Army Chief Gen. Casey: A Bigger Portion of the Army Now Training for Conventional War
Soldiers who have not been assigned deployment dates will be expected to learn and relearn skills they haven’t needed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Casey said Jan. 6 at an Association of the U.S. Army Institute of Land Warfare breakfast.
In October, the Joint Readiness Training Center conducted its first full-spectrum operations rotation against a “hybrid threat,” one involving both counterinsurgency and traditional methods of fighting.
In the exercise, 1,700 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division performed a parachute assault from C-130 and C17 aircraft. It was the largest airdrop ever at the JRTC and marked the beginning of the first full-spectrum rotation at Fort Polk, La., in more than eight years.
“Some very interesting lessons” have come out of the training, Casey said, adding that operations were “a little rusty at the battalion and brigade staff integration and synchronization skills.” Setting up a mobile communications network was a challenge, he said. The Army has been spoiled by having a fixed fiber-optic network in Iraq and Afghanistan, he added.
Casey sat on a hill watching the exercise with company commanders and platoon leaders. “These guys are sitting there and they’re working through things, they’re talking about what they did right, what they did wrong,” he said.
The general also noted that the Army has not forgotten how to fight in high-intensity force-on-force situations. When the companies and platoons he watched got close to the enemy, “they were absolutely lethal,” he said. “We know how to fight at that level.”
By October, the Army will have as many brigades available for domestic full-spectrum training as there will be in Iraq and Afghanistan. The units in training will practice much more than combat drills. They also will perform a variety of tasks that have been handled by contractors in the Middle East, including cooking their own meals. Soldiers also will dig foxholes, establish supply lines, set up communications systems, built their own base camps and conduct operations in populated villages.
The Army must maintain its combat edge while building resiliency for the long haul, and it has to do it with dwindling resources, Casey said. Shifting resources to conventional warfare doesn’t mean the Army will stop training for today’s counterinsurgencies.
“The war’s not over,” Casey said. “We’re involved in a long-term ideological struggle against a global extremist network that attacked us on our soil. They tried to do it three times last year. They’re not going to quit, and they’re not going to give up … They’re coming after us.”
The threat of terrorism, the continuing counterinsurgency fight and the possibility of more traditional conflicts make for a complex and unpredictable future, the general said. “And that’s what we’re designing ourselves for.”