Army Shift from Brigades Back to Divisions Raises Concerns Among Retired Generals!
2023/07/17

Change is afoot in the Army: Divisions are returning to prominence.

From recent reporting to rumors and offhand comments made during briefings, an image is beginning to emerge of the Army of the future. Bursting with enablers and officers, full general staffs, additional brigade and battalion headquarters with more staff, and funding, the divisional headquarters may soon replace brigade headquarters as a unit's heart.

That would mark a big change from the past 20 years. During much of the Global War on Terror, or GWOT, the action downrange in combat and at home in garrison was at the brigade combat team, or BCT, level. For the overwhelming majority of veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan, "division" was a combat patch, a notional way of organizing brigades.

"The BCT model worked really well during GWOT," according to a retired brigadier general with experience at the brigade and division level who agreed to an interview on the condition that his name not be used. "In that fight, most of the tactical challenges could be dealt with by a rifle company. The Army fights two levels down; two levels up from the company level is the brigade."

In a literal sense, divisions never left. While at garrison, the division was the origin of daily or weekly operations orders and taskings for troops. Downrange in Iraq or Afghanistan, the division coordinated the distribution of assets such as helicopters, aircraft and artillery -- but was unseen by soldiers patrolling from smaller company- or platoon-level forward operating bases, or FOBs.

But the importance of divisions waned in the beginning of GWOT. Assets were pushed down to BCTs. A thriving culture (or bureaucratic hassle, depending on one's perspective) vanished with the flourish of a pen, never to return. Until now.

The restructuring originated in the 1990s when, after the Cold War, some Army planners saw smaller conflicts and insurgencies of the type later encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan as the future of conflict (others did not). Drawing on feedback from officers and data pulled from exercises, leadership decided on a dramatic overhaul of force structure.

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