How Vietnam War Affected the Profession of Arms in the US
The Vietnam war was a disaster for the US Army. The Army failed to win the war, and at the same time was severely criticized at home by activists who viewed the participation of America in that war as unnecessary. The end of the Vietnam war was a moment of introspection for the military, as significant reforms were made in the two decades that followed. The mandatory service in the Army that was demanded of American young men during the war had made many of them resentful. This was especially the case for Americans who did not believe in the cause of the war. The military service requirements were changed from mandatory to voluntary. This change was the most significant for the Army, as the people that joined the Army now had no reason to be resentful and would be better in combat. The reforms made were now to prepare the Army for a potential war against an adversary in Europe, namely, the Soviet Union. The conflict, however, never materialized. The transformation of the Army changed it from a distressed organization in the early 1970s to a highly admired and respected institution by 1991, when Americans got involved in the Gulf War.
Before and during the Vietnam War, the Army’s core task was defined as high intensity directed towards conventional conflicts (Willbanks, 2018). It remained constant even after changes were effected in the military system. During the changes, no new combat arms branches were introduced. The ones that were in existence were adjusted and refined as the Army prepared itself for future conflicts. The move to an all-volunteer concept in the Army in the early 1970s was a challenge, given the bad rap the Army had received due to the Vietnam War (Willbanks, 2018). The leaders of the military had to find ways of improving the image of the Army and make it attractive to volunteer recruits. Some reforms were made to improve the operations and professional outlook of the Army. The improvements included an upgrade in the training techniques and also decentralizing the training. An officer personnel management system (OPMS) was also put in place to help in the all-volunteer program. Another important body that was established to help in the transition from mandatory service to all-volunteer service was the Noncommissioned Officer Education System (NCOES).
The personnel management policies were adjusted to reduce the turbulence experienced in the Army and facilitate the development of expertise among the officers and soldiers. The training philosophy of the Army was changed as was the management of the same. This was to act as the precursor to performance-oriented training that was adopted in the late 1970s. The sizes of the units were reduced and had leaders assigned to them. The leaders were the junior officer and noncommissioned officers (Beurskens, 2018). These leaders had direct contact with the soldiers and would play a great part in mentoring and motivating the volunteer soldiers in the Army. The smaller units that had direct, face to face and everyday contact with their leaders would later contribute to building and leaner, quality, and more professional force (Beurskens, 2018). The noncommissioned officers were given roles that demanded technical, tactical, and leadership abilities. The competence of the small unit leaders was considered critical to the success of the Army in future undertakings. The Army consequently placed more emphasis on quality training throughout the 1970s and thereafter. The strong focus on performance-oriented training on the individual soldiers and the Army units included the development of combat training centers that were used by the units to test their combat skills using a realistic simulation of skilled enemy forces. The positive results of the initiative were apparent in the Gulf War, as it was reported the US forces were tougher than any of the troops they came across in Iraq (Beurskens, 2018).
Despite the changes and improvements made in the structure of the Army, criticism still arose in America. The Army was accused of not retaining the professional knowledge of counterinsurgency that had been gained painfully in Vietnam ((Noor) Mahini, Barth & Morrow, 2018). The second complaint was that despite attaining operational and tactical excellence as a result of the reforms, the Army had still failed to develop leaders that would act as a bridge between the military and politicians for success in strategy ((Noor) Mahini, Barth & Morrow, 2018). After all, it was civilian congressmen who had instigated the change of personnel attainment of the Army from mandatory to an all-volunteer system. Although the criticisms have some truth in them, it is not fair to claim that the reforms made in the Army were not beneficial. The only credibility that can be given to the criticism is that the American Army did not go far enough in making the reforms. The moves taken by the Army leadership to adapt to the all-volunteer system were ambitious and paid off in the next conflict that the US Army was involved in.
(Noor) Mahini, R. N., Barth, E., & Morrow, J. (2018). Tim O’brien’s “bad” vietnam war: The things they carried & its historical perspective. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 8(10), 1283-1293. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.17507/tpls.0810.05
Beurskens, K., D.M. (2018). The long haul: Historical case studies of sustainment operations in large-scale combat operations. Military Review, 98(5), 34-38.
Willbanks, J. H. (2018, 02). THE WAR’S DECISIVE EVENT. Vietnam, 30, 22-29.