Marine deployment irks soldiers

The Army is either unable or unwilling to do its job. That's the message some mid-grade officers are getting from the deployment of hundreds of Marines to landlocked Afghanistan this week.

The seizure of an airfield near Kandahar is a textbook Army mission, yet it was Marines, who usually operate near shorelines, who performed it.

The mission was "a tremendous showcase of new capabilities," said Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Joe Kloppel. "It shows you how far the Marines can extend when they need to."

The fact that the Marine Corps was needed to extend into what most Army officers consider their service's territory had some of them wondering where Army leaders were when the mission planning decisions were being made.

"If this doesn't raise questions about Army relevance then I don't know what would," said one infantry captain who says he is beginning to think he might feel more at home in the Marine Corps than in the Army.

"It's a big slap in the face," said Maj. Don Vandergriff, an armor officer who teaches military science at Georgetown University.

The fact that the Marines have the first sizeable contingent of conventional ground troops on the battlefield in a theater of operations far from any shoreline sparked fury among many mid-grade officers. The fact that the theater commander in chief is an Army officer--Gen. Tommy Franks--only adds insult to the injury.

"The Marine Corps foresight seems to have eliminated the need for the Army," one Army captain complained in an online forum. "Here's the bitter pill I've been chewing on. My Army is operating equipment designed to fight Soviets in the Fulda Gap, and the stuff in the pipeline is just a more expensive version of the same. My Army has a personnel system that was build to defeat the Kaiser. My Army trains to fight fictional forces in make-believe lands instead of focusing on real-world missions. My Army has one-half the number of generals as we did at the height of World War II, even though the force is one-tenth the size. The resultant leadership inertia bogs decision-making down in a bureaucratic morass, as more chiefs fight to protect their hallowed turf. The end result of all this is we get to watch the Marines perform Army missions because they can do them better," he wrote.

"You've got to give the Marine Corps credit for trying to make themselves useful," said Thomas Donnelly, deputy executive director of the Project for a New American Century and a former staffer on the House Armed Services Committee. "At least they're making some attempt to respond to what the country needs to have done. The Army just seems to be spending most of its intellectual effort trying to find ways to stay out of it."

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki has been pushing a plan to transform the Army's conventional forces into more easily deployed forces capable of a greater range of missions. But change isn't coming fast enough for many younger officers, if Internet chat rooms and e-mails are any indication.

In a November speech, Shinseki said, "The Army must change because the nation cannot afford to have an Army that is irrelevant." The Army may need to change more quickly than many senior leaders now realize.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec