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Tomorrow's Grunts Need To Be Cream of Crop

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 31, 2000 – Ninety-five percent of American┬ácasualties in wars throughout this century came from "close-combat" units -- aircrews, infantry and armor. So to protect these troops, America needs to take a closer look at how to prepare them for battle.

To deal with the ever-changing nature of warfare, the U.S. military needs to focus on "how we select, how we train, how we educate and how we bond close-combat units," now-retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales Jr. said at a recent DoD conference on operational stress.

Scales acknowledged that on modern battlefields even support troops away from the "front" can be in more danger than in the past, but insisted the greatest risk is still to close-combat units.

"Vietnam was called a 'war without fronts' with everybody vulnerable to being killed, but 67 percent of combat deaths in Vietnam were infantry," he said.

Scales retired July 28 as commandant of the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa. His conference presentation stemmed from his experience working on the "Army After Next" project, which explored Army requirements after 2020. At that time, he was deputy chief of staff for doctrine at the Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va.

During the Civil War, there were 26,000 men per mile of front; for World War I, it was 1,000; by the 1991 Gulf War, there were 240, Scales said. By the year 2020, he suggested, "we may find that the battlefield will practically be empty."

By then, we should expect enemies to have weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them cheaply and precisely, he said. We exploit information technologies and should expect enemies to do the same, he added.

The new face of war, he said, "might be four or five soldiers per running mile of front" -- or perhaps 10 or 15 soldiers per square kilometer in a shifting combat zone with no fronts.

"Think of the impact that that's going to have on the nature of combat in the future," Scales said. He said the greatest psychological stressor in combat has always been fear of the unknown. That won't change in the future, he remarked, but there are ways to mitigate the effects of combat stress and to preserve fighting troops' safety.

With this in mind, Scales outlined the list of issues that he and other Army experts believe will be critical for close-combat units by 2020:

o Troop intelligence. One of the greatest tragedies in U.S. military history, Scales said, is that the men in the lowest mental categories in Europe during World War II were assigned to infantry units. "That goes for leaders as well," he said. "Yet I would argue with you that the most difficult intellectual exercise is staying alive when somebody is shooting at you."

Battle is not an exercise. More than ever, in the future, it will demand troops who can think fast on their feet, he said.

"In the studies that we've done, we've found three reasons why American Army units engage in close combat," Scales explained. One is that firepower and maneuver have beaten down the enemy and all that's needed is to sweep the battlefield, he said. Second, the units were taken by surprise and annihilated because of the stupidity of their leaders, he noted.

"Third, and most often in wars in this century, they do it because the leaders don't know what else to do," Scales said.

o Troop maturity. Statistics show the death rate of members of close-combat units decreases with age.

"The day of the 18-year-old infantryman is over. It must end now," Scales said. "He doesn't have the maturity, the mental balance and the ability to deal with psychological stress that a more mature individual has."

o Training in multiple skills. To survive on the empty, lethal battlefields of the future, soldiers will need to know far more than how to use their weapons. They'll need to know medicine, engineering and communications and have the ability to deal with information systems, Scales said.

"It may take three, four, perhaps five years to produce a person who's able to deal with this combat environment," he continued. "So you have to be able to prepare your close-combat units in peacetime because you're not going to have time (in wartime) to train them up to the degree necessary to face these stressors in the future."

o A smaller leader-to-men ratio. The ratio today is about 1 to 11, Scales said, and future Army and Marine close-combat units may have a leader-to-men ratio of 1 to 3, or even 1 to 2.

"A squad or even a buddy team in 2020 will have the same lethality of a platoon in the same area of coverage today," he predicted.

o Built-in redundancy. Future units must be "very, very fat with enormous amounts of duplication," Scales said. "Trust me; when the bullets start to fly, what Abraham Lincoln called 'the arithmetic' kicks in."

He explained that the most tightly bonded units in World War II were the airborne units that took 3,000 more infantrymen than they needed when they went to war. "After six weeks of combat in Normandy they still had the ability to bond and fight as a cohesive unit because they built redundancy into their organizations," he said.

o Earlier leader education. There are three ways to command soldiers -- through touch, written orders and intent, Scales said.

"The secret of commanding through touch and written orders is you have to see and literally go out and touch your soldiers," he said. In today's military structure, the lieutenant colonels and colonels who command battalions and brigades still have direct access to their troops. That kind of access will disappear at the company or platoon level by 2020, he said.

"We'll be asking junior officers -- lieutenants and captains -- to lead by intent," he said. "Do you know what the first place in the Army educational system is where we teach officers to lead by intent? At the War College." Officers typically attend their service's war college at the grades of O-5 and O-6.

Today's platoon leaders spend one or two years on the job before they move on. Scales said officers should be platoon leaders for at least double that time, and platoons should stay together for at least four years.

"You know, there's an old saying: 'You train for certainty; you educate for uncertainty.' If we're very sure of what the world's going to be like, then we can train them very well -- train the hell out of them," he said. "But let me tell you, the battlefield of the future is going to be uncertain, ambiguous, violent and cruel."

The way to build leaders who can deal with that future is to make them more adaptive than their enemies, the general continued. "The only way to do that is to stress decentralized command and control, the use of individual initiative, and an understanding of languages and cultures and psychology and sociology -- all those things that we don't teach our soldiers today."

o Psychological screening. "Some soldiers are able to deal with the horrors of combat; some aren't. Much of that ability is inherited or learned over long periods of time," Scales said.

"There are psychological instruments available today to determine the ability of soldiers to deal with that kind of stress," he noted. Police and fire departments use this kind of psychological screening. "For some reason, we don't do it in our close-combat units," he said.

o Physical toughening. "The life expectancy for all of us has increased 15 years or so in the last 50 years. Our ability to use diet, exercise and discipline to maintain peak physical performance into our 30s and 40s is with us right now," Scales said. "In order to deal with these hardships, soldiers have to be physically tuned and toughened before they go to war. There's no time to do that during a war because the process is very, very gradual."

Scales offered some ideas about achieving the fighting force he described. Close-combat troops must be highly paid and need to be "protected and excluded from all extraneous diversions," he said.

In their personnel system of promotion, education and rewards, the services should build a bias that favors close-combat soldiers -- "almost anything to keep these troops in units and to only recruit the best," he said.

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