Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Army We Have

I had the honor of serving in the civilian political leadership of the U.S. Army for two years. It gave me a profound respect for the Army, and its soldiers and leaders. But, I also quickly learned, that the real and soul of the U.S. Army is not its Generals, and certainly not its civilian leaders, but rather the noncommisioned officers ("NCO's").

I was therefore very pleased to read a wonderful article in The Atlantic about basic training. The article is by Brian Mockenhaupt, a former Army officer, and it does a great job of describing the complexities of training an Army from the material given to it by our nation. It does an even better job of displaying the real talent we have in the NCO corps.

Here is a sample:


Since the end of the draft, more than 30 years ago, this is the first time the all-volunteer military has faced sustained combat, and the demands on its human and material resources have been heavy and relentless. At the same time, a relatively prosperous economy and certain larger societal changes have made it harder for the Army to meet its recruiting goals. As Lieutenant General Michael Rochelle, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, testified to Congress in February, the confluence of challenges in recruiting, training, and retaining soldiers is “unparalleled in the history of the volunteer force.”


To ease the deployment burden and give the military more options for dealing with hot spots outside Iraq and Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to boost America’s boots-on-the-ground combat power for the Army and Marine Corps by nearly 60,000 over the next five years, adding 7,000 soldiers and 5,000 marines each year. The Marines have a somewhat easier time recruiting; this is partly because they have religiously maintained their elite status, drawing many who want to see if they are good enough for the Corps, and partly because the Marines, as the smallest service branch outside the Coast Guard, need the fewest bodies. But the Army doesn’t have the luxury of selectivity in filling its expanded rolls. It needs 80,000 new soldiers this year and must find them in a populace that is in many ways less willing and less able to serve than earlier generations were. Young people are fatter and weaker. They eat more junk food, watch more television, play more video games, and exercise less. They are more individualistic and less inclined to join the military. And with the unemployment rate hovering near historic lows, they have other choices.


Read it all.

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