The nautical flavor of the president's new foreign policy and an end to two ground wars in the Middle East has left many wondering what the Army will do with itself in the coming years.
America's premier land force faces the challenge of remaining relevant in a world where enemies no longer send tank columns to follow up on formal declarations of war. This identity crisis is further hampered by an excruciating budget season where all service branches have to accommodate sequestration cuts on top of ever tightening purse strings.
So the Army has adopted a new motto of sorts: "Projecting a credibility that prevents conflict," to capitalize on the notion that nobody picks fights with the biggest guy at the bar.
Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel and the military services unveiled their fiscal year 2014 budget request on Wednesday. The Navy gets the largest piece of the pie with $156 billion to build ships and precision weapons and a shift of its focus to Asia.
The Army gets $130 billion. Its main adjustment is its war budget, or "overseas contingency operations fund," which in 2008 matched its base budget for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has not yet finalized the OCO for this year, but will likely be down to about a third of the base.
It has also adopted a new strategy, similar to one employed for decades by its Special Forces, of aligning troops to a specific region with which it can get familiar.
Soldiers assigned to these Regionally Aligned Forces overseas will now receive training in local languages, culture and geography, and learn more about indigenous military groups.
"This budget envisions the capabilities that enable the global employment of Army forces in tailored, scalable and responsive packages to meet unique and independent requirements of the geographic combatant commanders," said Maj. Gen. Karen Dyson, the Army's budget director, on Wednesday.
The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command was instrumental in developing this new approach. Lt. Gen. Keither Walker, TRADOC deputy commander, said in February the Army has been pushing for this kind of training but until recently has been hampered by its presence in Afghanistan.
This is a similar tack to the U.S. Army Special Forces, whose primary mission has always been to infiltrate, embed with and train indigenous forces to help fight America's enemies. Seven Special Forces groups based in the U.S. each have a region of the world in which they are experts.
"The Army is beginning to regionally align its forces with the goal of increasing both the quantity and the quality of forces available to combatant commanders," according to text within the FY 2014 Defense Budget Overview. "Simply described, the Army will align units with specific geographic combatant commands based on existing assignments, relationships established through the State Partnership Program, or anticipated demand."
The regionally aligned forces will include active duty soldiers, reservists and members of the National Guard, according to a March 2013 Army Operations information paper obtained by U.S. News . The SPP is a National Guard program that links up with foreign troops to open up dialogue and trade advice and skills.
"Regional alignment will improve the Army force's versatility, responsiveness, and will be consistently available to support combatant command requirements for planning and executing theater campaign plans," the report says. This training will allow leaders to work more closely as advisors and mentors with partner forces which "will better prepare soldiers to appreciate their surroundings and to work more cohesively with their host-nation counterparts."
Qualified soldiers will also be able to work more closely with U.S. embassies, where they will not have to catch up on regional sensitivities before undertaking security missions.
The 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, Kan. is the first unit undergoing RAF training to be deployed to U.S. Africa Command. A deployment could last for roughly a year, according to an Army release, and would involve military exercises, disaster relief and training host-nation forces. Civilian contractors currently conduct much of this work and the Army says its RAF alternative will be 40 percent cheaper for AFRICOM.