Gen. Ray Odierno is overseeing
changes in the training and
deployment of soldiers
The Army is reshaping the way many soldiers are trained and deployed, with some conventional units to be placed officially under Special Operations commanders and others assigned to regions of the world viewed as emerging security risks, like Africa.
The pending changes reflect an effort by the Army’s top officer, Gen. Ray Odierno, to institutionalize many of the successful tactics adopted ad hoc in Afghanistan and Iraq. As the Army shrinks by 80,000 troops over the next five years, General Odierno is seeking ways to assure that it is prepared for a broader set of missions, including in hot spots around the world where few soldiers have deployed in the past.
The initiatives are a recognition that the role and clout of Special Operations forces are certain to grow over coming years. Faced with impending budget cuts and public exhaustion with large overseas deployments, the military will focus on working with partner nations to increase their ability to deal with security threats within their borders. The goal is to limit the footprint of most new overseas deployments.
Senior Pentagon policy makers briefed on the plans say they are fully in keeping with the new military strategy announced early this year by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Creating new sets of formal relationships between Army general-purpose units and the Special Operations Command would be a significant change in Army culture. For more than a generation, the large, conventional Army and the small, secretive commando community viewed each other from a distance, and with distrust. Armor and infantry units trained and operated separately from counterterrorism and counterinsurgency teams.
The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed that. The demands of combining high-end conventional combat and counterinsurgency missions for complementary and overlapping operations in Afghanistan and Iraq pushed conventional and Special Operations forces together. General Odierno, who now serves as Army chief of staff, oversaw many of those tactical initiatives.
He was a division commander in northern Iraq when Saddam Hussein was captured there in a mission that combined mechanized infantry units and the elite counterterrorism force. And during his tours as the No. 2 and then the top commander in Iraq, he integrated conventional and Special Operations missions on a daily basis.
Under the emerging plans, conventional Army units would train alongside Special Operations units, and would deploy with them, under their command, on overseas missions.
Other units would remain in the conventional force, but would be told in advance that their deployments would focus on parts of the world, like Africa, that do not currently have Army units assigned to them. This would allow officers and soldiers to develop regional expertise.
General Odierno foreshadowed his planning in an essay published last week in Foreign Affairs, in which he wrote that “the Army will need to preserve and enhance its relationship with joint Special Operations forces.”
“The evolution of this partnership over the past decade has been extraordinary, and the ties can become even stronger as we continue to develop new operational concepts, enhance our training and invest in new capabilities,” he wrote.
On the effort to prepare Army units with a regional focus, General Odierno wrote, “We must align our forces, both active and reserve, with regional commands to the greatest extent possible.”
The military’s global combatant commanders would guide whether the units focused on high-end combat skills, disaster relief or training missions to improve the capability of militaries within partner nations. “Regional alignment will also help inform the language training, cultural training and even the equipment that units receive,” General Odierno wrote.
The first unit to be designated for this new regional orientation will be a full brigade that will train for missions in support of the military’s Africa Command, Army and Pentagon officials said.
Formalizing what had been impromptu ties between conventional units and Special Operations forces was a focus of official “Warfighter Talks” held this past February by General Odierno and Adm. William H. McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command. The Army contributes more than half of all personnel to Special Operations Command. But even as the Army shrinks, its Special Operations personnel roster is slated to grow to 35,000 from 32,000, Army officials said.
The conventional force can vastly increase the capability of Special Operations units by providing logistical support to those teams in the field. Transportation, security, medical evacuation, food, fuel and other logistics needs are routinely provided to Special Operations units by the conventional force.
More specifically, in Afghanistan today, for example, two conventional Army battalions are assigned in support of Special Operations units carrying out a program called Village Stability Operations, which trains and works with local security forces.
While that program is viewed by American and Afghan officials as a template for the future efforts to improve local security forces, one noncommissioned officer from the conventional force assigned to the Special Operations mission, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, is charged with 17 counts of murder, accused of going on a rampage last month.
Formal training linking a conventional unit to a Special Operations unit will begin in June at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., Army officials said. The units will join for a training mission that begins at “Phase Zero,” the time when the military hopes to shape the battlefield in advance of combat, and through completion of the training mission. That style of training will be expanded to the larger desert facility, the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., in the autumn.
The training will focus on what the military calls “hybrid” scenarios, in which a single battle space may require the entire continuum of military activity from support to civil authorities to training local security forces to counterinsurgency to counterterrorism raids to heavy combat.