Tuesday, February 3, 2004

A U.S. Army that for decades has fought in brigades and battalions is taking on new-age terms such as “units of action” and “modules.”

The new terminology is the brainchild of Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the once-retired former “snake-eating” commando who was reactivated last summer by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to remake the Army, from tail to tooth.

Mr. Rumsfeld could not get the Army he wanted out of the last leadership team. Now, the task has fallen to his handpicked Army chief of staff to turn the 480,000-soldier force into a quicker, more flexible juggernaut.

Gen. Schoomaker, after a series of meetings with Mr. Rumsfeld, his staff and officers in the field, already has come up with a general plan to mix and match his 10 active divisions, according to confidential Army documents obtained by The Washington Times.

The first battlefield laboratory is the vaunted 3rd Infantry Division, based in Georgia. Gen. Schoomaker is remixing and adding to the basic building block of most divisions: three brigades of about 6,000 soldiers, armed with 60-ton Abrams M-1A tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Apache attack helicopters.

All the people and systems will stay, the documents show. But they will be broken up into “brigade-like maneuver units of action with assigned support and service support elements to provide … combatant commanders more deployable/flexible forces for employment.”

Each “unit of action” will be outfitted with support units — such as military police — that today are added at the last moment before deploying to war. The idea of backfitting from the start is to cut down on the time it takes to “round out” a deploying division.

The documents state that the 3rd Infantry’s reorganization should be in place by the time it might be needed again in Iraq in 2005. The division led the Army’s drive from Kuwait to Baghdad in Operation Iraqi Freedom and then returned home to Georgia.

“Third Infantry Division reorganization into five maneuver UAs [units of action], combat ready, trained and prepared to execute the OIF 3 [Operation Iraqi Freedom] rotation, or any other mission assigned,” the Army papers said.

Gen. Schoomaker appreciates speed, deception and agility. His previous command was U.S. Special Operations Command, whose covert warriors specialize in the kind of unconventional warfare needed to win the war on terrorism.

Gen. Schoomaker told the House Armed Services Committee last week that, “We are in very serious moods right now, looking at modulizing the Army, standardizing it, developing an Army that’s more lethal, more agile, more capable of meeting the current and future operating environment tasks.”

In all, Gen. Schoomaker is taking the 10-division Army from 33 to 48 combat brigades.

Another window into Gen. Schoomaker’s thinking is his series of talks to officers in the field. The general seems to spend more time at military schools, training centers and combat units than he does in his “E-Ring” office at the Pentagon. The Times obtained an officer’s notes from one such session.

Gen. Schoomaker’s spokesman declined to comment. “I won’t comment on the validity of e-mails or conversations that may have occurred between any Army senior leader in a conference or meeting,” Lt. Col. Michael J. Negard said.

The notes reveal the kind of feisty innovator Mr. Rumsfeld was looking for to fundamentally change how the Army deploys and fights. The new Army will become an expeditionary force like the Marine Corps, but with more firepower to fight large land wars.

At his talk, Gen. Schoomaker made a number of frank assessments about the state of the military-industrial complex, according to the officer’s notes.

• “America underfunds its military,” and the industry base cannot surge production of urgently needed equipment, such as improved armored Humvee utility vehicles for soldiers in Iraq.

• Army Personnel Command, which regulates the assignment of troops, has many problems. “May have to take it completely down in order to build it back up.”

• Berets, new head gear introduced by retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, will stay. But commanders do have flexibility to allow soldiers to wear soft caps when appropriate. Meanwhile, Gen. Schoomaker is “relooking purpose and value of Class A” uniform — the coat-and-tie ensemble. He will order all battle-dress uniforms, the ones worn on deployment, to feature the American flag on the right shoulder “to emphasize expeditionary mind-set.”

• The ambush of Jessica Lynch’s 507th Maintenance Company in Iraq has become a “defining report card,” which the general compared to sluggish deployment of Apaches to Albania in 1999 during the Kosovo conflict.

(Pfc. Lynch’s supply company was ambushed by Iraqi guerrillas in an area that was supposed to be behind enemy lines. The attack exposed flaws in the training and equipping of noncombat arms soldiers. As a result, the Army has moved to toughen recruit training for the support branch to ensure the soldiers have better combat skills before deploying.)

• Many three- and four-star officers cannot think strategically, yet many platoon lieutenants can.

• On transformation, “As far as I’m concerned, there is not a damn thing sacred about what we are doing in the Army except our values. … I’m often asked, how far can I move the Army? I tell them as far as I can. The Army is tremendously resilient. You can’t fool around on the margins if we’re going to change. We’re going to move very quickly.”

On that front, Gen. Schoomaker is keeping his word.

Already, the general is taking down artillery battalions and replacing them with military police units needed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gen. Schoomaker will likely showcase his new Army this summer.

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