Thursday, October 23, 2003


The few. The proud. The Army?
From expeditionary brigades to a rifleman ethos, the Army sees the Corps as a model for its future

By Christian Lowe
Times staff writer

It started with a new troop carrier that looks suspiciously like a Marine Light Armored Vehicle.

Then they decided to field more units that could deploy at a moment’s notice to trouble spots around the globe. Sound familiar?

They even prefer the Corps’ new digital camouflage pattern to those their own service has in mind.

While it’s unlikely soldiers will go from yelling “hoo-ah” to “ooo-rah,” the service is tearing more than a few pages from the Marine Corps’ playbook.

With several initiatives in the works to transform the force, the Army’s new chief of staff appears to be stealing several chapters from the Corps’ text.

This fall, the Army launched a tectonic shift in how it does business, with an eye toward being more expeditionary and breeding better warrior skills into its non-infantry troops.

Modular brigades that look a lot like mini-Marine Air Ground Task Forces. Training cycles that run more like the Corps’ Marine Expeditionary Unit work-ups. Realistic, less-scripted training. Combat training for all soldiers, regardless of job specialty. It’s all part of the Army’s new shift to be, well, more like the Corps.

“Everybody in the United States Army’s gotta be a soldier first,” said Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army’s top officer, at an Oct. 7 discussion with Washington reporters.

Citing a real-world example of why the change is necessary, Schoomaker pointed to the fact that artillery soldiers in Iraq are working not as cannon-cockers, but as military policemen and infantry troops.

“Everybody’s got to be able to do that,” he said. “Everybody’s a rifleman first.”

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

Not necessarily. Some Marines are bristling at the mimicry, saying there’s no way the Army will ever match up with the Corps.

“For 27 years, I have watched the Army try to become the Marine Corps, and it hasn’t happened yet,” said a grinning Sgt. Maj. Gregory Leal, who was the top enlisted leader for 1st Marines during Operation Iraqi Freedom. “And never will.”

But even so, the Army aims to become more agile and better able to deploy to a fight quickly. Does that mean the Corps could be edged out of a fight in favor of the bigger, “better” Army? Most analysts say no. There’s plenty of work for both, they say.

“Does anyone think that we have too many ground forces that you can, with any speed, get to distant trouble spots? I don’t think so,” said Pat Towell, a visiting fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C., defense think tank. “It may be that we have a synergy rather than a competition.”

A warrior ethos

The Army set a course to become lighter and faster long before Operation Iraqi Freedom, but the need for more drastic measures was made shockingly clear by the March 23 ambush of a routine Army supply convoy south of Nasiriyah, Iraq.

Iraqi forces captured seven soldiers with the 507th Maintenance Company after ambushing the wayward troops, who had become separated from a larger convoy group. Eleven other soldiers were killed in the ambush.

According to an Army report, the soldiers were fatigued, confused and many could not fight back because their weapons malfunctioned due to poor maintenance. The report describes a chaotic scene in which individual heroics replaced sound tactics.

Army officials and outside experts point to the incident as a prime example of why all soldiers — from wrench-turners to computer-punchers — need to know how to fight. The safety of the “rear” isn’t a given on today’s battlefield, where convoy drivers are just as likely to see combat as tank commanders.

Many top Army leaders are convinced that the focus on noncombat technical skills has come at the expense of basic infantry training, something the Corps emphasizes from day 1.

“To be a warrior, you’ve got to be able to use your individual weapon. You’ve got to be able to operate in small, lethal teams if called to do so,” Lt. Gen. William Wallace, commander of the Army’s combined arms center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., told reporters Oct. 6. “You’ve got to have that mental and physical capability to deal with the enemy, regardless of whether you’re a front-line soldier or you’re someone fixing helicopters for a living, because you are a soldier first and a mechanic second.”

That’s something the Corps’ top infantry commander for Operation Iraqi Freedom took as a matter of course. He made sure every Marine unit, no matter what their job, went into battle prepared to fight aggressively when attacked.

“You shoot at a Marine convoy, they’re not just going to shoot back or drive away,” said Maj. Gen. James Mattis, 1st Marine Division commander, in an Oct. 2 interview with Marine Corps Times. “They’re going to pull over. They’re going to go after you. Every single one of the convoys in the First Marine Division, including the last convoy coming out of Iraq going down to Kuwait.”

To instill that same kind of “warrior ethos” in its soldiers, the Army plans to require that all troopers, regardless of MOS and unit, conduct at least one live-fire combat drill per year. For rear-echelon units, the drill might include reacting to an ambush, such as the one that trapped the 507th, Army officials said.

An effort also is gathering steam in the Army ranks to expand its Modern Combatives Program — similar to the Corps’ martial-arts program — so that every soldier is versed in practical hand-to-hand combat techniques and philosophies.

Moreover, soldiers will be required to qualify on their individual weapons twice per year, rather than just once per year — a move that could help forge a combat mind-set Army leaders believe is lacking. For some, making the adjustment could be uncomfortable.

“It will be a little harder for the old NCOs and officers who see themselves as specialists,” said Gary Anderson, a 29-year Marine veteran and a defense analyst with Hicks and Associates, an Arlington, Va.-based defense consulting group. “But it will be easy to get the younger soldiers excited about it.”

However, word of the Army’s new warrior campaign drew some raised eyebrows and strong doubts from Marine riflemen in and around Camp Pendleton, Calif.

“They’ll never be like Marines,” declared Lance Cpl. Russell Bullock, a 19-year-old from Holland, Mich., who noted that the focus and discipline instilled in every Marine from day one isn’t easily duplicated.

What most impresses him about the Corps is the responsibility given to junior Marine infantrymen, compared to what junior soldiers can do.

“We’ve been in one year, and we’re already going to be in charge of the young Marines,” said Bullock, a rifleman with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines.

And senior enlisted Marines often do jobs that the Army gives to officers, a point not lost on Bullock. His new first sergeant came to the unit from Afghanistan, where an Army major replaced him in the job, he said, adding: “That says a lot.”

But the changes go far beyond punching up infantry training for individual soldiers. Army officials want to change the way the force is organized, shrinking some units, lightening others and making all units more modular.

In other words, their proposal looks a lot like the Corps’ MAGTF concept.

The Army wants to be able to attach aviation units to infantry units or to plug armor from a heavy division into a light unit. The service has 33 brigade combat teams that encompass the full range of combat power, but Schoomaker wants more and wants them to be able to deploy more quickly and with less of a logistical footprint.

And chalk up another one, if you’re keeping score. In another look-alike move, the Army’s even trying to field a vehicle similar to one of the Corps’ favorites: the Light Armored Vehicle.

Arguing that its heavier M2 Bradley fighting vehicles and M1A1 Abrams tanks are too heavy to deploy quickly, the Army launched an effort in the mid-1990s to build an “interim armored vehicle.” Known as the Stryker, the wheeled vehicle is intended to deploy aboard a C-130 Hercules transport.

But one Marine infantry officer believes moving to a lighter armored force could be a mistake.

“I like the fact the Army has tanks,” said the major, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They’re a combat multiplier against an armored threat in a large-scale ground conflict. If Operation Iraqi Freedom proved one thing, the enemy doesn’t like tanks, and they’ll run from them if they are given the opportunity.”

The Stryker has been the centerpiece of the Army’s “expeditionary” transformation goals, which include the ability to deploy a brigade in 96 hours, a division in 120 hours or five divisions in 30 days. In preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Corps deployed nearly 70,000 troops to the theater in slightly over 40 days — darn close to the Army’s goal.

“Clearly, the pattern of the last decade has been toward more expeditionary operations throughout the [Defense Department], not only in the sea services. This has been true with the Air Force as well as the Army,” said Thomas Donnelly, a defense expert and resident fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

Looking good

Whether today’s rank-and-file Army is ready for the kind of changes Schoomaker has proposed still is an open question. But an informal Army Times poll last December shows that a lot of them want to look like gung-ho devil dogs.

The poll presented the Army’s candidates for a revamped camouflage pattern and the Corps’ new digital pattern for a vote. Soldiers preferred the Marine pattern to 10 others — garnering second place behind one of the Army patterns.

One key question remains, though. As the Army starts to look more like the Corps, will that mean that soldiers will squeeze out leathernecks from their niche as America’s kick-in-the-door force?

Most doubt it.

“A quicker, faster Army sounds good to me,” said Commandant Gen. Mike Hagee in a Sept. 29 interview with Marine Corps Times reporters and editors. “I’ve never seen, ever, a crowded battlefield.”

Instead, most see the change as the Army finally coming to grips with the reality that they’re still shaped to fight Cold War battles.

The Corps never positioned itself to meet the Soviet threat during the Cold War, focusing instead on fighting frequent-but-small flare-ups that came on the Cold War’s fringes.

“The Corps was always organized to meet the market,” Anderson said. “They are structured to do things that other services couldn’t.”

And it’s a structure that lends itself to fighting America’s new war on terrorism. In the months immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Corps did make some forward-looking adjustments, creating a new antiterrorism brigade and forging a new relationship with U.S. Special Operations Command that led to the creation of a new Marine Corps special-operations detachment.

The Army, meanwhile, finds itself playing catch-up.

“It all comes down to the Marine psyche,” Sgt. Maj. Leal said. “It starts in boot camp. We’ve had it for 228 years, and they’re just now starting?”

Gidget Fuentes, C. Mark Brinkley and Sean D. Naylor contributed to this report. Naylor covers the Army.

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