By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (June 22, 2012) -- As part of an effort to regionally align Army forces with specific unified combatant commands, or COCOM, a brigade will begin serving in March as the go-to force for U.S. Africa Command, or USAFRICOM.
The 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, called the "Dagger Brigade," or 2/1ID, and out of Fort Riley, Kan., will be the main force provider for security cooperation and partnership-building missions in Africa.
The effort is a first step toward fulfilling national strategic and defense guidance that includes military services partnering with allies around the world to build capacity and security capability, officials said.
The 2/1ID is the first Army unit to be named in this way for alignment with a combatant command. That unit will be on deck for their mission for an entire year. The tasking will be to perform security cooperation, when needed, not operational or regular warfare missions, officials explained.
Col. Andrew Dennis, the division chief of the Army Security Cooperation Policy and Concepts Division within the Army G-3/5/7, said that drawdowns in the U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, region are freeing up more forces to be regionally aligned with other COCOMs in the same way that 2/1ID will be aligned with USAFRICOM.
For 10 years, he said, CENTCOM has been the main focus of Army forces, while organizing forces for the rest of the COCOMs has been a "relatively ad hoc" process. Now that forces are drawing down from CENTCOM, he said the Army can do a better job of having forces prepared for other COCOMs, to provide a "predictable supply" of forces to those commanders.
Regional alignment will provide informed units, and "a more flexible sourcing function for the geographical COCOMs," Dennis said.
"This is building on work that has already been done," Dennis said. "The U.S. Army has aligned forces regionally and built partnerships across the world for many, many years. And what we're working on now is the organization of the Army beyond the current conflict to provide the capability required and maintain an expeditionary mindset in the Army."
Other units will be assigned to follow 2/1ID when their year-long tasking is complete. Those assignments, it is expected for now, will follow the Army force generation model.
"We're using the current, existing Army force generation process, which sees people doing two years build-up and training, and a year in the available period," said Dennis.
There are six unified commands, including U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Central Command, U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. European Command and U.S. Pacific Command. Only USEUCOM and USPACOM have Army units currently assigned to and living in those areas of operation. However, all of those commands already have some form of Army unit "regionally aligned" with them in some capacity. Primarily, that means Army Special Operations Forces, or Army Reserve or Army National Guard units.
"What we are talking about is building off the current pattern and extending it across the broader Army," said Dennis.
Units will provide security cooperation-type capability to the COCOM they are aligned with, he explained. Included in that is security-force-assistance missions, familiarization, military contact, and support of combined exercise, Dennis said.
Soldiers within the 2/1ID will remain at home, in Kansas, for most of the year they are aligned with USAFRICOM, said Dennis.
"It's worth stressing at this point ... this does not mean that [2/1ID] is going to deploy en masse," he said. "Not at all. What it does mean is that [2/1ID] is going to be the sourcing solution of preference to provide troops for USAFRICOM to carry out their security cooperation requirements, security force assistance. They will task-organize the teams as required to meet mission requirements."
Teams that go to Africa as part of the alignment could be very small, Dennis said, as small as a squad, for instance. They may be involved in "low-level familiarization-type missions through to more structured organization, perhaps to take part in an exercise."
Dennis did say there is a "rough order of magnitude" estimate that 60-70 percent of Soldiers in the unit could deploy at one time or another during the course of the year, and that mission lengths would likely be measured in weeks or months.
GOOD JOB FOR CONVENTIONAL FORCES
The Army already has regional experts, including foreign area officers and civil affairs units. Additionally, the Army has regionally aligned special forces. But special forces are highly specialized, are in short supply, and are already in high demand.
"Special Forces have a particular capability in this area, but not the capacity to fulfill the demand; and we think we will be able to fulfill the demand by using conventional forces," Dennis said. "And there are some missions that actually maybe don't require that level of training and language expertise, that you could be more cost effective in using conventional forces."
One benefit to conventional units is that the deployment and partnering experience builds better Soldiers, Dennis said.
"We also see this as providing us the mechanism for giving experience to Soldiers," Dennis said. "Not necessarily the mid-grade officers and senior noncommissioned officers, or NCO. But giving the experience to Soldiers, that they have experience leaving the United States, being part of a partnership mission, and that enables them to grow into the senior NCOs of the future."
Dennis also said that there's been discussion about the level of expertise that needs to be developed in the units that are regionally aligned with a COCOM.
"One of the aspects that we've been looking at in this is the language, regional expertise, and culture issue," Dennis said. He said language, for instance, is difficult asset to obtain, and it is both perishable and expensive.
"To what extent do we want people to be linguistically expert, or is it a more general sense of being good at partnering with other nations," he said. "It is that experience we think is good for the Army as we look to the future."
WHO WILL GO
While the entire 2/1ID will prepare for their regional alignment tasking, Dennis said, different parts of the brigade combat team could be tasked at various points during the year-long alignment period. The headquarters could be asked to participate in a command post exercise, for instance; or platoon and squad sized elements could be called upon to engage in infantry training. Combat service support in a brigade could also be called upon.
"As the missions come up, and as you get closer and closer, you get better definition of what is required, then they can improve the estimate of what is required and adjust as they get much closer to the mission and adjust to fit the mission better," Dennis said.
The Army also knows that as more units are regionally aligned to specific COCOMs, different sized units could be aligned. Options beyond the brigade-level could mean entire divisions are tasked.
For USAFRICOM, however, "they think the military skills that will be most useful to them in Africa are contained in an infantry brigade combat team," Dennis said.
Other regional alignments are still "pre-decisional," Dennis said, but added that Army Forces Command has tentatively identified two brigades for regional alignment in Fiscal Year 2014.
But Dennis did say units tasked for regional alignments will prepare, in advance, in the way units prepare for other deployments. It requires a build on core skills Soldiers have now: unified land operations, decisive operations skills, language, regional expertise, and train-advise-assist experience.
Where units go will be based entirely on what COCOMs are asking for, after consultation with the U.S. State Department and the partner nation, Dennis said.
"This is not the Army trying to go into some new area. This is fulfilling a geographic COCOM's mission requirements," he said.