Each of the Armed Services needs to be able to articulate its basic purpose in a single sentence. The Marine Corps has rightly defined itself as “the Nation’s 911 force.” Don’t ask the Corps to win the big fight or do community policing; they are in and out. The Air Force’s vision is to “fly, fight and win.” I think its earlier slogan of Global Reach, Global Power was better. The Navy’s mission statements have consistently centered on the theme of global freedom of action. This makes sense for an organization that most wants to sail grey hulls on blue seas. These slogans capture what is truly unique about the service as well as how it fits into an overall defense strategy. How each service deals with specific crises and challenges can be subsumed under the basic gestalt.
The U.S. Army is having a difficult time coming up with a simple one liner that captures its core purpose and defines its fundamental mission in support of U.S. national security. This is particularly the case when no one wants to accept the truth that we have an Army to fight and win our wars. The Obama Administration and Congress are war weary and don’t want to hear about wars, fighting on land or even boots on the ground. The Army does a host of other things from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to homeland security, support for whole-of-government operations overseas and regional engagement. But even taken as a whole these missions are not sufficient to serve as the succinct expression of the Army’s nature. The Army has tried multiple times in recent years to find a phrase that would encompass the tremendous range of missions and tasks it routinely performs. It has described its mission as conducting “full spectrum operations,” “unified land operations” and most recently “strategic landpower.” The Army’s new operating concept, scheduled for release at the AUSA annual shindig in October is to reduce unified land operations to the more manageable but no more comprehensible phrase “win in a complex world.”
None of these work well because they are essentially divorced from that which makes the Army different. For the Air Force it is about flying and for the Navy it is about sailing. For the Army it is about the land. Mark Twain is said to have once remarked “buy land, they have stopped making any more.” In an increasingly crowded world with all sorts of issues involving identity, resources and politics associated with particular places on the Earth, land matters. The term homeland has a real significance to people and governments, including our own.
For the Army, the one liner should be “to have and to hold the land.” Sounds like a portion of the marriage vows and it should. The Army’s commitment to the American people is that it will have and hold the land no matter what. Having the land means protecting and sustaining the homeland and the American people. It also means being deployed on those places where it is needed; whether it is to provide assistance, conduct engagement or support elements of a joint force or coalition. Holding the land means defending the parts of the Earth’s surface that matter to U.S. national security and, if necessary, taking and holding land that once was the possession of an enemy. The other services can influence what happens on the land, they can move between parts of the land and the Marine Corps can come ashore but they cannot have and hold the land. This power belongs to the Army alone.
The classic real estate line is “location, location, location.” Some places matter more than others because they are where our friends live, our resources come from, our investments have been made or our adversaries will use to attack us. ISIS seeks to seize land in Syria and Iraq, Russia to annex the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, North Korea to reunify the peninsula and China to reabsorb Taiwan. What truly matters to them and should matter to us is the land. Being able to deny land we value to an enemy or take away land he values is the essence of strategy.
Being on land, particularly overseas, is becoming a scarce and valuable asset for the U.S. military. Forward deployed forces demonstrate commitment, act as a deterrent and can respond more quickly to crises than those that have to come from the continental United States. Operations on land can fundamentally change the fortunes of other elements of the joint force. It was the Israeli Army’s crossing of the Suez Canal in 1973 that defeated the Egyptian air defenses, opening up the skies for the Israeli Air Force. The threat that the Army will take away land occupied by an adversary can force him to concentrate his land forces, thereby increasing their vulnerability to air attack.
Today, the U.S. Army is capable of conducting the full range of missions and tasks that are associated with having and holding land. If budget cuts continue, this may soon not be the case.
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