The Deparment of Defense recently assigned a full mechanized combat brigade from the Third Infantry Division to be an on-call reaction force for natural or man made disaster on American soil. On initial consideration its a cool idea, having a 5,000 man element at a heightened state of readiness to handle anything that may arise. Defending America is the whole point of the military after all.
Putting more thought into leads me to the conclusion that this is a genuinely bad idea. First, as the referenced article points out, many of the Soldiers assigned to this mission have combat experience in Iraq. Despite my immense pride in what American troops are doing in Iraq, and the very impressive way in which they have come to deal respectfully with civilians that could very easily be insurgents trying to kill them, under no circumstances would I want them unleashed on my hometown. They are, afterall, trained to kill the enemies of the United States. Helping out in an emergency is something the Army (and the other branches, too, I suppose) have excelled at in the past, but it is not their primary mission.
But now it is for this brigade. Or is it? Just because they’ve been told to do it, doesn’t mean it will actually be the case. There will be some powerpoint made, and there will be some plans put into place, and there might even be rehearsals, but lets not forget that this same brigade is still on orders to go back to Iraq next year. And so, that Brigade Commander knows that his Soldiers will be in harm’s way in the not to distant future, and will, with good conscience, train his Soldiers for that mission – to bring as many home as possible.
So we have a force that you probably don’t want in your home town dedicated to a mission they aren’t trained for and really aren’t designed for. The DoD has found a stop-gap measure by assigning this brigade, but what is their long term solution? Any professional knows that when you present a problem, you should present a solution to go with it. DoD, or realistically the Department of Homeland Security should be standing up a professional paramilitary organization with the very unique mission of responding to homeland emergencies. Afterall, the boys from the 3ID wouldn’t be bringing any of their tracked fighting vehicles with them. They really wouldn’t need infantrymen or tankers. The mission is better suited to a large, well organized group that includes law enforcement, HAZMAT, disaster relief and medical aid. There’s only about 30-40 nuclear-biological-chemical specialists in a combat brigade. There’s not even enough medical support to staff a combat hospital – lots of trauma care, but not much long term care. 40 military policemen and no disaster relief specialists. Really, they don’t even need camoflaged uniforms – reflective nomex coveralls like those worn in the oilfield would be a good bit better for this kind of mission.
Clearly, the government has identified the need for an emergency response unit, and rightly so. There is no one except the Army that can do it, but they can only do it so well. Maybe the Department of Homeland Security should pick up this vital mission, and stand up an organization to do it right. And it would cost a tiny fraction of what it costs to maintain a mechanized infantry brigade.