Murphy's Law: The Myth of the Broken Army

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January18, 2007: Let's destroy a myth. In this case that sending more American troops to Iraq will "break the army." In reality, it works like this.

The American reinforcement, or "surge" for Iraq will consist of five combat brigades. There are already 15 brigades there (13 army and two marine.) The force for the last three years has, on average, been fifteen brigades. What difference will five brigades make? A brigade has three combat battalions. Each battalion has three companies. Each company has three platoons. Each platoon has 30-40 people available for duty (usually closer to 30, than 40.) You also have about fifty M-1 tanks, 16-18 155mm self-propelled artillery vehicles. Thus out of a force of 3,500 troops, you have about 900 "shooters" (guys with guns who can get out there and do things, like search for weapons, for fight.) It's also become customary to have the artillery crews, and even some of the tank crews, serving as infantry as well. But that only gives you another hundred or so shooters. Thus, sending five more brigades to Iraq, is sending another 5,000 shooters, plus about 15,000 support troops (who are armed, and can at least defend themselves if attacked, and win.)

The U.S. Army is in the midst of a reorganization, which doesn't change the number of troops, or equipment, in a brigade, but does change how they are organized and used. This will not change the above numbers.

The army, marines and reserves an muster about sixty combat brigades. For the last three years, there have been 19 brigades deployed to combat zones (15 in Iraq, three in Afghanistan and one in South Korea.) What the army has been trying to do is keep active duty troops home for two years, and in a combat zone for one year. For reserves, the goal was home for four years, overseas for one. With help from the marines, the army can just about make that.

But with the surge, many troops are going to end up home only half, instead of two-thirds, of the time. What does this do? The army already knows. The more you keep the troops in a combat zone, beyond a certain number of months, the less likely they are to re-enlist. Note that everyone in the army works on employment contracts (of 3-4 years, usually). Not everyone renews their contracts when they expire. But since September 11, 2001, an above average number of people have. This is very important, because people (officer or enlisted) who "re-up" are the most valuable people you can have. They are experienced, many of them "combat experienced." But keep them out there too long, and they will start to leave. Not in large numbers. The U.S. Navy has had the same problem, because of the long deployments at sea sailors often had to endure. That experience enabled them to work out a formula, which calculated the number of sailors they would lose, for a taskforce, for each additional day, beyond the usual six months, they kept them at sea. The army is about to encounter a similar effect. The army is not publicizing their anticipated losses (people who don't re-enlist), but it could be several thousand troops a year (depending on how long additional troops are kept in Iraq.) That doesn't break the army, but does provide more headaches for those in charge of recruiting and retention. The senior generals treat this sort of thing as "losses." Not combat losses, the people who don't re-enlist leave the army in one piece. But the army loses experienced troops at a time when Congress wants them to increase their strength by 65,000 (to 547,000). That's another issue, and another set of myths to demolish.

 


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