Quite possibly. Amazon chief and potential king of the world Jeff Bezos says he wants to use drones to make same-hour deliveries of small packages. Maybe the Air Force could subcontract its next war out to him.
Pakistanis living on the Afghan frontier expressed mixed feelings about the retailing giant's new delivery plan.
Given the recent blowup between the U.S. government and the Google/Microsoft complex over transparency in intelligence matters, I was interested to see that Google now sponsors two annual awards for Marine Corps intelligence specialists. Sgt. Manuel Iles won "Language Professional of the Year," and Capt. Jesse Sloman won an award for "Literary Excellence." What is Google doing for the Corps, I wonder? I searched online for information about a contract but failed to find anything illuminating.
I wonder if one day Google or another such company will be the biggest U.S. military contractor. After all, a century ago, no one had ever heard of Boeing, Lockheed, or General Dynamics.
By Patrick Hanlon
Best Defense guest columnist
You may have heard the mantra before, "If the government were a business, it'd go belly up." Well, I think we've all caught a glimpse of what going belly up might look like. This is what happens when an organization runs out of money, and it happens to companies all the time. But when companies go under, their employees don't always stick around and hope for the best. So, I can't help but wonder how current and future members of the military and intelligence community would react to the federal shutdown if they adopted the private sector mindset.
In the business world, nobody works for free. So if the military and intelligence community were like private industry, many of their employees would not come back from the furlough. Those employees would take their valuable skills elsewhere. Sure, they might not send their résumés off to our adversaries, but they would certainly go work for someone that didn't make a mockery of their livelihood. Good business leaders constantly evaluate employee morale and adjust compensation to keep their people happy and productive. Sadly, it's pretty clear that supporting our public servants is not high on Congress' priority list. (Anybody know what does qualify for that list?)
Not only would there be an exodus of employees, but the number of job applicants and prospective military recruits would drop dramatically as well. Right now, Uncle Sam has a bit of a reputation problem. In the private sector, nobody wants to work for a turbulent company that can't manage to cut paychecks for its employees. Think about it: Would you have applied to work at Bear Sterns or Circuit City when they were collapsing? Probably not. So why go work for a dysfunctional government?
But in the end, the military and intelligence community is not a business. And its employees will return to work and pick up right where they left off. The men and women who serve in the military and intelligence community have a mission to complete regardless of how much Congress gets in the way.
As a defense consultant and Army reservist, I have a unique perspective on this shutdown debacle. If the leadership at my firm withheld my paycheck and sent me home to make a political point, I wouldn't think twice about quitting and applying elsewhere. But when the Army is forced to cancel drill, neglects to make the yearly payment on my student loan, and advises that it might not be able to pay for my Airborne slot in two weeks, I can't do a damn thing about it. All I can do is pray that some folks on Capitol Hill wake up and acknowledge the demoralizing effect this shutdown is having on federal employees and servicemembers.
Patrick Hanlon is an Army reservist. This essay contains his own personal views and does not necessarily represent those of his employers, including the U.S. Army.
Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics, and people who understand how the U.S. military really works talk personnel policy. In other words, if you want to change how our military works, change who gets promoted, and when.
In that vein, a young Marine officer writes:
I'm not sure if you have seen this or not, but it appears as though the Marine Corps is experimenting with a new concept that will allow Marines to take a break from active service to pursue their own desires with a guarantee of returning to active service afterwards. It's called the Career Intermission Pilot Program (CIPP). Link to the MARADMIN is here.
I'm a company grade officer (CGO) in the Marine Corps and have recently started working in the newly minted "Unmanned Aerial Systems Officer" field. Having experience in this field should open many doors for careers outside of the military. Knowing this, I've been following the thread of postings through your blog over the last year and, like many others, I too have been wrestling with the decision to stay with the Corps after this tour of duty. While it is yet to be seen how the CIPP will play out, the start of this program demonstrates that Headquarters Marine Corps is concerned about all this talk over the retention of quality CGOs. For me personally, having an opportunity like this would make me more likely to stay with the Marines despite many of the concerns expressed by the CGOs that have contributed to your blog in the past.
Navy Visual News Service
By Scott Modell and David Asher
Best Defense guest columnists
With presidential support for military action in doubt, America's power and prestige on the line, and Assad gassing his people, Obama needs to have a plan B on Syria. Outsourcing WMD policy to Vladimir Putin won't do a thing to stop the Syrian government killing machine.
Fortunately, a strategic option exists that could be even more powerful and effective against Assad, his Iranian backers, and their Hezbollah lackeys. Going beyond sanctions, the Obama administration should assemble a coalition of the willing and begin actively targeting the indispensable elements of Syria's financial, economic, and logistical support structure, including support from Iran and Hezbollah.
Despite a wide range of sanctions, Syria and its allies are able to rely on critical infrastructure that is compromised, complicit, and corrupted -- from ports, border crossings, and airlines to banks, freight forwarders, and shipping companies.
Neutralizing these nodes requires a non-kinetic containment and disruption effort to encircle the Syria conflict zone and stem the critical flow of men, money, and supplies to the Assad regime. Such a strategy, in concert with a sustained precision bombing campaign against key sources of regime support, was effective in Kosovo and could be in Syria as well.
Such a comprehensive effort should include the following measures:
These are just a few ways in which the United States and its allies can work together more effectively to non-kinetically attack Assad's Syria and its supporters. As the Obama administration considers next steps on Syria, it should take a close look at resetting its entire approach to the Middle East and ask, what is really going to weaken the strategic foundations, resolve, and external capabilities of Syria and the greater Iran Action Network?
Scott Modell, a former CIA officer, and David Asher, a former State Department official, are authors of Pushback: Countering the Iran Action Network, published recently by the Center for a New American Security.
Best Defense guest columnist
As a JMO who made the transition to Corporate America, I feel uniquely qualified to speak to the current debate of why officers are leaving and prove/disprove if the change has paid off. I got out for many of the same reasons consistently mentioned: employment opportunities for my spouse, lack of merit promotions, sclerotic human resources, inexorable career progression via block-checking, etc.
By all accounts, I've made a successful transition from U.S. army officer to Corporate America manager. I was able to attend a prestigious graduate school post-Army where we learned to use terms like "platitude" and "dissonance" while holding a straight face and pretending normal people speak like us. Upon graduation, I accepted a highly competitive leadership development program for a Fortune 100 company.
Now that I am out, I'd like to send my "former me" a letter to assist me in my choice before he gets out. This is what it would say:
You are fed up with the Army. I understand why. I want to take a moment to explain what it is really like "outside" to assist you in your decision.
It has been two full years since you have worn a reflective belt. Your CSM is wrong: You can successfully run on a sidewalk without the protective cocoon that is the PT belt and not be injured. You proved that just this morning. Staff duty is also obsolete. Turns out, people can just call you on your cell phone if there is an emergency. Who knew?
Your fiancée (now my smokin' hot wife) is able to use her degree in her current job without fear of being moved when you PCS. In economic costs alone, having a two-income house where she is able to fulfill her career potential completely exculpated you both from the fear of taking a loss in pay and benefits when you left the Army.
Finally, your wife and I (you) don't have to worry about our next move as we have the opportunity and latitude to take positions within the company to locations which fit our desires. We also do not have the stress of future deployment cycles or career progression courses moving us involuntarily. No offense to Ft. Polk or Iraq, but you still prefer more hospitable climates.
Corporate America has many of the same problems as the Army. Yes, you can move up the corporate ladder quicker based on merit, but to do so you may have to uproot and move to less than glamorous places (Hello, Ft. Polk!).
Also, HR is lazy in this organization as well. Yes. You are still a beautiful snowflake, unique in every way. However, even in your current job, increased production does not always translate to higher pay and better opportunities above your peers. Plus, the pay is about the same. Based on your benefits package in the Army (BAH, Medical, Dental), you make a little less now. Granted, the aforementioned addition of your wife's job mitigates that difference, but for your buddies with stay-at-home wives, they will likely take a pay cut.
Finally, it is harder to get stuff done when your title starts with "manager" instead of "captain." Telling people they "need to get off their ass and get something done" has turned into "we have a real opportunity to make a positive change on this."
I'd be remiss to say there are things about the Army that you do not miss. For instance, the camaraderie and friendships which can only be made after a 12-month deployment do not seem to exist at this stage in my career. Maybe I am not looking hard enough, but putting a fat dip in your mouth and talking about bodily functions is frowned upon by HR. Talking about phone metrics and customer satisfaction surveys just doesn't foster the same esprit de corps.
You should still get out of the Army. Your stress levels have plummeted. Your fiancée is happier and you now live by the mantra: "I can never be happier than my wife." You'll learn this the hard way.
Assess your goals. It is a balance. You'll find some of the same stresses in graduate school and Corporate America that were present in the Army. From where you stand now, it looks like utopia but it is not all puppy dogs and ice cream here in suburbia.
"Usta B. Me" was enlisted in the Air Force and later commissioned as an Army intelligence officer, deploying to Iraq in both branches. He left the Army in 2011 in search of greener pastures and found a cubicle in a big company. To avoid becoming nostalgic about his military days, he hangs a CSM rank insignia next to a reflective belt in his workspace.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Cupp, 82nd Sustainment Brigade Public Affairs/Released
The July issue of Proceedings had a good article knocking down the notion that the melting of the polar ice cap means that merchant ships soon will be short-cutting through there.
The major reason offered by Stephen Carmel of Maersk Line is that the Arctic routes can only take ships with drafts of less than 40 feet, which excludes a lot of big carriers. Also, the Northern Sea route, across the top of Russia, has a beam restriction of 30 meters, as ships cannot be wider than the icebreakers supporting them.
His bottom line is that contrary to some assertions, "Arctic routes do not now offer an attractive alternative to the more traditional maritime avenues, and are highly unlikely to do so in the future."
My one quibble: If there were a major and long war at a significant chokepoint, such as the Suez Canal or Indonesia, that might encourage shipbuilders and shipping companies to adjust to the constraints of the Arctic.
But the Navy says the relationship the officer, who is a computer network acquisition manager, had with her didn't sway the decision in the June 30 award of a $4.5 billion network contract.
OK. But I have never seen any organization truly able to investigate itself thoroughly when it comes to sex, money, and the abuse of power. A second opinion is probably needed.
Wes Bush, the president and CEO of Northrop Grumman, said at the CNAS conference that, in his view, the United States is risking its technological advantage over the rest of the world. "Our national strategy rests on technological superiority," he said. And at the current rate of investment, he said, "that's not sustainable."
He added that he thinks Americans don't understand the rate at which the rest of the world is advancing technologically. The pace, he said, is "absolutely extraordinary."
For his company, he said, the key question is human capacity -- keeping and attracting new talent.
By Jaime Gassmann
Best Defense guest columnist
In April, this blog served as a platform for the discussion of military spouses' (particularly junior officers' wives') dreary career possibilities, the tough choice that follows for many young officers to stay in or get out, and the implications for the future of the officer corps.
Positions taken ranged from "this sucks" to "suck it up." Tom commented that the issue is of the "utmost importance." I think he is wrong, and that instead all is well for the DOD in this matter, and it is ludicrous to suggest it consider a change.
The military gains much from spouses' geographic isolation from career opportunities. From this pool of unemployed spouses, many of whom feel pressure to contribute to their servicemember's career or else risk being a detriment, the military can gain unpaid (volunteer/voluntold) labor and also emotional labor as they socialize other spouses into acceptable (useful) roles.
Furthermore, soldiers and their families who leave were not going to contribute two workers for one paycheck as readily, and perhaps were not the sorts of true believers who were going to raise members of the warrior class. Better to weed them out as soon as possible and only invest in the career development of servicemembers and their families who chose the Army life over other quality-of-life considerations. The military has a system that, by its harsh and greedy nature, selects for families who will fully support it.
Allow me to review the original arguments to which I am responding. Many of the responses to "Stand back!: Military wives speak, and the situation is even worse than I thought" were very personal, and on a personal level it's nearly impossible to not complain about the wretched vagaries of tied migration in military life. By nature and for historical reasons, big posts and bases are not in urban centers where career-building jobs are plentiful. When I asked Pat Lang to help me brainstorm ways to get my husband's military career to bring him to D.C. so I could continue to work for RAND or a similar place, he said simply, "I think it will be very difficult for you and your husband to find yourselves in the same geographic area for quite a while. He needs to be with troops."
My husband does indeed need to be with troops -- not just for his career but because it makes him his best self. I married a man with a calling.
This is good news for the DOD: It writes one paycheck and gets two workers.
Our example: I followed my husband around so that we can be together as much as possible between train-ups and deployments. I saw no appealing career in Hinesville, Georgia, so I continued graduate school. Then I was all dressed up with a Ph.D. and no where to go with it. What I did have was immense pressure to volunteer with the unit and participate in social events (things I could much more easily have turned down if I were employed full time -- here I make the sardonic smile that is a hallmark of the military spouse). Now, years have passed. The only life my family has ever known is the military, and my résumé has a gaping hole. So for both these reasons it is in my interest to encourage my husband to hang on to his steady job.
I'm now a shill for the DOD, literally logging hours for it when I volunteer and also promoting the military as a career to my husband for fear of the unknown for both of us out on the economy.
In previous posts and comments, some junior officers suggested that solving this problem is a crucial matter, pointing out that some of the best servicemembers will look for solutions as civilians, causing the officer corps to suffer.
But though some of the best in terms of quality and even sense of calling will certainly leave, those who stay are the ones the military wants to stay. The spouses who are willing to be unemployed to follow a young officer to remote posts and hold families together during the relentless churn of deployment cycles are often spouses who are also willing to give of their time and efforts to their servicemember's branch of service, who are more likely to encourage 20 years of service, and who normalize this behavior for other spouses and thereby bring them into the fold. And their servicemembers are probably a good investment for the military, with high likelihoods of staying in until retirement no matter the work-life unbalance.
The author is a social scientist and public policy researcher on what appears to be a permanent hiatus. She is currently riding out a deployment with a future member of America's warrior class (who, when he grows up wants to be a surveyor, a soldier, a lawyer, and then the president). Her dissertation may someday spawn a book titled, Patrolling the Homefront: The Emotional Labor of Army Wives Volunteering in Family Readiness Groups.
For the most part, I do not believe that the military should imitate business. The differences are too big, especially the risks: In wartime you risk lives, while in business you generally risk filing for bankruptcy. Hence the inclination in business to go for the 51 percent solution, which I think is generally too dangerous in military operations.
That said, there are some parallels that illuminate situations. For example, Alfred Sloan, in his autobiographical history My Years With General Motors, which I just finished, makes a sharp distinction between what General Motors did every day and what it sold. What it did was cut and bend metal. What it sold was not basic transportation (from the mid-1920s on, he said, that was the job of the used car market, and so not his business), but instead a form of more expensive transportation -- a new car that offered style, speed, and comfort. This is the departure point in strategy: Figuring out you who are.
One thing that struck me reading it is that Flint and Detroit in the 1910s were a lot like Silicon Valley in the 1980s, with Sloan hanging out on weekends with Walter Chrysler, Charles Nash, and the like.
Sloan placed an enormous emphasis on running the company with centralized policy and de-centralized execution. This strikes me as another way of saying "mission orders." It is a lot harder than it looks. Much of the book depicts how he went about implementing this. The line guys had genuine power, the staff guys only the power to make recommendations.
As part of that, he developed the sense of a corporate need for what military people call "doctrine." In explaining the structure he devised for General Motors, he writes, "The Operations committee was not a policy-making body but a forum for the discussion of policy or of need for policy. . . . In a large enterprise some means is necessary to bring about a common understanding." That's a good layman's explanation of doctrine, in a military sense.
Details also matter, and understanding your process. One of the biggest problems in the automobile industry is managing inventory, even now. It used to be that one of the slow points in moving inventory was waiting an average of three weeks for paint and varnish to dry and cure. It also took up a lot of real estate. Du Pont (a major investor in GM) invented a new lacquer process that allowed a car to be finished in one eight-hour shift.
Finally, the book reminds me of war in that it consists of long boring sections interrupted by points of brilliance.
Two WWII bonus facts: I didn't know that the tail fins of Cadillacs and other automobiles of the 1950s were directly inspired by the P-38. Nor did I know that the price of a GM-made .50 caliber machine gun fell from $689 on Dec. 7, 1941, to a low of $169 in the fall of 1944. (As production numbers were cut after that, the price rose $5.) So I guess that the better we were doing, the cheaper the .50 cal usually was.
We hear a lot about toxic leaders these days, and especially how bad they are for military units, so I was surprised when I picked up Water Isasacson's terrific biography of Steve Jobs of Apple/Pixar fame to see that Jobs was a classic toxic leader -- bullying, self-indulgent, lacking empathy, often ungrateful, unwilling to give credit where it was due, and a world-class control freak. (I hadn't planned to read the book, but my wife, who cares about computers maybe even less than I do but cares a lot about history, recommended it highly as a story of our times.)
Job's awful behavior was not just a matter of corporate antics. He was downright weird, not believing in showering much and wafting such bad body odor early that in his career he was told to work nights. An abandoned child himself, he neglected for many years a child he fathered and wasn't particularly good with his subsequent offspring. One former girlfriend called him an enlightened person, but unusually, also a cruel one.
Here's the problem: There is no question that Steve Jobs was a self-centered jerk. Yet he also appears to have been a great corporate leader and innovator who pulled off a series of successes -- the Apple II and MacIntosh computers, the Pixar movie animation studio, the iPod, the iPad, and the iPhone. These have had an impact on the way we live. In the process, Jobs built one of the world's most valuable companies.
So what are we to think? Issacson doesn't really tell us. I wouldn't want to have worked for the guy. Yet it made me stop to think: In retrospect, the two roughest bosses I had in my decades in journalism also were the best for my career, holding me to high standards, rewarding my efforts, and promoting me quickly.
Richard Rumelt, an expert on business strategy whose book I am reading, on his website provides an interesting list of what Steve Jobs did not do at Apple:
Many people and companies want to emulate Apple and study what the company has done. I believe that in trying to learn from Steve Jobs and Apple it is very useful to pay attention to what he did not do. In compiling this short list, I have used ideas and phrases in common use by managers and business consultants:
He did not "drive business success by a relentless focus on performance metrics." Success came to Apple by having successful products and strategies, not by chasing metrics. He did not "motivate high performance by tying incentives to key strategic success factors." Apple did not run a decentralized system based on pressuring individuals to deliver targeted business results. He did not have a strategy "built through participation by all levels to achieve a consensus which resolves key differences in perspectives and values." Strategy at Apple is essentially driven from the top. He did not waste time on the delicate distinctions among "missions," "visions," and "strategies." He did not use acquisitions to hit "strategic growth goals." Growth was the outcome of successful product development and accompanying business strategies. He did not seek to engineer higher margins by chasing rust-belt concepts of "economies of scale." He left such antics to HP
In his book, by contrast, Rumelt offers on page 259 a handy list of what Jobs did do:
(1) imagine a product that is 'insanely great,'
(2) assemble a small team of the very best engineers and designers in the world,
(4) tell the world how cool and trendy the product is with innovative advertising.
Tom again: Meanwhile, I was struck by another observer's less astute supposed example of Jobs' toxic leadership. In fact, what Jobs did strikes me as simply enforcing accountability -- which is what leaders should do:
"Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?" Having received a satisfactory answer, he continued, "So why the fuck doesn't it do that?"
"You've tarnished Apple's reputation," he told them. "You should hate each other for having let each other down."
Jobs ended by replacing the head of the group, on the spot.
I did this last year, but we can learn about military affairs from Warren Buffett every year. The military is not a business, and should not be run like one. But still, the defense establishment could learn a lot from a person as wise as Buffett.
If I could, I would ban all those business fad management books I see senior officers reading and instead make them study the annual reports from Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. You may not know Berkshire Hathaway, but if you buy insurance from Geico, drink Coca-Cola, eat See's Candies, read the Buffalo News, use goods transported by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, or wear Fruit of the Loom underwear, then products and services of companies owned in part or whole by Berkshire are touching your life.
For example, the U.S. military, and especially the Army, have been plagued by micromanagement since the mid-1950s, so long that no one now in the Army has much experience in any other way to run it. I see generals constantly scurrying endlessly to meetings where they often sit in the dark while subordinates read aloud to them bedtime stories (AKA Powerpoint briefings). Well, there is another way, and it is laid out by Buffett in his annual report for 2010:
At Berkshire, managers can focus on running their businesses: They are not subjected to meetings at headquarters nor financing worries nor Wall Street harassment. They simply get a letter from me every two years…and call me when they wish. And their wishes do differ: There are managers to whom I have not talked in the last year, while there is one with whom I talk almost daily. Our trust is in people rather than process. A "hire well, manage little" code suits both them and me.
Berkshire's CEOs come in many forms. Some have MBAs; others never finished college. Some use budgets and are by-the-book types; others operate by the seat of their pants. Our team resembles a baseball squad composed of all-stars having vastly different batting styles. Changes in our line-up are seldom required.
Imagine a military run like that, that trusted people rather than process, a military where the Army chief of staff could boast that XVIII Airborne Corps is run so well that he has kept the commanding general in place for several years, and hasn't seen him in two years or even talked to him in one. But, the chief of staff would continue, he does talk to the Army commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan daily, in part because they need his help, and in part because he isn't distracted by checking on the XVIII Airborne Corps. My view: People who spend most of their days in regularly scheduled meetings too much probably are wasting their time and others'.
Also, because Buffett keeps successful people in place, staffs and subordinate managers are not constantly in turmoil and adjusting. Instead of constantly adapting to new bossses, they can focus on the tasks at hand. And the boss can leave them alone because he knows how to tell when they need help and when they don't.
Here's an interesting piece by the eight original members of Team Rubicon, a private disaster response outfit. Their description of what they do reminds me of Halo Trust, the mine removal charity -- small, and aiming to use local workers as much as possible. In this case, they seem to be using the cohesiveness and skills they learned in the Marines as the core of their culture. I like how they used that background to deliver medical care.
Please do read it.
The writers are: "Marines Jake Wood and William McNulty, Doctors David Griswell and Eduardo Dolhun, Firefighters Jeff Lang and Craig Parello, Physician's Assistant Mark Hayward and Brother Jim Boynton S.J."
In the immediate aftermath of the nearly complete physical and functional collapse of Haiti, a small group of trained and determined individuals began to coalesce with the intention of bringing their capabilities directly to the Haitian people in their moment of extremity. At every turn, big aid organizations not only rejected our team's offers of assistance, but even attempted to dissuade us from going to render assistance in Port au Prince. With creativity and conviction, Team Rubicon, as we came to be called, found a way to put our original eight members into the devastated city, found a partner eager for our helping hands, and found that, contrary to everything the big aid bureaucracies were saying, small and skilled teams of military combat veterans and seasoned first responders were exactly what could render immediate, life-saving assistance in this situation.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.