Every Soldier a Rifleman
As Democratic presidential candidates trade sound-bite complaints about the Army being overextended in Iraq, one man in a position to make changes has announced a plan that could genuinely improve the Army’s predicament.
Donald Rumsfeld also proposed changes a while ago, but I haven’t heard anything since.
Schoomaker plans to fix the situation by taking the existing pool of soldiers and dividing them into 48 brigades instead of the current 33, according to Defense News. He will also re-train the troops to turn all soldiers into riflemen first, specialists in logistics and other subfields second. The reorganization will mark the most fundamental change in Army combat organization since the 1950s, and soon after it is implemented should relieve the Army’s current overextended state, by improving the ratio of soldiers deployed overseas relative to those at home.
Stealing the Marines’ playbook. About time too.
Though it might appear that Schoomaker is merely making an accounting change, he’ll actually have a deep impact. The main elements of Schoomaker’s reorganization:
1. Increase the number of brigades: Schoomaker plans to take the Army’s 33 maneuver brigades and spread their personnel across 48 brigades. He’ll then take support brigades — those that do artillery, supply and maintenance, for the most part — and sprinkle their personnel across the 48 as well. This will push support roles down to the brigade level.
I hope they’ll implement this along with Rumsfeld’s proposal to convert support personnel into combat. The current ration of 85% support to 15% combat soldiers is just insane.

2. Make every soldier a rifleman: The support troops in the new brigades will have to be more versatile as soldiers. Where under the current structure troops have completed basic training then gone immediately into their specialized fields of logistics, etc., the new structure will require a higher level of combat proficiency from each soldier.
Damm right.
To be sure, there may be some problems with the reorganization, which increases the mixture of weapons and functions at a lower level of the force. The changes will require a ramping up of training for soldiers, so that all can be skilled in combat arms. Commanders who previously dealt only with combat troops will now need to lead logistics and other supporting forces as well. And training support soldiers, who will now be spread across 48 brigades instead of concentrated in their own few brigades, will be decentralized and thus made more complicated.
Descentralizing a big organization usually makes things less complicated, not more.

This is the same economy of scale argument that see-saws back and forth, year by year. There are advantages to having support deployed at the brigade level, but there are other advantages to having support held centrally. For instance, the centralized supply and repair depot can maintain a larger and more varied parts inventory. Specialized skills — the kind that might get called upon from one brigade once or twice a year — can be kept efficiently employed servicing a number of widespread units. Think engine overhauls, for instance.

There are also the problems of command specialization. Maneuver brigade commanders concentrate on moving and shooting. They already have a certain number of supply and maintenanc people attached, but it's a minimal thing, just enough to keep moving (I'm assuming things haven't changed much since my day, back in the Paleolithic...) Taking a 3- or 4 battalion maneuver brigade and tacking on artillery and additional support battalions makes it not a brigade; it makes it a regiment, like the Soviets used to organize around, and like the Army used in WWII. Over the course of years, we've come to rely on the flexibility of the brigade concept, and we've moved away from the regimental idea. We've concentrated the bulk of direct support at division level because it's allowed us to task organize on the fly, rather than cross-leveling among subordinate regiments. Heavy (or heavier) maintenance is also concentrated at division level, for the same economy of scale reasons.

I think the ultimately workable solution is a separate supply and maintenance service, with military organization and maybe pay, but without the combat functions, for rear echelons — maybe corps and above, plus theater-level supply and maintenance depots and stateside. (A lot of these jobs are done by contractors now, by the way, and a few are sometimes done at division level.) I know the rear echelons can shift and in modern warfare there are no rear areas, but there are areas that are more secure and less susceptible to attack. (In that respect, there weren't any "rear areas" in WWII, either, at least not until we had absolute air superiority. Even though Saigon or Danang were susceptible to rocket attacks and sabotage, they were considerably more secure than, say Camp Carroll or the Rock Pile.) Training and maintaining the brigade and division-level supply and maintenance people as riflemen makes sense — though keep in mind that infantry tactics nowadays have moved away considerably from the rifleman in the trench. Training and maintaining the guys in the rear areas who're never going to see combat isn't cost-effective.

Posted by: Sorge 2003-10-22