The comments people have left regarding my post yesterday are fascinating and worth checking out. Many are open to women attending Ranger School and other infantry training in theory but have absolutely no faith whatsoever that the U.S. Army will not water down physical standards. This is my greatest concern as well, mainly because, as I argued in the original post, the U.S. Army always screws this up.
I believe holding men and women in the military to different physical standards -- and holding people in different age groups to different physical standards -- is wrong. In war (and elsewhere in life), you can either do the job or you cannot. If you want to have different physical requirements for different military occupational specialties, fine. The physical demands placed on an Airborne Ranger are different than those placed on a truck driver or dental hygienist, and I don't expect the latter to be able to do all the things the former can do.
The physical standards for Ranger School are, regardless of anyone's age, the ones that apply to the male 17-21 year-old age group -- which are the hardest standards. Those should then be the standards for women who attend the course, right? Again, in theory, this makes sense. But the U.S. Army always always always ends up watering down the physical standards when it looks like too few women might qualify.
As I wrote yesterday, I think this cheats the women out there who can compete with their male peers on a level playing field. And it cheats all women because it, again, teaches everyone in the military that women are the weaker sex and need a graded scale in order to serve their country.
This is ridiculous. Sex and gender equality does not mean lowering the standards to allow more women to serve. Sex and gender equality means caring far less about the sex of someone and more about what that person can or cannot do physically. If we end up having fewer women in the service as a result, that's okay because everyone will know those women advanced on merit and did not need anyone to place their thumb on the scale when it came time to asess their physical capabilities.
It's just sad that so few believe the U.S. Army has the integrity to do this.
I am a strong critic of the U.S. Army and the way in which it has struggled to explain how it best serves the security needs of the nation beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we must give credit where it is due, and the way in which our all-volunteer U.S. Army has maintained its health and integrity through a decade of war is nothing short of remarkable. It is a testament to the men and women who serve in the institution, and they are the subject of my latest column for World Politics Review:
Six out of seven soldiers and Army civilians, [a new study] reveals, trust their senior leaders to make the right decisions for the Army, and 90 percent of those surveyed remain willing to put the Army’s needs above their own. Whereas the soldiers who fought in Vietnam considered themselves amateurs and conscripts, 98 percent of the soldiers in the Army today consider themselves professional fighting men and women. As such, those who serve in the U.S. Army today are in no danger of losing their pride, heart or soul. And based on personal observations from the field, I can report the U.S. Army is today more combat effective than it was when I myself first led a light infantry platoon in Afghanistan in 2002.
The Army still has real problems, which I get into, but the larger questions in my mind revolve around the social contract between the all-volunteer military and the people it serves:
[The] American people should be asking other questions about the costs of having asked so few to bear such a heavy burden for so long. For example, will the way in which the Army has weathered a decade of war make U.S. policymakers more likely to deploy ground forces to combat elsewhere? Do the American people have a moral responsibility to share the costs of wars in which a relatively tiny percentage of the public has served?
Read the rest here.
I apologize for not writing on the blog this week. I have a lot of posts in my head but have been busy with other activities -- and writing for other websites.
Judah Grunstein of the World Politics Review commissioned a debate over the future of counterinsurgency and got responses from Steven Metz, Bing West, Michael Mazarr, and Starbuck. I contributed a piece arguing that the debate really misses the larger issue of what the hell our ground forces -- and especially our army -- are supposed to do.
Judah wryly noted that my article was itself textbook counterinsurgency: "Redefine the center of gravity (not COIN, but US Army); secure it from unnecessary collateral damage of kinetic ops; and construct narrative to encourage buy-in from on-the-fencers."
Anyway, I am always proud to participate in such debates, especially with other thinkers I very much admire. My article bears strong resemblance to a talk I gave earlier in the week at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York in which I did my best to occupy the middle ground on a panel discussion with Gian Gentile and Max Boot.
On another note, SEAL Team 6 is doing its very best to make the president immune to Republican attacks that he's Jimmy Carter. My analysis of the hostage rescue operation in Somalia can be read on the website of the BBC.
The end of the ban on gays serving openly in our armed services has arrived and will get plenty of media attention in the next few days. But I predict that the U.S. Army's introduction of 360-degree assessments (.pdf) will not get even one hundredth the level of media attention as the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell but will have a much greater impact on the effectiveness of our uniformed military. We need to give the U.S. Army a lot of credit here. This is a huge step toward the elimination of toxic leaders within the ranks of the officer corps, and this matters, in term of military effectiveness, a hell of a lot more than who one sleeps with.
I have a tremendous amount of admiration for Gen. Marty Dempsey, but his professional reading list for the U.S. Army (.pdf) leaves a lot to be desired. As a service to the readership, I am offering my own professional reading list. I have kept the general categories used by Gen. Dempsey but have replaced the "leadership" category with one on civilian-military relations. My reading list is automatically superior to Gen. Dempsey's because mine does not include one of the worst novels ever written. I have denoted those books on which Gen. Dempsey and I agree with an asterisk.
History and Heritage
Critical Analysis and the Global Context
(read alongside Michael Howard's Clausewitz: A Very Short Introduction)
...Mark Milley, who will be taking over command of the famous 10th Mountain Division. Always nice to see an Ivy Leaguer (Princeton, Columbia) in the general officer corps, if only because it confounds the West Pointers. Climb to Glory.
... GEN George Casey. Military historians and other security studies scholars will long debate what GEN Casey did or did not do in Iraq from 2004 until 2007, but that is not the purpose of this post. Many people know that GEN Casey began his military service in 1970 about a month before his father, MG George Casey Sr., became the highest ranking U.S. officer to die in Vietnam. GEN Casey's military career ended yesterday as his family dealt with another loss -- the death of GEN Casey's grandson. My heart and prayers are with the Casey Family in their time of grief, and I salute a dedicated public servant for a lifetime of selfless service to our nation.
Hey, did you see the U.S. Army's homepage today? They announced the Stetson hat will be the new official U.S. Army headgear. Hilarious April Fools joke, right? Because we can all remember that time when the U.S. Army decided the black beret would be the universal headgear so that all soldiers could feel elite like U.S. Army Rangers. That plan did not go so well when the U.S. Army's leaders, figuring a change of headgear was enough, neglected to then hold soldiers to a high standard of physical fitness, neatness of dress, care of equipment, etc. And so we were left with a bunch of overweight soldiers who looked like French pastry chefs. Good times!
Anyway, I spent the early morning hours trying to come up with some other great jokes and pranks the U.S. Army has played through its history (with some help from the gang on Twitter). What follows is hardly an exhaustive list, so add your own suggestions in the comments section.
Stars and Stripes reporter Jeff Schogol takes on the new Army Physical Fitness Test.
Here's a question for the readership as we try and wrap our heads around the proposed cuts to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. (I'm not smart enough to comment on the proposed cuts to the U.S. Navy and Air Force, respectively. Go here for comments on the former.) I was surprised to read this quote from Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Greg Newbold in the Times concerning the cuts to the USMC's Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle:
“We’ll just pray that we don’t have to go into harm’s way in the next 10 years."
Really? I have to confess that Lt. Gen. Newbold is one of my favorite retired general officers. I got to know him when he was serving on our board of directors and really respect his service, integrity and intellect. But the first thing I thought when reading this was, Holy cow, do we really need more forced entry capabilities?
I did the math in my head while riding on the Metro this morning and counted four brigades in the 82d Airborne, four brigades in the 101st Airborne (Air Assault), one brigade (4th) in the 25th Infantry Division (Airborne) and one brigade in Europe, the 173rd Airborne, in addition to the 75th Ranger Regiment. That's 11 brigade-sized elements capable of conducting forced entry operations in the U.S. Army alone. How many airfields are we going to need to seize? And would we have conducted as many amphibious landings in the Second World War if we had rotary-wing platforms as we do today?
My beloved U.S. Army made it through the proposed cuts in the defense budget relatively unscathed, so maybe I should keep my big mouth shut, but if I were a congressional staffer, the above is one of the questions I would be asking.
Readers, please sound off in the comments section of this post -- especially if my thinking is wrong-headed here.
Update: Some great comments here. Over the Twitter Machine, @ndubaz notes that what I am really talking about is forced entry capable brigades. He is correct. Another commenter wonders if I have lost my sanity: of course these brigades are not interchangeable, right? Again, correct. The 75th Ranger Regiment most obviously differs from the others, as does the 101st Airborne from the 82d Airborne. But I lumped all these brigades in for a reason -- the nuances in capabilities will not stand out to your average congressional staffer in the same way they will to, say, one of the many officers who have served in the 101st, the 82d and the 75th. Finally, Gulliver linked to this must-read piece by (Marines) Bob Work and Frank Hoffman. That piece, though, rests on the assumption that "Retaining the ability to project power and conduct landing operations into hostile territory remains strategically important to American global interests." Needless to say, that's an assumption that even folks to the right (or is it left?) of Andy Bacevich might contest -- especially given other capabilities within the ground forces.