Inside the Pentagon
Date: June 26, 2003

Reprinted with Permission

Panel of experts proposed to consider reforms

DoD Urged to Reconsider Personnel Policies
with Iraq Lessons in Mind

As Pentagon officials ponder lessons from Operation Iraqi Freedom, they are being urged to reconsider long-established personnel practices like rotating soldiers into a theater on an individual rather than unit basis.

A four-page briefing circulating throughout the defense community offers a set of ideas for personnel reform—to include adopting a unit manning system for soldier replacement—that supporters say could make the services more effective fighting forces.

The briefing, which according to multiple sources was prepared by Army Maj. Donald Vandergriff, recommends establishing a commission that would provide a road map for sweeping personnel reform. Vandergriff, who teaches military science at Georgetown University ROTC, declined to confirm or deny if he authored the briefing when contacted this week by Inside the Pentagon.

The proposed panel, which could be called the “Personnel Transformation/21st Century Commission,” would consist of military and civilian experts, report directly to the defense secretary and offer recommendations for the fiscal year 2005 budget submission, the document states. The commission would examine a wide range of work already published on personnel reform and prepare to offer time lines, costs and political analysis for suggested changes.

Changes in personnel practices, which could include tougher requirements to become an officer, may lay the foundation for a culture shift in the services, providing the basis for transforming the military to win conflicts in the 21st century, those who favorably reviewed the briefing say.

Pentagon officials often talk about the need for faster, more agile forces that can better handle asymmetric threats, then focus much of their energies on developing technologies they say are required to achieve that vision. But addressing these threats could depend just as much, if not more, on changes to personnel policies, these sources add.

The four-page briefing, which has gained the interest of Pentagon decision-makers—as well as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), a Defense Policy Board adviser to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld—opens with observations from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The opening line is: “Highly trained units led by innovative and flexible leaders will defeat a larger enemy.” The U.S. military, with precision-guided weaponry and good intelligence, outmaneuvered and dominated Saddam Hussein's forces, the brief states. Tactical units, with sufficient training, bonded as bands of brothers and “performed superbly.” Close air-supported ground maneuvers, guided by special operations forces, forced the Iraqis to expose their positions, “and dramatic results were achieved,” the briefing states.

However, the briefing declares there is much room for improvement, and its proponents say U.S. forces could have reached Baghdad sooner than they did during Operation Iraqi Freedom. One factor that slowed them down was too many layers of command—nine of them, the same number that existed at the close of World War II, these sources contend. The briefing questions why so many are needed in the Information Age. Under the current system, officials at each layer must be fed a constant stream of information about ongoing operations, and then add their reactions to the data, which “bogs down tactical units in harm's way,” the briefing complains.

Still, U.S. planners enhanced the readiness of U.S. forces in the theater through a series of “extraordinary measures,” particularly for the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, the briefing states.

In the months leading up to the conflict, the Army effectively suspended the Individual Replacement System for soldiers—a system that has been in place for much of the past century. The system's emphasis is on setting lengths of tours for individual soldiers, often to the detriment of the service's needs and the combat requirements of a particular unit, critics say.

The service altered the system to promote unit cohesion in preparation for the expected war, according to sources. “Unit manning, combined with a high training tempo, resulted in solid units,” the document states. “Critical staff positions were stabilized at the discretion of the divisions.”

Stability in the 3ID was enhanced by a “stealth deployment,” the briefing explains. Brigades began deploying to Kuwait with the Desert Spring exercises, which began in May 2002, “resulting in well-trained teams, from crew level to battalion task force,” the document adds. Commanders at all levels had a minimum of nine months in command, while some were even extended beyond 24 months before mid-March of this year.

The briefing, however, cautions that the stability achieved in forces deployed to the Persian Gulf likely increased the turnover of units outside the theater.

“This mission required more than the three Army divisions that deployed,” it states. “Just as deploying one brigade of a division impacts the remaining two brigades, deploying three divisions for Operation Iraqi Freedom, coupled with operations in Afghanistan, meant that the remaining force was severely disrupted. This is directly attributable to the disconnect between our unit rotational plan and the personnel system that detracts from it.”

The briefing identifies the military's existing personnel system as a barrier to transformation. In particular, the Individual Replacement System keeps units in a low rate of readiness, with only a few special operations outfits capable of quickly reacting to crises in a matter of days. It can take months, and a lot of money, to build up and train the rest of the force for a contingency, the document states.

Further, high turnover rates and “turbulence” mean forces require constant retraining, especially on the Korean peninsula, where turnover for the 2nd Infantry Division is nearly 100 percent annually, according to the briefing.

The document cites a 1999 Army Personnel Command study that concluded the situation in Korea could be addressed if the service adopted a unit manning system, possibly rotating units—without dependents—to the theater for six-month tours. This would save the Army millions of dollars, according to the brief. More importantly, “ready now” units would deploy to Korea and stop “the horrendous habit of constantly dribbling in individuals [and out] that [keeps] units at the basic level of tactical proficiency,” the briefing states.

The briefing criticizes the Officer Personnel Management System as based on “obsolete concepts.” The system hustles officers through command tours of “relatively short duration,” which “prohibits true professionalism.”

Further, it notes that the 2001 Army Training, Leadership Development Panel said the Individual Replacement System, coupled with pressure on officers to move up in rank or move out of the service, has created a culture of “zero defects and micromanagement.”

The briefing advances a number of near-term recommendations to improve military personnel practices, including the adoption of unit rotations—as opposed to individual replacements—in Europe and Korea. In addition, the military could “streamline hierarchical organizations by eliminating needless headquarters” while basing more forces in the United States to improve retention and performance, the document states.

The briefing also recommends that the services “embrace maneuver warfare doctrine” as demonstrated in some places in Iraq. This kind of warfare would feature a “highly professional” officer and noncommissioned officer corps that can take advantage of decentralized decision-making, as well as “minimal logistics overhead,” emphasizing technology that is “tough and reliable, not maintenance-intensive.” The recommendations parallel those Vandergriff developed in his 2002 book, “The Path to Victory: America's Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs.”

The Army, for its part, should consider creating battle groups, as recommended by Army Col. Douglas MacGregor, author of “Breaking the Phalanx: A New Design for Landpower in the 21st Century,” according to the briefing. The Army's 10 divisions could be reorganized into 24 battle groups using a unit manning system—supported by more units that are getting ready for action or drawing down from an operation, it states; this move could result in personnel savings by “taking away division support structure and overhead.”

The service began an examination of how a unit manning system could improve the readiness of its forces last October, when Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Keane, backed by then-Army Secretary Thomas White, directed the creation of a Unit Manning Task Force. This task force was told to lay out the course for the Army's manning in the future, according to the group's charter, signed by Keane.

“What we need today is a manning system that builds stable units, which [enhances] unit training through interpersonal bonding among soldiers and between soldiers and their leaders,” Keane wrote.—Keith J. Costa

© Inside Washington Publishers PENTAGON-19-26-8

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