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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army is charging full-speed ahead with its plans to dump the current individual assignment system for a “unit manning” approach, with a major briefing on the concept scheduled Wednesday, and the first unit test slated for this fall, Army officials said.

On Wednesday, a roomful of top Army brass headed by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki will review the results of a unit manning report requested just last September by Army Secretary Thomas White, said Army spokesman Lt. Col. Stanley Heath.

White is determined to see the service stop its practice of managing careers separately and start keeping unit personnel together for extended periods of time, saying Nov. 1 that “there will be a limit to the effectiveness that we can achieve with our transformation” to a more modern Army if the individual replacement system isn’t revamped.

The Army has tried unit manning at the battalion level and with smaller units at least 10 times over the last 100 years, Heath in a Friday telephone interview.

But today’s individual replacement system was settled on Army-wide in World War I, “in order to place large numbers of soldiers into combat quickly,” Heath said.

White believes that individual management — which can result in soldiers changing units as often as every 18 months — is disruptive and counter to unit cohesiveness and morale. Keeping soldiers together as a group through a several-year cycle of training, certification and deployments would not only make units more capable in combat, but also make Army life more predictable for families, White has said.

In September, White tasked Lt. Gen. John LeMoyne, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel, to produce a study on unit manning by January 2003. LeMoyne then appointed Brig. Gen. Sean Byrne, director of the Enlisted Personnel Management Directorate, to lead the unit manning task force.

Now that the study is complete, Army leaders intend to select soldiers to test the concept as early as this month, and hope to begin the experiment this fall, Heath said.

Heath said he could not provide details on possible guinea pigs for the test.

But the most likely candidate is the 172nd Infantry Brigade in Alaska, which is scheduled in 2003 to become the third Army brigade outfitted with the new Stryker wheeled combat vehicle, an Army official told Stripes on Friday.

Using the 172nd to test unit manning would make sense, the officer said, because a successful transition to Stryker is critical to the Army’s modernization plans and involves extensive training.

The Army has already “fenced off” the first two Stryker brigades, which were formed in 2002. Those brigades have been taken off the list for possible deployments and are preventing soldiers from moving in and out before the transition is complete.

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