"I finally got into the habit of study, which I never really had before. I revived what little I had carried out of college…but it was hardest work I ever did in my life…I learned how to learn.
General George C. Marshall
The School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS), based out of Fort Leavenworth, has as one of its main tasks the updating, administration and perfection of the Advanced Military Studies Program (AMSP). The current program guide for the SAMS curriculum has the quote at the top of this page as its first content beyond its cover page. The quote makes clear that just about anything learnable or taught in a traditional college setting pales in comparison to the rigors and demands brought on by learning and serving in the United States military. 1 The recent budgetary and war fatigue status of the current United States Armed Forces has put the United States in a precarious position should a new and unexpected military fracas arise in the next few years. Add in the fact that many of the war efforts made in a modern context are under an entirely different and unique set of rules, the job of becoming and staying prepared becomes all the more harder. As noted by Colonel John G. Norris, the enemy the United States faces now is no longer a conventional soldier like the days of the Revolution or even as recently as World War II. As such, tactics, training and preparation must also change.
The United States is at an extremely vulnerable point in its history due to the depletion of its military after two-decade-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the United States Armed Forces are ill-prepared for an urgent war/battle situation. The United States military needs to regroup and foster as many field-ready soldiers that are fully versed and educated on how and when to do the proper things in the field so that they can do just that when the time comes. Unless the military takes drastic action, the military may end up facing an embarrassing defeat on par with the Vietnam War due to fledgling budgetary and public support as well as meddling politicians trying to score political points.
As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have drawn down, the omnipresent question within the Armed Forces has become whether or how the United States Armed Forms will become prepared for the next unexpected ramping up of tensions either both here and/or around the world. As the recent chatter regarding Syria has made clear, this sort of happenstance can literally happen in the blink of an eye even in an area of the world that has clearly already been under tension but now has a new wrinkle that requires action according the Commander-In-Chief or other leaders within the Armed Forces. In the case of Syria, what used to be a possible deposing of brutal Syrian leader Bashir Al-Assad has now became a debate of whether or how the United States, the United Nations and other nations/world bodies and militaries should responds to the clear-cut use of chemical weapons
In a more general context, the question has to be asked whether the Advanced Military Studies Program (AMSP) is properly preparing field-grade officers for the unexpected wars of tomorrow. Indeed, Afghanistan was not a real blip on the radar for most people, including most military folks, based on the fact that even if public support was there for a strike on what was then a corrupt nation actively supporting Al Qaeda, there was no support for any strikes or boots on the ground. When 9/11 happened, that literally changed overnight and instead people were demanding an armed and brutal response to the 9/11 attacks and that is exactly what happened in Afghanistan and, later, Iraq although Iraq focused more on the concealment and potential use of weapons of mass destruction. Both wars were initially publicly supported but support waned as the wars drew on and on.
A wrinkle that has made things worse for the United States military in terms of ensuring readiness and such are budgetary constraints and two major things have put a pinch on those budgetary purse strings. The first was the "Great Recession" that the United States endured from 2007 to 2009 and still has not fully recovered from. The second part of the problem is the recent and current "sequester" of the United States budget. The latter was borne of a supposedly solution to a budgetary debate impasse whereby the two sides agreed that if a superseding agreement was not hammered out, there would be automatic cuts to the existing national budget framework and a lot of those automatic cuts directly affect the funding of the United States military and what goes into its readiness to fight all threats foreign and domestic
At the same time that these two budgetary impacts have gone on, there have been flare-ups of varying degrees and dimensions in Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. There have also been some nerve-wracking diplomatic freezes and/or spats with Russia, North Korea and Iran. The first of those three that commonly uses their nuclear and other might to bully other countries into certain behaviors and this includes the United States. The latter two are either nuclear weapon-ready or on their way and both have insisted on their right, at one point or another, to these weapons and been pouring massive amount of resources into the same. Russia and other nations have been collaborating with these counties and others in this regard and Russia is even heading off a potential United States strike in Syria by offering a missile shield unless United Nations approval is granted. The approval would be a bit dubious to expect given that Russia alone could veto any United Nations action.
For these reasons and many others that are not mentioned in this introduction, it is clear that the United States military is being required to operate with a depleted set of resources, with a military that is still regrouping from two rather prolonged and deadly conflicts in areas like Afghanistan and Iraq and they are being required to play the political cat and mouse game that can lead to military resources and strategies being short-changed or even becoming afterthoughts when that is clearly dangerous given the current state of the world. However, it is only a matter of time before unexpected and/or unplanned for from a budgetary perspective conflict rears its head and demands action from the President, the military and so forth.
All of the above explain and buttress the idea and concept of keeping a battle-ready military even if an armed conflict within which the United States military must or should be operating comes to pass. The American people have little to no tolerance for any more war involvement for the United States as has been made quite clear by public opinion polls pertaining to the Syria situation. However, public opinion is sometimes ignored and can indeed be swayed and it's only a matter of time before the United States has to enter a conflict that they were not expecting to enter. The United States even avoided getting into World War II before the Japanese launched a cowardly yet devastatingly effective attack on Pearl Harbor.
The United States military, of course, has military and intelligence contingencies for just about any remotely hostile nation in the world but the question becomes whether the personnel needed to enforce such contingencies are available and whether the United States military has the budgetary resources to bring about the same. Operational planning matters because the money, the men and equipment all need to be allocated and planned for in advance. Last-minute budget resolutions and such can and do happen all the time when terrorist attacks or worldwide conflicts come about, but as much planning and preparation as possible should occur long before that is even in the nascent stages. It should be ready to go before it is needed and never after.
Unless one counts Vietnam, and that was a war that was rife with meddling and interference that no world-class military should have to endure, the United States Army and other parts of the Armed Forces has always answered the call when it has come and any future conflicts should be no different.
However, the United States Armed Forces should not get cocky or arrogant and should never rest on its laurels. Now that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are in their final stages, the United States Army and the broader Armed Forces need to prepare for the wars and briefer conflicts of tomorrow so that they are fully ready and effective when the time comes. After all, it is not a matter of if such a happenstance will come about…but rather a question of when it will happen. History tells us that there will absolutely be an armed conflict of some sort within the next 10-20 years in which the…