Modern War Institute War CouncilLet’s stop all the hoopla about women in combat, sexual harassment, transgender rights, gay rights and all of the other societal issues and concerns that we face today in the military and focus on the readiness of the Army. Granted, all of these issues are extremely important and we should not ignore these very important societal concerns. What I am advocating is to focus on the individual soldier and his or her readiness to fight and win our nation’s wars.

I have read more articles about women in infantry, transgender rights, gay rights and societal concerns than I have read about the readiness of the Army. Open a newspaper or browse the internet and you will see these issues take front and center stage. Again, these are very important issues, but with modern-day militaries engaging in limited wars and hybrid warfare, we need to focus our attention on readiness matters to be prepared to engage them. Granted, some would argue that these concerns are readiness matters and I 100 percent agree. But what I am arguing is that we need to focus on the budget of our military, the downsizing that our forces are facing, and the actions of states within regions that we consider of strategic value first.

Societal concerns will always be there. These will not change. It is a common assumption that as long as you recognize that a culture has shared understandings and as the culture evolves overtime, the shared understandings that everyone that is part of that culture agrees to will change, then the argument can be made the societal concerns will always be there. Whether that is allowing females into the infantry or allowing transgender equal rights within the military, as we move forward as a culture within the United States, our military will also move and evolve, thus our societal concerns will remain and need to be addressed. By addressing readiness of soldiers, in particular preparing for combat with the right weapons systems, adequate sustainment processes, and a clear strategy, within a unified command, we can be successful. Our attention should focus on the individual soldier’s training needs and equipping needs first and foremost to accomplish our mission of winning our great nations wars.

I have read more articles about women in infantry, transgender rights, gay rights and societal concerns than I have read about the readiness of the Army.

To do this first task of addressing readiness, Congress needs to approve a long term defense budget. In my twenty three year career in the U.S. Army I cannot recall a period that we have been through in the last 10 years with so many government shutdowns or threat of government shutdowns due to budget battles in Congress. These budget battles affect real people at the individual level. I can recall serving in an Aviation Unit in which due to budget constraints we had authorized that pilots’ simulation time would count as actual flight time, provided it was signed off by the Commander of the unit. We simply did not have enough budget to cover the costs of authorizing pilots to fly helicopters and gain the valuable training experience required. The pilots still flew some training flights, don’t get me wrong, but it was so limited that it truly affected the readiness of the unit. It is these types of situations that need to make the front page of newspapers, not the latest societal concerns. I think we would all agree that this type of readiness issue could in the long term affect a unit’s combat capability and effectiveness.

Secondly, we need to focus our attention on the downsizing of the Army. If we recognize that the U.S. Army’s main focus is winning land battles (Marines are also responsible for this as well) then we need to ensure that we have an adequate enough force to meet this mission. I would wager that 420,000 troops would not be enough to fight two wars on two fronts. If one of our strategies is to have the capability to fight two wars simultaneously then this is not near enough. If we look at the Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom Campaigns the U.S. Army swelled up to end strength of roughly 557,000 Soldiers, of which at least 383,000 had deployed according to a 2010 RAND report. Even with these numbers the Army still had soldiers complete multiple deployments.

I myself completed three deployments during this period. If the Army struggled with its commitments on two fronts with a population of 557,000 soldiers available, how is it going to meet the needs of two wars with only 420,000? A further examination of these numbers indicates an end strength of 420,000 soldiers would leave only 37,000 soldiers in the U.S. to address security issues or another major war if it were to occur. Granted we do have a reserve force of 500,000 and some change to address some of these issues, but even during the latest wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we were employing our National Guard and Reserve forces into the fight. Our focus should not be downsizing but maintaining a large enough pool of soldiers to fight on two fronts. Granted, the U.S. is facing unprecedented budget issues and constraints and needs to make changes in order to have a balanced budget. [But to balance the budget, the military should not be the first item on the chopping block. Our government needs to focus on creating a defense budget that is both innovative [and sustainable into the near future, which ensures that Soldiers have the right equipment, training and sustainment to allow them to win our nations wars.

Finally, we need to continue to focus our attention on our international matters abroad. We need to keep an eye on limited wars within the Middle East and the Pacific Region. The U.S. should look at how we can equip, train and maintain a ready fighting force to address these issues. By focusing on readiness at each level within our military, the U.S. will be able to maintain a deterrent that is both credible and legitimate that nations will respond to. This requires that we focus our attention on the intentions of Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. I am not advocating we have hostilities with these countries, the U.S. should have a balanced foreign policy that addresses the limited wars that are being waged there and a clear strategy of equipping and training our forces to address these issues.

At the beginning of this article I advocated our need to focus on readiness. Societal concerns will always be there and we should always be addressing them. If they are on the table as the main course, then readiness also needs to be on the table of issues and concerns for the Military as a complimentary course. I am really arguing that readiness should be the main course and societal concerns should be the complimentary course. At the end of the day, what makes our country great is that we as a nation have the ability to focus on both, but only if we will try.

MAJ Lasiter has served in various positions throughout the U.S. Army from Platoon Leader to Company Commander of a Forward Support Company in an Aviation Brigade. He has served at Company, Battalion and Brigade levels in infantry, Stryker Brigade Combat Teams and Aviation units. MAJ Lasiter has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan on multiple occasions. His academic interests are communication theory, terrorism, insurgency and psychology. This essay is an unofficial expression of opinion; the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Point, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the US government.