8 years ago
The Strategy Page has an interesting article on combat support troops.
Even in Iraq, most of the troops are combat support, and many work regular shifts, under pretty comfortable conditions. This makes it possible for them to do what American troops have been doing overseas for over half a century, take college courses. Many are conducted in classrooms, via instructors hired by the University of Maryland, which has been handling the program since the 1950s. But an increasing number of schools allow courses to be conducted via computer (and before that by mail). The Internet based courses are very popular. There’s no count on exactly how many troops are taking college courses in Iraq, but it’s believed to be several thousand. Most troops spend all their time in heavily fortified bases (FOBs, or Forward Operating Bases), and while there are plenty of other ways to spend your time, many see the studies as a worthwhile way to deal with off-duty time. However, combat units, and some on-call combat support units, leave little off-duty time for anything but eating, sleeping, getting ready for the next mission, and maybe a little X-Box.
I have raised the issue before of the bloated ratio of combat support to infantry. Completely aside from strategy, force size, supplies, logistics and equipment, unless and until the U.S. learns to utilize the force by leveraging their time and presence on the battlefield, the U.S. will not be able to conduct efficient counterinsurgency. This is true regardless of whether one considers the kinetic or nonkinetic aspects of counterinsurgency. Troops who have time to learn calculus are not contributing to the conduct of the campaign (comparatively), and the fault lies not with them, but leadership which lacks innovation and adaptability.
Furthermore, there is a difference between meeting recruitment goals, and having a ratio of support to infantry that is small enough to be effective. It is profoundly unhelpful to meet recruitment goals in supply, logistics, ordnance, etc., where the utilization of these troops gives them time to attend college while deployed.
The potential solutions to this problem are numerous. We could grant additional pay for earning the combat action ribbon, based on a ratio to troops who have not earned this distinction, this ratio never being able to be removed from a Soldier’s or Marine’s pay scale. Or, we could utilize the support troops so effectively that there would be voluntary transfers to infantry. Or, assignments could be made rotational. Each solution, however, would require the willingness to buck the system, so no solution is likely to be forthcoming.
Whether constabulary actions or reconstruction, since boots on the ground among the people are necessary to conduct counterinsurgency, we have shown that we are not yet truly committed to the COIN campaign in Iraq. If we are not going to commit, it is best to withdraw.