Jewish World Review Oct. 22, 2003 / 26 Tishrei, 5764

Joseph L. Galloway

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Battle-tested troops to help improve Army efficiency | Two Army divisions, one just back from Iraq and one soon to return, will use the hard lessons they learned in combat to see if they can rethink, redesign and restructure themselves into a force the new Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, hopes will be more capable, competent and lethal.

"We don't want to add people; we don't want to add equipment," Schoomaker said. "We want to ask them: What can you do to make yourself better? Can you make yourself into five maneuver brigades out of the three you have now? Can you make each of those five brigades at least as capable as the original three? If we gave you the right technologies, could you become one and a half times as capable?"

The test divisions for this exercise over the next six to 12 months will be the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) at Fort Stewart and Fort Benning, Ga., which led the 19-day charge across Iraq to Baghdad, and the 101st Airmobile Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., and now deployed in Iraq.

One is a heavy division with M1A2 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. The other is a light infantry division that depends on Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters to move its forces and Apache helicopter gunships for firepower.

Schoomaker said the exercise is provisional - "this isn't something we are cutting a big order on and reorganizing the whole dang Army" - and he'll wait for the two division commanders to tell him what works and what doesn't.

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He said there's no point adding 50,000 or 100,000 more soldiers to the 485,000-man, 10-division Army, as some members of Congress have demanded, "before we know what we have got now and what we can do with it."

Schoomaker said any decision to increase the size of the Army, which he concedes is heavily "stressed" by ongoing missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and 100-plus other countries around the world, should wait for the results of the experiments with the 3rd and 101st divisions.

Schoomaker said it could take as many as five years to recruit and train new soldiers and field the equipment for two new Army divisions, at a cost of about $60,000 per additional soldier.

He added that in a year, the situation in Iraq - where 140,000 American troops are now tied down - could be different. He said that with the addition of more coalition troops, faster progress building a new Iraqi army and police forces, "we could come down to a much-reduced plateau of activity."

The Army chief said he wants to stabilize units that sometimes experience 20-plus percent turnover each year and go to a system in which units "deploy as units, stay together on that deployment, come home together and then build on their experience."

Schoomaker made it clear that soldiers should have the best equipment available and admitted that "we have had some shortfalls in that department." As many as a quarter of the Army troops in Iraq don't have advanced ceramic armor plates that can withstand enemy rifle bullets.

Schoomaker said he wished that the Army's new Stryker Brigade had been ready for the Iraq war. He would love to have seen it flown in to join the 173rd Airborne Brigade when it jumped into northern Iraq. "Stryker comes with more infantry in it than any other formation - 1,160 per brigade. the Stryker's speed and agility gives us the best operating radius and abilities we have ever had."

The Army is sending one brigade of Strykers to Iraq this month, and intends to organize five more, including one for the Army National Guard. "By the time we get to five or six," Schoomaker said, "we may want to go for even more."

He said that if the Stryker is used properly, he wasn't worried that the lightly armored, wheeled vehicle would be too vulnerable to hostile fire. "It doesn't matter what you wrap yourself in; someone is always going to build a bigger bullet," he said.

One other issue on Schoomaker's mind: "Everybody in the U.S. Army has got to be a soldier. We dismounted artillery units in Iraq and had them doing infantry jobs. Everybody has got to be able to do that; have got to be able to defend themselves. Maybe we call it: 'Everybody a rifleman.'" ___

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Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Comment by clicking here.


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