Small Wars Journal

Time to Restructure the Army to Support Deployments

Sun, 06/19/2016 - 6:38pm

Time to Restructure the Army to Support Deployments

Joshua M. Sturgill

On October 15th, 2015, President Obama announced the United States would maintain 5,500 troops at Bagram, Jalalabad, and Kandahar instead of assuming a “normal embassy” in Afghanistan.[i]  Army soldiers could ask how to advise the Afghan military and conduct counterterrorism operations with a unit slightly larger than a 3,000 to 5,000-person brigade?[ii]  Elements of the 7th Infantry Division, 10th Mountain Division, and the 4th Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade are all deploying portions of their units rather than the entire division or brigade.[iii]  The Army is taking existing units and segmenting them to fill the requirements in Afghanistan to remain below the authorized force levels.  Dividing units strains the Army’s Force Generation model and complicates the sequencing of mission assignments.[iv]  The Army needs to restructure its units to maximize the availability of the forces for deployments.

In 2004, the Army moved from a force structure designed around the division headquarters to one predicated on brigades as building blocks for an operational force.[v]  The structure revised the division construct and created “Units of Employment X” to serve as Army commands or joint commands with augmentation.  This structure still required a staff of approximately 953 personnel.[vi]  The UEx sequenced, supported, and reinforced the subordinate brigades by providing the command and control needed to execute offensive, defensive and stability operations.[vii]  The UEx and brigade deployment structure reduced the requirement to deploy full divisions of over 15,000 personnel, allowing the Army to deploy groups as small as approximately 5,000 including one brigade and the UEx headquarters.  This modification to the Army structure increased flexibility, but not to the point necessary to meet today’s operational requirements.  The Air Force provides a framework that creates organizations in the deployed area while the Army Engineer Corps divided their construction battalions into company and specialty teams to ensure support across the Army enterprise.  These two structural frameworks may be solutions the Army can build on to increase flexibility while maintaining the ability to fight and win our nation’s wars and accomplish missions assigned by the President.[viii]

The Air Force created the 9th Air Expeditionary Task Force – Afghanistan (9AETF-A) to maintain operational and administrative control of all airmen entering Afghanistan.[ix]    The 9AETF-A validates the Request for Forces to ensure the receiving organization does not reallocate them from their assigned mission.[x]  The troop draw down between 2010 and 2014 saw a decline from three squadrons to one with the headquarters in Manas, Kyrgyzstan.[xi]  The transition caused an increase in personnel issues, which required the 9AETF-A to bring the squadron headquarters back into Afghanistan.[xii]  Creating an organization responsible for all personnel that exist in Afghanistan allows for unity of command over the service’s individuals.  Such an organization then ensures the requesting unit validates the requirement before soliciting additional support.  Much like US Forces Korea, a standing headquarters with rotating personnel allows the unit to maintain standard operating procedures and collective forward progress.  Using individuals to create standing units provides a solution to the division of deployable units, but requires a reduction in staffing levels as those individuals must come from the current force.  The Army Engineer Corps provides another model to restructure the force, using smaller units designed for special missions and combined to complete specific tasks. 

The Army Engineer Corps responded to the 2003 call for modularity by dividing the units maintained at the division level into smaller resources given straight to the brigades.[xiii]  Engineers divided their construction battalion into modular horizontal and vertical construction elements designed to deploy at the company level.  The higher headquarters then has the ability to reorganize into company teams as needed based on the mission requirements.[xiv]  An analysis of the structure acknowledges its success, but asserts the Army Engineer Corps “needs to re-structure engineer construction companies again in order to support decisive action” and mitigate the capability gaps of units built for one task.[xv]  The units in question conducted either vertical construction, horizontal construction, well digging, or multi-role bridge crossing operations.[xvi]  These units contained more capability than the requiring maneuver commander needed, forcing the engineer battalion commander to reorganize in combat to support the mission.  While this seems negative, the Army Engineer Corps’ modular construction design allowed individual companies to deploy and provide the same capability as multiple battalions.  The Army deployed 864th Engineer Battalion with its organic horizontal and vertical companies while augmenting it with a multi-role bridge company, another vertical company and a concrete detachment.[xvii]  This flexibility allowed 864th Engineer Battalion to reorganize and support a larger area without the need for an additional engineer battalion to oversee the non-organic vertical company or concrete detachment.  Developing mission specific tasks and deploying company sized elements increased flexibility to the Army.  Unfortunately, the Army deactivated some of these specialty engineer units to create the brigade engineer battalions for the brigade combat teams.[xviii]  Eliminating these units reduced the operational flexibility of the engineer corps to fill the capability gaps and complete the diverse missions required.

The military knows how to conduct organizational change and that process needs to start again to adapt to today’s operating environment.  The Army requires flexibility to “fight and win our Nation’s wars by providing prompt, sustained land dominance across the full range of military operations and spectrum of conflict in support of combatant commanders.”[xix]  Structuring the Army around brigades allows for more flexibility than operating with the division construct, but it is not enough.  The process to move from a division centric to a brigade centric Army began in 1995 with the first units transitioning in 2003 with Operation Iraqi Freedom.[xx]  The Air Force successfully changed their organization in 1998, creating a method to deploy active duty, National Guard and Reserve forces to contingency operations to support combatant commanders. [xxi]  The Government Accounting Office studied the concept and confirmed the organization reduced the deployment burden on individuals by creating forward deployed units in two years. [xxii]  The military possesses the ability to evaluate its structure and reform to fit mission requirements. With the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, the Horn of Africa, and military commitments to Honduras and the southern US border, we must start that process now.

End Notes

[i] Barack Obama, “Statement by the President on Afghanistan” (Roosevelt Room, White House, Washington DC, October 15, 2015), accessed January 28, 2016,

[ii] For missions in Afghanistan see Obama, “Statement by the President on Afghanistan” and for the size of a brigade see US Army, “Organization,” The official website of the United States Army, accessed April 1, 2016,

[iii] Mark Miranda, “Ceremony sends off deploying 7th Infantry Division Soldiers,” The official website of the United States Army, last revised May 19, 2015, accessed January 28, 2016,; Army Times, “4th Infantry Division units named for Afghanistan deployments,” last revised October 8, 2015, accessed January 28, 2016,; and Vanessa Villarreal, “National Support Element Transfer Authority from Third Infantry Division to 10th Mountain Division,” Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System, last revised November 10, 2015, accessed January 10, 2016,

[iv] Christine D’Angelo et al., “Unit Cohesion Cross Leveling and Readiness,” BCP International Limited (Alexandria, VA: BCP International Limited, 2006), vii.

[v] United States Army Acquisition Support Center, “The Army Modular Force,”, January 2005, slide 7, accessed March 4, 2016,

[vi] Ibid., slide 27.

[vii] Ibid., slide 13.

[viii] US Army, “Organization,” The official website of the United States Army, accessed January 10, 2016,

[ix] Wesley Long and Maj Gen Jake Polumbo, “Joint Force Multipliers: America’s Airmen Transition to the Resolute Support Mission,” Air & Space Power Journal, March-April 2014 (April 2014), 15.

[x] Ibid., 16-17.

[xi] Ibid., 15.

[xii] Ibid., 15.

[xiii] Stuart E. Johnson et al., “A Review of the Army’s Modular Force Structure,” RAND Corporation (Arlington, VA:  National Defense Research Institute, 2012), 21.

[xiv] Samuel A. Escobar, MAJ, Master’s Thesis “Engineer Company Force Structure `Force Modularization’ in Support of Decisive Action: Does the Corps of Engineers Need to Re-Structure Engineer Construction Companies Again in Order to Support Decisive Action?” (Fort Leavenworth, KS: US Army Command and General Staff College, 2012), 1.

[xv] Ibid., 87.

[xvi] Ibid., 1.

[xvii] Ibid., 22-26.

[xviii] Laura Beth Beebe, “Pacific’s Premier Engineer Brigade Deactivates Units, Begins Reorganization,” The official website of the United States Army, last revised July 28, 2014, accessed March 18, 2016,

[xix] US Army, “Organization.”

[xx] William M. Donnelly, Transforming an Army at War: Designing the Modular Force, 1991 – 2005 (Washington, DC: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2007), 3.

[xxi] Government Accounting Office, “Air Force Expeditionary Concept Offers Benefits but Effects Should Be Assessed,” GAO/NSIAD-00-201 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, August 2000), 3.

[xxii] Ibid., 5.


About the Author(s)

Major Joshua M. Sturgill is a member of the 10th Mountain Division staff.  His education includes a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Houston, a master’s degree in Engineering Management from Missouri University of Science and Technology, and a master’s degree in Operational Art and Science from the US Army Command and General Staff College.  The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Army or any other governmental agency.