The New York Times reported Wednesday that General Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, is shaking up the way soldiers are trained in order to create a force that is better equipped to deal with losses in personnel, respond to changing threats and adapt to regions of the world that are expected to grow in importance, such as Africa. For one, the Army plans to do more to tell units in advance where their deployments will be in order to develop regional expertise, such as language skills, cultural knowledge and even varying equipment experience.
But perhaps the more interesting change is that the Army plans to begin formally bringing Special Operations units and conventional Army units together in the early phases of their training in order to greater integrate the two groups. That’s a “significant change in Army culture,” the Times reports, as the two sides have long “viewed each other from a distance, and with distrust.”
While that began to change following 9/11, when conventional and counterinsurgency groups started overlapping in Iraq and Afghanistan, the integration is still ad hoc and not institutionalized. As Odierno wrote in Foreign Affairs last week, “the evolution of this partnership [between conventional and special forces] over the past decade has been extraordinary, and the ties can become even stronger as we continue to develop new operational concepts, enhance our training and invest in new capabilities.”
As an outsider, the move seems to make a lot of sense, not just to meet the changing needs of the Army but to break down whatever trust and distance issues between the two groups remain. Even if years of working together in the field during war time have helped to blur those lines between the groups, some level of suspicion and remoteness likely remains. For an organization as large and traditional as the Army, culture change can take decades, if not generations. Bringing people together earlier in their training, when impressions are more vividly made and opinions are more easily formed, should help cut through barriers and build trust, especially if the conventional units are under Special Forces command.
The formal training links, the Times reports, will begin in June and expand later this year. That’s just in time for the budget cuts the Army is facing — and at the very moment the Special Operations forces are slated to grow. These more secretive units are expected to expand by some 3,000 members at the same time the Army will be losing 80,000 troops over the next six years, a move that could create rifts if conventional forces feel they’re being asked to do more with less while their counterparts in the Special Forces are beefing up. Bringing the two groups together during training could help to minimize such concerns.
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