Issue Date: September 06, 2004
It all comes down to the ‘legs’
By Matthew Cox and Gina Cavallaro
Times staff writers
This may be the age of precision airstrikes and satellite supremacy, but much of modern warfare is still up to the grunts on the ground.
They have always been the Army’s heavy lifters — the riflemen and machine-gunners; the squad and platoon leaders who bear the burdens of long-term combat.
the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are demonstrating, again, that all the latest gee-whiz firepower in the world will never fully replace the enduring value of boots on the ground.
Symbolic case in point: The Pentagon’s “decapitation strike” of stealth bombers and cruise missiles launched to kill Saddam Hussein as the war began came up empty-handed. Nine months later, special forces troops and 4th Infantry Division soldiers pulled the toppled despot out of a “spider hole” and into U.S. custody.
The Army is relying on infantry combat skills now more than at any time since Vietnam because the war on terrorism is about to stretch into its fourth year, and as of Aug. 25, there were more than 150,000 foot soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Tens of thounds of more “legs” are in the Philippines, Yemen, Georgia, Djibouti and other far-flung locations.
Moreover, the Army is aggressively increasing its infantry ranks while requiring every soldier — infantry or not — to hone the skills of a rifleman.
“Dirty work requires boots on the ground,” said Infantry Center Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Kelso. “You can’t take out a small group of insurgents without direct fire — by that, I mean rifle and machine gun.”
At the beginning of August, the Army began offering thousands of dollars in new bonuses to keep its seasoned ground-pounders in the ranks while increasing recruiting bonuses to attract more soldiers to join for an infantry military occupational specialty.
The boost in financial perks is part of the Army’s strategy for adding another 30,000 soldiers to the force to fill out at least 10 new combat brigades by 2007. That increase largely will be infantry troops.
And the Infantry Center and School at Fort Benning, Ga., has beefed up its Initial Entry Training base to handle the roughly 40 percent increase of infantry recruits expected in fiscal 2005.
The Army is not just putting more recruits through the infantry MOS pipeline, though. It’s redesigning Basic Combat Training to make sure recruits in all specialties receive more warrior, or infantry, skills. That effort began in late 2002, when it became clear to senior leaders that everyone from mechanics to truck drivers would be expected to shoulder his weapon and help the infantry fight insurgents in Iraq.
The message was drilled home last October when Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker declared that every soldier must consider himself “a rifleman first.”
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, soldiers from every active combat unit have deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq at least once and are likely to go a second time. Maybe more.
Suddenly, infantry pays
To help relieve the tremendous strain on the force, the Defense Department authorized the Army to bump up its active force by 30,000 soldiers to help create 10 more highly modularized combat units, dubbed Brigade Combat Teams (Units of Action). Infantrymen will be key to these new units, which will serve as the model that the Army’s existing combat brigades will follow.
To make this happen, the Army has started throwing money at its more seasoned infantrymen, from specialist to staff sergeant.
For example, earlier this year, no bonus was offered for these ranks to re-enlist for 11B or 11C, except for such special circumstances as assignments in South Korea. But as of Aug. 2, soldiers in these ranks with 17 months to 10 years of experience can get up to $10,000 in a lump-sum bonus for re-enlisting for three or more years. So an infantryman at the rank of specialist, ending his first three-year term, can get $7,372 for enlisting in the infantry for another three years.
Infantrymen can get up to a $20,000 bonus for re-enlisting for the 75th Ranger Regiment for three or more years. And SRBs that took effect Aug. 26 provide up to $15,000 for infantrymen and others to re-up for the new Units of Action. (See the bonus list on Page 24.)
Recruitment bonuses for infantry also increased as of Aug. 2. Now recruits can get up to $3,000 for a two-year enlistment compared to the old level of $2,000 for a two-year hitch. It’s $5,000 for three years, $8,000 for four years and $12,000 for five years. The old level was $3,000 for three years, $5,000 for four years and $7,000 for five years.
Benning’s Infantry Training Brigade has also ramped up its facilities for an influx of infantry recruits.
In fiscal 2005, Benning is expected to train about 24,767 new infantry soldiers — 7,060 more than originally projected for that year, said Maj. Jay Pitz, operations officer for the Infantry Training Brigade, who added that the training load increase likely will continue until 2007.
The Infantry Center has added two reserve training companies to supplement the seven already mobilized, resulting in an increase of about 180 cadre personnel, Pitz said.
Lessons learned the hard way
The fighting in Iraq also has forced the Army to recognize insufficient preparation for a different brand of warfare, one in which battle lines were collapsed and units traditionally in the rear found themselves in the fight. And that exposed the deficiencies in combat skills among troops in support specialties.
This point was driven home March 23, 2003, when Iraqi forces ambushed soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Company out of Fort Bliss, Texas, killing 11 and capturing six, when the unit became separated from a supply convoy.
An analysis of the incident led to the conclusion that, among other things, the support unit might have better defended itself had it been better trained in infantry skills. The tragedy prompted the Army to focus on ways to develop a warrior ethos in all soldiers to ensure they are always ready to fight, regardless of their job. A large part of this effort involves the redesign of the nine-week Basic Combat Training course that all soldiers receive upon entering the Army.
That began with a pilot program in January and focuses on a recently approved set of 40 “Warrior Core Tasks” and nine “Battle Drills” that every soldier must know.
In the past, Basic Combat Training covered only about half of the new standard. The warrior tasks focus heavily on increased weapons training with an emphasis on such crew-served weapons as the M2 .50-caliber machine gun, the M240B machine gun, the M249 squad automatic weapon and the MK19 automatic grenade launcher.
There also are new battle drills, such as how to evacuate wounded personnel from a vehicle and how to set up security at a halt or stop.
Schoomaker directed the Army to ensure that every soldier headed to battle is outfitted with the best gear available, signaling the end of the practice of giving the best only to “first-to-fight” combat units.
Soldiers in noninfantry jobs serving in Iraq have had to learn a lot of these infantry skills on the job. In many cases, artillerymen have had to leave their gun positions and help search for weapons and insurgents.
“This type of war has certainly pointed out that all solders have to be competent in what used to be thought of as infantry skills,” Kelso said.
One artillery officer who served in Iraq in the hostile area of Najaf said that training with infantry troops helped prepare him for the war zone.
“It was interesting. We had a pretty steep learning curve,” said 1st Lt. Andrew Chavez, 2nd Platoon fire direction officer for Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Armored Division, who has since redeployed to Germany.
The battalion anticipated the possibility of urban operations before deploying from Giessenin in April 2003, and so, the battalion cross-trained with the infantrymen of 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, both at home and in Kuwait.
“Those guys were tremendously helpful. We went through a lot of mock operations and simulations and walked us through something that’s not second nature” for artillerymen, Chavez said. “By the time we got toward the end of the year [in Iraq], it became second nature.”
The cannons of the 2-3, a unit of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, were stationed in the most dangerous area of central Baghdad, the Adhamiya sector, where the unit survived dozens of roadside bomb attacks and conducted scores of dismounted patrols and raids — not the kind of work artillerymen are used to.
“That’s been a great experience. Dangerous, but really great,” said Sgt. Wilson Adorno, 29, of Puerto Rico, a cannoneer with the 2-3.
“For me, it was the action. The night of our first raid, they attacked us. It’s not like you see in the movies. When they shoot at you, you actually see the bullets,” said Adorno, a section chief. “In the first few moments, it was confusing, but when we gained control and saw that everyone was all right, it was just a tremendous experience.”
Still, Adorno said he would never consider switching to infantry. “I like the work, but not the road marches,” he said.
The soldiers of another 1st AD unit, the 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, were also stationed in the heart of Baghdad for a full year and fell back on basic infantry skills over and over.
During an exercise in a training field at Baghdad International Airport in late May, the artillerymen of Charlie Battery practiced wedge and column formations and other infantry skills just a month after they and other 1st AD units found out they were being extended in theater an additional four months.
They were preparing for their first mission after a month off to refit the battery in the wake of a car bomb that killed eight of their fellow artillerymen.
Spc. Danny Lujan, 22, of Amarillo, Texas, said that in Baghdad they used their big guns, but only for a show of force.
The only time they got to shoot their guns, he said, was one day during certification on a range in Baghdad.
The soldiers of the 4-27 found themselves walking long distances to their objectives, with a different sort of mission than what artillery typically performs.
“Now we’re looking for IEDs and the people setting them off,” said 2nd platoon sergeant Sgt. 1st Class Albert Butler, 46, of Lakewood, N.J.
During an after-action review at the conclusion of their field exercise, no one was particularly alarmed at what appeared to be slight disorganization. “It’s just growing pains,” said platoon leader 1st Lt. Joe Dodd, 25, of Reno, Nev.
Before they concluded the AAR, Dodd opened the session to questions. There was only one, from a young soldier: “Hey, can we get an 11 Bravo in here to teach us this stuff?”
Into the fight
These recent moves to make the Army’s dismounted infantry prowess more potent come at the tail end of a long-term effort to abandon its Cold War design that called for super, high-tech combat systems designed to take out massive numbers of Soviet tanks and troops invading Western Europe.
“Our Army has transitioned from a Cold War … platform-based Army to a boots-on-the-ground Army,” said retired Col. Bob Brown, whose last assignment was operations officer at the Infantry Center and School.
Case in point: The cancellation of the $11 billion Crusader program in 2002.
The auto-loading, self-propelled 155mm howitzer could fire much faster and farther than the outdated Paladin howitzer. But senior Pentagon leaders criticized the 75-ton howitzer and resupply vehicle system for being too heavy to be consistent with the Army’s need for a more rapidly deployable force.
And then in February, the Comanche, a futuristic attack helicopter conceived in 1983 to find and fight Soviet tank formations, was thrown out. In the end, the $14 billion RAH-66’s stealth technology was no longer necessary and too expensive, Army leaders said.
But the Army’s love affair with sophisticated, combat systems is far from over.
The Stryker infantry carrier, which will eventually equip five highly deployable Stryker Brigade Combat Teams, can carry a full nine-man infantry squad into combat, compared to the Bradley fighting vehicle, which has room for up to six dismounted infantry soldiers. One such team, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (SBCT), has been patrolling northern Iraq for almost a year. And the reviews have been favorable.
These Stryker brigades, and the 10 new combat brigades, are being equipped with the most advanced technology in digital communications, as well as the latest in such reconnaissance capabilities as unmanned aerial vehicles that can give commanders real-time imagery of enemy activity.
Such technology gives combat units a great advantage on the battlefield, but combat-seasoned infantrymen point out there are times when it doesn’t mean a lot when facing an enemy in a house-to-house fight.
“When you get in that fatal funnel — in that doorway — it’s me or him. It doesn’t matter how much high-tech you have,” said 1st Sgt. David Kuhnert of the 82nd Airborne Division, an infantryman who returned from Iraq last spring.
“In Iraq, you have village after village after village … that requires search and clear” operations, Brown said. this type of extended guerrilla war, he added, “puts the infantry soldier back at the tip of the spear.”
Not intending to start something..........
But this is something the Marine Corps has been doing sunce Tun Tavern.
Hooooooo-aaaaaaah to all the Grunts former and present (includes Marine infantry)
Sand Hill class of 87