Marcus Aurelius: US Army’s New Enemy Is Itself

Cultural Intelligence, Ineptitude, Military
Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius

Article below started to circulate in the office on Friday and appears in today's Washington Post. LTG (R) Barno is spot-on.  He describes the Army I retired from and, substantially, the Army I was commissioned into in 1971.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, the threats were IEDs, snipers, etc.  In the Army to return, the threats will be Semi-Annual Training Briefs, PT tests, maintenance inspections, barracks inspections, shortages of white paint for rocks, etc.  For the junior officers and, to a significant extent for the Soldiers, during the 13 years of combat, they have been working within intent, with significant autonomy and opportunity to exercise initiative.  And they have done well.  Now they face infinite micromanagement with emphasis on uniforms, tatoos, police call, pulling Staff Duty Officer and Charge of Quarters, motor stables, area beautification, etc.  Principal drivers of this future are a former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army and the current Sergeant Major of the Army, who have postulated that this new regime is the silver bullet to restoring discipline within the force and reducing Soldier suicides.  As LTG Barno notes, it's also likely create unattractive command climates thus generating voluntary separations which will contribute to sequestration-driven reduction of end strength.

Subject: The Army's Next Enemy? Peace

By David W. Barno

Washington Post, July 10 at 5:43 PM

Retired Army Lt. Gen. David W. Barno is a senior fellow and co-director of
the Responsible Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security.
From 2003 to 2005, he served as overall commander of U.S. and coalition
forces in Afghanistan.

The Army is emerging from 13 years of war, battle-tested but weary. It is
under pressure from budget cuts, the return of nearly the entire force to
domestic bases, and a nation wary of deploying land power after two long
conflicts. Yet perhaps the most important challenge facing the Army is not
about finances, logistics or public opinion, but about culture – its own.

A conflict looms between the Army's wartime ethos of individual initiative
and the bureaucratic malaise that peacetime brings. The Army is about to
make an abrupt shift: from a sizable, well-resourced, forward-deployed,
combat-focused force to a much smaller, austerely funded, home-stationed
service. Training and preparation for war will take the place of actually
waging it. The Army is moving from 13 straight years of playing in the Super
Bowl to an indefinite number of seasons scrimmaging with itself.

While few in the service would prefer unending wartime deployments over some
semblance of peace, the end of full-scale conflict brings unique challenges
to those in uniform – especially to those millennials in active service who,
since 2001, have experienced nothing but the adrenaline rush of an Army at
war. This transition could weaken the Army's warfighting capabilities and
drive talented, combat-experienced young leaders from the force.

The Army faced a similar situation after Vietnam. Home after a decade in
Southeast Asia, its senior officers confronted demands to shrink the Army
rapidly and return it to a peacetime footing. With inadequate funds, poor
discipline, worn equipment and outdated warfighting doctrines all competing
for attention, Army leaders aggressively attacked these problems – but were
also far-sighted enough to realize that leadership of a peacetime force
would be a critical challenge.

The Army's senior leaders of the 1970s had endured the trials of Vietnam as
mid-grade combat commanders, and they understood that the traits required
for battlefield success – bold decision-making and individual leadership –
would be quickly stamped out in a peacetime, rule-focused force. So they
took action.

In 1979, the Army chief of staff, Gen. Edward “Shy” Meyer, advanced the
controversial idea of “selective disobedience” as a way to empower junior
leaders in the face of stultifying Army bureaucracy. His comments sparked a
furious debate in the force, but as a young infantry company commander at
the time, I knew exactly what he meant. He did not mean that we should
ignore laws or violate ethical standards. But in a peacetime Army, the
demands of burgeoning policies, regulations and requirements vastly exceeded
the time available to comply, so leaders were empowered to set priorities
and make choices. We could say no – we were even expected to say no. As I
recall Gen. Robert Shoemaker telling us in a 1980 speech to leaders of the
Army's 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii: You will impress me, he said, if I
come to your training site and you tell me what parts of my guidance you
have chosen not to follow. You will really impress me if you have already
told my staff and explained why.

Similarly, Lt. Gen. Walter Ulmer led an Army-wide campaign, beginning in the
early 1980s, that he christened “power down,” designed to wrest authority
out of the hands of petty Army bureaucrats and drive it down to the lowest
possible level. The signature of an officer was his or her bond, and Army
regulations and local policies were scrubbed to ensure that the authority
inherent in that signature was treated seriously. For instance, mid-grade
noncommissioned officers were given the authority to be “officers-in-charge”
of live fire ranges, a sea change in a culture that previously pushed more
and more responsibility into the hands of its officers and undercut its

Today's Army officially embraces a leadership concept called Mission
Command, and it resonates with the initiatives launched after Vietnam. At
its simplest, Mission Command dictates that senior leaders provide guidance
and intent – the what and the why – and that subordinate leaders have
maximum latitude to design the how. It embodies deep trust between senior
and subordinate.

Mission Command is how the Army fights its wars. It has been the default
setting in Iraq and Afghanistan, where small units led by junior leaders
have been scattered across the battlefield. Many of these young captains,
lieutenants and sergeants saw their immediate supervisors infrequently, but
all strived to operate within the intent of those higher commanders every

Regardless of the strategic outcomes of these recent wars, decentralized
Mission Command has succeeded, empowering junior leaders to act boldly
within their commanders' broad intent. For example, when the raid into
Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden went awry with a helicopter
crash, the assault force immediately pressed on to accomplish the overall
mission – without receiving detailed new orders from commanders thousands of
miles away.

But Mission Command is now on a collision course with the peacetime Army,
which values bureaucratic process and compliance above all else. Completing
surveys and online training on time, mastering PowerPoint briefings, and
grasping the intricacies of training management and readiness reporting all
dominate the life of leaders in garrison. In combat, risk of death or
failure is a daily hazard. In peacetime, risk-taking is systematically
extinguished by layers of rules, restrictions and micromanagement aimed at
avoiding any possible shortcomings. Peacetime procedures tend to crush the
very attributes required for successful unit combat leaders. If not
corrected, this conflict will drive out many of the Army's best young
wartime leaders and demoralize the rest.

It is not at all clear that today's Army leadership even recognizes the
problem – much less is doing anything about it. Early this year, a gruff
Army one-star general addressed a room full of new company commanders and
first sergeants at a large combat installation. His topic was “garrison
leadership” – the transition from war to a home-station military. He, like
every other serving general, grew up in the Army of the 1990s and long ago
mastered the maze of peacetime training and bureaucracy. (By the era,
efforts to push back against creeping bureaucracy had already waned.)
According to attendees I spoke with, his message to a room packed with
combat veterans boiled down to this: Suck it up. We are going back to the
Army before the war. It was good enough for me; it will be good enough for

His audience – captains and senior noncommissioned officers with multiple
combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan – represented a generation of
young leaders who have grown up in the Army since Sept. 11, 2001. In today's
force, every lieutenant and captain, and many young majors, came into the
Army in the years after 9/11, and most mid-grade and many senior sergeants
did the same. Their Army has known nothing but war.

Now their Army and their lives will be dominated by policies, regulations –
and e-mail. Of course, modern communications technology has enabled
remarkable connectivity on the battlefield during the past decade's wars,
but its unintended and corrosive effects in peacetime will rapidly wear down
the initiative required by Mission Command.

Far from facing peril on the battlefield, company commanders in the new
home-station Army are becoming prisoners of their inboxes – just one example
of a bureaucratic, micromanaged culture reemerging as the wars end. Nearly
all carry government-issued smartphones and check them constantly. It may
seem like a minor matter in today's hyper-connected world, but within the
military, the effects are pernicious.

During wartime, military bureaucracy plays on in the background, muted. But
now, officials scattered across the vast defense establishment – from
battalion and brigade headquarters staffs to installation safety offices to
the Department of the Army staff in the Pentagon – regularly dictate
instructions, briefings, surveys and policies to far-flung company
commanders. Even though such officials nearly always reside outside the unit
chain of command, their influence is strong. Commanders must respond
promptly to this barrage from every imaginable interest group inside the
Army. This compliance culture erodes wartime chain-of-command precepts and
compromises this accountability and authority vested in unit commanders. It
represents the extreme opposite of what small unit commanders are expected
to do at war.

In many ways, the Army is in denial of this looming problem. Its senior
officers need to take on this challenge directly. They must embrace and
protect a leadership philosophy anchored in trust – one that imbues the
Army's peacetime operations with the wartime precepts of Mission Command.
And most of all, these senior leaders need to listen to their young combat
leaders of the past 10 years, the individuals who will eventually lead this
Army. They must empower their young leaders to say no to the bureaucracy, or
they risk creating a generation of compliant officers unprepared for the
fast-moving, “think on your feet” nature of modern war.

After Vietnam, then-Col. Wayne Downing, who later commanded all U.S. Special
Operations forces, challenged his Rangers to avoid becoming “milicrats” –
bureaucrats in khaki focused on process and rules at the expense of bold
thinking and battlefield results. Fortunately, senior Army leaders of that
era underwrote a decentralized culture. They gave cover to their young
officers to make tough choices and backed them up.

A failure to do the same today would exact high costs. As a young captain
with multiple combat deployments recently told me: “They won't have to
shrink the force; lots of great people will leave because they are going to
make it too painful for them to stay.”

Phi Beta Iota: Full text from email circulated by original author.

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CSA @ Phi Beta Iota

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