Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On US Military Leadership 2009 – Reflections

Concurrent with the tragic announcement of the murder of five soldiers by their comrade in arms in Baghdad was the shocking statistic that 20% of the 4200 plus US killed in Iraq was not due to enemy action. These roughly eight hundred troops died in accidents, suicide, friendly fire, or were murdered by someone other than the enemy. This situation usually indicates an organizational malaise with the smell of disintegration that occurs when weak military leadership is found at all levels.

Each military leader, whether a corporal or a general, has his own idiosyncratic leadership style that is rooted in his personality, but in military units there are three concepts that are immutable if you expect to lead men under fire: KNOW YOUR MEN – LOYALTY WORKS BOTH WAYS – NO EXCUSE SIR. So let us examine how these 20th century principles have worked at least in the wars that begin in the 21st century.

KNOW YOUR MEN. The military organization reflects the society from which it springs. My observation of the age groups that provide the military manpower is that it is stressed out. This is well before its members are part of a military unit. The reason for it is unclear, but it is a factor that the military establishment must face today when building units and fighting wars.

I was first inadvertently alerted to this so called generation stress factor by my nephew who was a full scholarship student at Cooper-Hewitt college in NYC. He was a computer wizard who hooked himself part time into a Wall Street firm as a trouble shooter. When in NYC, I took him to dinner where he would order Johnny Walker Black scotch, best steak and wine on the menu, and polished it off with a brandy snifter of Remy Martin. It appeared the young man liked living large.

He was maintaining high grades in school while at the same time, making thousands of dollars every week moonlighting. I admired his spunk, dash and audacity, so it stunned me when upon graduation, he packed up, departed NYC and rejected big-money, Wall Street offers.

He ended up in California with a mediocre job. When I finally asked him WTF happened, he said could not stand the stress. Later I learned that this behavior was common in this generation – a generation that prefers to live at home with Mom and Pop after graduation or receiving degrees. Apart from financial considerations, in many cases this reflects insecurity and lack of self confidence to face the world – the generation just cannot cut the apron strings. Admittedly, times have changed.

So it is, that there exist variations of these souls from which the military must forge the forces. Combine this with back-to-back tours in combat zones; the inability to maintain unit integrity by constant unit rotation; the sharp lowering of educational and conduct standards for enlistments; and, you have relentless leadership challenges not apparent in the 20th century.

Solutions are to raise enlistment standards and broaden the man power pool with compulsory service. Or just avoid fighting foolish wars and rest the forces.

LOYALTY WORKS BOTH WAYS. A commander cannot expect loyalty unless he is loyal to his troops. He must demonstrate that he is genuinely interested in the welfare of his men. This means he insures they are well equipped, fed and trained. He must strictly punish the guilty and reward the performers. And he must stick his neck out for his unit when ill-conceived orders are received (doubt you will find this in the leadership training manuel, but anyone who has served in combat knows this is important). Executing flawed orders robotically has killed a lot of brave men historically. e.g. the English light cavalry at Balaclava in the Crimean War, Australians at Gallipoli and German soldiers at Stalingrad in WWII.

Under US military leadership, the war plans for the invasion of Iraq were flawed; too few troops employed opened the country to looting; and, Saddam's ammunition dumps were left unguarded for nearly a year after the invasion and were used by insurgents to rearm and build bombs. Failure to use the Iraq Army and the members of the Baath party in the occupation proved disastrous. Billions of dollars in cash still remain unaccounted.

We know the troops went to war in Iraq without effective body and vehicle armor. As the war went on, lieutenants refused to accept promotions to captain even with 20 thousand dollar bonuses, because they had problems with the integrity of field grade and general officer leadership.

The Abu Gahrib atrocities clearly demonstrated a break down of the chain of command with only a few low-grade enlisted soldiers punished for the crimes. The Army covered up the friendly fire death of ranger Pat Tillman which promoted expediency over honesty. Generals who failed in the field were promoted and given awards. These were just the more apparent facts that eroded troop confidence in their leaders.

Finally it has recently been confirmed that many retired flag officers pimped for the Pentagon, even using issued Defense Department talking points, on the TV networks, promoting pro-war propaganda. It is known that some of same fellas sold out to military contractors using Pentagon connections to promote sales of weapons, private security firms and war goods and supplies. There is even evidence that their compensation would be determined by the length of the wars.

Pulitzer prize winning investigative journalist David Barstow spells it all out in his recently published article in the NYTimes: BEHIND TV ANALYSTS, PENTAGON’S HIDDEN HAND... He names names and provides details.

It was no surprise that many of these high ranking officers were graduates of national service academies. If they are part of the proud Long Grey Line, an asterisk should be placed by their name denoting their sleazy conduct and squalid greed. One suggested footnote is: This United States Military Academy graduate sold his heritage for a mess of pottage.

Net result of these combined factors is to have cast a cynical gloom over the ranks in the field. It has to drive out many patriotically motivated. It has to have a corrosive affect on the military establishment at large.

NO EXCUSE, SIR. The soldier who killed five other soldiers had been tagged with mental problems by the command, disarmed and subsequently escorted to a mental counseling station. He was asked to leave the clinic when he became unruly. He returned to the facility with a weapon that he forcefully took from his escort and committed murder.

You can argue the command acted correctly in accordance to procedures. So What? Five men are pointlessly dead under its nose... under its trust. Rumsfeld's stuff happens may work for civilians as an excuse, but not in military organizations where the society and environment are controlled. Military units are charged with making stuff happen.

Why did it happen? NO EXCUSE, SIR. People involved in the chain of command should be relieved of duty. The traditional rule embedded in command authority, is that the commander is responsible for what his men do or fail to do, and it should be operative in the 21st century... or is it? After only minor disciplinary action occurred from the massive command failure at Abu Gahrib and the cover up in the Tillman case, you must wonder whether this 20th century military ethos is still in effect.

The military profession is not for choir boys. War is organized chaos, but even in the thick of it you still need rules. If there are new 21st century rules, what are they? Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret.

* Picture: Painting Friedland, 1807 by Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier

2 Comments:

Blogger Bob said...

I do not view today's military leaders as "military leaders".
They are - to me - individuals that have chosen the military as a career path, one that can provide a free college degree, social position, authority and power without responsibility, a guaranteed income, and a cushy retirement.
The chance we all take is that they might - someday - be called apon to actually lead.
Unfortunately for all of us, particularily the parents of young soldiers, when that happens, we all pay the price.
I look at these "leaders", these desk-bound generals with a square yard of ribbons and medals, and wonder just how we have allowed these pompous Banty roosters to rise to the top.
Are there a few good ones? In today's enviornment, how can we tell?

12:58  
Anonymous WLindsayWheeler said...

Well, what do you expect Col. when there is NO Virtue taught anywhere in America?

I bet you don't even know what "Virtue" means either.

America is a sewer. It is a barbarian country. Most enlisted come from urban areas who live soft lives. In the 20th century, many a men came from Agriculture. It is Agrarianism that produces manly men.

When College is forced on men because it is a vehicle for self-aggrandizement---what do you expect from a leadership corps pulled from such a pool?

Moreover, we live in a Marxist country.

Communist Rules for Revolution (Captured at Dusseldorf in May 1919 by Allied Forces)

1. Corrupt the young; get them away from religion. Get them interested in sex. Make them superficial; destroy their ruggedness. Can you make soldiers out people conditioned to be superficial, vain, and effeminate?

Soldier and Officer quality are no different from the nation it pulls from. I direct you to this article on the The Classical definition of EffeminacyAnd another big problem is the Desegregation of the troops. You can't mix ghetto urban blacks with Europeans and expect a good fighting force. Political correctness is ruining this country like it ruined Rhodesia! Fighting units should be of kinsmen.

So-----unless that changes---you're going to see the further degredation of the US military and its eventual military defeat somewhere sometime.

Again, what you talk about in this article is the total lack of Virtue in the men. Virtue is ingrained at an earlier age. Training in Virtue has to begin with the young.

18:16  

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