To the sensitivities of a scarred veteran of past interservice jousting, the recent article "Send In the Marines" by Martin Binkin and Jeffrey Record [op-ed, March 3] had the unpleasantly familiar sound of tom-toms assembling Pentagon warriors for intramural warfare.
The authors argued for a drastic change in the concept and organization of the Rapid Deployment Force currently being designed as a joint force of all services to provide a quick-reaction response to military threats in the Middle East or anyplace else outside NATO. The proposal is to give the rapid deployment mission -- "lock, stock and barrel," in the words of the authors -- to the three-division Marine Corps as its exclusive possession. Its expanded responsibility would include the airborne and air-assault missions now assigned the Army XVIII Airborne Corps and its veteran divisions, the 82nd and the 101st Airborne.
To achieve this transformation, it is conceded that the Marine divisions would have to be reconfigured, reequipped and presumably retrained, a process that would require a considerable expenditure both of money and time. The latter might amount to years, since key equipment needed includes 14 specially designed ships that currently do not exist and quantities of minitanks that are now being tested in prototype form by both Army and Marines but are far from ready for production.
As might be expected, such a proposal sounds about as reasonable to my prejudiced ear as one by the Army to take over the Marine specialty of amphibious warfare would probably strike the commondant of the Marine Corps. Actually, the latter would be the more defensible proposition in view of the fact that the greatest amphibious operation in history, the landing in Normandy on D-Day, was conducted by Army divisions without a Marine in sight.
To offset this partisan statement, I readily concede that given the necessary time, equipment and training, Marine divisions could become quite capable of performing airborne missions -- if such a readjustment of roles were necessary. But such is not the case. The Army has the two divisions I've mentioned, with their proud records of achievement in Europe and Asia, that have been preparing since World War II for participation in precisely the kinds of operation for which the Rapid Development Force is being organized.
In my opinion, it would be folly to embark on such a change of mission -- or on any other affecting the present basic tasks of any of the services. The price would be confusion, loss of time, wasted resources and impaired morale at a time when all should be united in a common effort to restore the military strength of the nation.
This though leads to my central point, which is the merits of the Post article but the untimeliness of any revival of old bloodstained issues affecting service roles and missions. In the past, I have often been witness to the unexpected and unintended damage that can result from such conflicts. An example is a proposal somewhat similar to the one under discussion that was floated in the Eisenhower administration: that the Army be converted into essentially a home guard-civil defense force and that the major responsiblity for limited wars be assigned to the Navy and the Marine Corps. When the matter leaked to the public (leaks ccould happen then as now), it created an enormous hubbub in Washington and also in NATO capitals, always alert to changes in American military policy.
In this instance, the reaction was so violent that all papers in the Pentagon bearing on the matter were ordered destroyed and the issue was officially closed. But there was no such easy way to terminate the damage resulting from the allied disquietude, the residual hard feeling among Pentagon officials and the impaired reputation of the armed forces in the eyes of a public with little sympathy for feuding generals and admirals.
Now is a particularly difficult time for the armed forces, which face serious problems and obstacles arising from the Soviet military threat and the consequent expansion of their responsibilites. Without a reduction of current tasks or an increase in available resources, they must, in response to the recent order of the president, be prepared to resist by force of arms any hostile effort to gain or exercise control over the Persian Gulf region. Given its distance from home, the absence of bases and effective allies, the proximity of superior Soviet forces and the immediacy of the new task, the armed forces -- every service composing them -- must strain their resources to make a maximum contribution to the common cause. Every unit currently assigned to the Rapid Development Force must become reply with minimum delay to contribute what it currently can do best with what it has now.
Fortunately, despite shortages in personnel, equipment and strategic air and sea transport, this new force enjoys a great asset; the flexibility and versatility arising from the differing but mutually supporting capabilities of its components -- the Army, with divisions ranging in mobility and firepower from airborne to armored; the Marine divisions, with their special adaptability to naval tasks, plus their gallantly alongside Army divisions in prolonged combat; the Navy and the Air Force, with their ability to provide indispensible air and sea transport while protecting vital sea-air lines of communication that permit sustained operations at a distance. All have important roles to play -- there will be more than enough honorable tasks to keep them all busy in the national interest. So let them get on with their essential business and put off sparring over service roles and missions to another day.
I do want to leave the impression of being a status-quo stand-patter resisting change in the military establishment. There is a crying need for a new policy to guide the military in developing forces capable of dealing with the most dangerous and probable threats of the future. Such a policy should include a new statment of service roles and missions consistent with the future military tasks to be performed. One hopes such a statement would clarify many of the current ambiguities and eliminate many of the duplications of effort permitted at present. There is no justification to continue indefinitely supporting two armies, four air forces and, if we count the Coast Guard, two navies. It should be possible to simplify such diversity of effort and diffusion of responsiblity -- but let's not undertake it now.