General orders desert-colored tactical vehicles to be quickly repainted to ‘woodland green’ at Fort Hood

2nd Lt. Brandon Garcia, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team (3ABCT), 1st Cavalry Division, take count of newly received Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTVs) at the rail operations center, Fort Hood, Texas, Oct. 02, 2020. (U.S. Army photo taken by Sgt. Calab Franklin)

Sig Christenson

San Antonio Express-News

The order came directly from a general. Gary Pasley, his partner, David Stidham, and a small team of soldiers had just 19 days to repaint 49 pieces of military equipment ranging from Humvees to medium tactical vehicles.

It was a rush job, requiring the two civil service workers to toil over a weekend, but the color itself suggested something important.

The GIs washed the vehicles and equipment so Pasley and Stidham could paint them a dull green, covering the familiar desert tan. That prompted Pasley, 44, an Iraq veteran, to speculate that the Army’s priorities were shifting away from the Middle East and Afghanistan.

“I’m pretty sure that we’re downsizing from that region of the world and kind of focused on our efforts elsewhere, so I would say the vehicle (color) might be terrain appropriate,” Pasley said.

Just where the new focus might be, neither he nor the Army could say.

After 20 years of fighting wars in vehicles painted to match the desert, Fort Hood now has a relative handful of vehicles made over with a basic olive drab — the Army calls it “woodland green” — that can serve as the primer for a common camouflage pattern standardized for each vehicle type.

As yet, no camo has been applied.

The vehicles are those of Fort Hood’s 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, which issued a brief statement saying the action “signals a switch in readiness from fighting in arid places like the Middle East to fighting in more verdant regions.”

Verdant as in green, with grass or other rich vegetation. Though the Army didn’t elaborate, that could be islands in the Pacific or forests in Europe. The Marines have recently conducted field training in Norway.

The 13th ESC’s commander said in an interview that the order was part of building “field craft” among soldiers, whether they’re training to fight in Europe, as the 1st Cavalry Division is now pegged to, or the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, where the 4th Infantry Division, formerly at Fort Hood but now at Fort Carson, Colo., would be deployed under current war plans.

Fort Hood has long been home to first-to-fight divisions and houses the Army’s III Corps.

“For me, it was an easy solution because I’m a smaller-scale unit and it’s easier to do at a smaller scale. I can’t do it with the thousands of vehicles that are across the corps,” Brig. Gen. Ronald Ragin said. “So whether that’s green camouflage nets, whether it’s green vehicles, green equipment, just getting back to that good field craft that we have as an Army … that was a focus of that project.”

“And the soldiers are actually out in the field right now for the next two weeks practicing that field craft,” he added. “How do we keep a lower signature, implement both passive and active defense measures, and really get back to doing basic things to a high standard?”

The last time the Army painted its vehicles, the shift in priorities — and location — was readily apparent. The United States went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq with multiple divisions, hundreds of thousands of troops. Two divisions at Fort Hood, 1st Cavalry and 4th Infantry, deployed to Iraq three times, the last of those soldiers not coming home until the United States withdrew in 2011.

The new paint job this time is only slightly less subtle, part of the Pentagon’s move away from counterinsurgency warfare and a return to what some call “great-power” conflicts that could involve China and Russia. If it feels like the old Cold War to those of a certain age, well, it should.

In Europe, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has united allies there unlike anything since the Berlin Airlift, which began 74 years ago this month. A rising, increasingly belligerent China has claimed international waters as its own, frequently probes Taiwan’s airspace with its warplanes and occasionally threatens to invade and conquer it.

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said China boasts 2 million troops, almost half of them in ground combat units, plus the world’s largest Navy and the largest air force in the Indo-Pacific. It has embarked on a “significant expansion” of its nuclear arsenal and is improving its missiles and precision weapons. China can destroy American satellites in space as well as strike U.S. forces based in Japan and Guam.

President Joe Biden last month vowed to defend Taiwan militarily if it came to that, a calculated departure from Washington’s long-established “strategic ambiguity” over how the U.S. would react to an invasion.

The Taiwan Foreign Relations Act commits the United States to provide military equipment but does not require the intervention of its armed forces into a war launched by China — even though the possibility of it always remained an option Beijing had to consider, said retired Gen. Ronald Fogleman, a former Air Force chief of staff.

“That was always left open,” said Fogleman, who noted that Biden “has put the policy people in a bind” by his comments.

“We’ve sold ( Taiwan) equipment over the years, and then there’s another whole line of thought that says, how do you keep somebody like China attacking somebody like Taiwan or somebody like Russia from attacking somebody like Ukraine? Because you don’t wait until they marshal the forces and they start loading landing craft … You try to make Taiwan as tough a nut as you can by giving them the kinds of equipment — firepower — that negates or will embarrass the Chinese as they try to do this.”

Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said relations between the United States and China have reached their lowest point since the late 1960s, when they didn’t even have diplomatic ties.

“I’m not predicting war with China, I just think that the political risk of incidents and crises damaging supply chains … is real,” he said. “All-out war is still very remote, but the geopolitical competition getting worse, I’d almost bet on it.”

The risks are in fact worsening, he and others believe, though retired Marine Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, who once headed the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, warned rumors of war have been around for 25 years and risk being “a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“We keep talking about it,” he said. “Pretty soon we’re going to talk ourselves into it.”

At least three successive administrations have expressed concerns about an expansionist China, starting with President Barack Obama, who unveiled the Pentagon’s “Pacific pivot” in 2011.

Called a “rebalance” of forces by the Pentagon, it got off to a slow start under a pair of distractions — the difficulty of withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan and the expansionist turn by Russia, beginning with its invasion of Georgia in 2008 and its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The policy change gained stream under President Donald Trump and continues under Biden, who has threatened to extend his hard line on Ukraine to China if it supports Vladimir Putin.

Green, who headed Asia policy on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, describes China as the “pacing threat,” a term Fogleman and other generals, experts and members of Congress also use to rank it as the highest-priority challenge facing the United States. They and others worry about Chinese technological advances and believe a Pacific war would be the principal preserve of the Air Force and Navy.

“When … you start to look at the weapons they’re developing and the ranges that they’ve got, you’re not going to have to have Marines and GIs assaulting beaches to rack up your casualties,” said Fogleman, a former deputy commander of U.S. Forces Korea and commander of its air component.

F. Whitten Peters, a former Air Force secretary who served in the Navy, agreed, saying any war with China would principally involve missiles, planes, cyber and submarines, “because of the distances involved.”

But Van Riper dismisses the notion that precision munitions and long-range fire can win wars. He reminds people of San Antonio historian T.R. Fehrenbach’s admonition in his book, “This Kind of War,” a critical examination of the Korean conflict.

“Americans in 1950 rediscovered something that since Hiroshima they had forgotten: you may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life — but if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud,” Fehrenbach wrote.

Van Riper, a company commander in Vietnam who later led the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, N.C., said policy makers have to distinguish between “war as these folks want it to be … (and) war as it is in reality.”

“It’s a dirty, nasty business,” he said. “The American military needs every bit of technology the country can produce and afford. It’s just this expectation that there’s a magic bullet that will be war-winning is pure nonsense.”

All agree the Army has a role to play, particularly with air defense systems. The Army has two major missile systems, the MIM-104 Patriot, a surface-to-air missile, and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense. THAAD, as it is called, which can intercept incoming ballistic missiles.

Wormuth, speaking to the Center for Strategic and International Studies late last year, checked off a list of things the Army could do. It has strong bonds with allies in the region that include Thailand, the Philippines and Australia, and could serve as America’s “linchpin service” in the region — standing up and defending bases with integrated air and sea defenses, secure communications, supply and refueling.

“The Army, with a substantial planning and operations capacity at the division and the corps level, is uniquely well-placed to provide command and control for the joint force,” Wormuth said, adding that the United States is “at a strategic crossroads” in a competition with “far-reaching consequences.”

Neither Army officials in the Pentagon nor those at Fort Hood spoke in any global detail when discussing why tactical vehicles and equipment were getting a new coat of paint.

The III Corps commander, Lt. Gen. Pat White, told the Express-News that the Army has a core mission in the Pacific but nodded in Fehrenbach’s direction when mentioning some common elements of training.

“In the Indo-Pacific … you can own the air, you can own the sea, but in the end, if you don’t own the land you’re not a winner,” he said. “So that’s kind of where the Army comes into play for anything that’s going to happen in the Indo-Pacific and it could be China, right, or it could be somebody else. But the fundamentals of how we train in our combined arms fashion don’t change … whether we’re in Europe, CENTCOM or the Indo-Pacific.”

Retired Air Force Gen. Gregory ‘Speedy’ Martin suggested the new color scheme might be about changing soldiers’ mindsets.

“I think what the Army is trying to do — it may be subtle to some — they’re trying to get people’s minds off of the desert environment and into the more likely environments where we’re going to face a potential adversary,” he said.

When Gen. Charles Q. Brown became the Air Force’s current chief of staff, his first statement was to point out that “we’ve got to accelerate, change or lose and one of the things we have to do is we have to do actual combat deployment,” Martin noted. “What agile combat deployment means is we’ve got to have an opportunity to use many more runways than we currently use in the Pacific region. Otherwise, those, fat juicy targets get eliminated and so does all of our capability.”

Green, the one-time Bush administration Asia policy chief for the National Security Council, gave high marks to the Biden administration for strengthening regional alliances in the Pacific

The Japanese have agreed to double their defense spending. The United States, Australia and Great Britain last year agreed to furnish Canberra with nuclear-powered submarines. The Washington,based Arms Control Association said the deal would make Australia the first non-nuclear-weapon state to field a nuclear-powered submarine as part of the new trilateral alliance, called AUKUS.

“It’s the future. It’s not some backwater. It’s the future of geopolitics and American prosperity,” Green said.


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