January 21, 2011

Dave Barno’s Top 10 Tasks for General Dempsey, the New Army Chief of Staff

Featuring Thomas E. Ricks

Source: Foreign Policy

Marty Dempsey's nomination as the next Army Chief of Staff means one thing: The U.S. Army has just won the big Powerball jackpot.  For a service struggling with the grim realities of ten years of war, and facing an uncertain future of inevitable defense cuts, this wily cavalryman is exactly the right medicine to revitalize the force.

Dempsey leads the Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), an organization once described as "the architect of the future Army."  He's been acting commander of U.S. Central Command and served twice in Iraq. He's a scholar with a degree in English who taught at West Point. He listens and thinks. With coming budget belt-tightening, two wars winding down and a shrinking Army end strength, Dempsey is the pivot man holding a historic opportunity to re-shape the Army Next.

So -- what are the "gotta do" items in the next Chief's overflowing inbox? My top 10:

1) Finish the Fight. Both Afghanistan and Iraq will likely wind down on Dempsey's watch. Armies exist to fight and win wars -- and the U.S pays huge costs in peacetime so the Army can deliver the goods when the fire alarm rings. And this Army has delivered in spades, after some rocky starts.  Now as these wars unwind, the U.S. Army must spare no energy in seeing that its remaining deployed forces, particularly in a major fight for Afghanistan, get everything the service can institutionally provide. Soldiers and their leaders have given their all for ten years, winning one war and beginning to turn the tide in another. But the bureaucratic Army track record here has been decidedly mixed (see: Rodriguez IJC HQ standup). Pull out the institutional stops.

2) Generation Keep. The officer and NCO leaders of this force rival the Greatest Generation of WWII fame. But in an Army soon to be largely back in the motor pools and on rifle ranges, these "war babies" could leave the Army in droves rather than stay in a stifling over-centralized, power-point-centric Army. The training-focused Army of the 80s and 90s so prized by today's general officer leadership is foreign to them, and returning to that auld sang lyne model may not scratch their itch.  The next peacetime Army - - not the CPTs and MAJs, SSGs, and SFCs -- must change.  A return to a bureaucratic garrison mindset is already becoming the natural line of drift.  Micromanagement, hours of power point Quarterly Training briefs, and the occasional Combat Training Center rotation slapped atop of a newly resource-austere force could drive out many of these best and most experienced officers and NCOs in the Army's history -- people that the Army vitally needs for its next incarnation. The quality of who stays matters -- not just the raw numbers of butts in seats.

For full story, continue reading at Foreign Policy.



  • Thomas E. Ricks

    Contributing Editor, Foreign Policy

    Thomas E. Ricks is a contributing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, for which he writes the blog “The Best Defense,” which was named the best blog of the year by the American...