Army at crossroads, facing budget cuts and uncertainty about future role

Washington Post, By Greg Jaffe, November 23

For much of this year, Sgt. Maj. Raymond F. Chandler III, the Army’s top enlisted soldier, has traveled to bases around the world with a simple message: “We’ve allowed ourselves to get out of control.”

His solution has been a raft of new regulations governing tattoos, the length of soldiers’ sideburns and the color of the backpacks they are allowed to carry while in uniform. The tighter standards are intended to improve discipline in a force that is recovering from an exhausting decade of war.

But some of his fellow troops viewed the new regulations as one piece of a larger, more worrisome trend in the Army as it confronts an uncertain future. Instead of embracing change, some officers worry that the service is reverting to a more comfortable, rigid and predictable past.

“We are at a crossroads right now, and I don’t get the sense that we know what we are doing,” said Maj. Fernando Lujan, a Special Forces soldier who has served multiple combat tours. “I am worried about the Army.”

These are tough times for the Army. The service is facing big budget cuts and hard questions about its future role in a Pentagon defense strategy that emphasizes air and naval power over ground forces. It also is still fighting a messy war in Afghanistan and dealing with the mental wounds of combat. Ten months into 2012, the number of suspected suicides of active-duty soldiers had exceeded last year’s total of 165.

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