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Senior British Commander Briefs on Current Operations

By COL Randy Pullen

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, October 12, 2005) – “Our two armies stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the war on terror.”

This was one of the messages given by one of the United Kingdom’s most senior military officers in a presentation titled “A Coalition Perspective on Current Operations.”

Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt, the Commander-in-Chief, Land Command, British Army, presented the first of four 2005 Kermit Roosevelt Lectures in the United States to a large Pentagon audience Oct. 11. His lecture tour continues with talks at the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Army War College and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

The British Army lectures in the United States follow those of the U.S. Army 2005 lecturer, Gen. John P. Abizaid, commanding general of U.S. Central Command, who delivered a series of Kermit Roosevelt lectures in the United Kingdom in May 2005.

Allies fighting side-by-side

Dannatt said it was a great privilege to deliver this year’s Kermit Roosevelt lecture. He felt it was a special honor to do so during the 60th anniversary year of the end of World War II. This lecture series was started to ensure that the close links between the United States and the United Kingdom forged in war should not weaken in times of peace.

Once again, however, the two close allies are at war, fighting side-by-side around the world against common foes.

“It is absolutely right that we do so in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Dannatt said.

In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, Dannatt discussed the United Kingdom’s unique situation on other military matters, such as NATO. The UK’s perspective is shaped in large part by the bodies of water that separate it from the United States on one side and from the European continent on the other. This allows it to stand apart from each and lets it view both sides objectively.

UK as a bridge and 'traffic cop'

“We are a bridge between Europe and the United States,” Dannatt said. “We recognize this and feel an obligation to maintain this bridge.”

The UK also finds itself in the role of a traffic cop between the United States and NATO, Dannatt said, especially as NATO is now at a crossroads in its existence.

Calling it “probably the most successful alliance in history,” he said that NATO had remained in being after the threat that had created it – an aggressive post-World War II Soviet Union – had ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. As it sought its new role in the post-Cold War world, NATO did not always present the same united front as it had earlier. Individual member nations differ with the United States on key issues, such as Iraq. In other issues, such as Afghanistan, there is greater consensus.

The lesson from this is that the coalition team will have to be put together for each contingency, that it cannot be assumed that all of NATO or the same group of individual member nations will take part in every military action. Although this tailoring process would add to the complexity of operations, Dannatt thought that NATO was too important not to make the effort.

“NATO may irritate you,” Dannatt said, “but NATO needs the United States and the United States needs NATO.”

A British perspective

On the British view of operating with the Americans, Dannatt said the plan was that British forces would fight with the Americans but not fight as the Americans fight. The British would fight in their own battle space to accomplish a specific mission but would do so according to their own capabilities and tactics.

Discussing transformation, he said the British concept was to be pragmatic but evolutionary in its approach. The force needed to adapt to meet today’s needs but it should do so without wholesale procurement of new equipment.

Turning to Iraq and Afghanistan, Dannatt said he foresaw continued UK support for British forces serving in Iraq and for the need to finish the mission there. He agreed with Abizaid that we must plan for a long war. Speaking specifically of the role of British forces in Iraq, he said it was essential that they continue to dominate the main supply routes between Kuwait and Iraq.

In Afghanistan, additional deployments of forces in southern Afghanistan will take place, along with the establishment of a British headquarters in Kabul. A major issue that must be resolved in order for Afghanistan to fully develop is eliminating the narcotics base there.

Dannatt also said that while focusing on Afghanistan and Iraq, the UK cannot afford to forget the Balkans or Sierra Leone.

“There is no shortage of work these days for our Soldiers,” he said.

Decades of experience and leadership

He commented on how things had changed for British Soldiers in recent years by recalling his own career. During the 1970s, Northern Ireland had been the place to serve, with 1977 as the only year in that decade that he did not serve there. In the 1980s, the focus was the decay of the Cold War and service in Western Europe. In the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the lid came off and service meant going to the Persian Gulf in the First Gulf War, to the Balkans, to East Timor, to Sierra Leone, to Afghanistan and to Iraq.

“I certainly haven’t been bored,” he said.

He concluded his prepared remarks by discussing the human perspective. He said that British Soldiers had traditionally been motivated not by appeals to patriotism but more by a desire not to let mates down or to dishonor the regiment. Along with that had gone the assumption that Soldiers knew right and wrong, having learned the appropriate values in their up-bringing. Like the British constitution, because every Soldier instinctively knew them, the values and standards of British Soldiers had not been written down.

“We do so now,” Dannatt said. “We train and educate our Soldiers on right and wrong.”

Strong leadership is used to ensure British Soldiers stay on the moral high ground. British Army leaders do so by exercising mission command: provide the commander’s intent, delegate to subordinates and then supervise the execution of the mission.

U.S. / U.K. Armies share close bonds

Referring back to the origins of the Kermit Roosevelt lecture series, Dannatt said that the spirit and cooperation between the British and American Armies are as alive today as they were in 1945.

“I salute the sacrifice and professionalism of our armies,” he said. “The bonds are strong but we must never take them for granted.”

In response to questions from the audience, Dannatt expanded on a number of points he had made. He said that coalitions would be how the UK would fight in the future and that the UK would continue to operate in common causes with the United States. Although allies often made military operations more challenging, they were needed and thus at least a minimum level of connectively between the members of a coalition force must be achieved in order to obtain a meaningful contribution from them.

Dannatt said that the recruiting challenge faced by the British Army mirrored that of the U.S. Army. He was pleasantly surprised that retention was good and he attributed that to a desire by serving Soldiers to want to stay on and finish the job. On the recruiting side, though, he said that there was resistance from key influencers like parents and teachers, who were advising potential recruits against joining the Army now.

Another area that was very similar to the American experience was the use of the British reserve component, the Territorial Army. Dannatt said that 19 battalions-worth of infantry had been called up, almost all of it to serve in Iraq.

“This was unthinkable,” he said, explaining that planning had always been to call up the Territorial Army for a major war along the lines of World War II but no one had expected a prolonged mobilization like is now being experienced. An issue that is arising with the continued use of the British reserve is that British law and Army policy forbids involuntarily calling up the same reserve Soldiers within a set number of years. Volunteers are filling the gaps for now but there is a concern that the Army could run out of reserves.

Dannatt "amazed and impressed" by U.S. Soldiers

The British general praised the American Soldiers in Iraq but he wasn’t surprised by their excellence.

“We are amazed and impressed with the adaptability of your Army in Iraq,” Dannatt said.

This trait had been noticed before. He said that when the British and American Army had fought together in Normandy in 1944, it was the American Army which adapted to fighting through the Norman hedgerows faster than the British Army.

Dannatt closed his presentation with an example of British wit. After Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker joked that close attention would be paid to any use of matches by Dannatt, considering what happened when the British Army came to Washington in 1814 (For those who have forgotten their U.S. history: the British burned the Capitol and the White House when they captured Washington during the War of 1812.), Dannatt apologized – sort of.

“I’m sorry about what happened in 1814,” he said, “but you did declare war on us. And we were busy fighting the French then.”

Editor's note -- The Kermit Roosevelt Lecture Exchange Series began in 1947. It honors Maj. Kermit Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt. The idea for this annual exchange of American and British military lecturers came from Mrs. Kermit Roosevelt. In June 1944, she recommended this to Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall as a way to honor her late husband, who she wrote, was convinced that “a better understanding between the military forces of the United States and the United Kingdom would contribute in large measure to the preservation of world peace.”

Kermit Roosevelt had put action to his conviction with deeds, serving in both the British and American Armies in both world wars.

In July 1917, he was commissioned as a captain in the British Army and fought in the Middle East. He received the British Military Cross for his service in Mesopotamia. He transferred to the U.S. Army in 1918, serving in the American Expeditionary Force in France as a captain in the 7th Field Artillery, 1st Infantry Division, until the war ended.

Shortly after the start of World War II, he was re-commissioned as a major in the British Army in October 1939 and served in the 1940 Norwegian campaign and in Egypt before being medically discharged in 1941. He was commissioned a major in the U.S. Army in 1942 and assigned to duty in Alaska. There he flew as an observer on bombing missions against Japanese-held islands in the Aleutians and helped organize Alaskan Eskimos and Indians into a territorial militia.

He died on active duty with the U.S. Army at Fort Richardson, Alaska, on June 4, 1943.

Kermit Roosevelt was a member of a remarkable military family. His father had led the Rough Riders up Kettle and San Juan Hills during the Spanish-American War on July 1, 1898. For leading one of the most famous charges in American history, the elder Roosevelt received the Medal of Honor, although it was not presented to one of his descendants until 102 years after this legendary action.

All four of Roosevelt’s sons served in the U.S. Army in combat. Kermit was the second of them to die on active duty in wartime. The youngest brother, Quentin, had been killed in action in France in 1918 as an Army aviator. The oldest brother, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., died of a heart attack in Normandy in July 1944, after leading the 4th Infantry Division ashore on D-Day, for which he posthumously received the Medal of Honor. The remaining brother, Archie, after being seriously wounded in combat in World War I, was seriously wounded again while leading a battalion in New Guinea. He received a 100 percent disability discharge each time.

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