By March of Fiscal Year 2013, a brigade from the Army’s 1st Infantry Division–the Big Red One–will be ready to start performing tasks supporting U.S. Africa Command’s (AFRICOM) work in helping to build partnership capacity.

Aligning brigades on a regional basis is an option the Army is examining to see how the service can better organize itself to deliver the “best capability it can to combatant commanders" to fulfill national objectives and budget choices, said U.K. Col. Andrew Dennis, an exchange officer who is assigned to the U.S. Army’s G-3/5/7, as division chief, Army Security Cooperation Policy and Concepts, IW and Stability Operations.

The 2/1ID, a heavy brigade combat team, will support AFRICOM’s requirement to build partnerships with interested countries in the command’s area of responsibility.

While the Army has not firmly decided on all the facets of the regional alignment concept, the broad plan is to ensure the Army fulfills the National Strategic and Defense Guidance, and budget priorities and choices that direct the U.S. government and military services to join allies and partners around the world to help build their capacity to promote security and prosperity, Dennis said in a media roundtable last week.

AFRICOM Commander Army Gen. Carter Ham told Armed Forces Press Service June 21 eliminating terrorist safe havens and support is a top priority, a thread running through the command’s theater engagement strategy. That strategy includes operations, exercises and security cooperation programs.

To support AFRICOM does not mean the entire 2/1 ID would deploy; it could be just a few people, or dozens, depending on what the Combatant Commander requires. That, too, a small footprint, is something the national strategy and defense guidance want to see.

Additionally, the brigade will remain stationed at its U.S. home base. It will not deploy to Africa. Only those involved in a specific task or mission would deploy.

The brigade will, however, build on its Army Force Generation cycle of reset, train and become ready to deploy and then be available to deploy on AFRICOM missions. This means training and building on the necessary full spectrum operational skills, such as conducting unified land operations.

Additional skills such as language and cultural studies would be added, as well as skills necessary to build a training force package that would be identified, added and adjusted as the specific mission is refined, Dennis said. However, Dennis said, it would likely be deployments measured in weeks and months, rather than a year or more.

In a sense, the Army has been doing this for years, most recently in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, training armies, helping improve intelligence and border security activities. The Army Chief of Staff wants to keep and refine these skills and capabilities, and make them part of the organization, as well as to support national strategy and directly respond to the needs of all combatant commanders. Most recently, U.S. Central Command has received the lion’s share of support. This new effort would align forces to support each of the combatant commanders.

Aligned forces for the combatant commands might not always take the form of a brigade combat team, Dennis said. It could be something quite different. For example, depending on the need, the aligned force could be engineer or military police units, or a unit with any other expertise, all depending on the combatant commander’s specification.

Going forward, Dennis said, the chief of staff is considering the options of aligning forces beyond the brigade–to divisions and corps perhaps, and how that would work. In other words “what options offer the COCOMs the best sources” for building partner capability.

Also, the regionally aligned forces are not going to become or replace Army Special Forces who have the Foreign Internal Defense mission. The issue is the high demand on a small overall number of Special Forces. Aligning general purpose forces is an effort to fill security cooperation demands, as has been done in current conflicts. The point is to provide the best, cost-effective force package.

Additionally, aligned units will streamline support to the combatant commanders. Now when a combatant command needs, say, people for a command post exercise, the Army has to look in several places to fill the specific requirement; this new concept will give the service a capability to fulfill that mission support requirement it didn’t have before.