Peacekeeping efforts transform the military

The remarkable odyssey of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit in the spring and summer of 1999 reveals how the demands of the post-Cold War era are, by necessity, transforming the U.S. military.

Each military branch is evolving from a forward- deployed force, which is primarily focused on fighting major wars, into a more expeditionary force, which views keeping the peace and responding to smaller crises as integral to its operations and professional ethos.

On a single six-month deployment last year, the 2,200 Marines of the 26th landed in Macedonia to provide security at refugee camps for Kosovars fleeing Slobodan Milosevic's "ethnic-cleansing" campaign; joined the fight in the Kosovo air war by using the unit's Harrier fighter jets; and entered Kosovo as the first peacekeeping force to provide security in the American sector for returning refugees. And then, just before returning home, the 26th was diverted to Turkey to provide humanitarian relief after a devastating earthquake struck that country.

"What was notable about the 26th was that they didn't get to go back home between missions to regroup," said Gen. Terrence Dake, who recently retired as the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. "The same unit that was fighting in the air war and then keeping the peace in Kosovo had to immediately transition to a humanitarian relief mission in Turkey, with the same equipment and training that they deployed with.... So the Marine Corps sees no mission along the continuum between humanitarian relief and high-intensity warfare that we don't need to be capable of performing. I also believe the future is going to look much as you see the world today, with all its religious and ethnic conflicts and tensions between the haves and have-nots."

But President-elect George W. Bush doesn't necessarily see it that way. He has promised to launch an immediate review of U.S. troop commitments in "dozens of countries," with an eye toward strictly limiting peacekeeping missions. Bush has also signaled his intention to withdraw U.S. peacekeepers from the Balkans as soon as possible, and to eschew their involvement in future "nation-building" operations. "There may be some moments when we use our troops as peacekeepers, but not often," Bush said in the final presidential debate.

Bush has also pledged not to send U.S. troops to stop "ethnic cleansing" and genocide in nations that are not vital to U.S. strategic interests. "Our plan is to undertake a review right after the President is inaugurated, and take a look not only at our deployments in Bosnia, but in Kosovo and many other places around the world, and make sure those deployments are proper," said Secretary-of-State-designate Colin Powell on Dec. 16. "Our armed forces are stretched rather thin, and there is a limit to how many of these deployments we can sustain."

But the new Republican Administration may be somewhat out of date. The U.S. military has already adapted to the new demands. Indeed, the degree to which the U.S. armed services have already transformed their organizations and war-fighting doctrines to reflect this new reality of peacekeeping, ethnic conflict, and small regional wars was largely lost in the recent presidential debate about whether peacekeeping helps or harms the U.S. military. The fact is the U.S. military thinks and acts differently from the ways it did just a decade ago, when the country last had a Bush presidency.

A New Mind-Set

Certainly, the belief that the U.S. military is culturally ill-suited to peacekeeping or peace-building operations-and that such missions dilute the military's war-fighting ethos and squander its resources and energies-was widely shared among military leaders in the early 1990s.

A generation of senior officers who had come of age in Vietnam needed only the bitter experiences of Beirut, Lebanon (where 241 Marines were killed in 1983 in a terrorist bombing during a peacekeeping mission), and Somalia (where 18 soldiers were killed in 1993 in a single firefight with the forces of a Somali warlord) to remind them of the danger, political ambiguity, and open-ended nature of such operations.

"When we went into Bosnia in 1995, the U.S. military leadership was suffering from post-Somalia syndrome, and there was great reluctance and concern about mission creep," said retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe who organized NATO's entry into Kosovo and who helped draft the Dayton Accords for Bosnia. "But when events continued to move so quickly in the early and mid-1990s, the military found itself left behind in terms of doctrine. Political leaders took the actions they thought were necessary, and they expected the military to adapt. And while the U.S. military has been slow to adapt, it has adapted."

Indeed, after a steady stream of major peacekeeping deployments to Northern Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and most recently Kosovo, many senior military leaders have come to the conclusion that the United States has little choice but to engage in such peacekeeping and stability-enhancing operations. Not only are these operations now widely seen as key to continued U.S. leadership of alliances such as NATO and various "coalitions of the willing," but they are also viewed as a primary tool for keeping regional tensions from igniting into full-blown wars.

"It is naive to think that the military will become involved in only those areas that affect our vital national interests," Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a surprisingly frank Nov. 16 speech to a conference on U.S. security priorities in the 21st century. "The strategic environment will most certainly cause us to deploy forces to achieve limited military objectives." However, Shelton later slightly softened his remarks; on Dec. 14, after the election was decided, he added this caveat: "However, we must be mindful that long-term commitments to achieve nation-building, and the like, place our readiness at risk."

Shelton's comments are echoed by the service chiefs and U.S. regional commanders in chief around the world, who are often the most vigorous proponents of military engagements, peacekeeping operations, and other activities intended to, in military lingo, "shape the strategic environment" and keep tensions in their regions from boiling over.

"I firmly believe that the global engagement strategy we have today is a sound strategy, though it's sometimes hard to put your hands around the exact return we get from it," Adm. Vern Clark, the new chief of Naval Operations, said in a Dec. 5 interview with defense reporters. Of the Navy's 315 ships, he notes, 105 are currently deployed around the world. "Fundamentally, for globalization and world markets to work you need stability, and the places the U.S. Navy tends to go are more stable than the places we don't go. That's why the [regional] commanders in chief have a higher demand for my forces than I can meet right now."

In a 1999 report, "A Force for Peace," researchers for the Peace Through Law Education Fund interviewed a broad cross section of roughly two dozen current and recently retired military leaders-including former chiefs of staff (incoming Secretary of State Colin Powell among them), service chiefs, regional commanders in chief, and actual on-the-ground commanders in peace operations. "The senior officers interviewed unanimously agree that participating in these [peacekeeping] operations is in our interests and strengthens U.S. leadership," the report summarized. "This conclusion contradicts a suspicion prominent in some Capitol Hill circles that the military is reluctant to engage in peace operations and would prefer to preserve all of its resources for war fighting."

Bernard Rostker, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, believes that military thinking on peacekeeping has evolved substantially over the past decade. "I think what military leaders are now telling you is that they prepare for war but hope for peace, and if we can keep the peace by involving our forces in an appropriate way in these operations, that certainly makes sense," Rostker said in a recent interview with defense reporters. "You're seeing that what a great power does at the beginning of the 21st century may be different from what it did 10 or 15 years ago. Being a peacekeeping nation is important. No other country can do it to the extent we can, and many of the troops I talk to regularly are motivated and excited about these operations. There are going to be other people who would rather not be involved in peacekeeping, and they will leave the service."

Military Transformation

This change in mind-set among military leaders is directly reflected in the forces they command. In fact, in ways both dramatic and subtle, the U.S. military is in the midst of a fundamental transformation as a result of the myriad peacekeeping, peace enforcement, humanitarian relief, and similar "operations other than war" that have become staples of the post-Cold War era.

Because their forces were already expeditionary in nature and organized around regular six-month cruises abroad, the Navy and Marine Corps have had the easier time adapting to the new demands.

But in its seminal 1992 doctrinal document "From the Sea," the Navy signaled that it was transforming itself from a "blue-water" force focused on fighting other navies in high-intensity combat at sea, to a more "brown-water" force, capable of projecting power to the coastlines around the world. On major peacekeeping operations to both Somalia in 1992 and Haiti in 1994, the Navy put that doctrine into practice. The Navy in recent years has also routinely worked alongside the Coast Guard enforcing embargoes in places such as the Balkans and the Persian Gulf. In a precedent-setting exercise last summer, the U.S. Navy's Third Fleet sponsored a humanitarian assistance exercise in Hawaii that included participants from the United Nations, the Red Cross, and other nongovernmental agencies that are often thrown together during humanitarian relief and peacekeeping missions.

As the designated 911 force of choice, the Marine Corps was also well positioned for the chaos and regional crises that came to characterize the 1990s. But in tailoring and training its expeditionary forces for these new kinds of missions, the Marine Corps has had to shift somewhat from its former focus of conducting wartime amphibious assaults, to preparing for operations across what the military calls the "full spectrum" of force application.

"The nature of warfare is shifting from the force-on-force, high-intensity side of the spectrum more towards these operations other than war," Lt. Col. Paul Brygider, deputy commander of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, said in an interview during a recent exercise in Croatia. From the diverse demands of 1999's extraordinary deployment, Brygider and his fellow commanders took away the lesson that a unit can encounter virtually the whole gamut of missions it trains for during a single six-month period.

"I think these complex, multidimensional crises are the wave of the future," said Brygider. "Increasingly, we're seeing crises where the military, diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian aspects are all melded together. And the military forces that are best trained and prepared to deal with that complexity will be the most successful in the future."

The Air Force and Army spent most of the Cold War preparing to fight in place from forward air bases and staging areas, and thus faced a more difficult transition in preparing for peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and expeditionary combat missions. The Air Force made a major step in that direction last year, however, when it began reorganizing into 10 Air Expeditionary Forces-essentially, formations of airplanes and crews that take turns being on call for operations abroad. That reorganization followed peacekeeping operations in the Balkans and peace enforcement duties in northern and southern Iraq that saw the same units and individuals repeatedly deployed.

The Air Force's reorganization is designed to introduce more predictability into its operations by limiting an individual to one three-month deployment every 15-month cycle. Gen. Gregory Martin, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, said in an interview: "If we're going to try and help shape the world environment for peace and prosperity, and ultimately keep open the markets that will allow nations to flourish, I don't see these engagement operations decreasing. In fact, I think we'll find our presence is required in more places in the future."

The Army Switches Gears

The Army, primarily designed to fight high-intensity tank battles on the plains of Europe, faced perhaps the most difficult transformation when it moved to become a more mobile force, able to deploy rapidly for a variety of missions. Arguably, the Army has also been slowest to adapt.

In 1996, for instance, after President Clinton's one-year exit deadline for withdrawing Army troops from Bosnia had come and gone, the service basically tinkered around the edges to adjust for its new mission. First, to ease the strain on its personnel, the Army decreased the length of a tour of duty to the Balkans from one year to six months. Then it started rotating stateside units to Bosnia so as to relieve the Germany-based units that bore the brunt of the constant peacekeeping duty. The Army has also begun studying the possibility of establishing a permanent headquarters in the Balkans, as it has done in Germany and Korea, to which troops could rotate individually. Currently, whole units are rotated-a more disruptive practice.

"You can argue that the Army has been the slowest service in adapting to these new roles, but that's partly because the political signals it has been sent have been lousy," said an expert on the Army who works for a prominent think tank in Washington. "You have a President who has sent them on these missions but insists they not shed an ounce of blood, which sends the signal that these missions are not very important. You have a Congress that keeps signaling that they will be pulling U.S. troops out of the Balkans, which keeps the Army from establishing a permanent headquarters there. And now, after the Army has finally launched a major reorganization to better cope with these responsibilities, you have a new President-elect saying peacekeeping is bad and the Army should go back to just focusing on fighting big wars."

After the Army showed last year just how slow and cumbersome it would be to deploy heavy mechanized units for a possible land invasion of Kosovo, the service launched an ambitious plan to transform a significant portion of its forces into lighter, more mobile units. The Army has also discovered once again just how poorly suited its 70-ton tanks and heavy-tracked vehicles are for the narrow streets and bridges in Kosovo, and for the day-to-day patrolling demanded by peacekeeping in the Balkans.

"Since 1989, we've gone from high-intensity war fighting in the Persian Gulf, to humanitarian and famine relief in Somalia, to traditional peacekeeping in places like the Sinai, to peace enforcement in Bosnia and Kosovo," Army Vice Chief of Staff John "Jack" Keane said in a Dec. 12 interview with defense reporters. "So while we are not transforming the Army to conduct peacekeeping, we have embraced that full spectrum of missions as an institution, and our transformation reflects that fact."

Although the primary motive for the reform is to increase strategic mobility in wartime, Army officials have clearly designed the transformation with an eye to all the other post-Cold War missions that they have been asked to perform. Thus, the service currently plans to field eight "medium-weight" brigades that can deploy anywhere in the world within 96 hours. Last month, the Army selected a new, light-armored vehicle that travels on wheels instead of tracks for use in the rapid-reaction brigades. It plans on spending roughly $4 billion over the next several years to acquire 2,000 of the vehicles.

"While designing the Army transformation, we looked at all of the operations we've been asked to conduct over the past decade, and that certainly influenced our view of what the world would look like in the future," Gen. John Hendrix, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, said in a recent interview with reporters. "Our objective is to create a force that we can not only move faster, but that can respond to the full spectrum of conflict, from lighter to heavier. And if we can get to the scene faster, hopefully we will act as a deterrent so a crisis doesn't become war."

The Reserve Forces

Perhaps no segment of the U.S. military has been more transformed by the demands of peacekeeping and other small-scale contingencies than the National Guard and Reserve. The reservists faced only two presidential call-ups during the Cold War-one for the Berlin Airlift and the second for Vietnam. But today, for the first time in history, the reserves are being called to active duty by the same President under three separate call-ups-Bosnia, Kosovo, and the no-fly operations over Iraq. And over the past decade, the collective number of days annually that Reserve forces are on active duty and contributing to ongoing military missions has increased thirteenfold-from an average of 1 million duty days during the 1980s, to an average of 13 million duty days in each of the past four years. This increase in days comes despite Reserve troop cuts of 300,000 during that time.

Recently, the Texas National Guard's 49th Armored Division completed a tour in command of the U.S. sector in Bosnia. This marked the first time since the Korean War that a National Guard unit was given headquarters command over active-duty troops. Another Guard unit is scheduled to assume command duty next year. Members of the Guard and Reserve also routinely fly missions in the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq.

In the process, the National Guard and Reserve have been transformed from insurance-policy organizations designed for mass mobilization in the unlikely event of World War III, to fully contributing members of America's forward-deployed military forces.

"In the roughly 30 years I served in the Reserve, the Reserve community generally believed they would not be called up unless there was a major military event, such as the Soviets pouring through the Fulda Gap," Charles L. Cragin, principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for reserve affairs, said in an interview. "Today, I know reservists who have been called up four times in the past decade. The reality is, the active-duty force can't do anything without relying on the Reserves."

But there is a possible downside to this new reliance. Part-time reservists have full-time families and civilian employers who depend on them. Reserve officials are increasingly concerned that reservists, and their employers, may be approaching a saturation point in terms of their tolerance for being away from their homes and jobs. Last month, the Pentagon sent questionnaires to more than 100,000 reservists and their spouses in the first effort of its kind to gauge the impact of increased deployments on families, finances, and employers. A study of employers, released last September, found that while most supported the Reserve service of their employees, many complained that Reserve call-ups were too long and too unpredictable.

As is the case with active-duty forces, however, Reserve officials have discovered that troop retention and re-enlistment actually increase in units that deploy for peacekeeping missions. The visible participation of reservists in these arduous operations has also largely put to rest past tensions between active-duty troops and the part-time reservists they once derided as "weekend warriors."

"The way the military is configured today, many of the skills especially critical to peacekeeping operations and smaller contingencies reside almost exclusively in the Reserve," Cragin said. For instance, he says, the Reserve component is home to 97 percent of the Army's civil affairs forces, 82 percent of its public affairs forces, 81 percent of psychological operations forces, 66 percent of military police, and 85 percent of medical brigades. "The numbers illuminate a central fact about America's post-Cold War military: Namely, that we cannot undertake sustained operations anywhere in the world today without calling on Reserve assets to get the job done."

Peacekeeping Preparation

The U.S. military has also significantly adjusted its training regime over the past decade to reflect a greater emphasis on peacekeeping and peace enforcement. For instance, the Army, which has borne the brunt of the long-term peacekeeping duties in the Sinai and in the Balkans, has instituted an intense two-week peacekeeping "mission rehearsal exercise" at its Combat Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels, Germany. Stateside units receive the same program at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana. In a mock-up of an urban setting, soldiers steeped in the kill-or-be-killed absolutes of the battlefield learn about conflict resolution, group dynamics, and graduated levels of force they can use in response to various provocations.

The need for such tailored peacekeeping training was highlighted by an Army investigation into the rape and murder of a young girl in Kosovo by a soldier from the elite 82nd Airborne Division. In the course of that investigation, Army officials found that other soldiers in the unit had harassed, threatened, and even assaulted civilians during a five-month deployment to Kosovo that ended last spring. Four of the unit's officers and five enlisted members were eventually punished.

While the investigation cited a failure of leadership as the primary problem, it noted that because the battalion's deployment orders came late in its training cycle, the unit did not receive the peacekeeping mission rehearsals exercise. Thus, the report found, the soldiers "experienced difficulties tempering their combat mentality." On Dec. 1, the Army ordered that all units undergo the specialized training and mission rehearsals before deploying on future peacekeeping missions.

"The peacekeeping training we received at Hohenfels was important because our young leaders and soldiers learned to deal with their worst day out on the streets," said Lt. Col. Michael Cloy, a regiment commander in the 1st Armored Division who is presently on peacekeeping duty in Kosovo. "They experience a situation where someone is in their face, another person is crying out for assistance in a different language, and our guys have to sort through the problems while applying escalating levels of force depending on the circumstances. In the process, we've learned that the common thread linking high-intensity war fighting and peacekeeping is the discipline required of our young troops."

Some defense analysts believe the threads between war fighters and peacekeepers have become too entangled. These experts argue for the creation of a specialized peacekeeping force within the U.S. military force structure. "Because they have known nothing but peacekeeping, officers from major on down have no problem with the mission," said Don Snider, a professor at the U.S. Military Academy who has written on the subject. "What is fraying is the sense among officers that they can excel at both combat and peacekeeping missions. That's why I've argued for the creation of a constabulary force to allow the rest of the U.S. military to focus on experimenting with fighting big wars."

The U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century, an independent panel created by Congress and co-chaired by former Sens. Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, also sparked debate about the need for such a specialized force. In its April 2000 report, the commission said that because operations aimed at easing conflicts in foreign countries are likely to increase in the future, the U.S. military needs rapidly deployable units capable of assuming humanitarian relief and constabulary duties.

Though the commission did not explicitly propose creating a separate peacekeeping force, simply the suggestion that the U.S. military should focus more on these types of operations immediately drew the ire of conservatives in Congress. "I fundamentally disagree with those who advocate shifting the composition of our armed forces toward peacekeeping and humanitarian operations at the expense of war-fighting capabilities," Rep. Floyd Spence, a Republican from South Carolina and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a letter to the Hart-Rudman Commission.

Service leaders are concerned that the creation of a separate peacekeeping force would drain away scarce resources and manpower and adversely affect the Army's core war-fighting capability. After a decade of experience, U.S. military leaders believe that, with the proper training and preparation, U.S. combat troops can effectively transition into peacekeepers. Moreover, the combat prowess of U.S. forces is also seen as a deterrent to potential adversaries in peacekeeping situations.

"While a peace agreement of some kind is usually the starting point for these missions, they are usually very violent situations," said Hendrix. "We've seen in places like Somalia how the level of threat can rapidly escalate into intense combat, and for that reason, I think it would be difficult to take the peacekeeping mission away from trained combat troops."

Peacekeeping and Readiness

The issue of whether peacekeeping operations degrade war-fighting readiness remains perhaps the most controversial aspect of the U.S. military's ongoing transformation into a more flexible force. Throughout the 1990s, common wisdom held that successive peacekeeping operations were largely responsible for a decline in war-fighting skills, a decrease in unit readiness, and the recruiting and retention shortfalls suffered by all of the services.

There's no doubt that peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and other operations short of war have taken a toll. The Navy, for instance, has backtracked on its early-1990s assumption that it could prudently shrink to a 230-ship force. It will have to stay around the 300-ship mark. Army officials are now arguing that they need between 40,000 and 60,000 more troops if the number of unplanned deployments continues at the 1990s rate. Certainly, the impact has probably been greatest on the Army and Air Force, which for years delayed making the structural and organizational changes necessary to alleviate the strains of successive peacekeeping deployments on their personnel. Peacekeeping operations also contribute to the wear and tear on military equipment and shorten the life spans of weapons.

"The Army is still struggling to understand the full impact of peacekeeping operations, but our research suggests that the costs are significantly higher than the relatively small number of troops involved would imply," said Thomas McNaugher, deputy director of Army studies at the think tank RAND. Because the Army has to send specialized units from all of its divisions-be they reconnaissance elements, combat support, civil affairs, or psychological operations units-to augment its major peacekeeping forces, such operations tend to break up the established hierarchy of the Army, which is still organized around combat divisions and the conventional war-fighting mission. "The point is, these stability-and-support operations have a significant ripple effect throughout the Army because they shatter that hierarchy and demand new skills and capabilities from Army leaders and their staffs," said McNaugher.

Through reforms such as the Air Force's Air Expeditionary Forces and the Army's shift toward lighter forces, shorter tours, and a greater reliance on the reserves, the services believe they are making significant progress in limiting that ripple effect.

Another problem that peacekeeping missions aggravate is a shortage of money. For much of the 1990s, peacekeeping funds were not generally included in the regular budgeting process, so the services were forced to absorb the costs out of existing operations and maintenance accounts, which pay for the day-to-day running of the military, its field exercises, and its repairs and spare parts. This put limits on training and base maintenance until Congress could pass supplemental spending bills, usually late in a fiscal year. Beginning in fiscal 1997, however, Congress began allowing the Pentagon to fund ongoing operations such as Bosnia and Kosovo out of an Overseas Contingency Operations Transfer Fund, thereby alleviating the need to raid readiness accounts.

"The contingency operations fund allows us to request money for ongoing operations as part of the regular budget process," said Pentagon spokeswoman Susan Hansen. "The disruption occurs when a new, unanticipated contingency pops up during the budget cycle. In those cases, we still have to draw down on our operations and maintenance accounts."

On the broader issue of whether peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions have had an overall negative impact on the U.S. military, however, the reviews are decidedly mixed. "Many commanders think that operations other than war cause degradation in the combat readiness of their units," concluded a February 2000 study by Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, which distilled the views of 12,500 U.S. service members surveyed around the world. "A synthesis of many comments has been that `We are doing some good work for these people, but I joined the Army to be in a combat-ready unit, not to be a policeman.' "

On the other hand, the same CSIS report found that "some units report that participation in peacekeeping operations provided solid training for their primary missions. Some Army units in Bosnia, for example, reveal strong spirit, good cohesion, and considerable satisfaction in performing an important task."

In fact, quantitative and anecdotal evidence suggests that when carefully managed, peacekeeping and peace enforcement deployments can actually increase morale, unit cohesion, and important aspects of war-fighting readiness. "The 1st Armored Division was a much better division when we came back from Bosnia than when we went," said retired Army Maj. Gen. William Nash, commander of the initial U.S. peacekeeping force, sent to Bosnia in 1995, as quoted in the Peace Through Law Fund's report.

That view generally reflects the opinions of the two dozen senior military officers interviewed for the report. "On the issue of the effect of peace operations on military readiness, the officers paint a mixed picture but, in summary, reject the criticism that peace operations dangerously compromise war-fighting capability," the report concluded. "At worst, they say, it is a mixed bag; at best, in many cases involvement in peace operations actually strengthens war-fighting skills."

The Pentagon has also long noted that re-enlistment rates for units deployed on peacekeeping operations-both active and reserve-are significantly higher than for home-based units. According to senior officials, re-enlistment rates for the U.S. Army Task Force Falcon in Kosovo is 10 percent above the Army average. "While our forces are stretched thin, the retention levels in our most heavily deployed units has always been very good, and I think there is a positive message in that," Hendrix said.

That message is reinforced by a 1999 study by RAND indicating that a single deployment to such an operation during a military term of enlistment actually increased midcareer re-enlistment in all four services, and first-term re-enlistment in the Army and Marine Corps. A second deployment in too short a period, however, sharply reduced re-enlistment.

"Many service members join or remain in the ranks because they expect and want some service on behalf of their country, adventure, travel, or all of the above," wrote RAND project leader James Hosek. "But our results underscore the importance of each service spreading the burden of peacetime military operations to the maximum extent compatible with readiness."

Making a Difference

A tour of U.S. military forces assigned to Task Force Falcon in Kosovo reveals why many U.S. military commanders in the field believe that peacekeeping operations can actually enhance war-fighting skills. Commanders are in charge of their troops 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with none of the family and other distractions that typify military life at home garrisons. Many rear-area support, logistics, and airlift units conduct operations almost exactly as they would for a combat operation. Soldiers also routinely work with troops from other nations in the kind of multinational operations that they can expect to encounter in this era of coalition warfare.

"I don't think we can replicate in any training center or military school the leadership development that our young officers receive here," said Brig. Gen. Dennis Hardy, commander of U.S. Task Force Falcon in Kosovo. "One of the advantages of these types of missions is that our soldiers have to make real-world decisions on a daily basis that impact other people as well as themselves, and then they have to live with those decisions. That's helping us build a very experienced future military leadership."

In Kosovo, the U.S. Army also moved more quickly than in Bosnia to set up local live-fire ranges where troops can practice their war-fighting skills. That has cut down on the six-month period that units returning from peacekeeping operations normally need to get back up to speed on the full complement of high-intensity combat skills.

"When our forces went into Kosovo, we were determined to learn the lessons of Bosnia, and one of the prime lessons was, we couldn't afford a six-month retraining period after our forces left," said former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark. "Because there was always a threat that Serbian forces would return, we also had to keep our combat edge and stay trained and ready."

Army Capt. Tom Hairgrove, commander of isolated Outpost Sapper on the tense border between Kosovo and Serbia, is a prime beneficiary of that determination to keep U.S. forces in Kosovo combat-sharp. He believes his company is receiving experience that no amount of home base training or exercising could duplicate.

"Everything we're doing here-the procedures we follow, the placement of our defensive positions, the constant surveillance of the border-are exactly as we would do in a defensive position in high-intensity combat," said Hairgrove. In contrast to a training exercise, however, Hairgrove's Alpha Company has been given its full complement of weapons and ammunition, including TOW antitank and Stinger antiaircraft missiles. They routinely conduct full rehearsals in which artillery units shoot illumination rounds at night. Squad leaders call in Apache helicopter gunships for reconnaissance flights almost every day.

"Back home in Germany, with all its flight restrictions, we rarely ever even see an Apache," Hairgrove said. "As the guy who gets to put all these pieces together with very few controls or limitations, this is a kind of training I could never duplicate."

Despite high morale and re-enlistment rates on peacekeeping missions, U.S. military leaders know that an outbreak of hostilities or the taking of significant casualties could alter the dynamic dramatically. In the meantime, the best explanation for why the all-volunteer force has generally embraced this new mission comes from Sgt. Vidal Vazquez, a soldier with the elite 101st Airborne Division in Kosovo.

On recent mornings, Vazquez could be found escorting young Serb children to and from school in the village of Cernica-hardly the image of Army life that the elite paratrooper had conjured up from Army recruiting posters and advertisements. "You know, I never could have envisioned myself doing this when I joined the Army," Vazquez said with a shake of his head, before suddenly turning serious. "But I like being here. It feels like we're here for a reason."

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