The Power of the American Army is in its Combat Battalions. The battalions of Infantry, Armor, Artillery, Cavalry, Engineers, Special Forces and Attack Helicopters project the force to defeat America’s enemies. Everything else in the Army is in a support role to the combat Soldiers in these battalions. If you count all of the Soldiers in all of the Active Duty combat battalions, there are roughly 60,000 of them. The number of Soldiers doing “everything else” is about 480,000. In addition, the Army employs about 300,000 full time civilians.
In World War Two, the German Army had a ratio of four support personnel for every Soldier in a combat unit. This was barely adequate, but the Germans had serious manpower problems, as they were basically fighting everyone else. The Russian Army had a ratio of two to one, and, due to this inadequate support base, they had to periodically stop their forward movement against the Germans in order to restock supplies close the front line, a process that took months. The American Army at the time was comparatively lavishly supplied, and had about eight support Soldiers for every combat Soldier.
So currently, the American Army has a ratio of about 13 support personnel (Soldiers and civilians doing jobs Soldiers mostly did in the past) for every combat Soldier. Now a lot of that support is crucial. It does take a good sized logistical and administrative chain to keep an Army supplied and its equipment maintained. The issue is whether or not it takes 13 people to support a single combat Soldier.
What I need to point out next is that most of the Army’s budget is for personnel. Modern Soldiers and civilian workers are not cheap. The pay is relatively good, and the benefits are fantastic. So it costs a lot of money to employ a Soldier or a Department of the Army civilian. This is money that is not going towards equipment, training, or increasing the number of combat Soldiers. In addition, the Army also employs quite a number of third party contractors whenever it deploys units outside of the USA, and this is also a significant cost.
So what are the 13 support people doing? Many of them are indeed performing needed maintenance and administrative functions. But many of them are performing what in business are routinely described as “non-value added” functions. Anyone with any military experience knows what a nightmare the paperwork is. This is because the bureaucracy has grown to the point that it has overwhelmed everyone. It seems impossible, even for Generals in senior leadership positions, to change archaic and byzantine processes. To say that the bureaucracy is entrenched is to put it mildly. In the Department of Defense, it is fortified in permanent positions!
Our Army’s readiness is below what it should be, in large part because of what we have asked of our Soldiers over the last fifteen years or so. But throwing money at the Army will not necessarily improve it. Most of that money will go into a bureaucratic black hole.
What To Do
The Army (for that matter all services) is in dire need of bureaucratic overhaul. Administrative and support staffs need to be drastically trimmed. But this can only happen by drastically improving the administrative processes within the Army. The Army needs to go through the same processes used to save failing businesses. Personnel need to be re-aligned to be in jobs where they can add the most to the true combat power of the Army.
The Army isn’t going to do this by itself without being forced to do so. The only entity that can impose this mammoth, yet desperately needed reform on the Army is Congress. Tell your Representative and your Senator that you support the military, but that you want to see your dollars well spent. Ask them what they are doing to force bureaucratic reform on the military and how they are doing it. And if they aren’t doing it, point out why it is so urgently needed.