- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2003

Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker has been selected by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to be the 35th Army Chief of Staff, the first appointed in the 21st century. On this 100th anniversary of that top Army position, it might be a good time to look at some centennial parallels.

One hundred years ago, Secretary of War Elihu Root chose Lt. Gen. Samuel B.M. Young to be the first Army chief of staff. Like Mr. Rumsfeld, Root took office determined to transform the military, specifically the Army, through a series of needed reforms in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. The man he picked to spearhead those reforms was an officer with distinguished career, one that had certain similarities to that of Gen. Schoomaker.

Though most writers have emphasized the strong special operations background of Gen. Schoomaker, he began his career as an armor officer and went on to hold several commands in the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment before becoming its executive officer.

Young served with cavalry units during the Civil War, then with the 8th Cavalry, earning awards for bravery and promotions while campaigning against Apaches and other southwestern tribes. His “special forces” experiences — civic action and counter-insurgency/terrorist operations — came when he was brigade and district commander in Luzon during the Philippines insurrection. Prior to that he was in charge of what were, in their own way, elite units — the 1st and 10th Cavalry (“Buffalo Soldiers”) and Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders — as commander of the 2nd Brigade of the V Corps Cavalry Division in Cuba.

Armed with the findings of the Dodge Commission that President McKinley established to devise solutions to logistical and other problems encountered during the Cuban campaign, Root set about to reform the Army. To improve the efficiency of its operations, there would now be a strong chain of command, from president to secretary of war to the new chief of staff, who would serve as the president’s top military advisor and exercise authority over the entire Army. Officer education would be regularized through an Army War College, which functioned initially as a general staff. It was going to be a top-down transformation with congressional authorization via the Army Reorganization Act (1901) and the General Staff Act (1903).

Young had been in the midst of it as first president of the Army War College and head of an Army-Navy Board seeking ways to improve inter-service cooperation, or, early 20th-century jointness. His selection as the first Army chief of staff in August 1903 was, nevertheless, an inspired choice, and Young did his best to push the mandated reforms which took decades to achieve.

Mr. Rumsfeld took office determined to execute his duties in carrying out United States national strategy which, among other things, mandates military transformation — essentially, the marrying of high-tech sensors, enhanced communications and precision munitions with ground forces to produce lighter, more lethal, globally deployable joint forces able to confront any contingency. As the most ponderous service branch, the Army has been challenged more than the others by transformation, despite the fact that it has experienced no fewer than 12 reorganization initiatives since World War II.

The upshot of its most recent effort, begun 10 years ago, is called the Objective Force, which hopes to embody all transformational characteristics. In April 2002, a major war game called “Vigilant Warrior” was held at the Army War College to test it and joint forces. Set in the years 2019-2021, it posited several crises around the globe for “Blue” (friendly) forces to meet. The man in charge of Blue Forces in the Caspian region later said: “We have made significant transformation over the last two decades quite similar to the effort the Army is undergoing. As the Army moves toward the Objective Force and becomes more ‘SOF (special operations forces) like’ (those) special ops forces have to continue to evolve and to be special. The synergy you achieve between the Army, other joint forces and special operations forces continue to grow and become enhanced.”

That man was retired Gen. Schoomaker, who has had a very active retirement. Immediately after September 11, he drove (all planes being grounded) from Tampa to Washington to assist in planning for the response, and in the process offered advice to his friend, Gen. Tommy Franks, who was having some difficulty devising a war plan for Afghanistan.

His active-duty career began with University of Wyoming ROTC and the Armor Officer Basic Course, and included nine months at the U.S. Marine Amphibious Warfare School. It ended(almost)withMr. Schoomaker as full general heading U.S. Special Operations Command. Like his predecessor Elihu Root, Mr. Rumsfeld has made an inspired choice for Army chief of staff. In the words of the legendary special-ops officer and former DIA director, retired Gen. Samuel V. Wilson: “Pete Schoomaker is rock solid and totally courageous. He approaches problems in a deeply thoughtful way, while showing (the kind of) nimbleness of mind and creative flexibility that may be just what’s needed by the new Army Chief of Staff.”

John B. Dwyer is a professional military historian and author.

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