troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan, training will change and intensify. “There are whole aspects of the job we didn’t have time for before,” he said.

When the Iraq war went south in the mid-2000s, Congress authorized the Army to build troop strength by 80,000. Next year’s anticipated budget cuts may reduce the force by at least that much. “Our job is to determine, with whatever force remains, how it is organized, equipped and trained,” Gen. Perkins said.

The idea is to build on what was learned in Iraq and Afghanistan — combat combined with counter-insurgency and training missions — and try to determine what the next war will look like. The problem with that, he said, is that “we have an almost unbroken track record of getting the next war wrong.”

“Change happens a lot quicker these days,” Gen. Perkins said. “Our challenge is how we build an organization that continually adapts. The Army is a big organization — 1.2 million people. And large organizations don’t change overnight.”

Guest Editorial

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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