Operation Steadfast: The United States Army Reorganizes Itself

CSC 1985

SUBJECT AREA Topical Issues

USMC Command and Staff College April 1985

Quantico, VA

Operation STEADFAST: The United States Army

Reorganizes Itself




The history of the United States Army is more than the stirring

accounts of battles, campaigns, leaders, and soldiers arrayed in a

chronology or divided along any analytical azimuth. There is another

history, the history of the Army in peace, which is very important.

What happens in the peacetime Army helps to determine the performance

of the Army in war. The study of the Army as an organization is a

vital to understanding the Army in war or peace. The Army as an org-

anization is at once a federal bureaucracy and a professional Ameri-

can institution. Consequently, the study of the Army requires an in-

terdisciplinary approach to fully appreciate the complexity of the

organization and the interrelationships of simulataneous endogeneous

and exogeneous forces at any point in history. Therefore, the hist-

ory of the Army is to a surprisingly large degree the history of the

organization as much as it is the history of the relatively brief,

violent, and vitally important encounters which are the raison d'etre

for the organization.

A study of the organization may begin with structure and proced-

ures, political relationships and the environment of the era. The

structure and processes, informal and formal, sociological and

political, help to determine who shall "run" the uniformed,

professional Army. This is very important despite the outward

appearances today of a great, green machine and consumer of vast

resources. This was important in the pre-World War II Army which

appeared to be so many far-flung small outposts peopled by polo-

players and dedicated students of war alike.

People really make the difference in the Army as an organizat-

ion. The organizational structure and procedures which help to

select the uniformed leaders of the service are subject in turn to

the influence of the leaders. We have come full circle. The

idiosyncratic influences in this mass organization are as vital as

the individual pyschological factrors are in combat. Individuals in

key positions leave an imprint on the organization which is difficult

to quantify but impossible to ignore. The success and failure of the

Army on the battlefield and its ability to help deter war is

predicated on the Army as an organization of structure, procedures,

and people in peace. Obviously, politics intervene in the vertical

spectrum of war from individual combat to global strategy. Yet,

success and failure at all levels is influenced by the Army, as it

is, in peace. Operationally, battlefield success in war in the

tactical levels from squads to the theater operations is largely a

function of the Army, rather than politics of any stripe. Also, the

environment of a period of time affects all aspects of the

organization. The history of the United States Army as an

organization parallels the growth of the modern, American, democratic


This paper is a detailed account of the Army Reorganization of

1973, Operation STEADFAST. It examines how, given the structure,

procedures, people and environment, a very important reorganization

was conceived and managed by the professional officers of the

institution which led to real changes in the structure, procedures.

and people of the organization.

Once the decision was made to begin the withdrawal of U.S.

Forces from Vietnam in the Summer of 1969, the Army was a bureaucracy

facing a classic situation of organizational retrenchment. Yet, the

obvious external pressures on the Army as an institution from every

direction in American society and from every other national

institution did not dictate the timing nor the exact shape of the

changes in the organization. It seems that the direction of change

would necessarily be a reduction in size and resources for some years

to follow.

However, the Army Reorganization of 1973 was the first of three

reorganizations, which as a sum became a fundamental reformation of

the organization. The change was profound because, unlike the

changes of the turn-of-the-century Root Reforms or the 1942

Reorganization (or the incremental changes in iterations of the

National Security Act of 1947), this reorganization was internally

directed with the assistance of the civilian leadership in the

Department of the Army. Whereas, all former reorganizations required

the alliance of a very activist Secretary and a reform-minded

contigent of officers to battle the entrenched bureaucratic interests

of another alliance of officers and their allies in Congress. This

reorganization is more limited in scope than the Prussian reforms of

the early 19th Century because it did not involve the society at

large, nor did it explicitly reform the principal organizations

within the Army. It was a reform which preserved and enhanced the

opportunities for the professional officer corps to maintain its

autonomy in the management of the organization within the framework

of civilian control over the military. This was an absolutely

essential prerequisite to marshal the human and material resources

needed to rebuild the Army after the political debacle in Vietenam

and the disintegration of the Army which was away from the fight.

The United States Army in 1985 was painfully rebuilt from the

uniformed mob of the early 1970's by the investment of the hard work

of the officer and non-commissioned officer corps and the infusion

of some fine young people and carefully managed resources. The key

individuals to set the stage for the rebuilding of a national

institution were Army Generals William E. DePuy, Bruce C. Palmer Jr.,

and Creighton W. Abrams Jr. This is an examination of the first step

in the reformation, Operation STEADFAST.










Petronius Arbiter's quote was a beloved epigram for many Army

officers as the Army reorganized itself during the throes of the

traumatic withdrawal from Southeast Asia. The epigram was facile

enough to vent the frustrations of staff offficers pushing papers in

the Pentagon. Yet, as the epigram gave no indication of the real

training and expertise of someone called Petronius Arbiter, the Army

Reorganization of 1972-73 could appear to be much less than it really

was. Actually, Petronius Arbiter was the chronicler of the

pornographic carryings on of the court of the Emperorer Nero. (1) In

fact the Army Reorganization of 1972-73 was more than a shuffling of

the housekeeping duties of the stateside Army to meet the pressures

of the Executive Branch and the Congress to drastically reduce after

a war. The Army's Reorganization was an extraordinary, internally-

directed move to develop improved control of the management of the

Army and, consequently, increase the autonomy of the Army under the

direction of the professional, uniformed officers. The turbulent

decade since the last major reorganization of the Army in 1962 (based

on the Hoelscher Committee's Project 80 Study) had not sown the seeds

for the need to reorganize as much as it had created the opportunity

for major changes.

The "reforms" and reorganization brought about during the

McNamara era threatened the autonomy of the Army more than any other

Service. When the analysts for the Secretary of Defense sought to

develop a programmatic approach to manage the department under the

direction of a chief executive officer, the Army was ill-prepared to

report its assets in personnel, equipment and finances. It was

equally at a loss to explain how all the pieces of the puzzle of

commands, combat units and headquarters' staffs fit together to man,

equip, train and employ an "Army". Since the 19th Century the Army

had been a series of semi-autonomous bureaus, which were loosely

federated as the "staff", and the units spread out in the field,

which were the "line". The organizational history of the Army is the

story of conflict between the line and the staff. The opportunities

for conflict are neither accidental nor neglected anachronisms. As a

member of the Executive Branch, the War Department (the Department of

the Army), the United States Army (the regulars), the Army of the

United States (the National Guard and the conscripts), and the United

States Army Reserve (the Reserves - also part of the Army of the

United States) have their perogatives in the management of resources

and their internal autonomy written into the legislative concrete of

the United States Code. The internal bureaucratic struggles of the

organization are fanned in the fires of the budgetary process.

In the decade of the Sixties the Office of the Secretary of

Defense (OSD) was about to abrogate the autonomy, divided as it

was, of the Army. The war in Vietnam diverted the attention of OSD

and the Army to the pressing details of present-tense crisis after

crisis. The Army Staff in Washington and the line organizations in

the Continental United States (CONUS) did an excellent job in

preparing and prosecuting a distant war with minimal support from

mobilization. The fighting Army which was built after the post-

Korean doldrums from the latter 1950's through the 1968 may have been

the finest, professsonal Army fielded by the United States. The Army

as a bureaucracy, however, was in different shape. Since OSD had

taken the steps to bring the Services in line with the programmatic

approach of major U.S. corporations, the Army existed in the note-

books of organizations and commands on the shelf behind Secretary

Mcnamara's desk. (2) The sum of the notebooks, theoritically, was

the Army "program". Every change within the Army which changed

resource allocations had to be approved through the OSD. The Army,

staff and line, was becoming the handmaiden to the notebooks. While

the daily attention of the Army and OSD were focused on Vietnam

several steps were taken which would allow the Army to move towards a

thoughtful reorganization. The start of the withdrawal from Vietnam

in the Summer of 1969 created the pressures which plunged the Army

headlong into the pursuit of reorganization. The events which