General sounds alarm on U.S. Army training

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 3, 2010 

WASHINGTON — The Army's ability to train its forces is "increasingly at risk" because of the nation's protracted commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan, the general in charge of training has told the Army's chief of staff.

In a Feb. 16 memo to Gen. George W. Casey, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, says that the Army has lost thousands of uniformed trainers because of troop demands in Iraq and Afghanistan, has had to put junior officers in charge of some key training functions and has delayed initial instruction for nearly 500 pilots because it doesn't have enough trainers.

Only 30 percent of the instructors at Army training schools are in the military, Dempsey says, with the Army increasingly dependent on outside contractors.

"We are behind in integrating lessons learned, developing training and updating doctrine," Dempsey wrote in the memo, a copy of which McClatchy obtained. "We are undermanned in our efforts to design the future Army."

Dempsey's warning comes as the Obama administration presses ahead with plans to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan by 30,000 and has committed a growing number of military trainers to doubling the size of the Afghan security forces. Since Dempsey took command of TRADOC in December 2008, the command has sent 889 troops, contractors and civilians to Iraq and 675 to Afghanistan.

Casey, who's frequently warned that the long-term commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan have strained the Army, said in an interview this week that Dempsey's memo didn't surprise him.

He said, however, that the military didn't have enough soldiers to commit more troops to training, and that relief would come from two developments: the continued U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and the planned expansion of the Army by 65,000 soldiers by the end of 2011.

"This is his way of getting it on my radar," Casey said of Dempsey's memo.

Entitled "Erosion of TRADOC's Core Competencies and Functions," the memo contains a litany of how keeping a large troop presence in two war zones while committing to train foreign troops has hurt the military's training efforts.

There are 96,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 78,000 in Afghanistan.

Dempsey wrote that since September 2001, the number of soldiers assigned to training and other planning responsibilities has declined by 7,300, while the number of civilian employees has declined by 4,500. To fill the gap, Dempsey says, his command has hired 9,000 outside contractors.

He complains that the result is a "de-greening" of training, meaning less reliance on Army personnel. For example, he wrote, outside contractors are teaching 68 percent of the courses at the Army's Intelligence School.

Dempsey also says the manpower shortage has affected ROTC training programs, particularly at universities that provide large numbers of junior officers to the Army. He says that the officer-to-student ratios at five of the nation's six largest ROTC programs, including The Citadel in South Carolina and Texas A&M University, now exceed 1 to 45 and that in some cases the ratio is 1 to 76.

A shortage of captains and majors with combat experience is particularly troubling, he says.

"Their experience level is of extreme importance to our command because it gives them the field-tested knowledge and credibility to teach, coach and mentor the officers following behind them," Dempsey wrote.

He wrote that 18 first lieutenants were filling company command positions in basic combat training units — positions usually reserved for higher-ranking officers — and that the command has had to turn to noncommissioned officers in some of those units to fill operations positions usually reserved for commissioned officers.

Dempsey says the shortage of majors and captains also has damaged the Army's ability to assess practices and to develop new tactics and strategies, another responsibility of TRADOC.

"We rely on their recent combat experience and lessons learned for application in our force and combat development-related functions to help build the future Army," he says.

Dempsey estimates that the command is 900 "work years" behind on developing new training methods and that "it is currently not possible to decrease this backlog."

In an interview with McClatchy, Dempsey said that he'd shifted resources to basic training, leaving functions such as developing new tactics till later.

"You can't out source basic training," Dempsey said. "That is an area where we can't take risks, because we are taking people off the streets and trying to make them soldiers" in a few months.

The command is exploring ways to use technology as a training tool, particularly for soldiers younger than 27, he said.

He said technology couldn't replace experienced instructors, however, and that if the manpower shortage persisted, the impact on the Army's future training could be great.

Besides training soldiers, TRADOC develops doctrine, integrates lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan into leadership training and is in charge of the Army's primary officer training center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

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