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Why deploy the 173rd ABCT?

In an earlier post, I advocated for the return of our soldiers from overseas bases. Today, I want to explain why stationing a quick reaction force overseas, like the 173rd ABCT, is pointless. At the very least, I want to point out the futility of such a policy in contemporary times.

At the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team stayed home (In all honesty, it didn’t exist as a Brigade, though Vicenza housed an Airborne battalion). By the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the decision was made to send the 173rd ABCT, with its two infantry battalions, into Iraq via an airborne insertion. This quick decision to secure the north of the country makes perfect sense for the mission of the 173rd ABCT. As European Command’s rapid response unit, they should kick the door in for operations like the invasion of Iraq.

However, the job of the door kicker is no more. As both Afghanistan and Iraq turned into extended occupations, no brigade could sit on the sidelines. So, a year after returning from Iraq the 173rd ABCT deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom V. It later deployed to Afghanistan in support of OEF VIII, and it deployed in the end of 2009 in support of OEF IX.

I guess my question is, if we station a brigade in Italy to act as a rapid response unit, then why would we deploy it? When the Army deploys the 173rd ABCT it sends no unit to replace its capability. Thus, at some level, the Army or national security apparatus has decided that a brigade-sized quick reaction force stationed in Europe is not a pressing need. Thus, if it isn’t needed, why do we have it there?

Every so often, I hear that the reasons we put bases in Saudi Arabia, Japan, Turkey, Krgyzstan and Italy is to allow our military to forward project our forces. Even in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, we only used the 173rd ABCT once, and we didn't use the other units in Europe until after the initial invasion. Basically, the idea that the military uses force projection is a farce.

After our ongoing wars, we will most likely return to joint military training with our allies. Honestly though, that can still be done via air travel, and for a much cheaper cost. Perhaps those who want to leave the 173rd ABCT in Italy will say that the 82nd Airborne Division is covering down when the 173rd ABCT deploys. If that is the case, then couldn’t they cover down permanently, with the 173rd ABCT stationed in America?

six comments

It’s an anachronism, and the Army loves anachronisms.

Even though other countries hate our soldiers being there, the US will never easily give up well placed stationing bases abroad.

I wouldn’t be so sure about “other countries hate our soldiers being there”! Some do, yes. Others are in fact grateful.

Joint military training could be a positive thing, but only if it’s not exclusively done to US standard.
It always amazes me how little allied soldiers know about each others points of view and the way that things are done in the individual countries. Some “cultural” exchange would really not be such a bad idea at all!

The point about needing a quick reactionary force when you play world police is valid. While the 173rd was in Northern Iraq, V corps from Germany along with a Marine unit was in charge of most of the divisions that invaded from Kuwait. While the only manuever units that deployed here from Germany at the start of OIF were two battalions from 1st Armored, (1st infantry also deployed, but the part of it in Ft. Riley) it was logistically quicker and much easier to get heavy units to Iraq or Afghanistan from Germany then from the US. Of course Landstuhl is a resource that is irreplacable right now, though I don´t know why they are incapable of creating similar facilities in a safe spot directly in the theaters.

What it boils down to is the fact that the US wants to maintain a posture aggressive enough to intervene wherever and whenever it is needed, much further down the road than just Iraq and Afghanistan. The US military is not really postured for self defense, more as a global military force, thats why the US military divides the whole entire globe into military commands such as AFRICOM that are constantly making contingency plans.

You made the point in this blog about the 173rd not being available during their deployments, but while they are deployed there is always a brigade of the 82nd ready to deploy as well, though it may take a couple of hours longer depending on where they may be sent (in the case of Haiti a few weeks ago it was definitely shorter). For a light unit, you are right there isn´t so much of a case to have them forward deployed, but for as long as the US wants to be an interventionist force it makes perfect sense for them to have forward deployed mechanized and armored units.

My suggestion would be to change the whole entire posture of the US military, and move away from a quick reactionary force model for everything but light and special units (which can be used for say aid missions and peacekeeping as was the case in Haiti). When confronted with a possible need for a large scale military intervention let units mobilize and prepare as diplomacy is occuring, domestic and international political support is won, an international coalition is being built, and intelligence and reconnaissance is being gathered instead of barreling in headlong unprepared and under supported.

What would have been the best compromise of course would be to have the Stryker concept work as it was originally ambitiously planned. The Stryker concept was originally planned to be an easily deployable unit capable of standing up to most other countries outdated armored units. It fell short on both ends, Stryker units are hard to deploy and don´t have the capabilities of an armored unit, but its still been put to good use because it can stand up to an IED better than a humvee, its faster, logisitcally easier, and you don´t have to change the tracks as often as you do with a tracked vehicle. If the Stryker concept had panned out as fully as it was supposed to the military could have had its cake and ate it also. It would be able to have all its bases CONUS and save money and political capital with allies, deploy to wherever very quickly with a significant military force, and have units capable of engaging in heavy combat as soon as they got on the ground.

@ Chris – Quick heads up, but you can leave a link to your blog in our comments if you want.

Ja, sometimes I just forget, I need to keep posting anyways.

Eric and Mike,

Couple of typos I want to help you with, the Herd deployed for OEF VI, not OEF V and is now deployed for OEF X, not IX. Just an FYI. Not a huge issue obviously.

Now, on the Stryker concept. The end state for the US Army’s transformation and moving around of forces in Europe and what not is to have the 2nd Stryker Cav Regiment in Vilseck and the 173rd in Vicenza and thats it. Unfortnately, that Iraq surge and other deployment considerations signifcantly delayed the restructuring of forces throughout the world. I wont et into Korea because I just dont know anything about it. Although, why is the 2nd ID HQ in Korea when 3 of it’s Brigade Combat Teams (all Stryker, by the way) are at Fort Lewis? But the Army has 1 Strkyer and 1 Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Alaska, and another Stryker and 1 Light Infantry Brigade Combat Team down in Hawaii. Interesting indeed.

Good stuff,