Re-Training Support People?

On Meet the Press yesterday we learned that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Peter Pace USMC says that the armed forces can cope adequately with its impending crisis of personnel and unit "fatigue" by re-training support personnel to perform the duties now done by the infantry.

This means that some of those young folks who were recruited on the basis of a better future through Army training and the experience of a measure of discipline in their lives are going to be re-trained to be an approximation of an infantryman.  Mechanics, finance clerks, chaplain’s assistants, truck drivers, artillerymen, etc.  The list of possibilities is extensive.

Can this be done?  Certainly.  Will it produce a force equal in quality to the one we now have?  Certainly not.

THE INFANTRY.  The "poor bloody infantry," as the British sometimes say.  The mission of the infantry is "to close with the enemy and to kill or capture them by fire and maneuver and close combat."  Not everyone is "cut out" for that.  Some people have the idea that the way people end up in the infantry is that new infantrymen are those who were left over after the Army was finished sifting through the recruited for people who were "trainable" for more complex jobs.  Not so!  The Army is looking for men who will fit into the kind of social set up that exists in infantry units, live easily in the out-of-doors, and are not easily shocked into trauma by what their duties will expose them to.  The process of screening new recruits, of training them and evaluating the results tries to identify the suitable.  Life among other infantrymen produces the men you see on television at Walter Reed.  Most of them want to go back to their company, battalion or regiment.  They want that almost as much as they want that missing hand, foot or whatever back.

It can be argued, that all soldiers are basically infantrymen.  This sounds good but is not true.  All soldiers should be able and willing to fight, but it is one thing to be useful in a fire fight when you must be and another to be someone whose every day job is to be at the center of fire fights.

The marines maintain stoutly that every marine is a rifleman.  This is a pretty fable, useful in building "esprit de corps," but just about any seasoned marine officer will tell you (as they have me) that there is a big difference between marine infantry "grunts" and the troops from marine aviation (the air wing).  Additionally, the U.S. Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy.  It is basically a naval landing force and as such receives quite a lot of its support from the U.S. Navy.  This means that the percentage of marines who are already infantrymen is higher than in the Army.  Pace’s experience of this very different force may have something to do with his willingness to go along with this re-training idea.  On the other hand, the plan may well have more to do with the now legendary distaste of Donald Rumsfeld for the US Army.

There are rumors that something similar is going to be attempted in the Navy and Air Force to produce scratch battalions of Air Force and Navy people guarding things in Iraq.  They could not do more than that because such units would have little or no combat value.

A policy of this kind is a measure of desperation.  A sustained policy of disregard for the terms of enlistment of our soldiers will wreck the volunteer Army force.   Does the administration believe that Navy and Air Force enlisted people will accept a re-classification of this kind without protest?

In 1944 and 1945, the U.S. Army "re-classified" large numbers of men into the infantry from aviation and logistical support duties.  A little research will show that the people treated in this way were not the best of infantrymen.

Pat Lang

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20 Responses to Re-Training Support People?

  1. Eric says:

    Another part of the picture:
    Many (army) reserve component troops were apparently converted into MPs from 2003 on. guard units were activated, sent to MP training for 8-16 weeks, then sent over. Artillery units were the favorites. This story has long ago dropped off the radar screen.
    Do you know how prevalent this has been, Pat?

  2. W. Patrick Lang says:

    There was a lot of it in the conversion of reserve component units to the MP field, but what we are talking about is a massive process of more or less permanent conversion and a lot of it in the Regular Army.
    Rumsfeld has a particular thing about artillery and they are a natural set of “victims” of this.
    I have never gotten a straight answer when asking how many tubes of artillery are in Iraq. pl

  3. Curious says:

    This is just effing great.
    When will those asshat general notice that killing those ‘young soldiers’ who really are people who seeks to better their future, joining the army to get education/out of poverty…
    are NOT suppose to get killed/maimed, cause they are much greater resource to the nation with their education/experiance afterward.
    I got a BRIGHT IDEA…
    WHY don’t we retrained those ASSHAT generals and send them to front line.
    What do we got to lost? SOme of those soldiers are bright computr programmers, future medical doctors, future enterpreneurs. Those are the young people who will solve our future problem, including energy crisis. (YES THE ONE WE ARE stealing out of Iraq right now)
    Those asshat generals? FUCKING WORM food soon.
    So why can’t we waste them isntead? Is not like they are contributing anything productive to the society instead of keep making stupid mistakes over and over again?
    Retrain RUMSFELD to be an infrantryman. Why not? Are we talking age discrimination now? Or Rumsfeld is TOOO precious to go to front line? What’s so precious about him? Plus he got his big mouth to match anyway.
    Whatta racket.
    Bunch of war criminals!
    This war HAS TO STOP NOW!

  4. Curious says:

    I am not done yet!
    So My proposal. We should retrain those general as front line infantrymen.
    What are they doing right now? Busy kissing Bush ass instead of serving the nation?
    whatta bunch of mofos.

  5. Curious says:

    US Air Power to Replace Infantry in Iraq;
    Distant President Trapped in Utopianism
    Veteran journalist Seymour Hersh is reporting in the New Yorker that the Bush administration has decided to draw down ground troops in Iraq. Knowledgeable observers strongly suspect that this step would produce a meltdown and possibly even civil war in Iraq (which could become a regional war). Bush’s strategy may be to try to control the situation using air power.
    I can predict exactly what will happen afterward. We will use air power in urban situation. More Iraqis civilians get killed, and more public outrage.
    This is bad. Iraq is a series of one blunder and incompetency after another.

  6. ked says:

    Rummy: “Pace, the Army isn’t performing. We got to get them transformed, top-to-bottom”.
    Pace: “Sir, yes sir! They must become more like Marines – everyone of ’em a Fighting Infantryman!”
    Rummy: “And they got a bad attitude. Break ’em down to scratch, like the Crucible”.
    Pace: “Great idea, sir. Can’t wait to break down the Army!”
    Rummy: “Exactly! The Army isn’t broken enough. Now get to it”!
    Pace: “Aye Aye Sir! With pleasure!”

  7. J says:

    I just can’t understand Pace’s mindset, particularly since in 68 Pace served as a rifle platoon leader in Nam.
    One would think he would know better.

  8. J says:

    Pace also was billeted at the Nam Phong ‘Rose Garden’ in Thailand.
    Do you think the ‘swamp’ affected his thinking?

  9. Michael Murry says:

    One key word summarizes Pat Lang’s informed observations here: “desperation.” We victim/veterans of the the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent can easily recognize its foul spectre in the current deployment of our sacrificial army to Iraq: this time as the Cheney/Rumsfeld Buy Time Brigade. This unit’s mission: “stall and die daily until the miracle happens.”
    I can’t speak for officers, because as an ex-enlisted man, I had a specific military occupational specialty (MOS) that supposedly defined my function in the military. In my case, as an electrician’s mate, I supposedly had the job of maintaining and operating shipboard electrical systems: power generation, distribution, and consumption by motors and pumps. Yes, if called to do so, we sailors might have to lay our ship alongside our enemy, grapple with him, board him and strangle him with our bare hands if necessary. Normally, though, the Navy employed another military occupational specialty called the Marine Corps to do that sort of thing. We sailors had other business just keeping a floating iron village from sinking and drowning us all.
    In the last, desperate years of America’s War on Vietnam, however, many of us technical specialists got squeezed in the already-downsizing military which had fewer ships for us to staff but a perpetually stalled “Vietnamization” program to “stand up” till the miraculous prophecy of Melvin Laird’s “successful” Vietnamese military could happen. So I found myself transferred from staff duty on a nuclear reactor testing prototype in Idaho Falls Idaho to Vietnamese language training at DLIWC (Defens Language Institute, West Coast). No, Vietnam did not have any nuclear reactors, but the country did have delapidated French and newer American river patrol boats to “take over” from us Americans so that Lt. John Kerry and his fellow American sailors could get off the rivers, take their well-deserved medals and go home. To facilitate this desperate rear-guard “strategy,” I had to become a naval advisor.
    One can easily see the level of desperation here. So much for my career as an enlisted nuclear power plant operator, the very reason I had joined the Navy in the first place, and the entire reason I had agreed — for the extra technical and scientific training — to indenture myself for six long years of military service. So much for career “contracts” with the United States Government.
    As Pat Lang says, this sort of thing did not make me an infantryman. In addition to my thirty-two weeks of intensive language training, I also received eleven weeks of counter-insurgency training (which included 3 weeks of weapons familiarization taught by the Marines at Camp Pendeleton, California). Much later, when a base commander ordered me up into a watchtower to man an M-60 machine gun during a night mortar attack, I performed as best I knew how: which meant poorly. The 50-caliber heavy machine gun emplaced at the foot of the tower (manned by some Vietnamese special forces) opened up on something (I supposed) and I could see the tracers flying out into the darkness. So I aimed my M-60 in approximately the same direction and lit the motherfucker off. Complete silence ensued. The 50-cal beneath me stopped firing. The phone on the tower wall rang. The base commanding officer demanded to know: “What are you shooting at?” I replied: “Whatever the 50-cal below me is shooting at, sir!” I never got to go back up in that tower again. Instead, I got banished to a pontoon float in the middle of the river to serve as liason with the Vietnamese boats tied up there in case we needed to call in American air support during future attacks. I became a much better interpreter because of my enforced contact with the Vietnamese, but I never became anything approaching a qualified infantryman.
    We have too much desperation going on now in Iraq. We have lots of good people from all the military branches who will try their best to do whatever their limited — or even non-existent — training prepares them to do. In many instances, this will produce ineffective or completely counter-productive results. In any case, for the government to renege on career commitments made to enlisted specialists only adds to a bitter — and justified — feeling of betrayal among their ranks. We don’t have a big enough army for the job our government has asked our army to do in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We don’t need a bigger army, though: we just need a smaller number of well-chosen jobs (i.e., “wars”). Since we intiated this War on Iraq entirely at our own discretion, we can forthrightly conclude it the same way. No national interest justifies the wanton sacrifice of our infantry and our enlisted specialists.
    Not too many years ago the American government broke faith with us conscripted and enlisted specialists. We discovered — as a lifelong lesson — the utter foolishness of placing any trust in the government of our own country. Some of us managed to recover, and even gain a little something, from the experience. Tragically, many of us never did recover. If America wants to produce another wrecked military and a generation of bitter, “kiss my ass” misfortunellers like me, then just keep up this monumental fraud and exploitation for another ten months or so. And finally, I really wouldn’t advise planing on any “tipping point,” “corner-turning,” or “light at the end of the tunnel” miracles. They don’t happen.

  10. John Wendt says:

    If you re-train your mechanics as infantrymen, what do you do for mechanics?

  11. Curious says:

    If you re-train your mechanics as infantrymen, what do you do for mechanics?
    Posted by: John Wendt | 28 November 2005 at 06:22 PM ~~
    Why Halliburton and private contractors of course. It’s another bright day in corruptionville.

  12. EnoughAlready says:

    Putting together PL’s post w/commenters, can we infer that Army will become those who kill plus Private Contractors for everything else?
    If so, isn’t that a) a Helluva lot more costly b )terrible for morale c) effectively the end of the volunteer Army?

  13. ali says:

    It’s not like the US military was particularly suited to occupying Iraq in the first place. It is a fine battlefield force but there are very few units with much talent as colonial constabulary. Sending Cookie off on foot patrol is not a solution. It’s like something the politically bullied British army would do. An All Volunteer Army that is so carelessly abused to save the face of politicians will end up being a very small army.

  14. Curious says:

    Update on ‘air power v. Iraqis troop. btw, the entire article is worth a read. tons of info.)
    Robert Pape, a political-science professor at the University of Chicago, who has written widely on American airpower, and who taught for three years at the Air Force’s School of Advanced Airpower Studies, in Alabama, predicted that the air war “will get very ugly” if targeting is turned over to the Iraqis. This would be especially true, he said, if the Iraqis continued to operate as the U.S. Army and Marines have done—plowing through Sunni strongholds on search-and-destroy missions. “If we encourage the Iraqis to clear and hold their own areas, and use airpower to stop the insurgents from penetrating the cleared areas, it could be useful,” Pape said. “The risk is that we will encourage the Iraqis to do search-and-destroy, and they would be less judicious about using airpower—and the violence would go up. More civilians will be killed, which means more insurgents will be created.”

  15. ked says:

    USAF CoS Nightmare:
    Iraqi Grd Forces directing US pilots & UCAV assets on any target they damn-well please. Flattened “AQ bomb-making complex” turns out to be a school & hospital facility. Its War, For Allah’s Sake! Bad things happen! {probably AQ children & injured anyway – right?} We’re Sorry!
    Now, here’s the next set of coordinates, please…
    {this war is starting to remind me of an old Star Trek plot, w/o the scheduled happy resolution.)

  16. Sally says:

    General Pace is more of the same poor military leadership we’ve witnessed for years, in the mold of the kiss-up, kick-down guy he replaced. It’s more than shameful these “leaders” don’t have any allegiance to our troops or concern for their safety and well-being.

  17. Eric says:

    Saw something a bit humorous on Wolfie Blizer tonight.
    Discussion of video-gaming, GameBoy etc.
    Spokesman for regulation saw the imminent decline of the West, if the games were not regulated.
    Spokesman for the industry said the only thing the games had not thus far been blamed for was “the failure to find Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.”
    When a government position becomes the butt of jokes for non comedians, as the great poet, Don Meredith, once said:

  18. Seymour says:

    One of the items we are missing here is the intensive knowledge base that Infantrymen have to have. While specialists are, as my mother used to say about PHDs, an inch wide and a mile deep, Infantrymen are a mile deep and over half-a-mile wide where knowledge is concerned. Most infantrymen I knew in my little war had great depth and scope while, as a simple logistician, only had to figure out how to support them (OK – maybe I was a quarter-of-a- mile wide (as a lower tier graduate of Benning school for boys).

  19. Curious says:

    Nobody makes this comment yet, so I’d say it.
    Remember how Rumsfeld was cheerleading ‘facile military’, ‘transformational’…. air power, smaller troops, bla bla… (basically a fat handout to General dynamics, Boeings, ets, to build more toys and reduce personels)
    But After Iraq, F-22, JSF, next carriers are all in doubt now. Everbody is asking, Why do we need expensive AF, when the army can do recon, and dropping bombs using UAV.
    There goes Boeing plan for F-22 and JSF. Even the european is rethinking the whole thing. (screw JSF, we need more advance UAV)

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