Secretary Eric Shinseki: Past and Future
By Captain Timothy Hsia
"We are looking at the future of the force mix, examining what it is going to look like in the years ahead, and it's possible at the end of this process the decision will be made that some of the heavy brigades will become Stryker brigades." [Secretary of the Army Pete] Geren said, adding that the Stryker concept has been an extraordinarily successful program."
Since 2003, the Army has fielded seven Stryker brigade combat teams, each equipped with about 300 Stryker wheeled vehicles built on common chassis. Stryker units have spent most of their time in Iraq, but the Pentagon announced in February that the 5th Stryker BCT would deploy to Afghanistan for the first time.
-- Army Brass Hint at More Stryker Brigades by Matthew Cox
Eric Shinseki, the Secretary of the Veteran Affairs, has his work cut out from him. For the next few years, the Veteran Affairs will be handling the cases of thousands of returning veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who return home with physical and psychic wounds as testament to their tours of duty downrange. If the past is any guide to Shinseki's competence and character, then the future bodes well for the Veteran Affairs, as Shinseki's reforms of the Army during his tenure as Chief of Staff were absolutely crucial to the Army's ability to better wage a counterinsurgency campaign.
As the Army Chief of Staff, Shinseki introduced the Stryker vehicle and changed the Army's organization into a more capable, lethal, and modular fighting force by pushing logistics and intelligence capabilities to lower echelons in the form of Brigade Combat Teams. But underpinning all of his reforms was a deep understanding that no amount of technology can substitute a nation's will to wage war effectively then having troops on the ground. Despite America's technological superiority in air and sea, boots on the ground are the only way to secure a populace.
Today Secretary Shinseki is primarily remembered for boldly telling Congress that there needed to be something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" for the invasion of Iraq. But this was not the first time he asked for additional troops in a theater with the idea that no amount of technological superiority can compensate for additional troops. Shinseki also advised his superiors that an entire Airborne Corps was necessary for the initial invasion of Afghanistan in order to fully eliminate Al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds.
The immediate success of the surge in Iraq left many pundits to search for the original proponent of the troop surge. Perhaps General Shinseki's name should be thrown into the mix, because if his advice had been followed in the first place, the military could possibly have avoided the terrible conditions which existed in Iraq that forced military leaders to decide on the troop surge. This notion could also easily apply to the Afghan surge today, where conditions in Afghanistan have worsened since America's initial invasion due to a lack of soldier manpower and resourcing since the inception of the Afghan war.
Unfortunately for the nation, Shinseki's advice on Iraq and Afghanistan were not followed. But thankfully, General Shinseki's desire to field the Stryker brigade combat team was not shelved.
Immediately after becoming the Army's chief in 1999, General Shinseki sought to take advantage of the opportunity in terms of peace and economic capability... to transform" the Army. General Shinseki's transformation of the Army called for decentralizing command and control and logistic capabilities from a division level down to the brigade combat team. This decentralization of resources has enabled the military to better handle the fluid battlefield known as counterinsurgency.
Gen. Shinseki then developed a fighting force which bridged the firepower inherent in heavy mechanized forces with the mobility of light infantry forces. He immersed himself in the Army Science Board in researching cutting edge technologies in order to develop a vehicle platform best suited for America's future wars. The end result of Shinseki's studies was the Stryker vehicle, which incorporated the latest technologies in communication, weaponry, survivability, and maneuverability.
Shinseki's bold plan to restructure an Army comfortably enjoying the Cold War peace dividend was met by fierce opposition within Washington and even within the halls of the Pentagon. Many critics derided his efforts as too costly, and insulted him professionally by lampooning him as a Clinton general. Newt Gingrich and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were among the most adamant opponents to the creation of the Stryker brigade. They disparaged Shinseki's plan as outdated and one only suitable for Bosnia like peacekeeping operations.
After repeatedly attacked by his opponents, Shinseki felt compelled to defend himself to the military and the nation. In 2002 he quickly silenced opposition to the Stryker brigade combat team during his keynote address to the Association of the United States Army by stating, I appreciate the debate...but don't question our honor or our integrity."
Thankfully, Shinseki's Stryker concept survived Rumsfeld's budgetary cuts because in Iraq today they have been instrumental in the Army's ability to wage counterinsurgency successfully. And now because of the success of Stryker units in Iraq, the Army is now preparing a Stryker brigade to deploy to Afghanistan. Today no one questions Shinseki's honor or integrity. His adamant insistence on candor as it applied to the Stryker brigade and troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq have withstood the harshest of critics-the test of time. Secretary Shinseki warned everyone about the dangers of phase four in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he now faces an equally arduous task in phase five of war: taking care of veteran warriors.
During his retirement ceremony in 2002, Army Secretary Thomas White stated that History will show him to be one of the greatest Chiefs of Staff the Army has ever had." And it seems that the events of history since his retirement have vindicated General Shinseki's previously unpopular positions. As a result, U.S. soldiers possess a Stryker vehicle ideally suited to the counterinsurgency fight because of its balance between speed, maneuverability, firepower, command and control systems, and armor. This year West Point will honor him as a Distinguished Graduate Award, but more accolades will follow, as historians begin to fully examine his career, and especially so if he can right the course of Veteran Affairs.
CPT Timothy Hsia is assigned to the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment.