WASHINGTON–As Americans, we see ourselves as the best in a number of ways. We have the best governmental framework. We have the best athletes. We have the best way of life.
Whether those are true or not is up for debate abroad, but not within our borders. What is likely an accepted truth across the world is the United States military’s ability to plan for unforeseen disasters is second to none.
“This is an enormous strength of the United States military,” said Dr. David Tretler, a professor at the National War College in Washington. “We probably do this more, and therefore better, than anybody else.
“When events do occur, we have a greater capacity to carry out the planning that’s necessary to try to get everything lined up in the right way and moving at the proper time.”
Indeed, the U.S. military spends a vast amount of time making contingency plans. Each of the individual combatant commands has its own planning division concerned strictly with thinking about the contingencies that need to be in place. For example, one of the contingencies thought about at Pacific Command is what the course of action needs to be if North Korea decides to invade South Korea.
Tretler said planning contingencies for a certain region or deployment used to take about two years, but former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cut the planning cycle to a year or shorter. Once a plan is in place, however, it is constantly revised.
“What it comes down to is assessments by senior leaders that the process in place is working or we see a better way,” Tretler said. “If that becomes fact, we generate a new doctrine.”
It’s an element of the military that receives little attention because for it to be successful, it needs to happen behind closed doors. Military planning gets noticed when something goes wrong, but with the enormity of the task, the planners simply cannot get everything right.
“The military spends so much more time on planning and trying to think ahead, but that takes large staffs and large headquarters,” said Dr. Conrad Crane, director of the Army War College in Carlisle Pa. “The rest of the government doesn’t have the resources to do it.”
Crane also mentioned that the rest of the government tries to play catch-up with the military in this respect, again speaking to the adroitness with which the military plans for anything that can go wrong.
“In terms of trying to develop processes, foundation, skills and cadre of experts we are considerably further ahead than most folks,” Tretler said. “Especially when you talk about big things because, frankly, we’re the only people who have big things.”
It all gets back to being the best, and that’s something our military takes very seriously.