Army Transformation Modeled After Stryker Units
Stryker Brigade combat teams are playing a key role in Iraq. In the long term, they also are proving to be pivotal in the Army’s transformation, said officials at Fort Lewis, Wash., where the initial two brigades were formed.
“We have learned so much from this organization that we are able to accelerate into modularity much faster than we thought,” said Lt. Gen. James Dubik, commanding general of I Corps and Fort Lewis.
In part because of the success of the first two Stryker brigades in Iraq, the Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, has initiated a force-wide restructuring to make the Army more modular, including the Stryker brigades, which can be deployed quickly.
Schoomaker is calling these modular combat forces “units of action.”
“These are units that can be employed to do anything from humanitarian assistance, to engineering projects, to multiple fire support, to combined arms brigades,” said Dubik.
Many of those tasks have fallen into the hands of the Stryker brigades in Iraq. Because of the brigade’s infantry-centric structure and the organic units that have been incorporated into its force, Stryker soldiers have been able to excel at multiple missions in Iraq.
“It’s the soldiers in the back of those vehicles that really make the difference. Because they’re the ones that get on the ground and physically interact, both positively with the civilian populous and also hunt down and destroy the enemy,” said Maj. Nicholas Mullen, rear-detachment commander of 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, also known as the second Stryker Brigade. “That’s one of the keys to a Stryker brigade. And kind of how it is transforming the Army, is saying, ‘you can have tanks and you can have Bradleys and all sorts of weapons systems, but it’s really that soldier that’s going to make the difference in these type of conflicts and the conflicts that we see in the future.’ ”
Schoomaker also said that he needs more total brigades, noted Col. Michael Peppers, director of the G37 division at Ft. Lewis that is responsible for training, readiness, force management, strategic change, and initiatives and analysis.
“An Army of 33 active component brigades, with roughly 22 Guard brigades, is not going to keep up with our changed strategic condition, our reality in Afghanistan, our emerging reality in Iraq. We need to get out of the old format and into the new format of a modular force faster,” he said.
In January 2004, the Defense Department approved an increase in the number of brigade combat team units of action from 33 to 43 by the year 2007.
There are three designs for these units of action: infantry, heavy and Stryker. The infantry and heavy units of action will have two maneuver battalions while the Stryker will continue to have three. They will also have an armed reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition squadron, a fires battalion, a support battalion and a brigade troops battalion.
“One of the problems we have today in Strykers is that they have four to five separate little companies with no battalion commander over them. It frays a little bit of the leadership of the brigade because they have to go watch out for those companies,” said Peppers. Because of that, the Army created a brigade troops battalion for the units of action.
By restructuring the organization of the Army now, it will facilitate the transition into the future combat force.
“We’re moving into that organizational design now,” said Peppers. “When technology gives us a future combat system, we already will be in that format so the changeover will be like it was in the 1980s, where it was principally an equipment swap-out.”
The Army has a long history of transforming, of changing its doctrine, its structure and its tactics, said Dubik. The transformation of the Stryker brigades began the Army’s largest restructuring since World War II.
In 1990, “it was apparent to senior leaders of the Army that the end of the Cold War, the end of Communism, the fall of the Berlin Wall, was a huge strategic shift,” said Dubik. “It was absolutely apparent that information technology would change the tools with which war would be fought.”
Gen. Gordon Sullivan, the Army’s chief of staff at the time, was searching for a different kind of force, one that did not yet exist, said Peppers.
“What we had was something that was very strategically responsive in the light forces, but didn’t possess a lot of lethality and survivability,” he said. The heavy forces were at the opposite end of the equation. “So we were looking for a medium force,” he said.
The Army began experimenting in the virtual world through an entity called “Louisiana Maneuvers,” said Dubik.
“That was an effort to get the Army’s head into the new problem sets of the 21st century,” said Peppers.
Then it conducted a set of war-fighting experiments in the mid 1990s using a light brigade from Fort Drum, N.Y., at the National Training Center at Fort Erwin, Calif., and a heavy brigade from Fort Hood, Tex., at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.
“There were opportunities for many concepts, ideas and schoolhouse thought processes that could get in that experiment set and get outcomes,” said Peppers.
At that point, the U.S. also was dealing with Kosovo and the struggle to move forces rapidly into Albania and up to the border to put pressure on the Serbians, said Peppers.
The chief of staff of the Army at that time, Gen. Erik Shinseki, “came in and said, ‘enough, we’re going to do this, and when we do it, we’re not going to experiment. We’re literally going to start this thing, and then that brigade is going to be an existing Army force, and it’s going to go do Army work and deployments, and it’s going to do it on a very tight schedule,’ ” said Peppers.
In October 1999, Shinseki announced the transformation of the first two Stryker Brigades, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division—a heavy brigade—and the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division—a light brigade—both part of I Corps at Fort Lewis.
“Boy, was that controversial,” said Peppers. “Some people look back and say, ‘oh, we should’ve had the light brigade go first,’ because everyone would’ve said, ‘that’s a value added. You’re increasing your capability instead of taking down.’”
“On the other hand, if you really wanted to get all the cards on the table and get the cultural change of transformation started and the large Army discussion about that, that was the braver call,” he said.
Dubik pointed out these first two Stryker Brigades were formed with three purposes in mind: to learn about the operational capability of such a force, to spur thought about moving toward a future combat force, and to create a function of change within the Army.
“If we create six of these Stryker Brigades, this will force all the systems to change,” said Dubik.
To help in the transformation process, the Army provided a team of experts and senior officials who were on hand to deal with issues that arose.
“Fort Lewis got this infusion of institutional Army, not distance help, not checks-in-the-mail help, but living here and having to figure out the hard questions,” said Peppers. “Ultimately, we wanted this brigade to have what we call strategic mobility, to be able to get out the door.” In November 2000, the Army put in orders for the Stryker vehicle through General Dynamic Land Systems.
Critics quickly jumped on the Army for opting for a new vehicle rather than using an existing platform. “The critics were saying, ‘I could’ve given you a 113 yesterday. Why are you waiting?’ ” said Peppers.
“If we had taken the old carrier, M-113, it would’ve been cheaper, no doubt about it. But we wouldn’t have been able to change the logistics system,” said Dubik.
The first Stryker rolled off the assembly line and into the hands of the first Stryker Brigade in June 2002.
“No one thought we’d be able to do that,” said Dubik. “It took us from 1990 to 1999 to do the conceptual and experimental work necessary to get to Strykers. That’s about 10 years worth of thinking. So when we needed Stryker, we had already done the deep thinking, and we fielded it quickly.”
The first Stryker Brigade, the 3/2, had been training upon surrogate vehicles, LAV IIIs, borrowed from Canada. Once the Strykers landed in their hands, training took off, said Peppers. The 3/2 went through back-to-back training exercises at Fort Erwin and Fort Polk, La., and demonstrated the capabilities of the brigade and the Strykers.
“As June 2003 comes, we’ve had good success with the first one of these, in fact, so good that we’re already working our way through the final reports to DOD and Congress so that there can be a waiver for it to go up and be a part of the force in Iraq,” said Peppers.
The 3/2 deployed to Iraq in November 2003 and was replaced by the 1/25 last fall.
“They’re working out exactly as we intended. They’re providing an operational capability that surpassed our expectations,” said Dubik.
“I think transformation was a huge success. Not just the idea of the Stryker Brigade, but the way the institutional Army came together to go about it. The way Fort Lewis supported the whole process and really put some intellectual energy behind it. We’ve proven that it’s possible to transform the Army while you’re at war and that’s one remarkable achievement,” said Huggins.
But he added, “Our role in transformation is still not over. The Stryker brigades continue to evolve. Stryker brigades four, five and six will look different than one, two and three. And changes that they make will backfill into us.”