July 24, 2009

Weekly News Roundup: Spotlight on the U.S Army

Big news started early in the week for the U.S. Army on Monday, when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced his plan to grow the branch by 22,000 troops to a total standing force of 569,000.  Gates’s call comes in response to prolonged strain on forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and though force structure per se doesn’t fall directly under the purview of the Natural Security Program, the announcement set the tone for the days to follow.

The New York Times also provided a look at DOD’s efforts to cut energy demand.  In the article, Alan Shaffer, DOD principal deputy director for defense research and engineering, reported that the Army’s fuel use increased more than tenfold as it transitioned to wartime operations after 2001. Thus far, the “greening” of the U.S. military has mostly been an exercise in self-imposed pragmatism—lower energy costs free up much-needed funds and fewer fuel convoys reduce some in-theater vulnerabilities.
But despite ongoing efforts to trim energy consumption, the Armed Forces Press Service reported this week that Army units in Afghanistan are still facing perilous conditions supplying forward operating bases with food and energy, especially as combat operations intensify in Helmand province. The 286th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, for example, must increase supply volumes even as hazardous conditions persist.

hires_081004-A-8725H-072a.jpgElsewhere in Afghanistan, Army and Air National Guardsmen have been working to develop local agribusiness capacities. Recognized for eschewing poppy cultivation, Panjshir province was granted more than $1.6 million to improve land and agricultural management. If compliance with counternarcotics regulations keeps, the people of Panjshir can look forward to future National Guard programs devoted to dairy cow husbandry, reforestation, experimental crop testing, pest control, and food processing – all with the intention of improving the country’s long-term economic and social stability.

Finally, MNFI reported from Iraq that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been working to secure the supply of clean water in Baghdad and Fallujah.  Water is especially critical these days, in light of historic lows in Iraq’s portion of the Euphrates River.  The U.S. Army’s Second Heavy Brigade Combat Team has recently updated solar-powered streetlights in Baghdad and Abu Ghraib with induction lamps, replacing dimmer, less efficient low sodium models.  Increased nighttime lamplight should make streets safer after sunset, boosting local economies by allowing businesses to keep later hours.

Photo: U.S. Soldiers 25th Infantry Division conduct a cache search in a crop field near Zoba, Iraq. Courtesy of Spc. Daniel Herrera and the U.S. Army.