United States Department of Intelligent Life
Washington, DC 20859
To: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
From: Lawrence Korb & Peter Ogden
Re: A Few More Good Men
Date: May 1, 2007
Although most of your attention is focused on immediate circumstances in Iraq, there is another, long-term challenge you must now face: How to increase the size of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps most effectively.
Your predecessor begrudgingly allowed a temporary boost of 30,000 soldiers and 5,000 marines, but he opposed making this increase either larger or permanent. Despite events unfolding in Iraq and Afghanistan, Secretary Rumsfeld never wavered in his determination to build a smaller and more lethal military that valued additional “smart” weaponry more than boots on the ground. In the wake of his resignation, the military leadership communicated its strong belief that more ground troops were needed, and permanently so. When then-Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker testified last December that a troop escalation in Iraq would break the Army unless its manpower needs were addressed, he locked up White House support for such an increase. Meanwhile, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have become increasingly alarmed about the strain that the war is placing on our troops, so even most of those who oppose a “surge” in Iraq now favor expanding the size of the ground forces.
It is in within this strategic and political context that President Bush has requested–and is nearly certain to receive from Congress–$12.1 billion for the Pentagon in his FY2008 budget to begin the multiyear process of expanding the size of the Army and Marine Corps. Ultimately, the two services are authorized to grow to no more than 92,000 men and women larger than before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, yielding an Army with a personnel ceiling of 547,000 and a Marine Corps of 202,000.
The goal is set, the funding reliable and the political support firm. What remains in doubt, however, is the kind of new military we will build. The manner in which you decide to add troops will have significant long-term consequences. This marks, after all, the first time in more than 15 years that the permanent size of the Army will grow, and the Marines will have a larger active duty force than at any time since the war in Vietnam. The expansion is complicated, moreover, by the fact that it must begin in the midst of an unpopular war.
We recommend that you look beyond the immediate crisis in Iraq and define your vision of how the U.S. military should evolve in its aftermath. If you do not, the United States may end up with simply a bloated version of today’s force rather than a truly 21st-century military that has internalized the hard-earned lessons of the post-9/11 world.
To this end, you should announce that the following four principles will guide the expansion of the U.S. Army and Marines:
1. The Army and Marines will meet their new end-strength goals without relaxing recruitment standards or retention and promotion criteria.
Increasing the Army and the Marine Corps is about more than finding fresh troops to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. You cannot afford to let the quality of U.S. military personnel slip as it did in the 1970s, when we transitioned from a conscript to a volunteer force. The current target of adding 7,000 soldiers and 5,000 marines per year is overly ambitious and needs to be scaled back. Otherwise, you will not end up with the personnel you want or need.
This danger is not just theoretical; it is already upon us. The Army has struggled to expand temporarily by just 5,000 soldiers annually over the past few years. It has achieved this growth only by quadrupling enlistment bonuses, accepting more soldiers with lower aptitude scores, raising the maximum enlistment age, and arbitrarily cutting in half the number of troops who fail basic training. Worse, last year the Army took in over 8,129 recruits with “moral waivers”–about a tenth of the total. The last thing the United States needs is “moral waiver” inductees in sensitive operations common to counterinsurgency campaigns.
Meanwhile, retention rates have been maintained by extending new entitlements and inflating promotion rates. The percentage of captains making major jumped to 98 percent in 2005, an increase that threatens to water down the quality of tomorrow’s Army leadership while also imposing extra personnel costs.
Recruitment and retention criteria must return to at least pre-Iraq standards. The emphasis must not be on hasty growth, but on attracting and developing men and women who possess the specialized skill sets needed for an effective 21st-century military. Such a military is well worth waiting a few extra years to get.
2. The military will use its increased manpower to enhance its counterterrorism, counterinsurgency and stabilization/reconstruction capacities.
If one of the lessons of the Vietnam War was that the U.S. military should not fight counterinsurgencies, one of the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan is that it will be called on nonetheless to undertake a range of unconventional missions, from counterinsurgency to counterterrorism to peacekeeping. You must therefore ensure that the next generation of soldiers and marines has the specialized skill sets needed for such operations.
By explicitly stating this strategic directive at the outset, you will signal to military planners that you reject the notion that the military can either avoid fighting counterinsurgencies or that training for conventional combat automatically prepares soldiers and marines for irregular warfare or peacekeeping operations. Expunging this notion will require discarding some long-held orthodoxies, so if the military is to rise to this challenge, its leadership must have your clear support. You must enable the Army and Marine Corps not only to attract recruits who can acquire the requisite skill sets, but also to expedite the process of developing and instituting new doctrines, new training techniques and perhaps even new force structures.
There are promising developments which suggest that the military is both willing and able to chart a new course. Lt. General James Mattis, former Commander of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, has proposed a new system in which all Marine Corps officers are trained as specialists in a particular geographical region, and new foreign language courses have been added to the Marines’ Command and Staff College curriculum. Most significantly, the Army and Marine Corp’s Field Manual for Counterinsurgency has recently been overhauled for the first time in twenty years, and it now reflects some of the latest thinking on how to conduct these types of operations.
Such steps are welcome, but not sufficient. You will also need to become a strong and vocal supporter for the most promising ideas to ensure that they are integrated as quickly as possible into institutional patterns. Only by aggressively driving your agenda through the Pentagon’s byzantine bureaucracy can new enlisted personnel and officers receive proper training.
For example, according to the updated field manual, one of the nine “representative paradoxes” of counterinsurgency operations is the following: “The host nation’s doing something tolerably is better than our doing it well: Long-term success requires the establishment of viable indigenous leaders and institutions that can carry on without significant American support.” This finding has far-reaching consequences: It means that many of our soldiers and marines not only need to know how to do things, but must also know how to teach non-U.S. nationals to do things for themselves. The training of new recruits should reflect this insight.
Finally, on a larger scale, the U.S. Army force structure should consider developing specialized “peacekeeping” or “stabilization and reconstruction” brigades. It is potentially more efficient to provide select troops with advanced training for such operations rather than to diffuse our efforts across the entire force. Such specialized brigades would alter both the type of recruit the Army is seeking and the type of person who might be interested in joining the Army. It is important, therefore, that the decision about whether to create specialized brigades of this sort be made as soon as possible.
3. The addition of more soldiers and marines will be carried out in a fiscally sustainable manner.
The price tag for maintaining and equipping the additional troops will be significant, and the cost will be compounded by the financial incentives needed to lure recruits and retain personnel during wartime. The current average annual cost of maintaining a single service member already exceeds $100,000.
It is tempting to think that the defense budget boost of the past six years will never end, in which case there would be little need to set priorities and contemplate trade-offs. After all, the Pentagon’s budget has more than doubled since 2000, and the President’s FY08 budget calls for an 11 percent increase over this year’s level. But to count on such spending indefinitely is naive and could leave new personnel programs vulnerable to cuts when the budget levels off or declines.
Your predecessor made this mistake by doing away with only two of many unnecessary major weapon programs–the RAH-66 Comanche helicopter and the Crusader Artillery System. You should demonstrate your commitment to sustaining a larger force by finding offsets for new personnel in the Pentagon’s $175 billion modernization budget, where many non-critical weapons systems are being funded. The F/A–22 Raptor and the DDG 1000 Zumwalt Class Destroyer are cases in point.
4. The U.S. military will become open to all Americans who possess the desire, talent and character to serve.
The Army and Marine Corps cannot afford to place unnecessary obstacles in the way of qualified men and women who want to serve. To this end, you must make two major personnel changes.
First, you should repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Leaving aside the important question of whether such an institutionalized bias should have been rejected on principle from the outset, the fact is that over the past ten years more than 10,000 personnel have been discharged as a result of this policy, including 800 with skills deemed “mission critical.” General John M. Shalikashvili, JCS Chairman when the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was instituted in 1993, has withdrawn his support for it on the grounds that allowing gay men and women to serve openly in the military would no longer create intolerable tension among personnel and undermine cohesion. His opinion is supported by a recent Zogby poll which found that three-quarters of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans were comfortable interacting with gay people. In other words, to quote Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, former Navy Judge Advocate General, “Rather than preserving cohesion, [the policy] fosters divisiveness.”
Second, you should announce that all military occupational specialties will be open to whomever qualifies, regardless of gender. The notion that women who possess the requisite mental and physical skills should somehow be “protected” from the dangers of combat fails to acknowledge the reality of the modern battlefield and the role women are already playing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly a hundred women have been killed in these wars. We only impede our ability to build a 21st-century military by constructing barriers where none need exist.
Mr. Secretary, as you are well aware, bigger is not always or necessarily better. Increased numbers of soldiers and marines will not by themselves ensure a more capable force. Now is the time, at the very outset of a major expansion, to establish the foundations of a better bigger force.
cc: Chairman JCS