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Regional alignment may boost soldiers' career stability

Dec. 10, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Army senior leader speaks at Chicago's Veterans Da
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How would you like to be based at one post, or at least one area, for the bulk of your career?

How would you like to be based at one post, or at least one area, for the bulk of your career?

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How would you like to be based at one post, or at least one area, for the bulk of your career?

This is a growing possibility as the benefits of regional alignment and new strategic land power initiatives take shape.

The issue was raised at a recent gathering of top Army leaders. Intelligence leaders pressed Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno to let their soldiers stay in the region of their expertise, much like the Special Forces. Now, a key four-star general is voicing his support.

“I think, as we really see the power of a soldier who is really an expert in a region, or has a strong background, I think there’s going to be a strong tendency to want to leave them there,” said Gen. Robert Cone, head of Training and Doctrine Command.

The reason is simple: Regional expertise is no longer unique to intelligence and Special Forces. That means soldiers can expect immersion in language, regional expertise and culture training.

Soldiers also will spend a lot of time training allied armies. There will be a lot of joint and partner-building exercises to increase U.S. influence and enhance the nation’s ability to gain access if required.

This raises the question: Why discard years of good training and experience just so a soldier can do some career box-checking? Could soldiers instead stay on post, or at least in the region, when it comes time for a career-enhancing assignment such as a tour at a major headquarters?

“There’s a very healthy debate ongoing,” Cone said. “The debate is between the personnel [officials] who want as many degrees of freedom as they can to move people around within the system, and this group that says, ‘Hey, a language skill is really a critical thing. Let’s make sure they have that ability, you know?’ Maybe we ought to rethink this.”

Indeed, many personnel officials had heartburn in May when the Army extended the average enlisted stateside assignment from 30 months to as long as 48 months. But commanders and professional development noncommissioned officers weren’t complaining. More time on station means more flexibility when they slate soldiers for military education courses or career-enhancing assignments available only at particular times.

A lack of money, not an emerging strategy, was the catalyst for that change. But reassignment is largely determined by Army requirements, professional development considerations and soldier preferences.

Cone acknowledged such a change will challenge traditional thinking, but pointed to the Special Operations Forces model that tends to honor — and protect — regional expertise. He then pointed to the results seen when 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, in 2012 was aligned with Africa. The Dagger Brigade’s accomplishments “turned out far better” than most had anticipated, including those soldiers, and that success will probably pave the way in this effort, he said.

Who's in the lineup

Roughly 60,000 soldiers have been tapped to cover five regions throughout fiscal 2014. They are:

■1st Cavalry Division, aligned with U.S. Africa Command. Army leadership expects 4,500 soldiers to conduct 600 activities in 43 countries. “Activities” means everything from training and exercises to combat and contingency missions.

■25th Infantry Division, aligned with U.S. Pacific Command, where 7,300 soldiers will conduct 230 activities in 20 countries.

■1st Armored Division, aligned with U.S. Central Command, where 8,700 soldiers will conduct 440 activities in 18 countries.

■1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, aligned with U.S. European Command. But it won’t be alone. A combined 14,500 soldiers will conduct 930 activities in 59 countries.

■48th BCT from the Georgia Army National Guard, aligned with U.S. Southern Command, where 3,900 soldiers are scheduled to conduct 260 activities in 18 countries.

Another 20,000 soldiers will be involved in 3,000 unspecified activities. U.S. Northern Command will also tap 1,100 soldiers for 180 activities in four countries. The 18th Airborne Corps will maintain its global response posture.

That’s 5,640 activities in 162 countries — in one year. The overwhelming majority of these activities will place emphasis on those areas “left of the bang.” The Army’s plan for the foreseeable future is to train and enable soldiers to prevent and shape so they don’t have to fight and win, especially if that fight may become a large-scale conflict a cash-strapped Army is not equipped to fight.

The future of strategic warfare is a convergence of land power, human domain in complex environments, and the cyber domain that will require a joint approach, Odierno said.

The Army has hammered its message home in recent months. It began with “Winning the Clash of Wills,” a strategic white paper published in May that outlines the preference that forces win through influence. Warfare is not a contest of technologies but is fundamentally a human endeavor. This calls for a land force inundated with regional expertise and alliance.

That means a lot of language and culture training for troops, especially those within the regional alignment model. Training in the human dimension will be a cornerstone of combat training centers, and will be prevalent in home station and institutional training. Soldiers will be trained to understand culture and the value of local terrain.

SOF is the model. Operators in more than 90 countries are shaping the battlefield left of the bang. They also build partner capacity so nations can deal with their own problems without the need for a large number of U.S. forces. These forces also ensure the right forces will be sent to the right place if they are needed.

“The question is: What is the compromise?” Cone said. “What’s the tipping point that we’ve got to have in terms of stability? … It’s a change in thinking, and it’s something we’ve got time to think through.”

Jim Tice contributed to this story.

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