Department of the Army Historical Summary: FY 1981
The Army at Yorktown-Spirit of Victory" was a proud theme for fiscal year 1981. Numerous commemorative activities were planned and conducted as both the Army and the nation prepared to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the allied victory over the British at Yorktown; the celebration was scheduled for 16-18 October 1981. Reaffirmation of a proud past was also symbolized on 10 September 1981 when President Ronald Reagan, Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, and Mrs. Douglas MacArthur dedicated a corridor in the Pentagon to the memory of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, the last of the Army's five-star officers to be so honored.
While honoring past victories and heroes, the Army pushed forward in preparing to defend, if necessary, the liberties and freedoms for which so many had sacrificed so much. In this regard, 1981 was not a year of revolutionary change, but rather a year marked by successes of a more conventional nature. Priority of effort was directed toward strengthening the existing force rather than undertaking bold new initiatives. Steady improvement was made in recruiting, equipping, and training, familiar but vital areas which constitute the basic measure of force readiness.
But while the Army's achievements were more substantial than spectacular during this fiscal year, by the close of the period certain trends were evident which indicated that an important turning point had been reached for the Army and for the nation.
There was a palpable shift in attitudes away from the predominantly negative feelings toward the military which had characterized public opinion since the end of the Vietnam era. There were several components of this change as well as other interrelated factors and events which had been instrumental in causing and reinforcing it.
At the beginning of the fiscal year, a major concern of the American people was the fact that forty-four Americans were still being held as hostages in Iran, and no immediate resolution of the crisis was in sight. The outbreak of hostilities between Iran and Iraq in September 1981 served to underscore further the vulnerability of America's vital interests in that region, as did the continued military presence of the Soviet Union in- Afghanistan. In addition, the emergence of a free labor movement in Poland
and the consequent threats of Soviet intervention heightened political and military turbulence in Europe even more. Tensions were especially acute during March and April of 1981, when Soviet forces, together with Czech and East German troops, conducted extensive maneuvers near the Polish frontier.
Within weeks of taking office in January 1981, the Reagan administration requested both a supplemental appropriation for the 1981 defense budget and a sharply increased appropriation for fiscal year 1982. Although public attention was often focused on the debate concerning two proposed strategic weapons systems-the MX missile and the B-1 bomber-the Army's manpower and materiel situation was the subject of considerable discussion, and much concern was expressed over the adequacy of current draft registration procedures.
On another level, there appeared to be an emerging consensus on the nature of the major threat to the nation's security. While the public was perhaps most aware of the sheer magnitude of the Soviet military buildup, a common perception of the Soviets had formed among influential members of the academic and journalistic communities as well as within the nation's civilian and military leadership. The Soviet Union seemed to exhibit some classic symptoms of decline: a nation with an aging, inflexible leadership facing a mounting series of economic and social problems, together with many signs of ideological stagnation within the country; and, externally, increasingly uncertain control over its East European satellites. Hence the widely expressed opinion that-following the usual historic pattern of a troubled dictatorship-the Soviet leadership might be more prone to use military force outside its borders to counter internal troubles.
There were also more positive events that helped to shape a new climate of opinion. The release of the American hostages in January 1981 resulted in a display of national emotion and unity and an outpouring of patriotism that older Americans compared to the days of World War II.
The nation once again asserted its technological prowess and its leadership in space exploration in a manner also reminiscent of an earlier period-the era of the moon landings of the 1960s. In November 1980, the first Voyager unmanned spacecraft flew past the planet Saturn, sending back a stunning array of pictures and scientific measurements. Then, in April, the space shuttle Columbia made its historic and successful first flight, opening a new -era in the practical use of space. By year's end, Columbia was being prepared for a second flight. Finally, in September, Voyager 2 made its flight past Saturn, coming even closer to the great
ringed planet than its predecessor and transmitting even more detailed and spectacular images.
These and other events during the year seemed not only to restore a sense of unity and purpose to the nation, but also to foster a return to more traditional values in American life, including a feeling of national pride. More than one social commentator expressed the opinion that the national spirit had at last recovered from the traumatic effects of the Vietnam experience.
The national mood was reflected within the Army in a number of ways, not the least of which was a renewed sense of confidence in the future. There were encouraging signs that at least some of the chronic problems and worrisome deficiencies of recent years were finally beginning to yield to persistent and frequently imaginative efforts at solution. Improvement was especially evident in the area of materiel, where the largest modernization program since World War II was gaining visible momentum. The first of the long-awaited M1 Abrams main battle tanks were delivered for field tests at Fort Hood, Texas, and a modernized version of the M60 tank continued to be fielded in quantity. The M60A3, although regarded as a transitional system, remained a formidable fighting vehicle with a stabilized main gun, which allowed firing on the move, advanced night vision, and gun-ranging and control devices. Also entering service was the UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter, which will eventually replace the familiar UH-1 Huey as the Army's principal utility and assault helicopter. Deployment of an improved TOW (tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided) antitank missile to Europe began this year, as did delivery of the Stinger man-portable antiaircraft missile, which will replace Redeye. Correction of one of the most critical and long-standing deficiencies in the Army's weaponry was in sight with the production of three new air defense systems: the Patriot system, successor to the aging Nike Hercules missiles, which went into production in October 1980; the division air defense gun (DIVAD), a twin 40-mm. cannon, which will replace the self-propelled Vulcan; and the Roland missile system. Production decisions were at hand for an advanced attack helicopter and a formidable self-propelled multiple launch rocket system, a weapon concept familiar to the Soviets since World War II but new to U.S. forces.
Important progress was also made in correcting deficiencies in the organization of combat forces. These corrections included restructuring the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) to remedy problems encountered during the REFORGER 76 exercise; acti-
vating new chemical defense units and combat electronic warfare intelligence (CEWI) units to counter the growing chemical warfare threat posed by Soviet bloc forces and to prepare for the modern integrated battlefield environment of the future; and completing plans to reorganize I Corps to form the last of three corps to which Army CONUS divisions would be assigned.
In the area of training, the formal opening of the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, on 1 July 1981 was a milestone. This facility provides both the space and the technical facilities to train and evaluate battalion-sized units in a simulated battlefield environment of unprecedented realism, including joint training in air-ground operations with U.S. Air Force units.
Perhaps the most gratifying progress was made in the personnel and manpower areas, where the Army had long struggled with some of its most intractable problems. A combination of financial incentives; quality-of-life initiatives, and aggressive and imaginative efforts by commanders and service members at all levels has resulted in the fulfillment of recruiting goals; the recruitment of the highest percentage of high school graduates in the history of the Army, reversing a widely noted unfavorable trend; and an improved retention situation, with the highest reenlistment rates of recent years. Both the new administration and the Congress manifested an increased awareness and concern about Army manpower issues and the need for supportive measures for improvement.
The favorable developments that have occurred during the past year do not justify complacency, however, for the Army still faces serious and stubborn problems inherited from a decade of neglect. Moreover, the progress that has been achieved will in itself create new problems and challenges. Over the next five years, some five hundred new weapon and materiel systems will be introduced into the Army inventory. Many of these will have a major impact on organizational structures, training, and logistics systems. The pace of modernization will be so rapid that, as Army Chief of Staff Edward C. Meyer observed, "change itself will be the principal challenge confronting the Army in the years immediately ahead." Yet, despite the challenges, or perhaps because of them, there was a new, positive mood at the close of fiscal year 1981, a growing feeling that the Army's problems were no longer something that could only be managed, but could be solved.
Last updated 17 September 2004