WASHINGTON — The Army is considered withdrawing part of the force it now has in Kuwait as part of a new way to reduce the number of missions and improve overall readiness.
Army Secretary Mark Esper, meeting with Pentagon reporters Thursday, said he has asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff to consider removing some Army forces from Kuwait as one way the service will “look at current deployments…in real terms” in regards to readiness.
Most likely to depart would be an infantry brigade combat team that Esper did not identify.
All four service branches have personnel in Kuwait but the Pentagon does not disclose personnel numbers for political reasons. U.S. troops have been in the country since the U.S.-led coalition liberated the nation in 1991 after it was overrun by Iraq.
“We have an (Armored Brigade Combat Team) in Kuwait (Operation Spartan Shield), so can we get relief from that mission and bring that unit home so we can get its readiness up to a higher level, put it in the queue for more important deployments out there and really increase that deploy-to-dwell time to something higher than 1 to 1,” Esper said.
“It may not necessarily mean pulling everything, it may mean keeping a battalion or it may mean a different rotation schedule, maybe you are not there full-time,” he said. “It’s something we have to look at if we are going to be trying to reduce the deployment churn and increase the readiness of our units.”
Esper’s remarks on troop withdrawals being part of new readiness efforts confirmed comments made Wednesday by Army Gen. James McConville, vice chief of staff for the Army, who said discretion in mission could be valuable in improving readiness.
“We are taking a look at…talking to the Joint Staff about some of the missions we may not have to do in the future to reduce that demand,” McConville told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support.
Esper told reporters that the current deployment cycle degrades readiness and adds operational tempo for troops at a higher rate than even four or five years ago “or at least at the peak of Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Esper suggested the departing Army troops could be replaced by Marines, acknowledged that “I’m not sure that helps the Marines, but that would be an option.”
The Marines had no comment on Esper’s suggestion.
Esper also said the Army would implement a rigorous fitness program within the ranks that will include weight trainers, strength coaches and dietitians to ensure troops are healthy. The Marines already have such a robust, holistic fitness regime.
The Defense Department allows each of the services to set different standards for troops based on gender and age. For the current Army Physical Fitness Test, male soldiers between 17 and 21 years old must complete 71 push-ups within two minutes, run two miles in 13 minutes, and complete 78 sit-ups to get perfect scores. Female soldiers in the same age range must do 42 push-ups within two minutes, complete the two-mile run in 15 minutes and 36 seconds, and also do 78 sit ups to get full credit on each event.
Esper said the new fitness test should not have both gender- and age-neutral standards “because the enemy does not specify who they’re going to shoot and not shoot. Combat is combat.”