Marcus Aurelius: Army at a Cross-Roads, Toxic Leadership Not Helping

Corruption, Ineptitude, Military
Marcus Aurelius

Facing Uncertainty, Budget Cuts, Army Is At A Crossroads

Some changes have been resisted

By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post, November 23, 2012, Pg. 3

For much of this year, Sgt. Maj. Raymond F. Chandler III, the Army’s top enlisted soldier, has traveled to bases around the world with a simple message: “We’ve allowed ourselves to get out of control.”

(COMMENT:  For the past couple of years we have been hearing that despite the exceptional levels of responsibility, operational experience and success, our Soldiers and company/junior field grade officers have acquired in ten plus years of combat experience, the Army’s problems are rooted in a lack of garrison soldiering experience.  As the theory apparently goes, troops and leaders have been so busy deploying and training to deploy that they haven’t had time to spit shine boots, wax floors, paint rocks, bash the square, etc., and, therefore they are not the Soldiers they should be.  )

His solution has been a raft of new regulations governing tattoos, the length of soldiers’ sideburns and the color of the backpacks they are allowed to carry while in uniform. The tighter standards are intended to improve discipline in a force that is recovering from an exhausting decade of war.

(COMMENT:  As the party line goes, the SMA’s revolutionary re-emphasis on “basics” is the key to solving all Army problems — suicides, indiscipline, fat boys, etc., etc.  It may or may not serve those purposes.  In addition, I personally think the SMA is going “back to basics,” which many may consider “chickenshit” as a way of reducing enlisted strength for budgetary reasons.  I see two vectors:  (1)  make peacetime garrison soldiering sufficiently onerous and unattractive that may Soldiers will not seek reenlistment and (2) provide handles to separate Soldiers for imperfection.  The SMA has a number of officially established programs to board soldiers out.  Some of them have existed before.  A significant fraction of these programs are keyed to some imperfection in basic soldiering standards, particularly PT and height/weight.  All involved seem to conveniently forget that, at the height of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, when victory was doubtful, the Army found it expedient to waive most of the imperfections that are now screening criteria:  height/weight, PT, felony convictions, inadequate education, etc.  Lots of imperfect Soldiers went downrange and did pretty well.  Now they’re targets for various involuntary separation actions,)

But some of his fellow troops viewed the new regulations as one piece of a larger, more worrisome trend in the Army as it confronts an uncertain future. Instead of embracing change, some officers worry that the service is reverting to a more comfortable, rigid and predictable past.

“We are at a crossroads right now, and I don’t get the sense that we know what we are doing,” said Maj. Fernando Lujan, a Special Forces soldier who has served multiple combat tours. “I am worried about the Army.”

(COMMENT:  Probably a fair assessment but fails to mention that National strategic guidance is insufficient in terms of clarity and comprehensiveness.  Right now, in a nutshell, focus seems to be on developing options to cut Defense dollars so they can be diverted to other economic sectors.)

These are tough times for the Army. The service is facing big budget cuts and hard questions about its future role in a Pentagon defense strategy that emphasizes air and naval power over ground forces. It also is still fighting a messy war in Afghanistan and dealing with the mental wounds of combat. Ten months into 2012, the number of suspected suicides of active-duty soldiers had exceeded last year’s total of 165.

(A fair amount of effort and resources are being diverted to this problem but we see few results.  As I type this, a “Resilient and Ready Army” task force is working on a campaign plan to rationalize and integrate well over 100 previously uncoordinated initiatives that have emerged over the course of post-9/11 operations.  I’ve read the guidance for the effort and, while it looks good on paper, I remain to be convinced that it will make a difference.)

Earlier this month, the service suffered another psychological blow when retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, the most lauded Army officer of the post-Vietnam War era, was forced to step down as director of the CIA after admitting to an extramarital affair with his biographer.

“We’ve always come down in numbers after conflicts, and our budget has always gone down, too,” said Lt. Gen. John Campbell, a top Army general at the Pentagon. “The difference is that we are doing this while we are still continuing to fight. And that is what is causing a lot more friction.”

Officials, however, said that the Army is not facing the crippling problems with discipline and drug abuse that followed the Vietnam War. Although multiple combat tours have strained marriages and contributed to the increasing suicide rate, the Army has been able to retain its combat-tested junior leaders.

“Our young leaders learned to run cities in Iraq,” Campbell said. “They are so . . . adaptable and flexible.”

(LTG (Promotable) Campbell, who is pending promotion to four-star and reassignment as Commander, Forces Command, has it very right.  Most of the lieutenants through major and many of the junior lieutenant colonels are simply fantastic; unbelievably operationally experienced and capable.  They are dazzling performers.  Senior lieutenant colonels and colonels, not necessarily as much so.)  The juniors could do tremendous things for the Army if provided necessary resources and proper senior-level guidance.)

One big struggle for the Army will be to keep these junior officers and sergeants interested in a stateside service in which fewer resources are available for tough, realistic training and a greater focus on minutiae such as drill and ceremony.

(COMMENT:  Seems to me a clear hero-to-zero situation.  After they’ve been warrior kings, making life and death decisions, spending big dollars to get things done, how do we expect them react when we put them in the barracks to buff floors and beg for pennies to fund oversupervised training in local training areas?)

One mid-level sergeant at Fort Bragg, N.C., recently complained that he watched several junior soldiers get yelled at for donning Army-issued fleece hats on a cold morning when they were supposed to be wearing baseball-style patrol caps. “It’s cold. They are cold. Let them wear what they want,” the sergeant said. “But it is not the published standard, so everybody gets a butt-chewing. We have defaulted back to before 9/11.”

(COMMENT:  Exemplifies what we’re likely to see by emphasizing the wrong standards, perhaps in this case uniformity over functionality.  Many of the SOF units seem to function quite well using “big boy rules,” with one of those typically being “wear and carry what you need in order to do your job.”  I have that guidance in writing from my initial SF training during the Vietnam war; I’ve shown it to a few conventional bosses and it left them, to use a British phrase, “gobsmacked.”

As the war in Afghanistan draws to a close, more senior officers worry that the Army has not been able to articulate a clear mission that will enable it to hold on to its shrinking share of the Pentagon budget.

(COMMENT:  Probably an accurate statement.   My take:

  • The principal priority of the US Government seems to be cutting the Defense budget in order to resource other priorities.  Little if any of this seems based in rationale analysis of need or threat; it is generally framed in terms of deficit reduction or sequestration, but I personally believe that much of it driven by some of POTUS’ personal sociopolitical beliefs that go beyond the prudent scope of this discussion.
  • DoD claims that most of the Defense budget is in personnel accounts.
  • The Army, as well as the Marine Corps, as ground Services, are personnel-intensive.
  • The Army, particularly, but also the Marine Corps, are interested in preserving “flag,” major units with senior-level commanders.  Provides promotion opportunities as well as strategic options.
  • We just cut-and-ran from one land war, we are in the process of cutting from another land war, and, the jingoistic rhetoric of immediate post-9/11 days notwithstanding, the American public shows little inclination to support future land wars.
  • Unclassified analysis suggests that additional future attention to the Pacific may be prudent.
  • The Pacific Theater has more water than land, hence a maritime and air environment.
  • The Air Force and Navy are devoting major effort and resources to “AirSea Battle,” their justification for increased resources at the expense of the Navy and Marine Corps.
  • At least for the Army’s part, does not appear that we are doing much to counter then AF/Navy effort.  My immediate past division chief, who, it could be argued, was dumped from a job he was doing relatively well in order to free up the billet for somebody’s “by name request,” is heading an AirSea Battle office that consists solely of himself.
  • Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff are driving a lot of budget drills in various formats.  They seem to have the same objective:  cut the ground Services and plus up Air Force and Navy.  We have cartoons on our wall which illustrate that trend.
  • So, I don’t think there’s a chance in the world that Army will sustain even an adequate budget share.  Army and Marine Corps are going to get screwed.  Questions are largely when, how, and how badly?

“I want an Army that is capable of many missions at many speeds, many sizes, under many different conditions,” Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, said in a speech this month.

In recent months, the Army has announced a new plan to focus individual combat brigades and divisions on specific regions of the world, such as Asia, Africa or Europe. Soldiers in these units will receive special cultural and language training and could be dispatched on training missions to work with developing armies.

Some Army officers, however, worry that Odierno’s pronouncements and the regional plans are too vague. “What bugs me is being stuck in an institution that doesn’t know where it is going,” said one senior Army officer at the Pentagon.

(COMMENT:  In this kind of scenario, Services dance to the tune of the Geographic Combatant Commanders, who talk directly to OSD, Congress, and the President.  If the GCCs don’t have clear guidance — and, guess what, probably not all do — then the Services don’t know what’s expected of them.)

Other mid-level officers are concerned that the Army, consumed with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been too slow to define its future role relative to the Air Force and the Navy. An internal Army survey conducted in December 2011 found that only 26 percent of Army leaders believed that the Army was “headed in the right direction to prepare for the challenges of the next 10 years,” down from 38 percent in 2006.

“We have to prioritize. Our mid-level and junior officers expect it,” said Lt. Col. Paul Larson, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and recently completed a teaching stint at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. “We are all waiting to see what group of mid-level and senior officers takes the lead in defining priorities.”

(COMMENT:  The first priorities that need to be defined are those from the White House and OSD; after that, Service can think about defining priorities that next with those of higher echelon.  Some priority definition has been done, but I can tell you that it isn’t always honored because not everybody agrees with all of what the authorized definers defined.  Within the Army, there are lots of priority lists:  SecArmy has just released a new one, Chief of Staff has one, G-3/5/7 has one, and my Director has one.  However, these lists are not consistent.  Further, they don’t necessarily conform to Secretary of Defense priorities.  Some of the priorities, particularly SECDEF priorities have made their way into doctrine.  None of that keeps them from being essentially ignored whenever that’s convenient.)

Meanwhile, many mid-level officers are voicing new doubts about the Army’s battlefield performances in Iraq and Afghanistan. A few years ago, Army officers almost universally celebrated the service’s freshly minted counterinsurgency doctrine and its ability to adapt to a new kind of warfare. Soldiers who were trained to fight tank battles shifted to a style of combat that emphasized politics, cultural awareness and protecting the local population from insurgent attacks.

Today Iraq, which is still wracked by violence and influenced by Iran, seems like less of a victory than it did only a short time ago. In Afghanistan, a surge of more than 30,000 U.S. troops has produced a stalemate that leaves soldiers counting down to withdrawal at the end of 2014.

“For the institution, these outcomes matter,” said retired Lt. Col. Douglas Ollivant, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Can the Army tell a story about how it figured it out in Iraq and made it a success? Can it tell itself that it was a learning and adaptive organization?”

The Army’s struggles in Afghanistan have sharpened some officers’ critiques of the branch. “Our learning curve has been much too slow,” said Lujan, who is preparing for a tour in Afghansitan. “I would never in a million years call us smart or agile. We have made a million mistakes.”

(COMMENT:  Need to recognize that Army was not optimized for type of conflicts it encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan.   From what I heard, Soldiers and small units adapted relatively well.)

Petraeus’s resignation further dampened the Army’s self-esteem. His performance in Iraq infused younger officers with confidence and pride. “Petraeus made everyone around him want to be a better person and a better officer,” said Lt. Col. Mark Weber, who served with the general in Iraq and recently wrote a book, “Tell My Sons,” about his military service and his battle with cancer. “He was a warrior, statesman, intellectual. He made it okay to be smart.”

(COMMENT:  Army, IMHO, has far greater leadership problems that GEN Petraeus’ relatively minor issue.  Army needs to look at the LTC O’Reillys and GEN Wards.  LTG(R) Ulmer has done significant writing on toxic leaders; the topic gets significant official coverage occasionally but never any significant addressal.  Toxic leaders seem to be proliferating.)

Ollivant agreed. “Petraeus exemplified the Army finally getting it right in Iraq,” he said. “When that goes away, it is a problem.”