But some of his fellow troops viewed the new regulations as one piece of a larger, more worrisome trend in the Army as it confronts an uncertain future. Instead of embracing change, some officers worry that the service is reverting to a more comfortable, rigid and predictable past.
“We are at a crossroads right now, and I don’t get the sense that we know what we are doing,” said Maj. Fernando Lujan, a Special Forces soldier who has served multiple combat tours. “I am worried about the Army.”
These are tough times for the Army. The service is facing big budget cuts and hard questions about its future role in a Pentagon defense strategy that emphasizes air and naval power over ground forces. It also is still fighting a messy war in Afghanistan and dealing with the mental wounds of combat. Ten months into 2012, the number of suspected suicides of active-duty soldiers had exceeded last year’s total of 165.
Earlier this month, the service suffered another psychological blow when retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, the most lauded Army officer of the post-Vietnam War era, was forced to step down as director of the CIA after admitting to an extramarital affair with his biographer.
“We’ve always come down in numbers after conflicts, and our budget has always gone down, too,” said Lt. Gen. John Campbell, a top Army general at the Pentagon. “The difference is that we are doing this while we are still continuing to fight. And that is what is causing a lot more friction.”
Officials, however, said that the Army is not facing the crippling problems with discipline and drug abuse that followed the Vietnam War. Although multiple combat tours have strained marriages and contributed to the increasing suicide rate, the Army has been able to retain its combat-tested junior leaders.
“Our young leaders learned to run cities in Iraq,” Campbell said. “They are so . . . adaptable and flexible.”
One big struggle for the Army will be to keep these junior officers and sergeants interested in a stateside service in which fewer resources are available for tough, realistic training and a greater focus on minutiae such as drill and ceremony.
One mid-level sergeant at Fort Bragg, N.C., recently complained that he watched several junior soldiers get yelled at for donning Army-issued fleece hats on a cold morning when they were supposed to be wearing baseball-style patrol caps. “It’s cold. They are cold. Let them wear what they want,” the sergeant said. “But it is not the published standard, so everybody gets a butt-chewing. We have defaulted back to before 9/11.”