War Stories

Rumsfeld’s New Man

The latest move to radically remake the Army.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s reputed choice to be the new Army chief of staff—retired Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker—may be his most intriguing appointment to date, and confirms beyond any doubt Rummy’s determination to foment a radical restructuring of the Army.

The first unusual thing about Schoomaker—and I should caution here that it has not yet been confirmed whether he’ll take the job—is that he is a retired general. He left the military three years ago. Usually, chiefs of staff are named from the ranks of active-duty generals.

The second, and most telling, point is that, from the early 1980s on, Schoomaker served with the “shadow soldiers,” rising in 1994 to be head of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and then, from 1997 till his retirement, commander in chief of the Army’s Special Operations Forces. [Correction, June 11, 2003: On his retirement, Schoomaker was the commander in chief of special operations forces for all the U.S. armed services, not just the Army’s.]

He also had experience with tanks (with the 8th Army in Korea in the mid ‘70s; as assistant commander of the 1st Cavalry Division in the early ‘90s) and inside the bureaucracy (a mid ‘90s stint as deputy director of Army operations). But Rumsfeld clearly hired Schoomaker for embodying the vision of what he wants the Army to become—a smaller, lighter, more agile force.

In fact, Schoomaker appears to have played a major, behind-the-scenes role in creating that vision. He has long been good friends with Gen. Tommy Franks, the Rumsfeld favorite who, as head of U.S. Central Command, led the battle for Afghanistan and Gulf War II. According to a Chicago Tribune story last March, Franks was having trouble coming up with a good war plan for Afghanistan—Rumsfeld thought his initial ideas were too bulky and time-consuming—until he had a crucial lunch in Tampa, Fla., with Schoomaker.

That lunch strongly influenced Franks’ subsequent thinking on how to plan that war. Schoomaker wouldn’t tell the Tribune what was discussed, but two things can be noted. First, he did describe Franks as “a quick study” who “understands joint warfare.” Second, the key and quite novel ingredient in Afghanistan was the use of Army special-operations forces in the lead role—their ability to get to a war zone very quickly, their standard practice of operating in small teams, and finally the potent image of the special-ops soldier riding horseback and zapping targeting data from the laptop in his backpack to an unmanned video drone in the sky.

Schoomaker once wrote, “There will be fewer wars in the future, but there will be more conflict.” As a result, conventional Army forces must “become more like” special-ops forces. “A unique feature of Special Operations Forces … ,” he wrote elsewhere, “is that they routinely deploy in small teams,” which allows them “to conduct their missions with a low profile”—a trait “that often appeals to U.S. diplomatic and military teams overseas, our theater commander-in-chiefs, and, in many cases, host nations.”

It’s a trait that appeals to Donald Rumsfeld and others who seek a “transformation” in the Army’s organization, as well.

Schoomaker has also talked of the need to train soldiers to be combat-ready “warrior-diplomats,” which is what special-ops forces often are. Certainly in Iraq—before, during, and after Gulf War II—the special forces have played both roles very well. Regular Army soldiers, on the other hand, have been great as warriors, not so great as diplomats (meaning, in this context, cops or nation-builders). Perhaps Rumsfeld wants to pluck Schoomaker from retirement because he knows that, in this new world, they need to learn how to be both.

[Correction, June 11, 2003: On his retirement, Schoomaker was the commander in chief of special operations forces for all the U.S. armed services, not just the Army’s.]