Protect Core Capabilities
The U.S. Army has undergone several downsizings, usually after a major war and its subsequent victory. Professor Russ Weigley coined the phrase "The American Way of War" to mean the strategy of calling up a large number of forces during conflict operations and then quickly returning to a small standing army after the conflict was completed. This was the case with World Wars I and II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War. When the U.S. triumphed in the Cold War, the peace dividend was sought as we faced Francis Fukuyama's The End of History.
Our Army went from nearly 800,000 in the late 1970s to about 480,000 soldiers pre-September 11, 2001. In the midst of the mobilization for Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990, the Department of Defense and the Army were continuing with plans to reduce the structure of the Army from 18 combat divisions to 10.
General Gordon Sullivan, then Chief of Staff of the Army, was concerned about returning to the "Hollow Army" that faced early defeats in the Korean Conflict. He was equally concerned about demonstrating loyalty and compassion to those Americans that joined and stayed with the voluntary Army after Vietnam. So how did he go about it?
Gen. Sullivan was smart about the drawdown, focusing on protecting the core capabilities of the Army. Had he cut manpower from all 18 divisions, we would have had a force incapable of meeting the national defense requirements, which we were able to do with 10 fully manned divisions. That drawdown, then, targeted ancillary functions and organizations while preserving the necessary capabilities for combat units. As part of this process, the Army, along with the other services, instituted Voluntary Separation Incentives that targeted the mid-grade enlisted and officer personnel to achieve a nearly 40 percent reduction in personnel.
Of course gaps emerged between the policy and its execution, as well as the unintended consequences that contributed to the exodus of company-grade officers in the late 1990s. But overall the drawdown was a success because it focused on two critical elements: Maintaining the core capabilities of the Army to defend the nation and realizing that the most valuable resource of the Army is its people. "Mission First, People Always." Maybe this is the lesson that our Army can offer to our civilian counterparts during this challenging time in our nation.
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