At Fort Hood, Rearranging the First Cavalry Division

The New York Times

FORT HOOD, Tex., June 28 – Maj. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, home after a year commanding 39,000 troops in Baghdad, will enter a parade field here on Thursday morning to roll up and retire the banner of the Division Artillery of the First Cavalry Division, whose heavy guns saw duty in two Iraq wars, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

The artillery and rockets, and the soldiers who fire them, all formerly part of the Division Artillery, will be divided across the First Cavalry Division, feeding into four new brigade combat teams, each with all the built-in combat, support and service personnel to enter a war zone as a nearly self-sustaining fighting unit.

Eliminating the Division Artillery’s headquarters will free 2,500 soldiers who are needed elsewhere as the Army struggles to recruit and re-enlist soldiers in a time of war.

Beyond the ceremonial flourishes at this base not far from President Bush’s ranch in central Texas, the changes within the First Cavalry Division demonstrate the Army-wide effects of the war in Iraq.

The whole Army is rapidly reshaping its brigades – three or four in each division – into stand-alone combat units that can be sent into battle more quickly. At the same time, it is struggling to scrape together enough soldiers to fulfill the Army’s day-to-day responsibilities, especially in Iraq, and to replenish and retrain quickly the units coming home exhausted from that fight.

There is much more involved than rearranging the troops and weapons on an organizational chart. While the First Cavalry Division left Iraq as a highly experienced and hardened division, today its combat teams are being broken apart to be rebuilt.

All of its tanks and most of its infantry fighting vehicles are in the shop after grinding an average 13,000 miles through dust and heat over a yearlong deployment to Baghdad. By July 15, all the division’s battalion and brigade commanders except one will leave for new jobs; the last one is scheduled to ship out in November. Over all, 40 percent of the division’s troops are switching to other divisions, or leaving active duty altogether, after being held in place for two summers by Army-wide orders halting movement out of units bound for Iraq.

“You can’t lose over 40 percent of the division between now and the first of December and not have a lot of turbulence,” General Chiarelli said. “And when you’re in a 72-ton tank, you’ve got to assure that you’ve got crews that are well trained and know exactly what they have to do in combat. For a period of time, I’m not going to be as ready as I was before.”

Absent a radical improvement in the security situation in Iraq, First Cavalry Division troops can anticipate another deployment, perhaps as soon as next year, and in addition the division will be on call for an unexpected crisis, in North Korea or Iran, for example.

“The only date that really makes a difference to me is the date I may have to go back to Iraq or go somewhere else, and everything I’m doing is based on that date,” General Chiarelli said. “Our enemies won’t always wait for the magical day that I’m supposed to be ready or I say I’m ready.”

So troubling is the burden of Iraq deployments, and of the time and money required to reset divisions returning from Iraq, that the Senate, also Thursday, will question the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Army and Marine Corps service chiefs on whether the American military remains truly ready to meet other threats, as well.

“The challenge is that we have this huge turnover of people, and a massive moving around of equipment – both within the division and external to the division,” said Brig. Gen. William J. Troy, one of two new assistant commanders of the First Cavalry Division.

“And we’ve got to get the people and the equipment married up so that we are able to go into new training at full speed,” said General Troy, who joined the division after a year in Baghdad as chief of staff for the Multinational Corps-Iraq. “That way, if we get called to deploy, we are just as ready as the last time – with the equipment ready, with confident leaders and with confident soldiers.”

Division commanders are already sending soldiers into training on an array of high-technology simulators to rebuild combat skills, even in advance of the return of their armor from repairs.

In many ways, the division and its commanders anticipated the rush to transform into modular brigades even while deployed to Iraq.

Long before the order was given to retire the Division Artillery, its commander, Col. Stephen R. Lanza, reshaped his soldiers for a yearlong tour in Al Rashid, a district of south Baghdad, as a regular combat brigade – with a wide array of security and stability responsibilities far beyond directing artillery and rocket fire.

The former artillery headquarters troops under Colonel Lanza conducted more than 17,000 combat patrols, detained about 1,000 suspected terrorists or insurgents, trained an Iraqi army battalion and managed almost 200 civil and municipal repair projects.

“To the purists who say you can’t or you shouldn’t take the Division Artillery and make it a maneuver brigade, I can say this,” Colonel Lanza said. “We already did it, and it was very effective.”

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