The Army has a headquarters problem; it has too many of them, and most are merely designed to ensure there are Commands for two and three stars. This month, my former boss wrote an article on the important role of the Army Service Component Command or Theater Army—in our case particular Third Army performs.
Let me be clear from the beginning, except for nine months in 2003 and 2004, I was assigned from 2000 to until I finally retired in 2009 to two of the Armies Army Service Component Commands, United States Army Europe and Seventh Army and United States Army Central and Third Army. I know the role the perform, and I also know that in both cases they have performed roles and missions which the Army doctrinally believes should be performed by a Corps.
Most recently United States Army Central provided the core of the Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve. It performed that mission for 15 months until relieved by III Corps.
The Army says the Corps is the premier Operational and Tactical Headquarters—and that it can provide a Corps when needed within a couple of months. But there is a problem with that calculus—unless a Corps is focused on a specific area of the world it lacks the understanding of the Political, Economic, Cultural, Religious, Societal, and Historical forces at play in a particular region. The Army has three Corps; one is the Global Response Force (jack of all regions master of none), one is focused on the Pacific, and the third is focused on the Middle East and Europe but is not assigned in Unified Command Plan to the Commander, Central Command or Commander, European Command.
When then CSA Peter Schoomaker approved the concept of creating a Theater Army to support each of the Regional Combatant Commanders and to include in the organizational structure not only a Command Post to handle Title 10, but a Command Post to serve as the core of either a Joint Force Land Component Command (JFLCC) or Joint Task Force (JTF), he was acknowledging the reality that Combatant Commanders wanted an organization that was familiar with the region to be the JFLCC or JTF. He also envisioned the Corps going away and that there would be two echelons of Command the Division at the Tactical, and the Theater Army at the Operational. For a whole bunch reasons General Schoomaker’s vision did not come to pass.
In the end the Army kept the Corps and the Theater Army. Because the mafia of the Corps was stronger the Army doctrinally wrote the Theater Army out of the mission of being either JFLCC or JTF.
But history and reality are a bitch. Desert Storm, Bosnia, Kosovo, invasion of Iraq, and Operation Inherent Resolve in each case it was the Theater Army that provided the core of the Joint Task Force or served as the higher Joint headquarters for a Joint Task Force. It was the Theater Army that was the Combatant Commander’s first choice. Downplaying the Operational role of the Theater Army, reducing the capabilities in the headquarters, reducing the capabilities of the Theater Army subordinate commands in a bid to centralize control at the Department or in the Army Commands, and retaining control of Corps and Division Headquarters under the Army and making the process of getting those headquarters bureaucratic and burdensome denigrates the usefulness of the Army to the Commanders.
In a fiscally restrained environment the other services will step in to fill the void and the Army will only find further constrained for resources and may have to take deeper cuts to its force structure—to include eliminating or further reducing Corps and Division headquarters structure.
Regardless of what you call a Theater Army it needs to be able to perform two critical missions: 1—to support and sustain Army forces in theater; and 2—when call upon to provide the core of a JFLCC or JTF. In its first mission, the support and sustain this is more than providing goods and supplies. It covers all twelve areas of the responsibilities of the Secretary of the Army—in fact the Theater Army Commander has the responsibilities and authority to act on behalf of the Secretary of the Army in this capacity. It is also nurturing relationships within theater and most importantly having the corporate knowledge of the theater. In its second mission, whilst diminished in the eyes of the Army the Theater Army provides the Combatant Commander a situationally aware organization that can immediately step in no learning curve take charge of a JFLCC or JTF.
The Army does not value the Theater Army—or as one four star said of the Army—you are nothing more than a Title 10 mother fucker. The Army looks at the Theater Armies as being nothing more than a Title 10 headquarters, whereas the Combatant Command see them in a much different light.
As I said at the beginning the Army has a Headquarters problem in that it has too many merely making General Officers feel important, and I said regardless of what you designate the Theater Army be it a Numbered Army, a Corps, or a Legion they are more than a necessary evil; they are the presences of the Army in a Combatant Commanders Area of Responsibility and if properly resourced provide a significant contribution to the Joint fight. The question for the Army is how they are going to resolve.