The United States military is currently in the midst of its transformation from its old identity as a force designed to face 20th Century Cold War threats to its new identity as a force designed to face so-called "long war" threats. While I may disagree with some of the proposed changes (we should never have a military unready to face conventional enemies), the US Army, by and large, has been the most successful service of our armed forces in balancing tradition with progress.
Most successful, yes, but that ain't stating much.
For the most part, I am going to ignore the technical and logistical aspects of the transition, and will focus on the symbolic aspects. A symbolism, mind you, rife with unnecessary bureaucracy and a seemingly desperate manic bipolar clinging to both history and political correctness.
I'm confusing you, I know. So, to make a long intro short: the Army should change the public appearance of its force structure in order to more effectively promote the change in operational efficiency of its force structure.
Still confused? Fine. The Army should reflag its current divisions to better reflect its own history as well as its need to adapt to the 21st Century.
I'll get to why this will help later, but first, some background.
The Current Force Structure
As of today, there are 10 active-duty divisions in the United States Army. They are as follows: the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 25th Infantry Divisions; the 10th Mountain Division; the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions; the 1st Cavalry Division; the 1st Armored Division.
Cut and dried, no?
Well, not exactly.
Of those, the 1st and 4th Infantry Divisions are actually armored divisions, as is the 1st Cavalry Division. The 10th Mountain Division is simply a light infantry division, and the 101st Airborne is what's known as an air assault division.
In an Army supposedly concerned with cutting through its own bureaucratic bullshit, this is, quite simply, ridiculous.
Divisional Order of Precedence
In order for the Army to "properly" respect its history and traditions, the Center for Military History (the official Army authority concerning Army history) was tasked to prioritize its divisions based upon time in service, number of campaigns, and number of unit citations a division has received.
By that logic, one would surmise that the ten divisions currently active in the Army are the top ten divisions on that priority list. This is not the case.
The 1st Armored Division ranks 16th on that list, and the 10th Mountain Division ranks 20th. Which means that two divisions actually in the top 10, the 7th and 9th Infantry Divisions, are inexplicably inactive.
Official Army rhetoric concerning the discrepancy is that 1) there should be at least one armored division on the rolls, and 2) there should be at least one specialty light division.
The problem with this is that, as mentioned earlier, there are four armored divisions on the rolls, and two "specialty" light divisions (the 25th Infantry and the 101st Airborne).
So, logic = out the window.
Regular Army Nomenclature
Around World War I, when the Army finally authorized permanent divisions, it was agreed that army divisions would be numbered 1 through 25 for the United States Army, 26 through 75 for the National Guard, and 76 up for the National Army, now known as the Army Reserve. As armored divisions did not exist at the time, this system was not applied to armored divisions when they were formed later on in World War II. It was, however, applied to cavalry divisions and would eventually be applied to armored divisions following the war.
But along came the airborne division. And, as with many new concepts of that era, a lack of acceptance by existing military commanders. Which was why the task for testing and forming airborne divisions fell to the National Army. Hence, the 82nd and 101st. Later on, when the concept was accepted and applied, the regular army formed the 11th, 13th, and 17th airborne divisions (and was slated to form the 15th), keeping with its established nomenclature system.
Following WWII, the National Army/Army Reserve maintained five airborne divisions of its own. But, for posterity's sake, the 82nd and 101st weren't two of them. No, those two divisions would defy existing protocols and be absorbed into the regular Army. Ironically, the 15th Airborne Division was slated for activation into the Army Reserve, but was denied because "15" did not fit into the Army Reserve designations.
Proposed Force Structure
So what am I getting at here? Well, the Army should restructure its system, both to adhere to its own traditions and protocols, and to acknowledge its role as a highly adaptable and willing-to-change fighting force. And it can begin to perceptibly accomplish this by simply reflagging two divisions and redesignating two others.
As I've already explained how the Army no longer maintains a strict differential between infantry and armored divisions, the Army should reflag the 1st Armored Division as the 9th Infantry Division, which shares the seventh position on the Army's own divisional order of precendence. The fact that the Army is largely moving to combined arms brigades only supports this proposal further.
Similarly, the Army should reflag the 10th Mountain Division as the 7th Infantry Division. The 7th, throughout its history, has often been accepted as a "specialized" division anyway, and is famously known as being one of the best light infantry divisions in US history.
Controversially, I'll admit, the Army should redesignate the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions as the 22nd and 21st Airborne Divisions, respectively. This will bring their numeric designations in line with those designations reserved for the regular Army, and free up 82 and 101 for future use by the Army Reserves, which is where those divisions originated anyway. Of course, the 21st and 22nd Airborne Divisions will retain the heraldry of the "old" 101st and 82nd.
And, last, but not least, as cavalry divisions have no doubt gone the way of the dodo, simply remove the numeric designation of the 1st Cavalry Division and just call it the Cavalry Division (which is a historic designation, by the way) or even the 15th Cavalry Division (another historic designation).
Of course, we could just do away with the special designators ("Infantry," "Cavalry," etc.) altogether and just go back to plain old numbered divisions, but that might be asking too much.
Why Do It?
The answer is simple: to set an example. Almost everyone is in agreement that the Army's bureaucracy is screwed up, and by returning in-line with its own protocols, it can send the signal that it is, in fact, respectful of its own traditions. Additionally, by redesignating the airborne divisions, it can also send the signal that the US Army is an Army willing to change itself in the face of a public who increasingly views the military with distrusting, inflexible eyes.
Because giving everyone a beret and allowing everyone to wear jump boots is not the answer.
Author's Note: even I'm not sold on the redesignation of the airborne divisions, but the point made is valid, and is probably something that should've been done years ago.
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