One Army or Two?

One Army or Two?

In spring 2005, while embedded with an infantry battalion in southwest Baghdad, I was hanging out late one night in the battalion command post bs’ing with the battle captains when radio traffic suddenly spiked with reports of a massive attack on the Abu Ghraib prison compound, located just west of Baghdad. Hundreds of insurgents attacked the compound with suicide car bombers, accurate mortar, small arms and RPG fire, and simultaneously tried to seal off the battlespace; the first American reinforcements that rushed to the scene ran into clusters of roadside bombs and ambushes.

As the battalion command group packed into the TOC, orders came from division to spin-up a quick response force to rush to Abu Ghraib by an alternate route. The battalion commander decided to go in heavy, and use his 70-ton Abrams tanks to blast through any insurgent obstacles or ambushes along the route. He told one of his ablest company commanders, Capt. Ike Sallee, to ready his mechanized platoons. Within thirty minutes, Sallee radioed the TOC that his tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles were ready and assembled on the main road outside the FOB awaiting the go order. As it turned out, Apache gunships drove off the insurgent attack and Sallee was told to stand down. While Sallee’s soldiers didn’t end up battling the insurgents that night, there is every reason to believe their training, coupled with superior technology — thermal sights, heavy armor and overwhelming firepower — would have easily tipped the scales.

I was reminded of that episode after reading this article on the Small Wars Journal site weighing in on the shape of the future Army debate. The authors argue that the Army needs soldiers who are generalists, and can fight equally well across a range of missions, “the full spectrum of conflict,” not specialists, trained in either irregular war or conventional war: “there is no clear evidence that the U.S. Army cannot move from irregular to conventional war in a timely fashion.” The authors contend that “over-specialization” would create a large pool of soldiers who would sit on the sidelines of a conflict that didn’t match their skill sets, severely taxing that part of the force that does deploy.

The article was a response to the argument made by CSBA’s Andrew Krepinevich that the service risks creating “an Army that is barely a “jack-of-all-trades,” and clearly a master of none.” Krepinevich argues that the Army needs to beef up its irregular warfare skills, that soldiers need more, not less specialization. He calls for a bifurcated Army, with a portion oriented to stability operations and counterinsurgency, and the other for conventional operations. “While it was once argued that such “general-purpose” forces could readily shift gears to handle contingencies at the lower end of the conflict spectrum, the evidence of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq suggests the contrary.”

Back to Sallee, the company commander in Baghdad. Interestingly, Sallee was widely considered the best counterinsurgency leader in the battalion, if not the entire brigade. He was renowned for his practice of walking the streets versus drive-by patrols, forging personal relationships with the Iraqis in his area, and cleverly using informants to develop precise intelligence on the enemy, all principles he drilled into his soldiers. (It’s a fallacy that troops in Iraq didn’t practice counterinsurgency principles prior to the arrival of Petraeus in 2007. Many companies and battalions did and to good effect. The problem was it depended entirely on the unit commander.) Here was an example of a commander and a company of soldiers able to almost instantly transition from counterinsurgency operations to more of a conventional fight (the insurgent attack on Abu Ghraib that night was really an example of a “hybrid” enemy that blends guerrilla and more conventional tactics). After getting the stand down order, Sallee returned his tanks and Bradleys to the motor pool and his soldiers went back out to patrol the local neighborhoods.

Does that ability of troops to shift back and forth seamlessly between different types of operations hold across the board? I would argue that it’s not always the case. For example: there was a clear difference in competence between Sallee’s soldiers doing a cordon and knock operation and an artillery company temporarily converted into a motorized rifle company doing the same task. The 11 Bravos, the infantry, were just much better at basic infantryman skills, which stands to reason. Special operators, who relentlessly train to take down a house or roomful of enemy, are much better than the 11 Bravos, although that gap has narrowed considerably in recent years as the rank-and-file ground pounder has accumulated a mass of experience doing cordon and knock operations during combat tours in Iraq.

Speaking earlier this month at a CNAS conference in Washington, Gen. David Petraeus weighed in on the issue. “Our troopers can still very much fight,” he said, but instead of preparing just for the big battles, current and future wars require troops prepare for a constantly shifting mix of conflict, across the low and high intensity scale, he said. “We’re not doing the big tank armies colliding in the central corridor anymore, we’re doing continuous complex counterinsurgency which sometimes requires very significant kinetic ops, often requires very significant stability and support, all integrated.” Readying units for a major force on force fight might mean a couple of weeks spent brushing up on shooting big metal targets at the NTC, he said.

The Army is wrestling with the issue. Trainers at the Army’s premier training center are mindful of a potential atrophy of high-intensity skills and try to include some training in those tasks for units preparing for Iraq and Afghanistan, said Maj. Michael Burgoyne, co-author of an excellent book on adapting to counterinsurgency: The Defense of Jisr Al-Dorea. “It’s about finding a balance… somewhere in between counterinsurgency and high-intensity conflict, some kind of mix of capabilities where we can do a lot,” he told me.

The Army leadership sees a potential vulnerability on the training side, according to a TRADOC paper released last month. The paper warns of the “atrophy” in the quality of the “opposing force” at the training centers, particularly the NTC, in terms of personnel and equipment. It says future enemies will be of the hybrid type, and having learned from observing U.S. military operations, “will not fight the US in open terrain but will seek to draw the US into a confusing close-quarters environment, where US technology is neutralized and the fight takes on a small-unit decentralized character.”

That change in the character of fighting will demand changes in how the Army prepares its soldiers, specifically: beefing up training, the paper says. The CTCs must better replicate future urban battlefields, and build “an adaptive, free thinking OPFOR that is equipped and manned to achieve victory.” Providing role playing Iraqi or Afghan civilians at the CTCs has certainly aided soldiers preparing for the current wars. Its time to up the ante, the paper says, as preparing units for future wars will require they go up against a far better armed, aggressive and adaptive OPFOR to provide “the toughest opponent our Army will face short of actual combat.”

Can the Army prepare for both low end and high end conflict without some degree of specialization? It’s difficult to see how it can, but it most likely will not have a choice. As the strategist Frank Hoffman writes in the July issue of Armed Forces Journal, “In a perfect world, our military forces would be robustly sized and we would build distinctive forces for discrete missions along the conflict spectrum… But we do not live in a perfect world, and we need to prepare and shape our forces with a greater degree of uncertainty and less resources.” Ultimately, it falls on the skill and expertise of small unit leaders, and the training among soldiers, that will determine whether they can shift seamlessly between very different types of conflict.

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Why not have both? The majority of the forces should have general skill sets, with the remaining fraction being split between mastering conventional and irregular warfare skills. I think it would be unwise to have a completely ‘bifurcated’ army, but it would also be unwise to not have any soldiers which are masters of one of the skill sets.

We have always had to prepare for the full spectrum of warfare, and not lose either the insurgency or armored warfare skill sets. We certainly faced a guerilla opponent in Vietnam while also facing conventional forces there.

So I would hope that the military would not stop teaching conventional warfare.

The worry that I have is that the Southwest Asia experience might have us develop a subset of the Army that does Southwest Asia — with most of the rest of the Army standing garrison in Korea or Germany. And then have all of the future Generals come from the Southwest Asia contingent — with the rest being relegated to being In The Rear With The Gear.

Say, you sound a lot like the isolationists of the 1930’s. Of course, when we followed their advice then what happened? The enemies that they said would not bother attacking us nice americans came and attacked us. I believe the main reason that terrorists have not struck here again is because we are fighting them where they are. If we stop that, they will come and fight us where we are. With all due respect sir, I am glad you are not the National Security Advisor :)

And please show more respect for the people who are giving you the safe home from which to scoff at our enemies and our own. I dare you to approach any mother of any soldier who has died in these wars and tell her that he was serving no one but himself.

Tell anybody: Patriotism is the last scourge of the scoundrel…

One factor essential in winning in a COIN environment is leveraging economic factors. Somehow the enemy is the only one that recognizes the power of basic economic forces as a “battlefield operating system.” CTC’s need to figure out how to incorporate that kind of play into their scenarios. What frustrates me more is that we do not focus our military operations on starving the enemy of resources. Maybe we do but it is either ineffective or I just don’t see it.

I wonder if some or part of the COIN tasks could be performed by other branches of the USG…like DOS or CIA or USAID? I guess it depends on how far the Army is altered and how much it will cost. Of course, it also depends on how our civilian leadership depends on tasking the “new Army”…how many “missions” will the Army…supported by the rest of the DOD…be required to take on?

There’s strong, then there’s army strong… Lucky for us, we still have the Marine Corps.

Grant brushes on the bigger point here; leadership. The U.S. military is still stuck with far too many unimaginative leaders who have been promoted despite obviously lacking imagination and adaptability. Sallee is an example of what a leader can accomplish when he has those qualities. Any unit can achieve the successes his unit achieved when led by someone who is willing to literally “think outside the box.” Unfortunately, too many of our officers are promoted to leadership positions, despite having displayed a complete inability to do that.
On a related topic, we don’t need to develop better OPFOR. In my experience our OPFOR forces are just that, imaginative and adaptive. The problem is that when unimaginative leaders bring their units to these training areas and get their butts whipped, the results are skewed to make it look like they won so their careers won’t be ruined. The reality is that their troops know they got beat, they know why and morale suffers as a consequence. When these units deploy, especially to situations like Iraq or Afghanistan, they fail miserably.
Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper’s experience during Operation Millenium Challenge in the summer of 2002 is a perfect example of this. Van Riper proved that an imaginative thinker could devastate the U.S. fleet in the Persian Gulf during this “free play” exercise. The Pentagon refused to acknowledge what happened and even kept most of the report out of the news. Essentially they denied the evidence that was right in front of them.
Until we solve this leadership problem, the rest of this discussion is just a waste of time.

I think the Army would be better served by putting every soldier through 11B OSUT and then on to the AIT of their chosen MOS. These days every soldier is on the front line so give him/her the training to match.

In deciding what type of Army to have. I think that a legitimate question to consider is of all of the wars the US have fought how many have been to prevent an invasion of the United States? How many have been to expand or maintain and American Empire? Well as far as defensive wars go the only ones that can be considered are World War 2 and the war of 1812. All the wars against native Americans were wars of conquest all of them every single one of them. The war of 1848 against Mexico was so obviously an act of aggression that not only did many American soldiers desert their units some even defected to the Mexicans?
As for our war in Iraq, well if the Iraq war can not be defined as a war crime no war in the history of mankind could be defined as a war crime and no war in the future could ever be defined as a war crime because it will meet the same standards as the US war in Iraq.
If our society would ever get serious about living in a Republic and not an empire then we would really have a big problem. The first sign that as a society we were serious about living in a Republic would be that our military would place itself in handcuffs and march itself in to prison. But our problems would not start then. No our problems would only start when our government tried to hire former Irish and Swiss and Finnish soldiers (that would be a true ISF) to train our new army. They would certainly demand to be paid in a stable currency and we would not have any.

Interesting view of history. Guess the peace loving leaders of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and the DPRK were victims the “war criminal” US military? Your solution to the problem is to dissolve the DOD and the Union, give Tx,Az,NM,Co,Nv & Kalifornia back to Mexico? What happens to the remainder of the US?
I must point out that the US military only makes war when ordered by the US political leadership…so, according to your logic, should all of living past and present US political leaders be cuffed and “frog marched” into custody with the military?? LOL…you’re a beauty!

I grew up as an officer in an Army trying to find it’s way after Vietnam. For years I’d heard we’d never fight another conventional war — just more Vietnams. Troop training consisted of Vietnam-style combat(no mech or tank)or riot control operations.

Suddenly Vietnam ended, we had a conventional threat, and neither the soldiers nor the leadership were up to meeting that threat. You can’t imagine how bad the condition of the Army was. Company-level units lacked basic manoeuver skills, equipment, etc. It was many years before battalion, brigade and division levels could operate (other than from a C&C helicopter or secure base camp). We’re in the same place today.

Our Army leadership is substandard; and particularly lacking in the moral courage to stand-up for the resources required to pro-secute present war(s) and prepare for conven-tional threats that haven’t gone away as some would say.

Tommy Franks, the JCS Chaiman, etc. should have told Rumsfeld to go to hell when he told them to go to Iraq with as few troops as we did. What happened to the honorable tradition of resigning in protest and going public. Instead our Generals ‘caved-in’, did what they were told. The two times we didn’t have our leaders resign in protest gave us Vietnam and Iraq (pre-surge).

Our leadership is way overly focused on tech-nology, and way under focused on keeping our troops and unit leadership ready for ANY threat.

Please, the Marine Corp is only around because they have mastered the art of propaganda. The US Army has and will always win the nations wars.

Sounds like a little Army propaganda…the US Army beat Japan? fought to a draw in Korea (think there were some key activities involving Marines and Air Force?)…Viet Nam? The Army was in’d that work out?? OK never mind…DESERT STORM?? Serbia? Suspect that today, the Army is just another partner in the Joint team…guess that really bothers the Army? Delusions of grandeur?

Heavy Metal Thunder.…well said

Keeping me safe my ass. lets get real. If the Chinese and Russians wanted to join forces and come a threaten me can anyone estimate how many trillions of dollars that they would have to spend for how many decades to build up the air lift and sea lift forces to have an even slightly enough credible forces to be able to carry out that threat? That is assuming that they could knock out our nuclear deterence.
What would they ever have a motive to such a stupid thing? Perhaps they would want to rescue us from the 15,000 plus murderers that are walking our streets as I write this sentence. I am much more threatened by other Americans than by all the terrorists in the world multiplied by 100. OK you would be cheating if you said that is because I am a criminal terrorist traitor because those Americans that would threaten me do not know my true identity.
Ok I think enough has been said about that stupid scenario that anyone would have a motive to attack the US if the US were not engaged of acts of treachery around the world.
Now the next question is should the US have a military to take sides in civil wars or territorial disputes or what have you around the world? I think that it is important to keep in mind that when ever we do that we will not only be pissing off one side or the other overseas we will also be pissing off that sides supporters in the US increasing the risk to Americans, and taking tax money from all Americans to support one side in a foreign conflict when some or even many Americans may support the other side. Anothrer point that I think is important to keep in mind is what kind of things would two countries be fighting about in the future that it would be a legitimate point to say that the future of civilization is at stake. During the cold war a lot of things were forgiven because many Americans thought that the cold war was just such a struggle.
I wonder if anyone now thinks that we were fools. We now live in a world in which capitalism means that enormous profits go to private individuals and enormous losses get shared by everyone. We live in a world in which socialism means that enormous losses get shared by everyone and enormous profits go to private individuals. Wow!!!! Wopeee!!! That really gets me fired up to go kill commies for Christ or to let my children with in 300 yards of a military recruiter.
So if we want to get real and go out and get a real non criminal job we could easily come to the conclusion that the only reason the US needs a military is to make the point that we are not pacifists. Really they can figure that out quite well from our crime stats but since we pretend about so many things we can pretend about that too.
But this is only the beginning. It is possible that the world is approaching an era of declining oil supplies and our military is using 8 million barrels of oil a day for nothing other than chasing peasants in sandals, and preparing to fight in wars that it pretends are necissary for one phony reason or another.
Oh yes the peasants are trying to kill you because you have gone half way around the world to kill them. The people that you are shooting at now had nothing to do with 9–11. Through your collective foolishness you have created your enemies.
Yes, history teaches us that the world is full of fascists, even invisible ones, massing to attack innocent farmers from the Columbia to the Potomac. The 21st century is an exact repeat of the 19th and 20th centuries. The leaders of America’s military are extremely clever as always. They continue to stay 2 steps a head of anyone who could really threaten their power. They have the full support of a citizenry and a military trained not to ask any questions other than, what is in it for me, and is my pay check for the correct amount.
If I were a serious person rather than the joker that I am, I might start to wonder whether the rumors of the US governments violent and treacherous role in history was true. I could start to wonder if by taking orders from such an institution, whether or not it was supported by a majority of the American people, if I was really serving anyone but myself.
But I have never wondered about such things because I am a joker and my government tells me not to. Sedition is a sin punishable by everlasting torture in hell with Satan where criminal terrorist traitors belong and don’t you forget it.

How large of an Army and what type of an Army is also dependent on the question of who is allowed in to the army (or Marines). If I were involved in a fire fight with Taliban forces and were granted the opportunity to make a judgment about who is more dangerous to America and the world for that matter, a racist in my own unit, or a Taliban fool, it would only take me a half a second to decide in favor of the racist.

I once heard a panel discuss whether we should have just one big Defense Forces and break down the silos between the services. Like Israel. fro example there is really no Israeli Air Force. It is just the air wing of the Tsahal.

Prior to the 1947 National Security Act, there was no Department of the Army or Department of the Air Force. It was just all the War Department. I think it might be impossible to do this, but it might be worth thinking about: maybe we should go back to just having a War Department where decisions are made for the soldiers and the country, not the power centers at the Pentagon.

It’s an interesting discussion.


Daniel…War Department? Nah, sounds non-PC & aggressive.…BUT that would be an interesting and perhaps useful discussion.

BuddhaLoveswhatever.…ahhh?? Dude, I got no idea?? LOL.…lysergic? peyote? Must be some powerful stuff..I hope you feel better.


OK, How about the Department of Armed Conflict.

Or the Bureau of Bombs and Missiles and Explosions. Perhaps something Monty Pythonesque
like the Department of Things That Go Boom.

I like this blog a ton. The discussions are very good and the approach to the topics are refreshing


LOL…you sound like SecDef material

Perhaps we could assess young, competent officers , and depending on their strengths assign some officers to extra COIN training in lieu of typical conventional war training?

I think 1 and 2 should be completed as one without any god damn arguements.. It’s for the best of one! And A new soldier is coming to town, Core Defense! 3n1

Coming Soon… late 2009

Full circle again.

We had the Army of the Potomac, the US Cavalry, the AEF, US Constabulary, etc.

The standing army after the Civil War trained and equipped to fight an opposing standing army, like the Confederates, or the British.

For Indian fighting the US Cavalry, a highly trained, mobile force was needed. Able to move, shoot and communicate.

When the Spanish American War came, we still had officers left from the Civil War.

Poor planning had the Rough Riders land in Cuba without their horses facing an enemy using smokeless powder.

When the AEF landed in France, they were trained by and armed initially with British and French troops and weapons.

As they were home schooled in this new kind of warfare.

A year before Pearl Harbor, we federalized the National Guard into the standing Army.

We then sent this army, with armor plus two new kinds of soldier into battle: paratroops and rangers.

They too were trained by British commandos before landing in France in a new kind of warfare; combined arms.

Korea brought the “police action” and the Cold War.

Vietnam brought COIN, “pacification” and Special Forces.

Sound familiar?

Other countries have a standing army and a marine force that nowadays is not strictly naval infantry.

One size does not fit all and without an NCO corps of various skills, the jack of all trades approach will send us back to the hollow Army of the past.

Motor pools and parade ground formations that are truly, non-deploy able.

Great discussion on points mentioned.

Buddhalovespaine will you please find some other outlet for your ” I won’t dedicate myself to anything because anarchy reigns BS ” and speak to another audience. You obvously have
not sacrificed yourself for any good cause since none exists in your world.


I’m sorry that you feel that way about the Marine Corps. I think you need to take a look at our nations history and it’s wars. The Marines were established a whole 5 months after the “Army” and the Marines have more of a driving force with less money and less equipment than the army. Last I checked the Army lost its credibility after Korea and Vietnam. With the amount of money they get in their budget, they still can’t seem to get their training done. All they are concerned about is AC in the tents, all the luxuries, sponsoring NASCAR, and all they commercials about being Army strong and an Army of one.
If you want to talk about Marine Propaganda, The Army has been copying the Marines over the last few years. I never even knew the Army had a color guard or drill team until they copied the Marines commercials. The Army also tried to gain Amphibious vehicles which is a Marine doctrine and their history. So stick to your horses and your helicopters and if they can’t handle the training or the conflict, then the Army can cough up the money they get each year and I’m sure the rest of the armed forces could use it.

Do we want our unconventional wars to become “conventional?” Or, our irregular wars to become “regular?”

In terms of risk, will it be more difficult for us (the United States, the “West”, champions of democracy) to recover from the loss of a conventional conflict than an unconventional one?

I say, there is no comparison.

This topic is not just about priority, but also the ability to communicate or translate principles to application.

The Army, if we want to remain a profession, is best served in adhering to core values, principles, and capabilities. If the core is strong (yes, I am on the X-fit bandwagon), then we are able to transfer capability to other methods.

But if we focus on methods (area-specific tactics, techniques, and procedures) at the expense of core capabilities (offensive, defensive, protection, battle drills, marskmanship, physical fitness)==we will be chasing our tails and may find ourselves lacking identity and relevance.

Training time is limited and precious between deployments, regardless of the “dwell time” (odd term).

If forced to prioritize (inevitable for the foreseeable future)–focus on core cpapabilities…what our Army can do exclusively for our Nation. If we are thrown into a condition requiring counterinsurgency tactics, we will be able to adapt becuase of our well-trained competencies.

I’m currently going to ILE at Fort Belvoir, VA after completing a third tour in Iraq as a S3 for 3–7 CAV and the brigade S3 for 2 BCT/3 ID.


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