By Arpi Dilanian and Matthew HowardApril 1, 2019
After a nearly 40-year career in the Army, retired Gen. James D. Thurman knows readiness. An expert trainer and proven leader, Thurman was known for understanding what it takes to get Soldiers ready for whatever they are asked to do. Throughout 10 different command positions, including at V Corps, U.S. Army Europe, and the Forces Command, he never lost sight of the importance of the U.S. Soldier. We sat down with him to discuss the progression of Army readiness throughout history and how it is evolving for the future.
Q: Throughout your career, what were some of the biggest milestones for the Army in building and maintaining readiness?
A: When I came into the Army as a young lieutenant in 1975, the Vietnam War had just ended and frankly we were in poor shape in terms of readiness. I didn't really know what I had gotten into; we lacked standards and discipline, and we were not very ready.
A number of things helped get us back on the right path for restoring readiness. The first, and most significant actually, occurred between 1971 and 1973 when we ended the draft in favor of an all-volunteer force. The evolution of doctrine also had a tremendous impact. Our focus at that time was shifting to the Russian threat in Europe and rebuilding the Army, which continued through 1989 until the wall between East and West Germany came down and the Soviet Union disintegrated.
We had to be ready. We watched as doctrine developed, primarily FM [Field Manual] 100-5, Operations. It evolved to Active Defense doctrine in 1973 and then to AirLand Battle in 1982. Doctrine drives capabilities development, and this progression allowed us to get a modernization effort going for the post-Vietnam-era Army, where we focused on the big five: the M1 tank, the Bradley fighting vehicle, Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, and the Patriot missile system.
Joint doctrine also evolved, especially after the Goldwater-Nichols [Department of Defense Reorganization] Act of 1986, where there was more focus on the joint force. FM 3-0, Operations, was published in 1993 as the new capstone document, which better addressed the fact that the Army and other services would fight as a joint force.
There was also renewed emphasis on training, particularly on responding to an emergency in Europe through REFORGER [Return of Forces to Germany] exercises and on emergency deployment readiness exercises. We also saw the advent of the combat training centers [CTCs], which was a significant milestone for maintaining a trained and ready Army.
During that time period, the focus was still primarily on large-scale combat operations. We saw our efforts pay off with the Army's performance in our fast responses going into Grenada in 1983, Operation Just Cause in 1989, and Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991. I think these efforts really helped shape the Army.
But when 9/11 hit, our response in Afghanistan put us on a different course to focus more on counterinsurgency operations. The same is true for the Iraq War; we used heavy formations but had to change our focus from a high-end, combat-performing organization back to small-unit, counterinsurgency operations. The challenges in building readiness had evolved.
Now, following the North Korean crisis in 2013 and the reemergence of great power competition with China and Russia, the current National Security Strategy requires the Army to again be ready for high-intensity conflict while maintaining the ability to conduct irregular warfare. Doctrine has again evolved into the current Multi-Domain Operations, and we are adjusting the force. We are making great progress in readiness, but we have to maintain our momentum.
The Army cannot build adequate readiness without consistent, predictable funding. The sequestration that occurred with the Budget Control Act hurt Army readiness. While the Army has had a favorable budget the past two years, we cannot expect the same in fiscal year 2020 unless congress changes the law and gets rid of the sequestration.
Q: You served on the 2016 National Commission on the Future of the Army. What were some of the major findings and recommendations?
The commission was directed by Congress following the Army Restructuring Initiative, particularly the Army's decision to remove AH-64 Apache helicopters from the National Guard force structure. After a detailed analysis on capabilities and shortfalls, we made 63 recommendations, including putting four AH-64 battalions back into the Army National Guard after we saw shortfalls in attack reconnaissance battalion capacity.
We looked at everything from short-range air defense artillery to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear response capabilities. We saw a need to increase the number of armored brigade combat teams. There were significant shortages in Army tactical mobility, both current and planned, and in strategic mobility across the entire Department of Defense, including airlift, ships, and rail cars.
Shortfalls existed in quartermaster, fuel distribution, and water purification capacity, which impacted responsiveness to meet war plan needs. And all of these had a direct or indirect application to overall sustainment and logistics.
Perhaps the most significant recommendation was that the Army continue to treat readiness as its most important funding priority. In the past, we struggled to determine how to properly assess overall readiness.
We needed a better methodology for assessing the progression of training readiness and a revised reporting system using quantifiable criteria. Implementing Objective T was another recommendation that will allow us to restore and treat readiness as a top funding priority.
Q: How will the Army Futures Command (AFC) ensure our readiness posture is in line with the future operational environment?
A: We should see a more streamlined process to field cutting-edge technologies to the warfighter in a more expeditious manner. First and foremost, AFC is creating unity of command. The commander is responsible for developing both future warfighting concepts and corresponding materiel solutions.
In identifying requirements and fielding potential solutions faster, the key will be preventing a lot of requirements creep; when requirements are allowed to creep in programs, it only causes the cost to increase well above what's budgeted.
The competitive advantage the Army has long enjoyed is eroding, and we must acknowledge that. Our current modernization process is industrial age; it's staff-centric and stovepiped, overly bureaucratic and slow.
The current system is not organized to deliver modern, critical capabilities to Soldiers quickly. To be successful, we must turn ideas into action by improving acquisition business processes; pursuing appropriate commercial options; performing continuous experimenting, prototyping, and testing; and improving training.
We're being challenged in every domain today: land, maritime, air, cyber, and space. Coupled with the establishment of the Futures Command, I think the Secretary and Chief of Staff [of the Army]'s six priorities are a great start to modernize the Army.
At the end of the day, it's all about Soldiers and giving them the best hardware our country has so they can fight and win.
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as commander of U.S. Forces Korea, and how did you overcome them?
A: My time in Korea really taught me how critical logistics and sustainment are for success; my biggest challenge was always maintaining "Fight Tonight" readiness. I was surprised by the lack of adequate munitions and the number of single points of failure within our warfighting systems--things that can't be fixed overnight.
So, how did we improve them? Within the first 60 days of being in theater, we started working with the U.S. Pacific Command and the Army and Joint Staffs on these issues. On congressional staff visits, we let members know we had munitions shortfalls as a result of taking risk and not buying sufficient quantities. And I put a lot of emphasis on training readiness; you have to train and exercise to be proficient, especially when it comes to sustainment and joint logistics capabilities.
As an example, we lacked adequate offshore petroleum distribution capacity to refuel the joint force. So we reenergized our joint logistics over-the-shore exercises to practice petroleum distribution.
Another area was rapid joint reception and onward integration. This, too, needed more training and practice.
If we have another conflict on the peninsula, logistics and sustainment of the joint combined forces will be at the forefront due to the large amount of urbanization, limited number of mobility routes, and congested ports.
Supply distribution is always a concern; you never have enough trucks, and tactical mobility is limited. And all of this is further complicated with the potential of having to conduct simultaneous noncombatant evacuations.
I highly recommend folks go back and read T. R. Fehrenbach's "This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History" and Martin van Creveld's "Supplying War: Logistics From Wallenstein to Patton" as we continue to build our readiness in Korea. These are very good lessons on logistics and sustainment that must not be forgotten.
Q: How do you foresee training evolving for Multi-Domain Operations?
A: Training and leader development are absolutely essential, and we need a renewed emphasis on training our leaders at all levels, from sergeant all the way up to the general officer.
Our sustainment units must train like they're going to fight; our Soldiers must regain their maintenance and supply skills and be able to perform them under the toughest conditions. You cannot contract these skills out when it comes to Multi-Domain Operations.
Our CTCs are essential to maintaining combat readiness, and they must be properly resourced to conduct multi-echelon training across all domains. Training typically gets between 12 and 13 percent of the total Army budget, and we must ensure that it continues to be a funding priority.
Yes, training is expensive; but we can never put a price tag on an American Soldier. We must never apologize for training too much.
We must remember the Army fights in the dirt and continue to make the CTCs harder. This requires a highly professional and competent opposing force to train against, as well as quality observer-controllers and fully instrumented, modernized training centers to give us realistic, timely feedback to support our after action review (AAR) process. Only then are we able look at what happened, why it happened, and apply fixes to our formations.
If you go back through history, I think the AAR process is the most important reason CTCs have been so effective. Between my time as an armored brigade combat team commander, commander of the Operations Group at the National Training Center, and later commanding general, I participated in 54 rotations; I learned something with each one.
Not only did I learn about our doctrine and how to do things right--good tactics, techniques, and procedures--but I learned about myself and how to be a better leader. We can never allow our CTCs to become stagnant as they are essential to maintaining readiness. And as I reflect back, that was clearly one of the highlights of my Army career.
Q: How important to readiness are our allies and joint partners, and how can we strengthen interoperability for the future fight?
A: Our allies and partners are essential to our National Security Strategy. As we move into Multi-Domain Operations, we need to use every opportunity to train and exercise more with our partners. We must ensure we are interoperable, fully understanding how we sustain and maintain greater readiness together.
This will require us to share our doctrine and standard operating procedures to be more proficient. When we sell equipment and help them modernize, interoperability has to be at the top of the list; the same is true when our allies field their own equipment.
History has been very instructive: we must remember that peace through strength helps us prevent war, and our allies and partners are key to this.
Q: You commanded at every echelon. What one piece of advice does every Soldier need in their hip pocket to be successful?
A: First, always strive to be your very best at what you do. The Army is a standards-based organization; never take shortcuts and perform to standard. Be humble. Spend more time listening than transmitting. Read--particularly history--reflect, and stay informed.
Second, listen to Soldiers; they are the most precious resource our nation has to offer. Always stay focused on the mission.
Arpi Dilanian is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4's Logistics Initiatives Group. She holds a bachelor's degree from American University and a master's degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Matthew Howard is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4's Logistics Initiatives Group. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Georgetown University.
This article was published in the April-June 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.