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By Phillip Carter |  May 27, 2008; 9:00 AM ET
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My Question for the Group...

What can be done to save the Army from itself?

While this comment may seem flippant, I feel that it is timely and appropriate as we conclude the SIXTH Memorial Day weekend since the launch of OIF. With each passing year, the Army's messaging and outreach efforts seem more clumsy and out-of-synch with the changing national mood towards the Iraq conflict.

There is one undeniable fact. The MAJORITY of the US public now believes that OIF was a mistake and this sentiment constitutes a supermajority of the public opinion in many areas of the coutry and within certain key demographic groups that have proven indispensible to the health and quality of the All-volunteer force (e.g. urban areas and the black population).

Despite these accepted realities, the Army in particular continues with a public outreach and messaging strategy that seems to reinforce these pre-existing negative views through a misguided "Army Strong" branding initiative that has inseperably linked the image of the American soldier with the war in Iraq.

I believe that this is a profound mistake on a number of levels. For starters, the Army has a proud 233 year (almost) history that is more comprehensive and broad than the the narrow image being projected to the American public by Army Public Affairs. Second, by showcasing only one side of the Army and narrowly portraying soldiers as one-dimensional "warriors" swaddled in body armor and pixelated camouflague, we are inadevertantly undermining our image as a professional, full-spectrum force. I believe that this messaging strategy has and will compound our existing recruiting and outreach activities for years to come.

For starters, the ubiquitious image of the Army soldier from PV1 to General Officer in combat uniforms - regardless of the setting needs to be reexamined. Additionally, the 2005 decision to make the ACU the default uniform for Army recruiters needs to be revisited. By trolling the halls of high schools and attending college career fairs in camouflage and desert boots, Army recruiters are unwittingly reinforcing the age-old stereotype that they are only looking to identify "cannon fodder" for Iraq. By turning Army personnel into walking billboards for the increasingly unpopular Iraq War, the seeds for a potentially generation-long negative impression of Army service are being sown.

What prompted me to write this? Two news items from the past week:

1) In a ham-handed attempt at "outreach", the Army flew Chicago-area business leaders (in suits) to the Pentagon for a briefing on "the Army" given by several General officers in ACUs. Color me crazy, but flying a bunch of executives in suits to the Pentagon for a briefing by a guy in rumpled ACUs seems a little gauche.

2) Despite rose-colored public pronouncements, Army recruiting is in real trouble if you bother to look hard enough at the existing data. This week we learn, that Scranton, Pennsylvania an area that has proven to be a bedrock community for the all-volunteer Army produced only 59 enlistments in FY 2007 out of the 106 it was missioned for. For FY08, Scranton is significantly behind its YTD enlistment mission and will likely fall even more short than it did in FY2007 if you consider the unrealistically high enlistment mission USAREC has assigned for June-September 2008.

I once heard that the definition of insanity is the continuation of failed practices even after we find they are flawed.

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | May 27, 2008 11:16 AM

Forrest for trees. It isn't the uniform, it's the mission. Either get back to your core mission, or change it.

Shrink the Army, expand the USMC for whatever inter-personal rubble generation requirements your Notional Security requirements are.

If you believe in the "Long War", pull any unit that is doing 51% "nation building" today out of SecDef and put them under State. Or create a third dept (Secretary of Democracy) and make SecDef and SecState undersecretaries.

Posted by: srv | May 27, 2008 4:14 PM

Uniforms - the rest of the society is in a hierarchy of appearance. The ACU is for field work and that is the image made by it. Home based military who appear in ACUs are presenting themselves as field workers. It is the uniform of the lower tier just the same as the "blue collar" or "red neck". Solution - dress up when not in the field. Look at Dave Petraeus.

More concern - rash of foreclosures.

Logic would cause wonder on behalf of those who risk their skin to enable the parasites at home free range upon their families. Such socities like Imperial Russia in early 20th century found that returning soldiers were not in good humor with neither the CZAR nor his bankers and heirs. This is an item of serious concern for any nation.

Posted by: Bill Keller | May 27, 2008 4:32 PM


Uniforms - the rest of the society is in a hierarchy of appearance. The ACU is for field work and that is the image made by it. Home based military who appear in ACUs are presenting themselves as field workers. It is the uniform of the lower tier just the same as the "blue collar" or "red neck". Solution - dress up when not in the field. Look at Dave Petraeus.

More concern - rash of foreclosures.

Logic would cause wonder on behalf of those who risk their skin to enable the parasites at home free range upon their families. Such societies like Imperial Russia in early 20th century found that returning soldiers were in good humor with neither the CZAR nor his bankers and heirs. This is an item of serious concern for any nation.

Posted by: Bill Keller | May 27, 2008 4:37 PM

The time will come soon that the Iranians will tell their Iraqi lackeys that the US needs to leave. Has anybody planned for that inevitability?

Posted by: SteveMG | May 28, 2008 2:40 PM

I hope Phil covers McClellan's new book thoroughly. I really enjoyed getting the highlights of Sanchez's book without having to slog through the lowlights.

It looks like this book is going to be the first kiss-and-tell book for the Bush administration. I'm sure there will be many more but the first is always the most memorable.

Posted by: pluto | May 28, 2008 8:36 PM

I am of two minds about the uniform thing. At the risk of sounding a little bit parochial, as an infantry guy, I have always thought that the Army had moved too far away from the "military" part of being an armed service. The class A and B uniforms were intended to be more civilian/business like uniforms, a conscious move away from the military look of the kakhi uniforms of the past. So for that reason, on one level I appreciate the adoption of the ACU as the default uniform.

One fact that might support the wisdom of this move, at least from a recruiting standpoint, is that the Marines are not having the trouble with recruiting that the Army is. Admittedly, it is a smaller service and has never typically had the same issues that the Army has. Furthermore, they think of themselves and are thought of generally as an elite service and thus are more easily marketable. But I feel that some of the appeal the the Marines have among the general population has to do with the belief that it is a more disciplined, more serious service, and that it creates warriors, whereas the Army is not thought of as having any of those qualities. These beliefs seems to me to be generally held, despite the fact that the two services are doing essentially the same job.

(Just for the record, I have seen up close the basic training of both the Marines and the Army, to include infantry training, and while the Marine boot camp is longer and perhaps more smartly run, I don't feel it is any tougher or that it creates better warriors.)

However, I do see the point that there is a time and a place for a combat uniform. And I also see that having a recruiter visiting high school (or even worse, parents) in a combat uniform is not exactly going to send a reassuring message.

I think that Army has had a real image problem, in large part because of the non-military type of uniform that it had adopted. But I also think that it is possible that the ubiquitous image of the soldier in ACUs at every occasion may be an overreaction. At the same time, advertisements are a different issue. If an advertisement is trying to show what the life of a soldier can be like on a day-to-day basis, a soldier lives in ACUs. When I was on active-duty, I can nearly count the number of times I put on any uniform other than BDUs/DCUs/ACUs.

Furthermore, I don't think that the image makes any particular tie to Iraq that is unwarranted. People will either sign up or they won't, and that decision will be based at least in part on whether they are ready to go to war. That fact can't be changed. But the ACU is the Army uniform and will be no matter how long we are fighting "the Long War." Prospective recruits are not stupid; they know what signing up means.

And by the way, anybody who thinks that the Army can will away the need to be full spectrum capable, including having the capacity to wage future operations similar to what we are engaging in now, or did in Vietnam, has no sense of history or the role of the military in our system of government. If we wish to continue to be engaged in the world, and to have any influence on world events, we need to be ready to project our national power--all elements of our national power. No other agency of government has ever, or could possibly ever, have the capacity to project power with anywhere near the effectiveness as the military. So we cannot bury our head in the sand as we did after Vietnam and say "never again!" The military doesn't get to decide that, and even if it had a vote, if it decided that it would never again conduct such operations, then we would simply be broadcasting to our enemies how they need to fight us, just as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to face reality.

Posted by: DM Inf | May 28, 2008 8:53 PM

In DoD's website today there was a brief article, a service given on Memorial Day in Columbus, Ohio. Attended by England of OSD, it gave honor to twentyfive deaths in a Marine Company of the 25th. All killed in Irag during the period of deployment in 2005. 23 deaths of which 18 were from IEDs. I find this troubling. We seem not to discuss how we could have secured these areas and how we could avoid having the explosive amounts necessary to sustain the level of effort remain this long. This is a Sunni area, I believe, where the Marines were killed so I have a bit of cynicism about it being Iranian imports.

Posted by: Bill Keller | May 28, 2008 9:23 PM


To use an old adage, "The clothes make the man." There are times when one dons one's "Sunday go to meeting clothes". ACUs do not meet this criterion. The ACU is not, by Army regulation, the social equivalent of a "business suit" no less informal attire. They are the equivalent of a mechanic's coveralls. In polite social discourse, people have tended to dress in a manner which is considerate of the other person or the occasion. The wear of the ACU in civilian society when suits or formal wear is appropriate only serves to set the soldier apart from the society in which he or she is mixing. It would be like your local butcher showing up at your son's funeral in a clean white apron.

Back in the 80's the FORSCOM Commander told the people assigned there that the duty uniform was Class Bs, not BDUs, for a very good reason:- Not one member of that HQ was in a deployable billet.

Yes, there may be an identity crisis in the Army, but there need not be. The Army has no reason to feel inferior. My opinion is that the ACU business is a result of too many of the serving members of the Army accepting the intense propaganda of the current administration. Especially senior officers.


Posted by: Aviator47 | May 29, 2008 2:22 AM

I agree with you that the ACU is the equivalent of coveralls and really is not appropriate for wear when soldiers are mixing with civilians. It does set them too much apart. But I don't think the sentiment behind the Army's pushing that uniform as the identity of the service is tied to the administration or Iraq or anything like that. However misguidied the policy may be, what is behind it is Army's legitimate desire to instill an expeditionary mentality among its members. This goes back before 9/11, to Shinseki's creation of the Stryker Brigade concept and the move to the black beret. Rightly or wrongly, the Army is trying to rebuild the "warrior ethos" that had been lost among large parts of the service, but is so alive and well in the Marines.

I think the Class A and B uniforms created in the 1970s to more closely resemble civilian business attire has been a symbol for many of the loss of that ethos. While I agree that the ACU should not be a replacement for the Class B, I would argue that maybe we need a new uniform to take its place that, like the Marine equivalent, actually looks like a military uniform.

I had heard that the Class A was going away anyway, to be replaced by the Army blue uniform. Maybe that would be a step in the right direction.

You are right. Clothes do "make the man." It all depends on what type of man (or woman) you want to make.

Posted by: DM Inf | May 29, 2008 1:39 PM

After the media drubbing given to the nephew of Charles T. Payne for mistaking the name [Ohrdruf/Buchenwald, not Auschwitz] of the camp whose liberation resulted in a bout of what we now know was PTSD, suffered by Senator Obama's great uncle on his return from WWII, I thought readers here might appreciate a link to the 89th's website so they might, if they wish, honor the bravery of those members of the 89th Division who liberated this camp. A visit to one page of text on the Division's website discloses that Gen Patton vomited upon seeing the human suffering at Ohrdruf.
Here is an internal link that will allow a visitor to navigate through sobering text and photos.

Veterans continue to need assistance with the after-effects of war and I was glad to hear of Senator Obama's willingness to discuss this difficult subject in response to a listener's question - regardless of his recollection of the name of the camp.

Posted by: honor the 89th | May 29, 2008 3:21 PM

Thanks for the link to the Ohrdruf/Buchenwald camp memory. We forget to easily what our forefathers when through when dealing with prior wars. It is easy to look back and discuss tactics and the brilliance or foibles of leaders, while forgetting the real one-on-one experience of men.

That Senator Obama's great uncle was out in the front line shows his family's history of getting in the trenches and making a difference to this nation.

I think we all can be proud of the men who have served, and should be rightfully scornful of those who wish to Swift Boat someone based on another persons words or recollection.

We have two candidates, both of whom are patriots and come from families of patriots. The question is not who has served best in the past: The question is which one will serve use best in the future.

Posted by: JM | May 29, 2008 5:13 PM

Why is it that the left hates the military so?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2008 6:18 PM

Yeah! Like those damn liberal Westboro Baptist Church folks!

Man, some folks just don't get it...

Posted by: Anonymous | May 31, 2008 3:27 AM


I agree with your statements about the proper place and time for a combat uniform such as ACUs. I am sure Al and some of the older guys remember the day when you were not allowed to were BDU's off post except to and from work (maybe at the gas station only if it was on the way home).

And I also agree, the "Army Strong" campaign, is, for lack of a better word, gay. It almost implies, "I know you are a weak kid right now, but join us and you will become a man." I prefer the good old, tried and true, "Be all you can be" which is why I joined.

But I disagree with your argument on one basic premise. Your entire argument states that the Army is broken today, will be broken in the future. It implies that there was ever a "Not Broken Army." Broken compared to what? What Army are we compared it to? The Army of the 70s, 80s, or 90s? What is the Army supposed to look like? I don't know because in my 14 years, I've never lived in a Army that wasn't "broke" according to most.

I know you are a smart guy and don't allow your biases to affect your arguments, as we all try to avoid. But is it possible that many of us soon to be old timers, as well as the true old timers, are just talking about the good ole' days? The classic scenario of the senior NCO coming into a new unit who only wants to talk about how much harder his basic training was, or how weak today's recruits are, or "back at Bragg..."

Where I agree with your assessment of the direction the Army is heading, where do you think we should be going back to? Should we be going back or should be "transforming" forward into something new? We can argue all day long about the route, but I am confused, as I am sure many are, about the destination. Where do you think we should be going?

Posted by: bg | June 1, 2008 2:00 PM

IRR, just to reiterate.

I totally get your point, and the indicators that you discuss (Uniforms, recruiting problems, OPTEMPO, organizational culture) are all very important in determining where the Army is likely going. But I just wanted to be clear on my question to you.

Where should we be going? What should the future Army look like, who should be in it and what should be our organization culture? Until this is decided, how can we argue how we should get there?

Posted by: bg | June 1, 2008 3:03 PM


I have to come to IRR's defense here. I am not sure that his argument hinges on the premise that the Army is broken. While I can't speak for him, I am not at all convinced that if you accept the idea that the public image that the Army is trying to convey through its use of the ACU and soldiers in body armor in all of its advertising and public communications that you must necessarily conclude that the Army is broken.

I think the question is much more narrow than that, focused only on the Army's strategy in relating to the civilian populace in the face of the unpopular war we are waging in Iraq. The question presented is does the Army's public relations strategy that stresses the combat focus of the service using images of this unpopular war undermine the goal of selling the service to prospective recruits and the the broader public?

The question of whether the Army is broken is another question entirely. I would certainly agree that for soldiers currently serving, it does not appear to be broken. In fact, day-to-day, the Army seems to be functioning very well, accomplishing all of the missions it is given and overall, the morale and motivation of the soldiers I know is very high.

However, the problem lies in the strategic view. First, there is an exodus of mid-grade officers and NCOs. Unfortunately, the statistics bear this out. The Army's future leaders are leaving the service, finding it impossible to have a real life with a family and serve at the same time. Second, the Army's equipment is being chewed up at an very high rate by current operations. It will take a long time and many billions of dollars above the current defense budget to repair or replace the equipment. But these facts do not answer the question of whether the Army is "broken."

I would argue that the Army right now is as healthy as it has ever been, for the current operation. What concerns me is what the Army learns from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The service is at a crossroads, and there is a great deal of conflict in the service over which direction it should take. So all of the problems that the wars have cause with personnel and equipment might very well be compounded by the doctrinal and philosophical confusion.

No, the service is not exactly "broken"...yet. But if the service isn't able to define an identity that is separate from the current wars, we might very well be "breaking." The road ahead will be difficult and will require leadership of a kind the service has not had in a while. But the exodus of the brightest mid-grade officers right now could very well be a sign of trouble on that road.

I don't think IRR was trying to suggest that the Army is broken, but his question dove-tails nicely into such a discussion.

What do you think?

Posted by: DM Inf | June 1, 2008 10:04 PM


IRR's initial question was, "What can be done to save the Army from itself?"

A healthy organization doesn't destroy itself like a cancer eating a healthy organ. My challenge to IRR is more to the question of is there an "old timer" bias in our arguments and what should the future force look like (so we know how to get there).

I am with you as an active duty soldier, I agree with your assessment of the state of affairs from an internal perspective. I don't see the Army as broken yet, and I don't think IRR thinks it is a broke organization yet either. But we both see the indicators that if we stay on the present path we are going down a road that could result in the breaking of the Army in the worst case scenario.

I've said it several times on this blog, and I still believe that tomorrow's Army could be the greatest Army in the history of the U.S., but we must address some serious concerns IRR has brought up, and most important, we must decide what we want that future force to look like so we know what path to get there.

My question to IRR was, and remains, what should we look like as an organization?

Posted by: bg | June 2, 2008 7:42 AM

"My question to IRR was, and remains, what should we look like as an organization?"

Bg, you've got a post over at JD's site that I haven't gotten around to addressing (been on the road), but this might be a good place to start.

What I think IRR is driving at--and I share his concerns--is not that the Army is "broken." On the contrary, I think the Army has performed some very trying duties in an exemplary fashion, and I don't think that will change. What concerns me is what you've touched on: the increasingly anti-intellectual and insular nature of today's Army. The wear of fatigues (that's what us old guys call 'em) in inappropriate venues is kind of the signature of what to outward appearances is becoming a culture of s**t kickin', "kill a Commie for Christ" that leaves no room for reflecting on all of the nuances attendant to use of military force in a nation such as ours.

The fact is that military service, especially at higher ranks, is, or should be an intensely intellectual endeavor, but it seems some of this is being lost. Further, due to some of the demographic and recruiting issues IRR has identified, as well as its historic tendency to close ranks against "outsiders," it seems the ever-present gulf between the Army and the nation it is supposed to serve is growing wider.

Personally, I find all of the "hooah" and overt manifestations of a s**t kickin' Army culture with alarm. And I think our Founders, ever-mindful of the dangers inherent in a standing army, would as well. I also believe the Founders would view the seeming transfer of allegiance on the part of senior officers from the Constitution to mere mortals such as the president or secretary of defense dangerous in the extreme.

Incidentally, our Army in the 70s wasn't exactly "broken." The term of art coined by then-CofS General Shy Meyer was "hollow Army." There is a difference. The Army was "hollow" during these early days of the MVA because of its inability to get sufficient numbers of motivated and educable troops. The nail in the coffin was the sharp falloff in funds for modernization and maintenance. This came about because of the American public's disenchantment with Vietnam and with government in general (recall Nixon). One thing we learned from Vietnam is that the American people are not in any sense pacifistic; they will willingly support a war for national survival, but they expect a clear-cut conclusion to such a war, i.e., a "win.". This is not surprising in view of the geographic, demographic and economic advantages we have traditionally enjoyed as a nation.

It's when things become murky such as in a COIN environment that the American people become frustrated, impatient and ultimately disappointed with their Army. Support wanes, and that can translate into a "hollow" Army. The reality is that COIN is never clear-cut, something Army leaders of the past understood, thus their efforts to make it difficult for politicians to engage in extensive COIN efforts. One wonders if today's Army leadership truly understands this lesson from the past.

One also wonders if today's Army leadership understands the all-important nature of maintaining a strong bond with the nation's citizenry. To me, there is somewhat of an undercurrent of contempt for the citizenry on the part of the Army, something exemplified by the wear of fatigues that gets IRR so exercised. By the shunning of large swatches of the population in favor of perceived easier targets in certain areas. By the willingness of senior retired officers to serve as shills for self-serving and one-sided political interpretations of controversial wartime events, especially when they enrich themselves in the process.

The danger we really face is that the U.S. Army will no longer reflect American values and traditions. This was always the danger in adopting an all-volunteer force: that the American Army would ultimately end up being un-American. The shift to an expeditionary vice a "This We'll Defend" mindset kind of puts one in mind of the Roman legions and the French Foreign Legion, as well as our own military during the years between the Civil War and WW1, and between WW1 and WW2. I don't think the American people want a "Starship Troopers" or Praetorian Guard type of Army, and I don't think they will ultimately support such an Army.

One of my personal heroes, LTG Bill Odom, died last week. I worked directly for Odom when he was Army G2. He was a hard man to like, but he personified that intellectual general traditionally produced by our Army, the kind of man who improved everyone around him by causing them to think. One wonders if that's the case any more. One wonders if an Odom would be welcome in today's Army. One balks at the thought of a Bill Odom wearing fatigues to public functions.

Posted by: Publius | June 2, 2008 6:48 PM

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