Monday, June 2, 2008

Every Man a Rifleman

There's the Army. There's the Marine Corps. On paper, almost 100% identical in tactics, strategy, logistics, and mission. Sure, the Marine Corps is dictated by one more sentence regarding its ability to be "directly controlled by the President" (which is, so sad to say, mere lip service) and the word "amphibious" is replaced by "airborne" when pertaining to the Army, but you get the point.

Ideally, these services are identical, save for method of deployment and primary objectives. Practically, however, these services are as different as two land-based military branches run by the same government can be.

For those who aren't familiar with my (highly-researched) opinions, let me back up a tad... I believe the United States Marine Corps should not fall under the umbrella of the Department of the Navy, but should in fact belong to the Department of the Army. Basic and intermediate trainings of both the Army and Marine Corps should be identical and, in fact, shared. Their recruiting and logistics systems should be combined. Long story short: the Army and the Marine Corps should be a single branch of service.

Regarding this, however, the theoretical philosophical basis of the Marine Corps is far, far better than the theoretical philosophical basis of the Army (which, as far as I can tell, doesn't have one). In the Marine Corps: "every man a rifleman." This translates to every Marine (male or female) being fundamentally and undeniably a member of Marine infantry, regardless of a Marine's listed job title. While this may make little difference on the actual modern battlefield, given the current dynamic of military strategy and logistics, it does make quite a bit of difference in the day-to-day workplace of a military branch. Yes, most Marines will admit that the "every man a rifleman" is more slogan than reality, but the very fact that the slogan exists is probably effective enough.

In the Army there is a definitive differential between a combat soldier and a support soldier. Not only in training, but in professional attitude. The support soldier exists for one reason and one reason only: to support the combat soldier. There is no need for an admin or finance clerk, or a legal assistant, or a mechanic, or a cook, save for supporting the infantryman (or woman) and his kin. That's all, nothing else.

And therein lies the problem. Support soldiers tend to feel that they run the Army (which, in point of fact, they basically do) and there is a bit of a prejudice against the actual reason for an army's existence, which is the aforementioned combat soldier. These support soldiers live in air conditioning, are usually less physically-fit than combat soldiers, do not train as hard for field operations, and basically treat their role in the Armed Forces as a typical 9 to 5 job (yes, there are exceptions, but everybody knows what I'm talking about). I will go so far as to claim that these "support specialists" are not even true soldiers.

And this needs to be fixed. And quickly.

The Marines do it. All Marines undergo basic combat courses on a semi-regular basis. And I'm not talking about little field exercises or what the Army refers to as "Sergeant's Time." I'm talking full-on schools designed to keep all Marines combat-ready. The clerk, the cook, the air conditioner mechanic. All of them. Why? Well, because in the Marine Corps, "every man a rifleman."

Philosophically, it's perfect for an armed service. EVERYONE should expect to fight, kill, and die, regardless of what their "day job" is. The Marines beat it into their recruits from day one. The Army? Not so much. In fact... not at all.

Almost immediately, the Army separates its combat soldiers from its support soldiers by way of a training system referred to as OSUT or "One-Station Unit Training." Basically, specific combat arms MOS' go to combined boot camp and specialty schools that only that particular MOS goes to. Logistically and financially, OSUT is almost undoubtedly the preferred method of training. However, practically, OSUT is likely the very reason for the attitude split so painfully evident in the ranks of the Army.

The solution is simple. Get rid of OSUT and go back to "everbody" boot camps and combat arm AITs. Require non-combat specialities to attend a combat training course similar to the USMC's MCT (Marine Combat Training) course. Optionally, bring back the specialist ranks for those support soldiers who are not "combat qualified." However it gets done, put the Army back into the hands of the people who should run it: the combatants.

Every Soldier Infantry. How's that sound?

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