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Gates Tells US Army to Take New Approach

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (file photo)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (file photo)

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Friday that the U.S. Army must restructure itself or risk losing important mid-level leaders and not being prepared for the conflicts of the future.  

Secretary Gates traveled to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York to speak to the Army’s future officers about their careers.  He told them the traditional U.S. Army, with large units using tanks and other heavy equipment, is fast becoming obsolete.

"The strategic rationale for swift-moving expeditionary forces, be they army or marines, airborne, infantry or special operations is self evident, given the likelihood of counter-terrorism, rapid reaction, disaster response or stability or security force assistance missions," he said. "But in my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined."

Gates said large-scale conflicts with other big countries will likely be fought mainly with air and naval forces.

He urged the young Army officers-in-training to think about likely 21st century ground conflicts and seek training and experience that will help them lead such fights if necessary.  And he challenged today's Army leaders to begin transforming their force, in part by providing incentives for young and mid-level officers to learn modern warfare skills, including counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency operations.  

Gates also said one of his biggest concerns is that today’s highly-experienced generation of mid-career officers may leave the service, either to avoid further deployments or to escape the boredom of post-war bureaucratic assignments.

"Men and women in the prime of their professional lives, who may have been responsible for the lives of scores or hundreds of troops, or millions of dollars in assistance, or engaging in reconciling warring tribes, they may find themselves in a cube all day, reformatting PowerPoint slides, preparing quarterly training briefs, or [doing] an ever expanding array of clerical duties.  The consequences of this terrify me," he said.

Gates also said he is concerned that gains made toward recognizing the value of non-traditional Army skills may erode as U.S. troops leave Iraq and Afghanistan in the next several years.  The defense secretary, who says he will retire this year, urged future leaders to ensure that the army does not revert to its traditional role as a heavy land force, and continues to prepare to defend the nation against what he sees as more likely scenarios.

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