Most thought that, if they could just get to the shore alive, the war would be won quickly.
They were wrong. After the successful landing on D-Day, Allied troops were soon bogged down in bloody bocage fighting among the hedgerows and berms lining Normandy’s fields.
Sure, the Army brass knew the hedgerows were there. But they never gave much thought to training or equipping troops for hedgerow fighting. Big mistake.
In the end, it took GI ingenuity — soldiers adapting to the challenges on the ground — to figure out how to prevail in hedgerow fighting.
Sgt. Curtis Culin’s famous “hedgerow cutter” was only one of many on-the-ground innovations that made the Normandy breakout possible.
Today, GI ingenuity is making the difference on the high plateaus and boulder-strewn mountainsides of Afghanistan. Negotiating with tribal chiefs, defending little Alamos and diving into O.K. Corral-style firefights, GIs are doing things no stateside planner ever envisioned before the war.
As was the case in Normandy, once the troops are on the ground, success doesn’t always hinge on decisions made in Washington. Case in point: the gear each GI is expected to take into battle.
The Pentagon expects today’s grunt to field more than 130 pounds of gear — about two-thirds more than reasonable. Meanwhile, soldiers routinely complain about base camps full of gear that just sits there because it didn’t work well, or nobody knows how to use it, or it’s just too heavy.
Meanwhile, getting troops what they really need can take an excruciatingly long time. It takes an average of more than 300 days for the Army to push a requirement for a new capability through the Pentagon.
Sometimes it can take more than 1,000 days. That’s longer than many wars last. Likely as not, the mission in Afghanistan will be done before the Pentagon can get the troops in the field all the gear they truly need now.
Of course, there will always be a lag time. Events on the ground in a hot war move at a much faster pace than any bureaucracy. But, as military historian Michael Howard once said, the job of the peacetime military is get things close to “about right.”
That is not an insignificant challenge — and it is not cheap. When you get it wrong you just don’t lose the first battle, you might lose the whole war. That’s why talk in Washington today of cutting future capabilities is so alarming.
When it comes to the next fight, the “enemy gets a vote,” and our enemies will always do their best to make the most of our weaknesses. When they start the fight, we will find ourselves two steps behind if our military is not ably trained, equipped and ready for action — before the fight.
That said, what really wins on the battlefield is heart, soul and brains — men and women who figure out how to overcome the obstacles the enemy throws up once the shooting starts.
And that’s what makes another proposal for curbing military spending — shrinking the force — so terrifying. America today has the most combat-experienced army in our history. It is more warrior-savvy than any major military in the world.
Proposals to cut the military’s most valuable asset — trained, well-educated and experienced volunteer forces — do not pass the common sense test. It would be like Apple cutting costs by eliminating the iPhone and iPad production lines.
Everyone rightly wants to cut waste from the Pentagon budget. But most suggestions on the table are calculated to eliminate more muscle and bone than fat.
Examiner columnist James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at The Heritage Foundation.