By Colonel Robert Killebrew, USA (Ret.)
The Chief of Staff of the Army's recent decision not to field the proposed Theater Military Advisory and Assistance Groups (TMAAG) was the right one. Regardless of which party wins the general election this fall, future U.S. national security strategy will include increased assistance to allies fighting against radical Islamic aggression. Whether called "building partnership capacity" or some other acronym, the essential idea will be to help other states fight their own wars, rather than providing U.S. combat forces as a first resort. The Army's TMAAG was an effort to get out front of this emerging strategy, but it was taking the wrong route.
Providing enhanced military assistance to a particular allied country, as part of overall U.S. policy toward that country, is first and foremost a political act overseen by the U.S. Chief of Mission -- the Ambassador -- working with the host country and the U.S. regional commander. The COM and the regional commander negotiate very specific support for the host country based on its needs. Military support to the COM is either assigned permanently in-country or "visits" as military training teams (MTT).
To advise the COM and to maintain military-to-military relations with the host country's security forces, most U.S. missions include a military detachment variously called a MAAG, Milgroup or some other acronym acceptable to the host country. The Milgroup's makeup is nonstandard, and tailored to reflect the needs of the host country. Members are stationed in the country for as long as circumstances permit. If the host country and the U.S. jointly agree to provide U.S. military advisors to local security forces, they are assigned to the in-country Milgroup supporting the U.S. mission. Advisors are the backbone of any policy that envisions helping other countries fight their own war. Advisors' duties cover whatever the mission covers -- they train, equip, supervise and accompany host nation forces on missions, subject to constraints of U.S. policy.
MTT, on the other hand, appear in response to a call from the COM for some military specialty beyond the reach of the Milgroup. An example might be an engineer unit to work with host nation engineers to build a critical bridge or to teach engineering skills. MTT generally come from the General Purpose Forces, but can also come from Service schools or installations, depending on the need of the host country. Wherever they come from, they work for the COM while in-country.
Since any U.S. strategy that emphasizes military assistance will be built up gradually, the Army has time to begin to shift its manpower policies and force structure. Rather than fencing off specialists in "advising," as the TMAAG and LTC John Nagl's "advisory corps" would do, the Army should prepare to support advisory missions and MTT with the entire force structure. Three steps can be taken in fairly short order without distracting the Service from ongoing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and endangering the CSA's "reset" focus that is essential to rebuilding the base combat force.
First, to provide manpower for future advisory efforts, the Army should begin enlarging its inventory of mid-grade officers and NCOs. The Service can get a twofer by re-filling vacant TDA school slots for platform instructors and doctrine shops, as well as elsewhere in the force, positions now occupied by contractors or civil servants. An enlarged officer and NCO corps is not unnecessary overhead, as some have thought, but a national asset, particularly in these times. Assignment to Milgroup duty should once again become a routine assignment for successful officers, who would carry experience in first-line U.S. units out to host countries, then return to their mainstream careers (incidentally with area expertise in critical regions).
Second, the Army should become executive agent for a joint, central schoolhouse for officers and NCOs assigned to Milgroup or advisory assignments, with capacity to expand as required. The school should teach prospective advisors -- who already would be first-rate specialists in military skills -- the tricks of the advising trade and sufficient language skills to be initially effective in-country. In fact, the Army once maintained such a schoolhouse, including an enhanced, war-college-level course for career specialists and Milgroup commanders. Those files still exist at Fort Bragg.
Thirdly, the Army should seek a much higher attendance of allied officers at Army service schools in the U.S. There is probably no more cost-effective way of supporting military-to-military contacts than graduating allies from Carlisle or Leavenworth; at this writing, the head of state of one critical African nation and one critical chief of service in Asia are Leavenworth grads. This writer's counterpart in Vietnam combat was a classmate at Fort Benning. And the list goes on.
MTT require little preparation on a service-wide basis. Organizations are tasked through existing channels and they respond. Some adjustments in training and readiness systems will be necessary to synch ARFORGEN -- the Army's readiness management system -- with overseas requirements, but that is mostly a management challenge. On the other hand, MTT are often challenging and rewarding unit training opportunities.
Seen in this perspective, TMAAG, like the "advisory corps" idea, is just not a sufficient answer to emerging challenges. Changing strategic priorities will require a much more fundamental approach.
Colonel Robert Killebrew served more than 30 years in the Army and is a former Army War College instructor.