Years One Passion

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U.S. soldiers from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, engage in a small-arms firefight with enemy forces during Operation Moshtarak in Badula Qulp, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Feb. 19, 2010. Never have U.S. troops had the level of combat experience inherent in the force today.

and to hedge against unexpected contingencies, at a tempo that is predictable and sustainable for our all-volunteer force," Casey said. "That's what we're doing. That's the direction we're headed. I believe it will give us exactly the kind of Army we'll need for the challenges of the 21st century."

It is a future Casey and other military and civilian leaders believe will see a combination of terrorist attacks, such as 9/11 and the public transportation bombings in Spain and England, insurgencies that may cross national borders, diplomatic and civil tensions, and transnational movements not directly connected to any government, such as drug cartels and al Qaeda. Grady cites the Haqqani network in eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan, which began as the mujahideen freedom fighters during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, but now have their own agenda, which may or may not include the Taliban.

"It's hard to tell, but they are definitely a factor," he said. "And you already see that being taken into account in the curriculum at the Army Command and General Staff College, as well as NCO training. Civil affairs also are now woven into exercises at the Fort Polk [La.] and Fort

Irwin [Calif.] training centers and at Hohenfels In Germany, where they deal with scenarios that were not done before."

From field training to war colleges to basic training, combat-experienced officers and NCOs are the training officers and drill instructors (DIs) sharing their battle experience with new enlistees and junior officers.

"Today's DIs are volunteers who want to share what they know with those coming after them, try to give what they learned to the young men and women who will fill the ranks, talking soldiers through the issues they faced in combat and how they can become technically better at what they do," Grady added.

"You see the same thing with officers, sharing with each other the difficulties they have experienced. There also is a very active Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth [Kan.] gathering this information and getting it out to those who need it, from family readiness to forward combat deployments."

Although a majority of those deployed into combat leave the military at the end of their tours, the retention rate, for both officers and enlisted, has remained at a steady high point despite the ongoing war.

While the economy has been cited as the reason for record levels of new recruits, neither that nor bonuses are considered as important to reenlistment as individuals determining that they have found a satisfying career, despite the hardships and danger. And that is despite some 55 percent of today's enlisted personnel being married, compared to less than 20 percent during Vietnam.

New enlistees, meanwhile, are generally better educated than in the 1990s and considered more committed to the military, knowing they are likely to be deployed to a combat zone. But it is what they will learn from those who already have been there that is seen as continuing to strengthen the capabilities of the future force.

"Whether someone worked out of a FOB [forward operating base] or was on patrol every day or flew on a helicopter as a door gunner or crew chief, I think it's important that a recruit hear those experiences from every different aspect of a combat tour," according to Marine Col. Eric Mellinger, commander of Parris Island (S.C.) Recruit Training Regiment.

"You can go to a VFW and hear war stories - and a lot of them are filled with valor - but that's not what a recruit needs. A recruit needs to hear, 'This is the Marine Corps values system and this is how it's being manifested and demonstrated on the battlefield.' If you're just looking for war stories, you can put on Saving Private Ryan."

Passing along combat experience is not just happening in the active duty force, however. Sgt. 1st Class Brandon E. Reik, for example, served two tours in Iraq with the Washington Army National Guard as a combat engineer clearing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from convoy routes. Now he helps train other Guard units preparing for deployment.

"I was asked to come here and assist with IED-defeat training and pass along some of the information and events that I went through in real life, in theater, to people who are going there to give them a better understanding of how IEDs work and what the dangers are," he said. "I am very passionate about it because I feel the knowledge I've gained by being there would benefit soldiers that have never deployed before."

There have been concerns voiced that a professional military with widespread combat experience may have little in common with a general civilian population with little knowledge of or experience with the military. That has been reflected, to some degree, in polls showing the American public is tiring of a war they no longer understand, even as warfighters report they are having success and are proud of the jobs they are doing.

As those combat-experienced warfighters re-enlist, rather than leave the service wholesale for "normal" civilian lives, as did their predecessors from previous wars, the knowledge those earlier warriors shared with their co-workers, neighbors, and families, while now benefiting new military members, is not making its way into the national consciousness to the same degree.

That has been counter-balanced, however, by the massive use of what once were dismissed by the active force as "weekend warriors" - Guard and Reserve members who go through the same training, with the same equipment, and face the same dangers and experiences in combat. Today they have become a vital part of the nation's total military capability and invaluable future resource, as well as a conduit to the general public on the realities of military service and war.

Since being called to duty after 9/11, the Guard and Reserve have relied on supplemental defense budget requests for their operational funding, rather than being made a line item part of the Department of Defense's (DoD's) base budget. The question, according to the Center for New American Security (CNAS), an independent research institution, is whether DoD, Congress, and the executive branch will provide the funding and support needed to keep Guard and Reserve forces at their current level of training, equipment, and expertise.

"Since this supplemental account will vanish as U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down, the operational functions of the Guard and Reserves - which will prove essential in future missions requiring specialized and high-tech skills - are at risk of disappearing along with it, particularly if overall defense spending tapers off as expected," warned a September 2010 CNAS report entitled "An Indispensable Force: Investing in America's National Guard and Reserves."

Written by CNAS President John Nagl and research associate Travis Sharp, the report called the Reserve components - the Army National Guard, Air National Guard, Army Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve,

Gear Body Army

Special operations forces (SOF) operators representing Croatia (first and third from left), the United States (second from left) and Poland (first and second from right), wear a variety of gear on Sept. 20, 2010, at Drawksow Pomorskie, Poland, during a press conference as part of the official start of the Jackal Stone 10 exercise. Jackal Stone 10, hosted by Poland and Lithuania this year, is an annual international SOF exercise held in Europe. A recent CNAS report asked if DoD and the U.S. government are taking the actions necessary to fully utilize and preserve the combat experience of U.S. special operators.

Special operations forces (SOF) operators representing Croatia (first and third from left), the United States (second from left) and Poland (first and second from right), wear a variety of gear on Sept. 20, 2010, at Drawksow Pomorskie, Poland, during a press conference as part of the official start of the Jackal Stone 10 exercise. Jackal Stone 10, hosted by Poland and Lithuania this year, is an annual international SOF exercise held in Europe. A recent CNAS report asked if DoD and the U.S. government are taking the actions necessary to fully utilize and preserve the combat experience of U.S. special operators.

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and Coast Guard Reserve - crucial to providing the U.S. military with specialized skills it will need for operations through the next 20 years.

"The Guard and Reserves are at a crossroads. Down one path lies continued transformation into a 21st century operational force and progress on the planning, budgetary and management reforms still required to make that aspiration a reality. Down the other path lies regression to a Cold War-style strategic force meant only to be used as a last resort in the event of major war," former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, now retired, wrote in his foreword to the report.

Nagl and Sharp concluded the report with a call on those in power to recognize and maintain the experience now resident in the Guard and Reserves, in line with the 2008 final report of the congressionally created Commission on the National Guard and Reserves.

"The U.S. government should not allow this opportune moment, when the reserve component's wartime experience makes it more combat capable than ever before, to lapse without making further progress on implementing the Commission's unaccomplished recommendations," they wrote.

"DoD and Congress should address the challenges posed by roles and missions - including homeland response and civil support - readiness, cost, education and the continuum of service by cooperating to strengthen the professional bond between active and reserve component personnel in order to build a more seamlessly integrated total force. Doing so will ensure that the cost-effective National Guard and Reserves can fulfill their role as an indispensable force for defending U.S. sovereign territory and protecting America's security interests around the world."

In a February 2010 report on "Keeping The Edge: Revitalizing America's Military Officer Corps," Nagl and CNAS research fellow Brian M. Burton voiced similar concerns for the military's officer corps. The

Usmc Civilian Body Armor

Sgt. Jonathon Delgado, a squad leader with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, looks back for a casualty evacuation helicopter in the middle of a six-hour firefight with Taliban insurgents in Helmand province, Aug. 13, 2009. The Marine Corps, traditionally an expeditionary force from the sea, has found itself fighting alongside the Army in years-long, grinding wars.

current high operational tempo and prospect of frequent deployments has increased the "pull factor" that traditionally has seen the best officers drawn away to higher-paid civilian jobs, they warned, despite a troubled economy.

"Current officer career paths were built for a very different military than the one we have today. Encouraging the accession and retention of more of the best available talent into the officer corps will require offering more diverse and flexible career paths that encourage risk-taking and unconventional assignments," they wrote.

"Increased use of sabbatical years - particularly to pursue higher education or gain additional experience in an unconventional assignment, while also allowing 'downtime' from deployments for families - would provide additional career flexibility for future generations of officers who will not be satisfied with the military's current Industrial Age personnel management."

A third CNAS report, "To Serve the Nation: U.S. Special Operations Forces in an Era of Persistent Conflict," in June 2010 asked if DoD and the government are taking the actions necessary to fully utilize - and preserve the combat experience of - the nation's special operators.

Authored by former National Security Council staff member and Senior Director for Combating Terrorism Strategy Michele L. Malvesti, the report noted the strategic and operational interagency relationships the special operations forces (SOF) community has developed, along with the ability to fuse and exploit intelligence analysis with Joint Interagency Task Force operations in the field.

"SOF capabilities for addressing irregular security challenges on non-traditional battlefields are in many ways outpacing the nation's policies for optimal SOF employment. Accordingly, senior decision makers should undertake a deliberative process that not only accounts for strategic ways to leverage all instruments of national power, but also rationalizes approvals for special operations in these environments," she wrote.

"As part of this process, it is incumbent on SOF to bring policymakers innovative ways to operate across the 21st century security landscape. Innovation should focus not just on kinetic actions to defeat imminent threats in hot areas, but also on prevention-oriented engagement activities that will stabilize the environment and allow for critical follow-on development aid and assistance in simmering regions of the world."

In recent months, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has called for a reduction in overhead and headquarters spending, including reducing the number of active duty generals and admirals. While he has vowed to fight efforts to cut the defense budget, he also has conceded it is unlikely Congress or the administration will approve even a 2 to 3

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