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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