Saturday, February 28, 2004


Saturday, February 28, 2004
Front Page ©2002 The Olympian

Army's top officials envision service resembling Marines
Fort Lewis would be key in building light, durable force

Stryker vehicles from Fort Lewis sit on railcars near DuPont on Thursday waiting to start their journey to Fort Polk, La. Soldiers with the Army's second Stryker brigade, the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, are headed to the Joint Readiness Training Center for exercises that will certify them as combat ready. The unit could deploy to Iraq by year's end, the brigade's civil affairs planner has said. The vehicles are part of the Army's effort to transform itself into a nimble fighting force that can respond quickly to crises around the world.

Steve Bloom/The Olympian
A Stryker combat crew stands during a June 2002 ceremony at Fort Lewis. The lighter Stryker vehicle is part of the Army's recent efforts to make its forces more mobile.

The Army, in an effort to be all that it can be in the 21st century, is likely to make itself look more like, well, the Marine Corps.

Driven by new Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, top Army officials are in a crash program to redesign the Army into a service that is lighter, faster and more lethal -- like the Marines.

But the Army also wants enough staying power to defeat any enemy, from the tanks of Saddam Hussein to the hit-and-run barefoot snipers of Somalia.

It's a tall order.

Nothing comparable

By early in the next decade, Shinseki wants to be able to put an airlifted combat force on the ground anywhere in the world within 96 hours; a larger, division-size force of 10,000 to 14,000 troops within 120 hours; and five divisions (50,000 to 70,000 troops) within 30 days.

No one has tried anything of that scope before.

Except for its airborne and helicopter-lifted units -- too lightly armed to have staying power in a major war -- the Army has nothing comparable at the moment.

Shinseki plans to start with two brigades at Fort Lewis -- taken from the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii and 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea.

Top Army planners say these will be working units, not testers, and will be able to "go anywhere from floods to war fighting" with full gear.

Shinseki is said to be anxious to get rolling with the plan long before the 2012 date often cited as a deadline for a "new Army." Doing it will mean throwing out some rulebooks and moving more quickly on new technology than anyone had foreseen, key officials contend.

Plenty of puzzle pieces have to fall together, and change is not something the Pentagon does easily. Other Army chiefs have announced reforms, only to leave office with little to show for it.

A few decades back, just getting everyone in the Pentagon to wear black shoes and put their browns back into the closet had the brass in an uproar.

Cooperation, however, seems to be the order of the day now.

Marine Commandant James Jones told reporters at breakfast the other day that he and Shinseki have discussed the situation at some length. It seems a natural thing to do, Jones said. "The Marines already supply 20 percent of the nation's combat battalions."

"It's high time ... that we sort our missions out," he said.

First order of business for the new Army is figuring which firing platforms can do the job for its lighter, punchier force. Do they need tracks? Or will heavy rubber wheels do the job?

The Abrams tanks, at 50 tons, can't move into combat as quickly as light armored vehicles operated by the Marines. In Kosovo, their mobility was so limited that many were perched permanently as firing stations at crossroads.

If the Army chooses light armored vehicles like Marines use, all the better, Jones said. The Marines' gear is getting old and needs replacement, he said.

Both the Marines and the Army may ask Congress for more troops next year, Jones said. Shinseki had told him "that he's running out of Army," he said, and has rousted 1,100 Marines out of mess duties or administrative jobs to get more people into frontline jobs.

After a decadelong drawdown, the Army has 473,000 people and the Marines 171,000.

Testimony by the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the House Armed Services Committee this month also indicated that a new, more mobile Army would need plenty of new C-5s and smaller airlifters to do the job. Current numbers, they said, would make it difficult for the services to fight and win two major wars, either simultaneously or consecutively.

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By R.W. "Dick" Gaines
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