The Future of U.S. Warfare
For the past two weeks, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, has been defending the Pentagon's budget proposal and the recommendations of the Quadrennial Defense Review, or QDR, a periodic look at the threats America faces and how the military should meet those challenges. After finishing his congressional testimony, Schoomaker sat down with U.S. News to discuss the defense review and the war in Iraq. Excerpts:
The QDR calls for an expansion of the Special Forces, where you spent much of your career. How fast can the Army expand the Special Forces?
It will take time. Special Forces take a long time to grow. You can't mass-produce Special Forces, and you cannot create them after you have an emergency. You have to invest in them ahead of time. In the end, we will move an additional 14,000 soldiers in. That is a big investment.
Critics said the defense review should have pulled the plug on expensive new programs designed for conventional wars, like the Future Combat System, and used the money to address irregular threats.
I will tell you point blank the Future Combat System equipped brigade will be far more capable in the environment that we are now in than the heavy brigade it replaces. The FCS brigade will be 900 soldiers smaller than a heavy brigade, but it will have twice as many infantrymen. For instance, go to western Iraq--this kind of organization not only has the mobility, not only has the long-range precision, but it has the ability to surveil that area 24-7.
FCS brigades will be the right force to fight both conventional and irregular wars?
Talk to anyone in Iraq, they think the [armored] Stryker brigade is the cat's meow. Well, the Future Combat System is going to be the Stryker brigade on steroids.
When I rode in the Strykers in December, two patrols I was with got hit by roadside bombs. The Strykers weren't damaged and the soldiers didn't blink--they just went after the triggerman.
Exactly. Think about that with increased lethality and increased survivability.
Do you think the Army was ready for the counterinsurgency fight in Iraq?
Our army was best prepared to fight a conventional adversary. We had done less preparation for counterinsurgency. What we are doing today, in terms of counterinsurgency operations, is capturing as rapidly as we can the lessons learned, trying to fold them back in and reinvigorate our doctrine. The best thing I can tell you is we are learning from our youngsters. Where our experience base is today is in the young noncommissioned officers and junior officers.
What are your company commanders and platoon sergeants telling you?
[That] not everything is a kinetic fight. Sometimes the most powerful tools in your kit bag are not shooting at all. Fundamentally, counterinsurgency is not a military deal. Fundamentally, it is political, economic, informational. It's about separating the support of the people away from the insurgents. You do that not by disrupting people's lives but by enabling their welfare. The junior officers and the junior noncommissioned officers are very, very attuned to this.
In 2004, the Army was talking about reducing tours in Iraq to less than a year. Why wasn't that possible?
In the situation we are in it is important to have continuity--people learn the streets, they learn the enemy. It's also a fact that your greatest period of vulnerability is when you get into theater. There's a steep learning curve, and it takes you time to learn the ropes. When this stabilizes--and we are moving in that direction--I believe we will also be moving in the direction of nine-month or six-month tours.
You said you wanted to establish a "warrior ethos" for the Army. Has that worked?
We have a much more rigorous basic training. It is much more tough than when I entered the Army. We're spending time in field, time firing live ammunition, time teaching people [hand-to-hand combat] . We are not teaching people to guard motor pools or having a bunch of inspections in dress uniforms. But our [boot camp] attrition is below 12 percent, and I think the warrior ethos has a lot to do with it.
We also teach them that the warrior ethos is not just about soldier stuff. It's about life. It's about how you think about your family and your commitment to your spouse, your children, your parents. It is about setting goals, having priorities, and having the discipline to do it. The citizens we return are going to be important for the country. This generation of kids, this is an amazing generation. And the country needs it.
We had the greatest generation--now it's the amazing generation?
I am impressed with them. We were over there [in Iraq] at Christmas. We were with the 3rd Infantry Division, just before they left. Staff Sgt. Jason Barr had just returned to his squad. He was wounded in April of last year. Over 130 holes in him. He rehabilitates, comes back to his squad. We re-enlisted the remainder of his squad with him. Four kids, two of whom we put Purple Hearts on. We asked them, "Why are you re-enlisting?" They said they want to be like Sergeant Barr. We've seen times where the armed forces have not been like this. This is an amazing bunch.
This story appears in the February 27, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.