The Best Defense

Why doesn't the Army want to be a real Army, and think about its actual tasks?

By Matthew Schmidt

Best Defense department of Armyology

The U.S. Army doesn't seem to want to be an army. Or, rather, they seem to want to be half an army, like (no offense) the Marines! They want to do the first part of war, the invasion part, but not the less glamorous, more difficult, messy part that is occupation. The Army's seeming disdain for doing the work of occupying a place after the Hollywood scenes of major combat are over betrays a culture that just doesn't get the nature of (modern) war.

To be clear, plenty of individual people in the Army do understand the importance of thinking about the post-combat phase of warfare, but the institutional culture, the code of language, and behavior that dominates the everyday world of the Army is decidedly focused on the minutiae of combat tactics. 

Put another way, the Army has lost a clear sense of what makes it different from the other services. The Navy and Air Force can fight. The Marines can fight. But only the Army can occupy. This is the essential difference in the services when you strip away all the trivia. Armies are built to occupy places. They are meant to be the big ground force that sweeps over an area and sits on it. The Navy can project power to 'turn' a stubborn mule of a regime back in the right direction. The Air Force can heavily influence the ground game by providing air-space superiority for troops, and it can project power like the Navy. And the Marines can kick in the door to places and conduct small-scale land operations for limited periods of time.

But only the Army is big enough to extend control over the ground across an entire chunk of the planet for any length of time. 

Of course this usually (but not always) means fighting conventional battles against other forces similarly armed. So I'm not saying that major combat isn't part of the Army's mission. But no other service can do what the Army should be designed to do after the first part of the fight is done. No other service can control the crucial space where real human beings live, engage in trade, or practice politics. We like to imagine the art of war as being about winning the fight. But at the highest level, as Tom pointed out in his most recent Atlantic article, generalship "must link military action to political results." This is, of course, just a restating of Carl von Clausewitz's famous dictum that war should be understood as the continuation of political policy. Yet most of Army culture is relentlessly tactical in nature, even in the staff college where I teach.

I've always been curious about this reading of military history. If you think of the history of the Army as the story of the battles it fought from the Revolutionary War to today, of course this is what you see. But a deeper reading of history shows that the Army fought battles in order to occupy and administer large swaths of territory with large populations for far more of its history. The battles of the Civil War gave way to the occupation of the reconstruction era, a period of time that had troops engaged in occupation operations three times as long as they had combat. If you count the history of westward expansion, most of the work the Army did involved a kind of armed public-administration, not Indian conquest. The same is true of the Spanish American war, which saw U.S. troops conducting counterinsurgency and civil affairs for years after in the Philippines. Add in the post-WWII occupations of Germany and Japan, the long, tedious mix of combat and occupation in Vietnam, and the extended occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and it's overwhelmingly clear that the Army's main historical work has been occupation, not battle. 

But we teach "operational art" and "strategy" as though fighting battles is the only work of an army. It isn't. It never has been. At best it's only half of what an army is asked to do and it often isn't the most important part. We wonder how the Army fits into strategic frameworks like the new AirSeaBattle, all the while ignoring the obvious. We skimp on exploring the problems of using military force to achieve the political ends that are the purpose of occupations, and effectively define the work of generals and their staffs too narrowly, as a stringing together of a series of battles in order to gain a military-strategic aim. We pay relatively little attention to thinking about the work of generals as stringing together actions best thought of not as battles, but as the problems associated with using the resources that accompany military occupations to build political regimes that further our interests.

What we should be doing is devoting a much greater share of our time examining how the best generals in history conducted occupations after the main fighting was done. This isn't just the generalship of the future, it's the generalship of the vast bulk of "military" history. Fighting is about the tactics of the battlefield. Winning is about securing the victories of those battlefields. Neither the Navy, the Air Force, or the Marines can secure battlefield victories where they ultimately matter -- where people live. That's the Army's mission. We should recognize that mission as being at least as important as winning in combat. And we should educate, promote, and fire our military leaders to reflect that reality. 

Matthew Schmidt is an assistant professor of Political Science and Planning at the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies. He originated the "Matters Military" blog at the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs and has a book on developing strategic thinkers forthcoming from Wiley/Jossey-Bass in 2013. He can be reached at The views expressed are entirely those of the author and are not endorsed by the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense.


The Best Defense

The job-cutting at Fort Leavenworth: A general from out there responds

By Brig. Gen. Gordon Davis Jr.

Best Defense guest respondent

Thanks for posting the letter from one of our faculty members to your blog. When people's livelihood is concerned, it is a matter of great importance -- and it demands care, transparency, and thoughtfulness.

I'd like to contribute to the discussion by explaining the 'why' of faculty changes ongoing at the Army's Command and General Staff School, as well as the'how' (partially addressed) and 'what' we are aiming to achieve.

First, we have great faculty, military and civilian, at the Army Command and General Staff College (of which CGSS is the largest school) who are committed to their mission of developing the Army's future leaders.

Our mission is the 'why' we have decided to change the ratio of civilian to military faculty. To develop our the Army's mid-grade leaders we need the right balance of graduate-level teaching skills, scholarship, continuity (provided by our civilian faculty) and serving role models, recent operational experience, and future military leaders (provided by our military faculty).

Before 9/11 that balance was roughly 10 percent civilian, 90 percent military. Due to the exigency of supporting the wars over the past decade that balance shifted to 70 percent civilian, 30 percent military. With reduction of commitments abroad and an opportunity to rebalance, the Army leadership has decided that the optimal ratio is 60 percent civilian, 40 percent military. We are, after all, an institution which provides Professional Military Education to Army leaders. To maintain the military expertise required in our ranks, to provide development opportunities (e.g. teaching experience), and to ensure the stewardship demanded of our profession, we need the right balance of military leaders teaching other military leaders -- a time-proven ingredient for a successful learning military. The decision to move to this ratio has been a matter of discussion for a couple of years and now we have the opportunity to move to it.

There had been serious discussion of reducing our faculty-to-student ratio due to defense budget reductions, which would have meant losing significant numbers of both civilian and military faculty. Fortunately, other offsets were made and we are able to maintain the investment in quality Professional Military Education, which our leaders need to be able to adapt and prevail against current and future threats.

As to the 'how' of our reduction, there are several key points I want to share. Faculty have been informed from the outset as options for change were being considered. We developed a plan in coordination with the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center at Fort Leavenworth to release civilian faculty members employed over a two-year period, so that the we could retain the highest performing employees and so that no employee would be released before the end of his/her term of employment. This allows faculty time to transition out of teaching positions as we gain military instructors. Each teaching department identified assessment criteria based on their respective content. For example, criteria for assessing faculty members were different for the Department of Military History than for the Department of Tactics or Department of Command & Leadership, etc. Each civilian faculty member was assessed -- high performer, average performer, below average performer -- and informed where they stood.

To reach a 60 percent civilian, 40 percent military faculty ratio required us to release up to 33 civilian faculty employed under provisions of Title 10, U.S. Code. However, that number has reduced as new teaching positions have arisen to address increased Distance Learning enrollment.

There are points made in the earlier blog which are not accurately represented. Some of the people referred to as leaving have left for personal reasons unrelated to our faculty changes as the author suggested. Some have left for higher paying jobs. However, we have lost a few good teachers and the changes in faculty retention may have played some part in their decisions. That part of any personnel change process is hard to avoid. What we can control is making sure that we retain or release the right faculty members and that those we release are treated fairly and respectfully.

Some readers may not be aware that employees hired under the provisions of Title 10 U.S.C. are not permanent employees. Our faculty do not receive tenure as in civilian colleges and universities. All new CGSC Title 10 employees receive initial terms of two years, and may apply for subsequent terms of one to five years. As a management process to deal with the new requirements, we have instituted a two year term letter for those seeking to be rehired. This policy was not meant to be permanent, but to allow us to reach the new faculty ratio.

Finally, we have an Advisory Council elected by the CGSC Staff and Faculty (primarily civilian) that I rely on for feedback on issues of concern or friction. I meet with the leadership regularly and the Dean, Directors, key Staff and I discuss each issue raised. The two year renewal policy has not been an item presented by the council for us to review. However, given the current situation I am going to ask the staff and faculty to provide feedback on the policy.

In conclusion, we are re-structuring our CGSS faculty to increase the numbers of active duty Army officers of the right caliber with fresh operational experience to meet our mission in preparing student officers as well as provide teaching experience to future military leaders.

Thank you for providing a medium for discussion, and I hope this information is useful. We are looking forward to your visit out to us at the end of this month.

Brig. Gen. (promotable) Gordon "Skip" Davis Jr. is Deputy Commanding General CAC Leader Development & Education Deputy Commandant CGSC. He commanded 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, and then was the Deputy Brigade Commander, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. He also commanded the 2nd Brigade, 78th Division (Training Support) at Fort Drum, New York, which he deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He also has served in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Mozambique, Zaire, Rwanda, Congo, and Liberia.