US Army facing budget cuts

 

Washington

For much of this year, Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler, the Army's top enlisted soldier, has traveled to bases around the world with a simple message: "We've allowed ourselves to get out of control."

His solution has been a raft of new regulations governing tattoos, the length of soldiers' sideburns and the color of the backpacks they are allowed to carry while in uniform. The tighter standards are intended to improve discipline in a force that is recovering from an exhausting decade of war.

But some of his fellow troops viewed the new regulations as one piece of a larger, more worrisome trend in the Army as it confronts an uncertain future. Instead of embracing change, some officers worry that the service is reverting to a more comfortable, rigid and predictable past.

"We are at a crossroads right now and I don't get the sense that we know what we are doing," said Maj. Fernando Lujan, a Special Forces soldier who has served multiple combat tours. "I am worried about the Army."

These are tough times for the Army. The service is facing big budget cuts and hard questions about its future role in a Pentagon defense strategy that emphasizes air and naval power over ground forces. It also is still fighting a messy war in Afghanistan and dealing with the mental wounds of combat. Ten months into 2012, the number of suspected suicides of active-duty soldiers had exceeded last year's total of 165.

Earlier this month, the service suffered another psychological blow when retired Gen. David Petraeus, the most lauded Army officer of the post-Vietnam War era, was forced to step down as director of the CIA after admitting to an extramarital affair with his biographer.

"We've always come down in numbers after conflicts and our budget has always gone down, too," said Lt. Gen. John Campbell, a top Army general at the Pentagon. "The difference is that we are doing this while we are still continuing to fight. And that is what is causing a lot more friction."

Officials, however, said that the Army is not facing the crippling problems with discipline and drug abuse that followed the Vietnam War. Although multiple combat tours have strained marriages and contributed to the increasing suicide rate, the Army has been able to retain its combat-tested junior leaders.

"Our young leaders learned to run cities in Iraq," Campbell said. "They are so . . . adaptable and flexible."

One big struggle for the Army will be to keep these junior officers and sergeants interested in a stateside service in which fewer resources are available for tough, realistic training and a greater focus on minutiae such as drill and ceremony.

One mid-level sergeant at Fort Bragg, N.C., recently complained that he watched several junior soldiers get yelled at for donning Army-issued fleece hats on a cold morning when they were supposed to be wearing baseball-style patrol caps. "It's cold. They are cold. Let them wear what they want," the sergeant said. "But it is not the published standard, so everybody gets a butt-chewing. We have defaulted back to before 9/11."

As the war in Afghanistan draws to a close, more senior officers worry that the Army has not been able to articulate a clear mission that will enable it to hold on to its shrinking share of the Pentagon budget.

"I want an Army that is capable of many missions at many speeds, many sizes, under many different conditions," Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army's chief of staff, said in a speech this month.

In recent months, the Army has announced a new plan to focus individual combat brigades and divisions on specific regions of the world, such as Asia, Africa or Europe. Soldiers in these units will receive special cultural and language training and could be dispatched on training missions to work with developing armies.

Some Army officers, however, worry that Odierno's pronouncements and the regional plans are too vague. "What bugs me is being stuck in an institution that doesn't know where it is going," said one senior Army officer at the Pentagon.

Other mid-level officers are concerned that the Army, consumed with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been too slow to define its future role relative to the Air Force and the the Navy. An internal Army survey conducted in December 2011 found that only 26 percent of Army leaders believed that the Army was "headed in the right direction to prepare for the challenges of the next 10 years," down from 38 percent in 2006.

"We have to prioritize. Our mid-level and junior officers expect it," said Lt. Col. Paul Larson, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and recently completed a teaching stint at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. "We are all waiting to see what group of mid-level and senior officers takes the lead in defining priorities."

Meanwhile, many mid-level officers are voicing new doubts about the Army's battlefield performances in Iraq and Afghanistan. A few years ago, Army officers almost universally celebrated the service's freshly minted counterinsurgency doctrine and its ability to adapt to a new kind of warfare. Soldiers who were trained to fight tank battles shifted to a style of combat that emphasized politics, cultural awareness and protecting the local population from insurgent attacks.

Today Iraq, which is still wracked by violence and influenced by Iran, seems like less of a victory than it did only a short time ago. In Afghanistan, a surge of more than 30,000 U.S. troops has produced a stalemate that leaves soldiers counting down to withdrawal at the end of 2014.

"For the institution, these outcomes matter," said retired Lt. Col. Douglas Ollivant, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Can the Army tell a story about how it figured it out in Iraq and made it a success? Can it tell itself that it was a learning and adaptive organization?"

The Army's struggles in Afghanistan have sharpened some officers' critiques of the branch. "Our learning curve has been much too slow," said Lujan, who is preparing for a tour in Afghanistan. "I would never in a million years call us smart or agile. We have made a million mistakes."

Petraeus's resignation further dampened the Army's self-esteem. His performance in Iraq infused younger officers with confidence and pride. "Petraeus made everyone around him want to be a better person and a better officer," said Lt. Col. Mark Weber, who served with the general in Iraq and recently wrote a book, "Tell My Sons," about his military service and his battle with cancer. "He was a warrior, statesman, intellectual. He made it okay to be smart."

Ollivant agreed. "Petraeus exemplified the Army finally getting it right in Iraq," he said. "When that goes away, it is a problem."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Multi-skilled graphic designer ...

Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solicitor

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solic...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches