Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

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A Commission on the Structure of the Army? Careful What You Wish For

by Guest Blogger for Janine Davidson
May 22, 2014

army commission U.S. Army Generals stand ready to testify at a Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 4, 2013. (From L to R) Judge Advocate General of the Army Lt. General Dana K. Chipman, Army Chief of Staff General Raymond T. Odierno, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Brig. General Richard C. Gross. (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters)

By F.G. Hoffman

F.G. Hoffman offers another perspective on Adam Maisel’s argument for a Commission on the Structure of the Army to revisit issues related to the National Guard and Reserve Component. Hoffman observes that a call for a commission might denigrate the work already done by the Guard’s defenders. He also suggests that the outcome of such a commission would not necessarily be in the favor of those advocating for it.

As a former Pentagon staffer and a retired Reserve Officer, I wanted to comment on Lt. Adam Maisal’s guest post supporting the creation of a commission for examining the Army’s force structure.  I have several reasons for thinking that supporting the commission is a bad move.

First, I think it mocks if not outright denigrates the work put in by the Guard’s official representation in Pentagon.  This includes the strong effort offered by General Frank Grass, the head of the National Guard Bureau.  His new position, put in over the opposition of many of the existing Joint Staff, is now undercut by letting a politically selected group serve the role he is legislated to fulfill.  General Grass aggressively carried forward the Guard’s perspective during the budget drills and hard calls that OSD had to make in this fiscally constrained strategy review.

The same is also true of the Reserve Forces Policy Board which has done much to ensure that the Pentagon is aware of the great value of our Reserve Component and what the truly burdened costs of the respective components are.  I fear that calls for extraneous bodies to duplicate their work will make them superfluous now and for years in the future.

Second, I think it’s a bad precedent in the strategic era we now face.  If every decision that Congress does not agree with or wants more investigation is kicked over to a formal commission, we’ll have more commissions than we have Army divisions (and less timely decisions).  Next we’ll have commissions for decisions to reduce the A-10, the U2, Littoral Combat Ships, and ICBMs.  The Congress has a very competent staff and access to think tanks and the superb Congressional Research Service for insights.

Commissions can be a way of avoiding an issue, rather than deal with it.  They are also symptomatic of our government’s dysfunction and lack of agility in the face of a very dynamic security context.  Kicking the can down the road avoids the problem instead of resolving it.  Ironically, the one commission that the administration asked for, a base closure panel, was loudly rejected.

Third, let me address the issue of professionalism, since our author brought it up.  I do agree that our “Guard and Reserve soldiers offer full-time professionalism at a part-time cost.”  The Guard and Reserve will be playing a critical role in the coming decades and we’ll need both their professional skills and their great cost-effectiveness.  Their readiness and dedication will be tested in the coming decades, as I fear we are prepared to reduce defense funding levels and the size of the Active Army to precarious levels.

That said, there is more to professionalism and the American military ethos than simply sharpening one’s skills.  Part of our professionalism is tied to an ethos that avoids policy matters and stays out of politics.  The Guard budget proposals that the Chief of Staff of the Army put forward, got their day in court at the Pentagon and at the Office of Management and Budget.  They were formally submitted as part of the President’s Budget after layers of review  Military professionals recognize when and how to influence policy inside the machinery with solid military advice, and know when to salute and move forward.  I’d say we’ve crossed that point.

Finally, let me suggest that one should not presume the results of a panel.  They are not rubber stamps for any preconceived notions about increases to Guard end strength or alterations to the Army’s proposed Apache helicopter restructuring plan.  The Guard has just as much to lose in this process as it has to gain.  I can’t imagine that an independent panel will look at what the Chief of Staff of the Army did, drawing down his active force from 570,000 to 450,000 while only trimming the Guard by 20,000, as imbalanced or prejudiced against the Reserve Component.

I have served on two Congressional commissions, and think that there are definitely times that they can serve the national interest.  I don’t think this is one of those times, and I would not assume that this commission is going to enhance the Guard’s stature, structure or sense of professionalism.

F. G. Hoffman is a retired officer in the Marine Corps Reserve.  These comments are his own and do not reflect the position of the Department of Defense.  

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