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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men