Lesson from the Gulf War

April 29, 1991

One lesson learned from Operation Desert Storm is that large National Guard and Reserve units do not mesh quickly with active-duty forces assigned to combat roles. Guard brigades slated to marry up with regular Army brigades to form combat divisions instead spent the gulf war frustrated and still in training. As a result, the Army is quietly but radically changing this phase of its "Total Force" strategy.

Before the war, eight of the 11 active-duty combat divisions based in the continental United States counted on one National Guard brigade to bring them up to three-brigade division strength. Now, Sun Pentagon correspondent Richard H.P. Sia reports, only three of the 11 will be structured to include such "round-out" brigades.

Defense Secretary Richard Cheney signaled this change a month ago when he said the linking up of reserve and guard combat units with regular Army divisions right at the outset of hostilities was "not a good idea." Guard combat units should be used only as second or third echelon, he said, after they have had three or four months of active training -- if hostilities last that long.

Despite widely bruited dissatisfaction about the way guard brigades from Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi shaped up or were treated, the Pentagon and its watchdogs in Congress are elated over the way "Total Force" performed overall. Medical, military police, cargo-handling and logistics units played a major role in the victorious campaign. Air National Guard squadrons performed admirably without losing a plane.

The "Total Force" concept, which originated in 1973 when the nation switched from conscript to all-volunteer forces, is essential in plans to reduce the size of the armed forces from 2 million to 1.5 million in mid-decade. Such a downsizing can be accomplished safely only with strong guard and reserve back-up. At the same time, there must be much stronger emphasis on airlift and sealift so that stateside-based forces can move swiftly to any point on the globe. We don't mean just light infantry; heavy armor was crucial on the Iraqi desert.

Congress will be marking up its defense authorization bills for fiscal 1992 in a few weeks with only the most rudimentary data on which to project future force levels. It is understandable that regular forces leaders would want to preserve as many slots as possible in light of world turbulence. But reliance on "citizen soldiers" and "weekend warriors" is an important part of keeping the all-volunteer professional army concept comfortably in sync with democratic concepts.

Mr. Sia has noted that only 15,000 troops, just 7 percent of the 228,560 guard and reserve personnel called to active duty during the gulf crisis, were involved in the "round-out brigade" controversy. So guard and reserve strength, after such a good showing in the gulf overall, should be maintained.

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