Transformation Key to Military Success

Posted May 6, 2005 at 2:14pm

Some of us need a sharp reminder about why we are here. The first and most important function of the federal government is and always will be national security.

When I came to Congress almost 20 years ago, 30 of us, newly elected Members, were invited to the White House to meet with President Ronald Reagan. The president asked each of us what was on our minds. He listened patiently as we talked about what was important to the folks back home. After everyone had spoken, the president said to us, “Well, now, all those things are important. But none of them mean a great deal without first having a strong national

defense that can give us true national security.”

Reagan’s words are as true today as they were that day. Indeed, those remarks have guided my career in Congress, and should be the guide for all of us today. The threat today is as real and, in some ways, more menacing than it has ever been. Our troops are undoubtedly facing an ever-changing battlefield in Iraq. Terrorists have altered their tactics and will continue to do so. Unfortunately, the attacks will become more complex, more coordinated and more deadly as time goes on.

Even still, the United States military has made some truly remarkable accomplishments since Sept. 11, 2001. They have toppled the Taliban, run Al Qaeda into hiding, monitored a free election in Afghanistan and established a parliamentary democracy in Iraq. Despite the cynics, these are the beginnings of democracy in the Middle East. It will take time and commitment, but we have a chance to succeed.

Our ability to succeed will depend on our ability to stay the course and support the military’s budget and transformation efforts. The military services are stressed and strained with the war effort. The solution is to fully support what they need to upgrade and repair equipment, provide personnel relief, offer adequate compensation, and find solutions to suicide bombers and roadside explosives. While we are dealing with today’s lethal problems, we must also worry about transforming to tomorrow’s even more capable force.

Just a few years ago the buzzwords around military academia were “revolution in military affairs,” “precision fires” and “massing effects.” Today, the word around the world’s largest office building is “transformation,” but transformation is more than a buzzword. It is a serious effort to capitalize on American ingenuity to make our military better and our nation more secure.

The Army is the service most forward-leaning in its transformation efforts, planning fundamental changes in culture and doctrine, driven by the innovative thinking that Army Chief of Staff Pete Schoomaker brings from his career in Special Forces. This aggressive push to transform is remarkable considering that the Army is the service most severely stressed by ongoing operations.

Traditionally, the Army placed a great deal of capability within the division — the core, self-sustaining fighting force for the Army. The Army plans to shift from a division-centric structure to a brigade-centric structure. In doing so, the Army will create 43 to 48 smaller, specialized, brigade-sized organizations. Their intent is to have the ability to deploy smaller, more capable units faster by creating brigades with the capability to be more autonomous and less dependent on a support infrastructure located in a divisional hierarchy. That’s a considerable jump in capability over today’s 33 active and larger combat brigades, which were designed for wars of the past.

The transformation plan also includes a significant personnel component involving a massive change in the skills mix of the active and reserve components, shifting more military structure away from the institutional (non-deployable) Army, into deployable forces. This plan is a five-year effort that will affect more than 100,000 personnel spaces in both the active and reserve components.

Today, two organizations — the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the Marine Corps — are the best “joint” fighters in the world. Neither is a distinct service. It can be argued that the Marines have been fighting jointly the longest. Their heritage as part of the Department of the Navy and imbedded Air Wings have given them a history of effectively engaging the enemy as a joint team.

SOCOM has proved to be the most adept at executing today’s joint fight and is the organizational construct the Department of Defense should model in order to accomplish missions demanding flexible, responsive capability and effects-based units. SOCOM has been well supported by Congress, but its outstanding successes may be leading to the problem of overuse. Aircraft are wearing out, as are the Special Forces operators themselves. SOCOM, like the Army and the Marine Corps, is heavily stressed by current operations and other worldwide commitments, and needs our full support to ensure more success in the future.

Those of us privileged to be elected to Congress have a solemn duty to protect this nation. The one thing we should do — must do — for those we represent is to continue to support the funding and transformation necessary to enable the brave men and women of our armed forces to successfully continue their efforts in providing for strong national security.

Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.) is chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on terrorism, unconventional threats and capabilities.