Military Review had a pretty good understanding of mission command back in 1986, when it ran an article by Daniel J. Hughes titled "Abuses of German Military History." (The article itself starts on p. 66 of the linked issue.)
To understand how the German military worked, Hughes writes, it is crucial to understand that "by current standards, no ‘system' actually existed. Improvisation was the key to the Prussian-German approach which regarded the conduct of war as an art -- a free, creative activity with scientific foundations."
Something else I didn't know: Use of the word auftragstaktik was "exceedingly rare" in the Germany army of World War II and before.
By Bing West
Best Defense guest commenter
Re Benghazi and the military (a matter of much lesser import than the deceptive talking points): On ABC on 12 May, George Will and retired General Cartwright excused the military by saying 10 hours was not enough time to react. The general said it takes up to "a day or two" to arm an F-16, file flight plans, arrange for refueling, etc.
Therefore the solution is to pre-stage the right kinds of forces, which requires a much larger military and a knowledge beforehand about the location and severity of the threat. By this reasoning, we do not have general purpose forces; we have special purpose forces.
Benghazi thus raises the question: Do we need more forces staged around the world or do we need senior officers who can respond to emergencies outside their normal checklists?
Last week's congressional testimony included two new revelations. First, four Special Forces soldiers en route to Benghazi to help our wounded were ordered not to go by a Special Operations officer in Stuttgart. Not only did that manifest being afraid to take a risk for your beleaguered comrades, it also raised the question of authority in the chain of command during battle. What is the authority that permits an officer thousands of miles away to override the commander on the ground?
Second, Mr. Hicks testified that Secretary Clinton approved, at about 8 p.m. Washington time, the evacuation of the embassy in Tripoli, due to terrorist threats. That was a dramatic, escalatory decision. It is unknown whether the president or the secretary of defense was notified.
In the event, the U.S. military took no new, immediate action, even though the embassy was being evacuated in addition to the chaos at Benghazi. The military has justified itself by saying the battle was over by the next morning. But no human being could predict the night before when the battle would end. That the embassy in Tripoli was not overrun was a matter of fate/luck/enemy decisions that had nothing to do with the prescience or actions of the Pentagon staff. The tardiness of U.S. forces was a failure to improvise, which in turn is a basic test of leadership in battle.
One question illustrates the inertia: Had it been President Obama who was missing in Benghazi, would the military have taken only the same actions and later offered the same rationale; to wit, "we knew the battle would be over in 10 hours, (inside our OODA loop)"?
The military at the highest level must examine its ability to improvise, and not rely on the enemy to give us "a day or two" to prepare.
Democracies, from France at the end of the eighteenth century to the United States in the middle of the twentieth, have failed to live up to the expectations of eighteenth-century liberal thinkers. On the contrary they have repeatedly displayed a bellicose passion reminiscent of the worst years of the Wars of Religion....The doctrine that peoples if left to themselves are naturally peaceable, like its converse that they are naturally belligerent, begs far more questions than it answers.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released
It occurred to me that the characteristic phrase of our time may be "body parts." Journalists just love to use it, most often I think in reporting on car bomb explosions. That strikes me as lazy -- why not say "arms, legs, heads, jawbones, and so on"? (Unless, of course, you can't tell what they are.)
I was having lunch with a smart Navy captain recently and we began talking about all the people who have served 20 or more years, left as Army or Marine lieutenant colonels and Navy captains and then gone on, in "retirement," to have a much greater impact on the shape or uses of the U.S. military than they did while in uniform. In the course of 30 seconds, these names were mentioned:
Col. Bob Work (my other new boss, by the way)
These are just the ones that came immediately to mind. I am sure there are many more. (Your nominations welcome.) Their commonality is three-fold, I think: First, they were independent thinkers. Second, they had the best interests of their services in mind, even at the expense of further promotion. (That is, they did their duty.) Third, as the Navy captain said, "they knew when to get off the merry-go-round." After all, everyone who lives gets told to leave the military eventually. Why not go when you still have ideas and the energy to develop them?
So, as a friend points out, the lesson seems to be that if you want to be a CEO, leave the military as a lieutenant or captain. But if you want to affect the shape and strategy of the U.S. military, leave as a smart, hard-working, well-read, well-educated 0-6.
I always read the Pentagon's flag officer announcements, mainly to see if someone I know has gotten an interesting job. (It is nice to see people I knew as majors are now making three and four stars. Unfortunately, it also reminds me that people who joined the military when I started covering the Pentagon are retiring.)
In this case, I don't know Rear Adm. Metts, but I sure found the move of this information warfare specialist interesting. Maybe the U.S. government is going to respond more actively to the stream of Chinese intrusions into American government and business computers:
Rear Adm. (lower half) Willie L. Metts will be assigned as director for intelligence, J2, U.S. Pacific Command, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii. Metts is currently serving as deputy chief, tailored access operations, S32, National Security Agency, Fort Mead, Md.
And yes, that is the way the press release spelled Fort Meade.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Always Faithful, a documentary film that traces the path of five Marine dog handlers from their training through to their deployments, will premiere this Sunday in the greater DC area as part of the 2013 GI Film Festival.
With this feature-length documentary, director Harris Done and producer James Moll, focus on each handler's story with a straight-to-the-camera interview style that includes photos and footage from combat theater. One of the most interesting aspects about this documentary that I haven't seen delved into in great detail elsewhere is the application process for becoming a handler. It has varied based on the "urgent need" for handlers in recent years, but becoming a Marine Corps dog handler is a distinctly competitive pursuit. At the end of the test taking and the essay writing, the Marines applying for this job have to face a review board -- a daunting and nerve-wracking experience which Done has captured on film.
Done has long been a war-dog enthusiast. In 2009 he made War Dogs of the Pacific, a documentary about WWII military dog handlers. (In this trailer you get a taste of the great archival footage.) The timing of this film was crucial as all but one or two of the WWII veterans he interviewed have since passed away. Done's ties to these men clearly ran deep; when Bruce Wellington, a Brooklyn native who served as a messenger dog handler, died, Done gave a eulogy at the funeral. It was that connection which propelled him to pursue the storyline of the "war-dog handler" into modern day.
It's a rare experience to have interviewed K9 handlers across generations as Done has -- men who went to war in the 1940s as well as men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan during the last decade. But when it comes to the core of this job, Done found that "some things never change."
After a while Done began to notice that all the handlers he interviewed "would use the exact same phrases" when they talked about what it took to bring a dog into war. "I just realized that with any kind of working dog, they have that intense bond."
DC moviegoers can purchase tickets here. (There are multiple listings for Sunday show times, so don't give up if you have to scroll down some.) For everyone else, Always Faithful will soon be available for purchase on iTunes.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
By Capt. John Byron, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Best Defense department of officers and gentlemen
It's a tough competition, the contest for the military's most egregious example of conduct unbecoming. All fiction entries are likely to be rejected: You just can't make up tales as lurid and stupid as we've seen in real life.
My list of the leading entries (some not widely known) is included below, true tales that are the gold standard for abuse of privilege and sexual misconduct by military men in leadership (and missionary?) positions.
I'm sure many other like these could come to mind and that the future holds still more titillation and stupidity. But we now have before us what seems to me the winner for the ages: The worst case of conduct unbecoming an officer, of dishonorable behavior, of simple wrong behavior by an officer in authority that ever we're likely to find. And the case illustrates not only how far from honor an officer can move himself, but also how incredibly tone deaf is the military system, unable to find the correct answer in situations where an officer judged useful for professional skills is given a bye on a matter directly challenging his honesty and trustworthiness in a position of authority in our nation's military.
Here's the story. A civilian academic with a Ph.D. in physical oceanography and a distinguished career falls in love with a senior Navy officer holding command of a warship. Perhaps some naiveté involved, but clearly an affair of the heart on the woman's side. It's permanent. They get engaged. They will be married. He says his next duty station will be Guam and so at his insistence she leaves the mainland and moves there for a life together, taking an administrative post at the University of Guam.
Then, having turned her life upside down for this man, she finds out that her hero has rejected her and hung her out to dry. Her soulmate is not coming to Guam. He's dumping her. Too, it turns out: He's also got elsewhere a second girlfriend he's been deeply entangled with (and engaged to), another female he's deceived and he had just discarded her in the same disgraceful way. In short, he is an equal-opportunity cad, dishonorable in his treatment of both women and at the same time.
The first woman is devastated (the second, too, but this is not her story). Right away she goes to the officer's chain of command and to the DOD inspector general asking if this is approved conduct...and they gaff her off. She then hires an attorney and they contact both the head of this coward's warfare community and the chief of naval operations. And they gaff her off too.
And then she does something of incredible courage: She documents the tale in a lengthy letter published in the Spring 2013 issue of Naval War College Review on page 133. She and the editors take pains to avoid disclosing the miscreant's name or even his warfare community, but the use of "boat" to describe his command, the length of his command tour, and absence of any senior jobs on Guam for aviators or surface warfare officers pretty much lets the cat out of the sack: He serves in the submarine force (I have other confirmation also).
Is she credible? I've corresponded with her and find she is, a tough, smart professional paying a personal price for falling in love and trusting an officer to be a gentleman. The editors at the Review did their due diligence as well and they put their journal's reputation behind this person's truthfulness.
The wronged woman claims she's not seeking revenge and the facts bear this out. Instead, citing Captain Mark Light's great study of the topic, she wonders if in matters of sexual conduct, the Navy even cares about honor and honesty and proper ethical behavior, and if so, why does the system have an officer of such low character still on active duty and moving forward in his career.
I have the same questions, a challenge to the CNO and the secretary of the Navy to answer why such a moral midget remains a commissioned officer in good standing, and to the leaders of the submarine force on why it continues to retain and advance officers like this dirtbag.
Fairness requires opportunity for the harming party to have his say, to explain why he thinks it OK for a Navy officer to lie and cheat and devastate two innocent women...and still wear a cover with a gold chinstrap. It's open-mike time, buddy: Post here why you did what you did and why you're still a wonderful guy.
A final note. Fellows, let's not screw this up with in-blog towel-snapping that makes a joke of a sad situation. We habitués of this blog are a great group, funny, clever, and deeply interested in our nation's defense. But at times we do get a bit frisky in our comments. In this case I ask you to respect the courage and honesty of our heroine and leave off attacking her or commenting unfavorably on her conduct. Her personal and professional lives have suffered great harm at the hands of a despicable officer -- she deserves respect and praise for the classy way she found the high road to seek redress. Frankly, I find her most admirable.
And I am appalled at her treatment by a fellow submariner.
This is a rare opportunity to look hard at how the military services deal with matters of honor. It stands on its own and deserves direct answer from the system. In the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 133 proscribes conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. If this ain't that, the law is meaningless.
Some goodies from the past:
- The captain of a major surface ship caught in his in-port cabin doing the deed with a junior enlisted female while underway.
- The overseas rear admiral dismissed from service for his weird and repeated stalking of an enlisted dental tech he became fixated on after she'd cleaned his teeth.
- The second admiral fired from another high visibility overseas post for cavorting with a junior officer under him (tee hee).
- The chief petty officer relieved of his duties after he drunkenly tried to grope a civilian stranger in the seat next to him all the way across the Pacific on a commercial flight.
- The flag-bound submariner of fantastic promise who got off track after telling his immediate superior that he'd ended his affair with the female lieutenant on their staff -- and then got caught by that same senior canoodling with the lieutenant on the golf course.
- The two captains stationed in the Med who got sacked because of Navy's puritanical standards finding disfavor with them for openly swapping wives.
- The admiral in charge of Navy recruiting fired when he was found boffing the wife of one of his recruiter-of-the-year finalists in the hotel parking garage as the ceremony was being held.
- The flag-bound O-6 engineering-duty officer with a Ph.D. arrested as the Burke Lake Flasher.
Moving to more recent times,
- The submarine skipper who lasted only seven days in command, fired for having a pregnant 23-year old mistress who he misled with fantastic tales of daring-do on secret assignment and then faking his own death.
- The 33 Air Force drill instructors undergoing courts martial for using their female recruits as sexual pawns.
- The Air Force general in trouble for mindlessly dismissing all charges against an officer convicted in the military justice system of raw sexual harassment of a junior.
- The other Air Force general who downgraded a likewise valid sexual misconduct conviction after magically determining on no apparent basis that the abused was less credible than the accused and to hell with the due process that said otherwise.
- Yet another submarine skipper recently relieved for inappropriate intimate relations with a junior.
- May 2013: the Air Force lieutenant colonel in charge of that service's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit...until his arrest for drunkenly groping a women -- total stranger -- in a parking lot (see: you can't make this up).
- And this just in: The DOD study estimating that last year 26,000 service personnel were victims of "unwanted sexual contact" from fellow servicemembers, a 35 percent increase from the year before and a situation egregious enough to infuriate the Commander In Chief.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.