Leadership: Soldiers Thinking Like Marines


October 30,2008: Inside the U.S. Department of Defense, there is a major battle going on over what the future American military should get ready for, and what kinds of wars are most likely to be encountered. This has led to two major factions. One sees the future as needing an armed force that can fight a "conventional" war (trained forces on both sides, equipped with modern weapons). The other factions sees more like Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam. They point out that only one of our last four wars (Kuwait in 1991) was "conventional."

Historically, each war is unique. And if you look at all the ones the U.S. has been involved in, that becomes clear. And day by day, you can see the shape of potential wars (and the list of such wars itself) change. Very much a moving target. Out future forces should be shaped to deal with the more likely conflicts.

Since nukes make a major conventional war unlikely, and smart bombs make minor conventional wars quite different from previous ones, one can understand the eagerness by some to hang on to our hard earned expertise in peacemaking (not peacekeeping) wars (like Iraq and Afghanistan). Looking at it like a historian, you can see Iraq and Afghanistan eventually described as a demonstration of how capable the post-Vietnam volunteer military had become. All the services snapped to with professionalism and innovation to win. Not fast enough for journalists and political opportunists, but reality tends to be like that.

What America has now is soldiers and marines equipped for both conventional and unconventional warfare. What worries many in the Department of Defense is that the troops are largely trained for unconventional warfare. One big unknown is how long would it take to get them back in shape for conventional warfare? Weeks? Months? A year? The marines believe it would not take long, if only because the marines traditionally keep flexible, and ready for just about anything. Many army officers look to that as a model to follow. Soldiers today are much closer to marines in terms of capabilities and temperament than ever before.

This debate may not be settled for some time, unless Iran invades Iraq, North Korea invades South Korea or China occupies Taiwan.





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