Our Army Needs Outside Help

It pains me to say it, but I fear we may be watching the demise of the Total Force in the U.S. Army.
 
The concept of the active and reserve components working together is alive in the Air Force, but it's in critical condition in the Army.
 
My prognosis is less about the recently unveiled Army budget than the process service leaders used to develop the plan and the scorched-earth communications campaign they have undertaken to sell it to Congress.          
 
Make no mistake, the Army budget request, if not amended by lawmakers, will make it harder for the Army National Guard to fulfill its assigned missions at home and abroad. NGAUS will be working especially hard on Capitol Hill this year to mitigate the damage.
 
But of greater concern is the potential damage Army leaders have done to trust among the components by repeatedly dismissing budget input and ideas from Guard leaders. The result is a rift that could fester for years.  
 
Even more troubling is the willingness of Army leaders to denigrate Guard contributions and capabilities to members of Congress and the press.
 
The most recent example of this is public comments this week by Maj. Gen. John G. Rossi, the director of the Army Quadrennial Defense Review Office.
 
The general told breakingdefense.com that much of the praise Guard brigade combat teams have received since 9/11 is misplaced. He said Guard brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan were primarily assigned less-complex missions while the active component did the heavy lifting.    
 
His message isn't so much about the past as it is the future. He and many other Army leaders seem threatened by the mere suggestion of turning missions over to the Guard, even though such a shift is what today's budget arithmetic dictates. So they denigrate what they believe is their competition.      
 
But that he so egregiously spun the facts to make his case—failing to explain, among other things, that every Guard brigade that deployed met training standards Army leaders set—is only part of the problem.
 
General Rossi's words were gasoline thrown on the already simmering relations between Army leaders and the Army Guard. They cast the Guard as a second-rate fighting force, which was insulting and shocking to a generation of Guard soldiers who thought Army leaders valued their service. The damage done is incalculable.    
 
Army leaders like to talk about One Army—a Total Force team of active, Guard and Reserve. But true Army teammates don't denigrate their fellow soldiers or other components. That runs counter to the Army values I learned many years ago and have tried to instill over the years in those I lead. It's one of many reasons why all of this saddens me deeply.  
 
The president of the Association of the United States Army, retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, a former Army chief of staff and a man I admire, stated again this week that the leaders of the Army's three components should be allowed to fix what ails our Army without outside help.
 
Normally I would agree, but the polarizing comments expressed this week—which, by the way, have been uttered privately by several Army leaders on Capitol Hill for weeks—make the environment even more toxic.
 
Total Force in the Army needs help, the kind that comes only from people who know and love the Army, the Total Army, but don't currently serve in the institution. This isn't about trusting current leaders. It's about recognizing the ailment is no longer treatable from within.
 
For the sake of all the Army's components, Congress must create an independent commission to look at the way forward for our Army.
 
I invite your thoughts, especially if you disagree. We have to stop talking about each other and start talking to each other. Please email me at president@ngaus.org.  
 

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