Challenges Lie Ahead for Army, Gates Says

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo., May 19, 2011 – With all but its most senior soldiers having known no Army except the one that has deployed relentlessly for a decade, the service faces numerous challenges in the years to come, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

In a question-and-answer session with students during a visit to the U.S. Army Engineer School, Gates said Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Army chief of staff, has ambitious plans to help the Army adapt to a new reality.

„I think the next step for the Army is resetting after Afghanistan and a resumption of full-spectrum training,“ the secretary said.

With so little time at their home stations between deployments over the last 10 years, he explained, the only unit training soldiers have been receiving has been for their next deployment. By fall or early winter, he added, all Army units should be on a cycle of two years at their home stations between one-year deployments, allowing full-spectrum training to resume.

Two other aspects of the high deployment tempo will pose a challenge for the Army going forward, Gates said.

„The first is that because of the pace of deployments over the last 10 years, we have a lot of brigade and division commanders who don’t have much experience as garrison commanders,“ he said. „They’ve been so busy deploying and preparing to deploy that dealing with an Army that is on post with their families for two years is something that not very many of them have much experience with.“

The second, he said, stems from the high degree of independence the Army’s noncommissioned officers and company-grade officers have enjoyed and the varied nature of their work during their combat deployments that often required them to innovate.

„It’s been called ‚a captain’s war,‘ because it’s basically a small-unit conflict,“ the secretary said. „They’ve had the opportunity to do a variety of things, from fighting the enemy to building roads to meeting with village shuras and mediating disputes. … So they’ve been given a lot of responsibility and a lot of independence, and they’re accustomed to taking responsibility.“

The challenge this poses as the deployment cycle winds down and soldiers come back to the United States, Gates said, is that after their experience in the combat theater, they may not be satisfied in a Pentagon cubicle making slides for briefings.

„I think one of the challenges for the Army that’s different from anything it’s done in a long time, if ever,“ he said, „is how do you change the bureaucracy and the culture in the Army to keep people who have this kind of experience and this kind of independence and this kind of opportunity to innovate? How do you keep them challenged and interested so that they want to stay in the Army?“

Opportunities for advanced training, graduate school and professional military education opportunities could be part of the solution, Gates said.

„But I think that’s going to be a real challenge for the Army leadership,“ he added. „It’s got a different kind of NCO and company-level officer than in the past, and that’s a good thing. The question is whether they can continue to be challenged.“

U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)

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