Small Wars Journal

Secretary Eric Shinseki: Past and Future

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.


Snakeeater (not verified)

Tue, 04/12/2011 - 9:03am

Actually, Shinseki will become infamous for shoving a substandard vehicle down the Army's throat, a project that personally benefited him and his buddy Heebner--yes they are responsible for the deaths of US troops so that they could gain financially. He'll also be remembered for his bizarre decision that if all soldiers wore black berets they would all suddenly become elite.

The Air Force is flying in cargo aircraft loaded front to back with nothing but tires for Strykers because the tires on the things get shredded on a daily basis. They're also so thin-skinned that even the least-planned IED can toss one on its back and penetrate the armor.

The backbone of rapid deployment is the C-130, but Strykers can only be carnied by the "J' variant, of which there are very few.

The Stryker is a boondoggle and Shinseki is a self-serving jackass.

Rob Thornton

Sat, 05/23/2009 - 3:03pm

I think GEN Shinseki as the CSA did show vision and imagination. I think a service chief should hold that responsibility as primary among others since it equates to the capabilities that will be available to meet operational requirements.

As someone who was very involved with the Stryker IOT&E, I would offer that although the platform is very useful, it was the concept of placing organic combined arms back down at the company level, making an MTO&E with allot of Infantry, and providing them with some better mobility, protection, comms and firepower in a layered organization that had increased capability at the BN and BDE level that has resulted in its success.

As such it was not the idea to "lighten up" that has proven useful - there are about 170 soldiers in a Stryker Rifle Co (the MTO&E may have changed some since my day) - you get three rifle companies per BN and three full Infantry BNs in addition to a RSTA sqdn, a FA BN, an ENG CO, a AT CO, a MI CO, a Signal CO. This is allot of human capability. It still requires leaders who are willing to decentralize authority to get the most out of it, but its a good organization fundamentally. The platform is just a means of enabling it.

My point is not to espouse what I believe the virtue of the Stryker concept (as outlined above)and by the basis of its short operational history, but to talk about vision. If the vision had been to put an Infantry centric, combined arms at the CO level organization on the menu for operational capabilities to do the types of missions they have done over the last 6 years (we did the IOT&E in 2003), would we have said OK- this is the way to go?

The service chiefs have not only got to offer a vision, but it needs to be embedded in a operational concept that makes sense, that matches our strategic concepts (NSS>NDS>NMS>GEF>TCPs) and is good enough to cover the range of requirements resident in our best guess (QDR). This is a tall order. I think GEN Shinseki got it more right than wrong - however the service chiefs are just one per service.

In the context of today, it would seem our ability to truly imagine and visualize these requirements for tomorrow are constrained by the requirements of today. That is natural I suppose given our commitments, and the requirement to produce relevant capabilities for the wars we fight today (and until we achieve the policy OBJ or surrender the will to).

However, I would also submit that much of what we have learned over the last 9 years is indicative of the true nature of war in its uncontrolled environment vs. the controlled environments of training. Have we leveraged what we have learned based off this hard won experience in our DOTMLPF & policy decisions to support operational concepts which will leave us more prepared? Or will we return to visions of how we'd prefer war to be - programmable and predictable - leaving us unprepared and putting the policy objective and lives at risk.

Best, Rob

CPT Foley

Sat, 05/23/2009 - 12:51pm

No doubt GEN Shinseki does have a daunting task a head of him, with the largest numbers of wounded servicemen & women since WWII. As a highly skilled administrator, political operator (the Army is highly political), and former wounded Soldier he is uniquely qualified for the position. He should be very effective. But to many Soldiers, myself included, his name will always be tarnished by letting himself be used by anti-war propagandists during the war's most bleakest hours. Standing up to Rumsfeld took gumption, but clearly was not as harrowing as the prospect of jeopardizing his media-darling, Sidney Carton, Cassandra status. Regarding Cassandra let's not forget the Crusader.

Captain Hsia writes that "Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld [was] among the most adamant opponents to the creation of the Stryker brigade." I don't remember this at all. Rather, I recall that he wanted to lighten the Army, and in appointing and backing former Chief of Staff Schoomaker, to shift more of its structure into infantry. Indeed, if Rumsfeld so opposed the concept, why didn't take advantage of the significant opposition to the Stryker to cancel the program? Can someone help me out here?