Leadership: May 21, 2004

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The U.S. Army is now experimenting with allowing troops to apply for jobs via a web site. This is part of many reforms taking place in the American army. The army is currently undergoing a major reorganization, transforming its combat divisions to units with five combat brigades, instead of the usual three, and putting more support troops in the brigades. The division headquarters will now act more like the traditional corps headquarters, and will control as many brigades as are needed for an operation (like from two to eight or so.) Someone got the idea of taking all this reform a little further and using a new term for brigades; Units of Action. Division headquarters will now be called a Unit of Employment. These two terms will most likely be widely ignored by the troops.

Some of the most useful changes underway have to do with how the careers of soldiers are handed. The new brigades (er, Units of Action) will keep most of their troops for at least three years before undergoing a large scale departure of troops whose enlistments are up or are retiring, or going off to long term schooling. Then new troops would come in and start the three year cycle all over again.

A goal is to try and keep as many troops as possible in the brigade for their entire 20-30 year careers. This would provide a core of regulars who would, in effect, represent the living memory of the brigade. In past centuries, troops usually joined a regiment for long periods of time, and this group of regulars did wonders for morale and a sense of continuity in the unit.  Psychological and sociological studies in the last few decades have revealed that these regimental veterans had a large positive effect on the combat effectiveness of the unit. Given the way military careers go in the army, it would not be difficult to have, after 10-15 years, most of your senior NCOs being men and women who had spent their entire careers with the brigade. This means your key supervisory people all know each other, and have worked together, for years. This makes these NCOs more effective. The new plan also seeks to bring officers back to their original brigade as much as possible. Thus after twenty years, an officer whose first assignment was as a platoon leader in the brigade, could end up as the brigade commander. This helps as well. In combat units, such psychological assets can give you a life saving edge on the battlefield.

The latest wrinkle among the many army reforms is the  use of a web site that allows soldiers, who have sufficient time left in the army, to volunteer for available jobs in the new brigades that are forming. While everyone in the army volunteered to get in, the act of volunteering again brings with it some stature. It means you are committing yourself still more. Thus Army Rangers will point out that they are triple volunteers (for the army, for airborne training and to be in the rangers.) Having more double volunteers in these brigades builds morale and cohesion and makes the units more effective and deadlier in combat. 

Building "regimental spirit" has long been recognized as a useful goal. But since the regiments of the US Army were broken up in the 1950s, that spirit has been lost. Instead, there is the current system of battalions assigned to brigades. The battalions are designated as belonging to the old regiments (as in the "1/68th Armored," or the "1st Battalion of the 68th Armored Regiment.") There might or might not be a 2/68th Armored and the various battalions of a regiment rarely served in the same brigade. So there was never the kind of "regimental spirit" the army wanted. The regimental spirit did survive in the few Armored Cavalry Regiments that continued to exist, so the concept did not disappear from living memory.  With the shift to brigades that will keep the same troops together for years and years, a return to the "regimental spirit" is possible. Whether it's intentional or not, it what is going to happen.

 


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