Odierno: Recent war lessons will aid future

Walter Pincus
Reporter July 25, 2011

Gen. Ray Odierno, the soon-to-be Army chief of staff, described last week how he hoped to reshape his service as officers like himself, battle-tested over the last 10 years, return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We have majors today and captains today that all they’ve experienced is war,” Odierno said during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Change, he added, “is about challenging these leaders who have had so many challenges and been so successful. . . . We have to be able to continue to challenge them because we’re going to need them as we move forward in the future.”

His words echoed former defense secretary Robert M. Gates, who told West Point cadets in February: “After the major Afghan troop deployments end in 2014, how do we keep you and those five or ten years older than you in our Army?” One of Gates’s answers was the need to attack “the institutional and bureaucratic constipation of Big Army, and rethink the way it deals with the outstanding young leaders in its lower and middle ranks.”

What Gates said he feared was, “Men and women in the prime of their professional lives, who may have been responsible for the lives of scores or hundreds of troops, or millions of dollars in assistance, or engaging in reconciling warring tribes . . . they may find themselves in a cube all day reformatting power point slides, preparing quarterly training briefs, or assigned an ever-expanding array of clerical duties. The consequences of this terrify me.”

For Odierno, his top priorities are “to first review leadership development and [second] how we’re going to do leadership development.” That requires looking “at new ways [to], broaden their horizons so they are able to better react” and “better prepared for the world situations” in which they will be placed, he told the senators.

“The future battlefield will be populated with hybrid threats — combinations of regular, irregular, terrorist, and criminal groups,” Odierno wrote in a pre-hearing questionnaire from the committee. “We must train and educate our leaders and units to understand and prevail against hybrid threats.” He explained that approach required “both combined arms maneuver and wide area security,” the latter including counterinsurgency operations.

There would still be training in basic military fundamentals, understanding weapons systems and their execution. Leaders must be able to execute with lethality, he said, “but they also must understand the environment they’re going to operate in is going to be very different, and they have to be able to adapt and adjust.”

“We must have a highly professional education system that educates future leaders on the hard-earned lessons of this past decade so we don’t repeat the mistakes of post-Vietnam, of thinking these kinds of operations are behind us,” he wrote in answers to the committee.

Lessons from the wars of the past decade — counterinsurgency, counterterrorism and stability operations — are already being bundled up in programs that institutionalize Army capabilities in elements the Army has termed “Irregular Warfare.” To establish and train troops in these areas the Army has created a series of institutional units, which Odierno described in his written answers to the committee.

The U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute has been established at the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pa. It works on developing doctrine and coordinating with other government agencies on approaches to stability operations.

The Army Irregular Warfare Fusion Cell is part of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where it coordinates irregular warfare training doctrine, primarily on counterinsurgency. Also there is the Security Force Assistance Proponent, which provides expertise in military aid and training through host nations to their security forces.

Another presence at Leavenworth is the Information Operations Proponent, which develops doctrine on “Inform and Influence Activities” and conducts courses at different levels for officers on information operations.

There is a 1st Information Operations Command (Land), based at Fort Belvoir, Va., which deploys information operations support teams throughout the Army. They train personnel at individual units and supply experts who provide planning support and vulnerability assessments.

Now being created as part of the Combined Arms Center is a proponent for Cyber/Electromagnetic Activities. It will create doctrine and training for those activities across the Army.

Meanwhile, Irregular Warfare scenarios have been introduced into Army basic training as well as the Army War College. Keeping the knowledge base on the subject up to date will be a challenge, Odierno said. The plan is not only to use the Army’s lessons of recent years, but also the lessons of coalition partners.

“Through education and maintaining a sound knowledge base, we’ll be able to respond effectively to a wide range of tasks in the future,” he said.

Odierno cited as “the biggest obstacles” facing this new approach are the coming defense cuts and resulting downsizing of units. At that point, Odierno wrote in answers to questions, “We will have to assess which of these capabilities we retain and at what level. Finding the right mix will be a challenge.”

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