Tuesday, April 17, 2007


BC3: Yet another strategem for replacing the missing Army

As willingness to serve in the Army has declined, the Pentagon has developed a number of smoke-and-mirror techniques to field and maintain a ground force in Iraq and Afghanistan. I've written about them before, but I've just discovered one I'd missed: the training of Air Force enlistees as convoy drivers.

Loaning airmen to the Army began in 2004 and in some ways parallels the Navy's Individual Augmentee (IA) program. Donna Mills wrote of the program last year—

Today, the Air Force is a full partner with the Army and Marine Corps as it runs convoys throughout Iraq in support of military operations there, with more than 1,000 transporters, special police and medical and personnel specialists trained to help provide security....

To ensure airmen are prepared, the Basic Combat Convoy Course, or BC3 for short, packs into just four weeks the combat skills airmen will need to stay alive as they carry out the mission: weapons, tactics, maneuver and small-unit leadership skills, among them.

That's no small task, considering the limited ground combat training most airmen receive. Airmen typically receive just one week of field experience during basic training and fire their weapons only once every two years.

Outsourcing logistics—first to Halliburton, then to the Air Force

The Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld wanted to keep the Army lean and mean—no cooks or convoy drivers, thank you. Halliburton would provide.

But it turns out that a convoy is a very dangerous place to be. Insurgents began to kidnap and/or kill Turkish and Jordanian drivers, and no amount of money could entice them onto the highways. The situation was so bad that when a group of U.S. Army Reservists refused a convoy mission, the service couldn't see fit to court-martial them.

So the Air Force was tasked to reduce overland convoys by increasing the number of airlifts, which has continued to this day. And at the same time airmen either volunteered or were forced into convoy duty on the ground!

In February 2005 David McClemore was writing

Lackland [Air Force Base] designed and launched the course six months ago to help the manpower-strapped Army with convoy security.
.... It marks the first time Air National Guard noncombatant personnel have been mobilized in support of Army combat operations.

"This is not a war of front lines and traditional combat. This is a war of convoy ambushes and car bombs," Mr. Pike [of globalsecurity.org] says. "The Army has been turned inside out looking for additional soldiers to fight the war. With the Army and Marines' personnel systems under great pressure, it's been a very different war for the Navy and Air Force."

The Army's failure to provide for its logistical needs came up tangentially in some remarkable testimony yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Under discussion was a proposed increase in the size of the Army and Marine Corps—

Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an international relations professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., described what he sees as the “disastrous state” of ground forces, a broken commitment to troops because of broken equipment, missed training and his sense that the 95,000 increase in Army and Marine Corps personnel planned over the next five years isn’t fast enough to provide relief.

The 95,000 — 65,000 soldiers and 30,000 Marines by 2012 — are not enough, he said, because of the extraordinary means used to field forces. This includes having 20,000 Navy and Air Force personnel assigned to traditionally ground-force missions such as convoy duties and guarding detainees, using stop-loss to prevent people from leaving the military when their obligation has ended, recalling people from the Individual Ready Reserve — who “in many cases” did not even have a relevant military skill, McCaffrey said — and relying on contractors and civilians to replace military personnel, both in combat theaters and even for stateside assignments such as being instructors for military training.

There's nothing that government does—including fighting a war—that can't be done better by the private sector, right?

The Air Force's Combat Action Medal

Meanwhile this arrangement with the Army has been sort of on the Q.T. It was reported in a few news outlets but has basically gone unnoticed.

Now so many airmen have served on the ground without proper recognition that the Air Force has announced it's about to issue a "Combat Action Medal." Incredibly, some airmen have received the Army's Combat Action Badge but aren't allowed to wear it on an Air Force uniform. Can a military this rigid win a war, you wonder?

According to Bryant Jordan,

For many airmen who have served on war tours alongside soldiers, the Air Force’s refusal to let them wear the sister-service badge has been a real sore spot

Perhaps owning an Air Force combat medal will lessen that disappointment.

And the effect on the Air Force?

By all accounts the reassigned airmen could hardly be more pleased to be taught how to drive and shoot before they head to Iraq or Afghanistan for a 4-month deployment. But there's the slightest hint that there are some who'd rather demur. Michelle Roberts reports that—

Many airmen were surprised at the assignment.

"I was expecting just to be a vehicle operations troop, dealing with wreckers, forklifts - vehicles like that," said Senior Airman Robert Bledsoe, who manned a 50-caliber gun during his first deployment to Iraq. "It opened my eyes a bunch."

He completed a second round of training last week with a unit that will deploy within about a week for a 6-month tour, longer than the standard 4-month deployments for most Air Force personnel but much shorter than the 15-month tours active Army personnel now face.

Staff Sgt. Stewart Jordan, a transport instructor for the course, said even the most reluctant airmen-turned-soldiers usually come around, ultimately finding the mission fulfilling.

"Those that it's tougher on realize that they signed on the dotted line," he said.

Even if it's true that those now in the Air Force are perfectly happy to join the Army for a romp, it may not be equally true for people currently considering enlistment.

There is to be a drawdown of the Air Force to 316,000 personnel. According to Bruce Rolfson and Vago Muradian, Air Force General T. Michael “Buzz” Moseley is having doubts—

If the Air Force airlift and Army support requirements increase, Moseley has doubts that 316,000 airmen will be enough to fill the jobs.

At 316,000 airmen, Moseley said, it is also questionable whether the Air Force will have the manpower to fill in-lieu-of jobs that otherwise would have been done by Army troops. One option would be to “plateau” the force at 330,000 instead of cutting to 316,000 as planned.

And the situation for the Air Force is said to be dire—

“Moseley is in a real bind here,” said analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, Arlington, Va. “On the one hand his fleet is falling apart with age, and yet on the other, U.S. strategy in the global war on terror is making ever greater demands on U.S. air power. I don’t think anybody outside the Air Force understands how far gone U.S. air power is. The airmen are stressed out, the aircraft corroded and the modernization budget is being cut....

The BC3 program can't be a plus for the Air Force.

Related posts
Will kidnappings alter the Iraqi employment situation? (updated) (7/26/04)
Turkish hostage executed (8/2/04)
More Turkish companies vamoosing from Iraq (8/8/04)
Where's the ice cream truck? (8/16/04)
No court martial for recalcitrant troops (12/06/04)
The Iraq airlift has begun (12/18/04)
U.S. assumptions continue to be dashed on the I-rock of reality (12/23/04)
Update on the Iraqi airlift (3/1/05)
How the Army is coping with its recruitment shortage (4/3/06)
Ground Force of the Day (9/15/06)


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