By Brig. Gen. Kim Field, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
As a general officer and a mother of four sons, I still look back on our entry into the Iraq War with disbelief. There may have been good reason, but explanations to date satisfy almost no one. I deployed three times to Afghanistan and better understood our entry, even if the prosecution of our effort became increasingly baffling. I am dismayed that my sons are learning in school to lump the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq into the same causal bucket. What are they learning about who America is, what we stand for, why we do what we do?
Recently, there was an article in the New York Times about the split in the Republican Party on the appropriate foreign policy stance for America. To oversimplify, isolationists are warring with the traditional aggressive foreign policy advocates under the same tent. Further, the article was a bit shocking in that foreign policy was equated with use of the military instrument. How can any of this be?
The Democratic Party is a little more coherent, but I am not sure that there is agreement with Jimmy Carter's statement: "Human rights is the soul of our foreign policy, because human rights is the very soul of our sense of nationhood." Right or wrong, under Democratic leadership, we have done almost nothing in Syria to protect human rights. Is "human rights" the most important thing to our country and is this how we should represent ourselves to the world?
Inside the Pentagon, I watch and in some cases participate as we wrangle over the "rebalance to the Pacific." Should the military really be the agency doing the most in what was a reasonable shift in strategic emphasis? Maybe, but the explanations why are not satisfying and Air-Sea Battle is downright mystifying. Do we intend to "contain" China, and if so, do we mean militarily, economically, in the information domain? Or do we want to "shape her decisions?" Something else? These are very different paths with significant consequence, and to my mind, we should have the answers before we charge off, possibly committing billions of dollars.
What do we stand for? Many of us think domestic policies are likely on an inevitable path toward a more European model of capitalism-social consciousness and think our choices with regard to international matters are indeed more free and more significant. But watching the machinations of the Congress over forced across-the-board cuts (sequestration), feeling confident that DOD could take a cut but not the way we are forced to do it, it is clear that this problem of identity is foundational to all dimensions of what we do as a country.
As a soldier, I have nothing to say about wither our foreign policy endeavors. But I sure wish I understood better what we could be asked to do and why. How is the military to represent itself overseas when our muddled sense of American identity is reflected in so many testy issues, beyond the normal and healthy tensions of party politics?
Having taught international relations theory for three years, I do believe when the strength of our values coincides with the level of our national interest, we have the makings of good, sustainable foreign interventions. But this means understanding what our values are, who we are as Americans. Do we still believe in American exceptionalism? If so, why? What makes us exceptional a decade into the 21st century? We should be specific and clear about this in a necessary debate.
Just as senior military officers should be professionally guided by the conviction of clear personal values and not just the Army Values dogtag around their necks, it is insufficient for the collective American people to point to the Constitution as a clear, present day expression of who we are. The base case is there, but it's not always helpful in execution. Sacrilege.
It will be very difficult to avoid diving into the issues of immigration and healthcare and countless other issues through which party divides run deep. And a Congress that makes DOD accept compensations it doesn't ask for even when that means we reduce the training that will keep soldiers alive in the future, a Congress that makes us buy equipment we don't want beyond that which keeps the industrial base warm, can't lead this effort. The Congress is full of smart, well-intentioned individuals held captive by a system that cannot help us produce a sense of identity that would then enable meaningful party debates over how to make that identity come alive. The president is a party member. He can't lead this either, no matter how good a leader he is.
I believe the American people want this discussion. I do not believe the military has the market on service. I do not believe the average American values his or her Nikes and iPhones more than they do a conversation over what it means to be an American. My sister-teacher, as well as good friends Paul Yingling and John Nagl, who have chosen to leave the world of security affairs for the profession of teaching, will be part of this debate, as will their students. My father and his senior friends who have time, interest, and continued desire to serve, will be part of this. My boys and nieces and their classmates, all of whom had to complete community service on the path to college, will be part of this. Servicemembers will be part of this as long as the issues do not become partisan. And so many more from so many other walks of American life. I am tired of hearing that Americans need the most important of issues dumbed down, that we simply don't care about anything that does not directly affect the material goods that come into our homes. I don't believe it. In fact, I can't even contemplate the possibility of leaving my boys without a mother for years, or forever, if this were the case.
I am so honored to serve the way I do -- representing a people that comprise a country of goodness the world has never before seen. We have to stop the recent wandering that has confused so many inside our ranks, within our borders, and throughout the world. As we bring the face of America home after 12 years of steady war and before we inevitably send it out again, greater clarity on the question, "who are we, we Americans?" is essential.
BG Kim Field is deputy director of policy, plans and strategy on the Army staff. She has served three tours in Afghanistan, two tours with State, and taught international relations in the "Sosh" Department at West Point.
By Nick Francona
Best Defense guest columnist
After reading Rajiv Chandrasekaran's article about the Sept 14, 2012, attack on Camp Bastion/Leatherneck, I wanted to respond to comments made by Maj. Gen. Gurganus.
There is an apparent attitude that this attack occurred because of a failure of British and Tongan troops to secure their side of the perimeter near the Bastion airfield. It may well be true that Tongan troops would sleep on post, however, this does not excuse Marine commanders from inspecting and enforcing rigid standards. Force protection is the responsibility of the commander and because Maj. Gen. Gurganus had hundreds of troops stationed on the Bastion side of the base, he is responsible for overseeing a solid plan to protect his Marines and his aircraft. It is unacceptable and beneath a Marine general to chalk this up to a Tongan failure.
I have spent time at Leatherneck and Bastion as a transient, on the way in and out of parts of rural Helmand. It was obvious to even a casual observer that many of the posts were unmanned and were comically left with a "green Ivan" silhouette target as a half-hearted attempt at deterrence. The fact that there was dead-space around the largest U.S. military installation in the province is a fundamental failure and simply unacceptable. Additionally, it was widely known that there were issues with undocumented TCNs (third-country nationals) on the base that represented a major counterintelligence challenge. It was naive to think that the enemy would be unaware of the existence of unmanned towers.
From the article:
"You can't defend everywhere every day," Gurganus said in response to a question about the attack. "You base your security on the threat you've got." He said the Taliban caught "a lucky break."
"When you're fighting a war, the enemy gets a vote," he said.
While it is indeed impossible to mitigate all risks, even on large bases, I vehemently disagree with Maj. Gen. Gurganus' assertion that you can't defend everywhere every day in this context. It is indeed understandable to have VBIED and suicide bomber incidents at entry control points (ECPs) of bases, but it is another story entirely to have a dismounted assault penetrate your perimeter and stroll onto your airfield. His claim that you base your security on the threat you've got is the root cause for the environment of complacency that enabled this tragic event to occur. His statement about the enemy getting a vote is absurd in this context. Indeed the enemy does get a vote, but so do you, especially when it comes to defending nearly all Marine aviation assets in the region and a large concentration of personnel. Precisely because the enemy gets a vote, he has an obligation to anticipate and counter the enemy, and act like it is a war zone and actively defend his men and assets. The enemy's "vote" is not akin to a hall pass to stroll onto the base.
The most offensive of his statements is coining the attack a lucky break. The attack only occurred because of an egregious failure in basic infantry practices. The enemy may have been lucky to exploit these failures, but neglect was the precondition that set the stages for this attack. Intelligence analysts should not have to issue a warning of an impending frontal assault on a major military base for the base to be prepared.
There is an appalling lack of accountability and introspection that is evident in Maj. Gen. Gurganus' comments about this incident. It is painfully obvious that this attack would not have been successful, or likely even attempted, if not for multiple security failures at Leatherneck/Bastion. This single episode highlights a much larger problem of accountability in the Marine Corps. It is nearly impossible to get fired for incompetence.
We need to stop treating the Marine Corps like a teachers union and demand excellence and accountability from our officer corps.
A friend writes that he "smells a rat" in the recent relief of the commander of the Marine Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia.
"You are responsible for what goes on inside your unit," the Marine commandant said in explaining the removal of Col. Stillings. "Period."
Oh? wonders my friend. If that is the standard, he notes, it begs the question of why there has not been a Marine general relieved in many moons. On General Amos' watch as commandant, he observes, "the Marine Corps has seen Marines urinating on Taliban bodies, scout snipers posing with an SS flag, a sexual assault pandemic that the Commandant himself has described as ‘incompatible with our core values of honor, courage and commitment,' rising suicide rates, the catastrophic Camp Bastion attack, and the hazing-cum-suicide of Lance Corporal Harry Lew." So, he asks, "If 2.5 bad happenings were enough to soul-crush Colonel Stillings, what is the magic number which would cause a service chief to resign?"
On Saturday I dropped by the Korean War Veterans Memorial. (No, I didn't see Justice Breyer fracture his shoulder.) I hadn't been there before. I kind of liked it. It is hyper-realistic, a real contrast to the Vietnam memorial just on the opposite, north side of the National Mall's Reflecting Pool.
As I walked around it I counted 19 statues of soldiers, of which several appeared to be carrying radios. (As in this foto, 3 appear to be carrying.) Why so many radios?
Nineteen also struck me as an odd number -- kind of midway between a squad and a platoon. I asked a docent and he said that the number, when reflected in the black rock, signifies the 38th parallel. I dunno.
When Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster offers a criticism of the Army's counterinsurgency doctrine, you know he's not just riding intellectual fashion. This is a guy who has done well both in conventional warfare (see 73 Easting) and counterinsurgency (see Tell Afar).
We have the counterinsurgency manual, the stability operations manual, and the security-force assistance manual, but I don't think we have put the politics at the center of those manuals. So, for example, we assume in our doctrine that the challenges associated with developing indigenous security forces are mainly about building capacity, when, in fact, they're about trying to develop institutions that can survive and that will operate in a way that is at least congruent with our interests.
McMaster also says that, "We need leaders who have physical and moral courage on the battlefield, of course, but also the courage to speak their minds and offer respectful and candid feedback to their superiors. Our leaders can't feel compelled to tell their bosses what they want to hear."
I mention in another item today how much I liked the McKinsey interview with General McMaster. I was less taken with another article in the same issue, about what defense companies should do to weather the current decline in Pentagon spending.
The article is laden with phrases that apparently carry great meaning for the authors, but might not be so evident to the reader. They recommend "reimagining the business portfolio." They want executives to "redesign the talent strategy" -- but they don't say what that means. (I am guessing it means hire different sorts of people, but who knows? And what sort of people?) They also call for "appropriately managing incentives." Why does no one ever call for "inappropriate" steps? Those might be more fun, and certainly more interesting.
Their bottom line: "History shows that the time to act is in the depth of the downturn." My translation: "Buy low, sell high." In other words, what you need to do is simple: Just be the Warren Buffett of the defense industry. Any stockbroker will tell you this is easy to say, hard to do.
This court finds the authors guilty of aggravated assault on the English language, and sentences them to remedial readings of Strunk & White, and then George Orwell's essay on clear thinking and clear writing.
Yesterday I was reading a paper on the future of the Marine Corps that bothered me because I thought it didn't ask tough enough questions. So I asked myself, What would those questions be?
This is what I wrote down:
Here are the results of our survey of good books of military history that aren't about the U.S. military.
There were so many British books mentioned that I moved them into a second category. The first part here is genuinely foreign books -- not necessarily written by foreigners (though most are) but about wars in which the British and Americans were not major players, or at least not written from the Anglo-American perspective.
Most of these mentions were in the comments, but about 10 percent came in by e-mail.
I offer them in no particular order. Not even cleaned up -- just pasted in. For details on the books, go back to the comments section -- lots of explanations there about why a particularly book was nominated.
David Glantz, When Titans Clashed
Rommel's Infantry Attacks (2 nominations)
Counterinsurgency in Africa: The Portuguese Way of War 1961-74
Martin Van Creveld, everything but especially Command in War
Michael Oren, Six Days of War (2 votes)
Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, 34 Days: Israel, Hezbollah, and the War in Lebanon
Alistair Horne's The Price of Glory
Noel Mostert's The Line Upon a Wind
Patrick Rambaud's The Battle
Roland Perry, Sir John Monash: The Outsider Who Won a War
Larteguy's The Centurions and The Praetorians (3 nominations)
Harold Parker's Three Napoleonic Battles (short treatments of Friedland, Aspern-Essling, and Waterloo, with observations uniting all three)
John Elting's Swords Around a Throne (the Billy Yank/Johnny Reb treatment of what it was like for soldiers, leaders, and specialists in Napoleon's Grande Armee)
David Galula's Pacification in Algeria
Legionnaire, by Simon Murray
B.H. Liddell Hart's Caesar: Man, Soldier, and Tyrant
Colonel Saburo Hayashi, Kogun: The Japanese Army in the Pacific War
Hoito Edoin, The Night Tokyo Burned
No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War, by Hiroo Onoda
The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919, by Mark Thompson
The Franco Regime, by Stanley G. Payn
Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa, by Peter Godwin
Sean Maloney's three-volume history of the Canadian experience in Afghanistan (Enduring the Freedom, Confronting the Chaos, and Fighting for Afghanistan). He also did a narrative of the first eight or so years entitled War in Afghanistan: Eight Battles in the South.
Ivan's War, by Catherine Merridale (2 nominations)
The Reluctant Admiral, by Hiroyuki Agawa (Yamamto)
Vasily Grossman, A Writer at War
Bernard Fall: Memories of a Soldier-Scholar, by his wife Dorothy with an introduction by David Halberstam
Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse Tung
Either The Code of the Samurai or The Hagakure or The 47 Ronin
Heart of Darkness for anyone about to do an AFRICOM rotation. (And one de-nomination.)
Lester Grau, The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan
Alistair Horne's Savage War of Peace
Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom
Avigdor Kahalani, Heights of Courage
Rabinovich's Yom Kippur War
On the Banks of the Suez: An Israeli General's Personal Account of the Yom Kippur War, by Avraham Adan
Forgotten Soldier, by Guy Sajer (2 nominations)
All Quiet on the Western Front, and the lesser known but just as powerful sequel to the book, The Road Back, both by Erich Maria Remarque
Ernst Junger's Storm of Steel
Coalitions, Politicians and Generals -- Some Aspects of Command in Two World Wars, by Dominick Graham and Shelford Bidwell
Strange Victory, by Ernest May
Julian Jackson's The Fall of France
Witness to Surrender, by Brig. Siddiq Salik
The Way It Was, by Brig. Z.A. Khan
In the Line of Duty, by Lt. Gen. Harbaksh Singh
Guerrilla Warfare, by Ernesto "Che" Guevara
Afgantsy, by Rodric Braithwaite
The Jungle is Neutral, by F.Spencer Chapman
The War in Paraguay: With a Historical Sketch of the Country and Its People and Notes Upon the Military Engineering of the War, by George Thompson
On British military -- listed separately because more familiar
Keith Douglas, Alamein to Zem Zem
George MacDonald Fraser's Quartered Safe Out Here (3 nominations)
John Masters, first two volumes of his memoirs
Emile Simpson, War from the Ground Up
Keegan's Face of Battle
William Slim, Defeat into Victory (4 nominations)
The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command, by Andrew Gordon (4 nominations)
Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of The Great War, by Robert K. Massie (4 nominations)
The Last European War: September 1939-December 1941, by John Lukacs
How the War Was Won: Factors that Led to Victory in World War One and The Killing Ground: The British Army, the Western Front & the Emergence of Modern War 1900-1918, two volumes by Tim Travers
The Story of the Malakand Field Force, by Winston Churchill
Churchill and Seapower, by Christopher Bell
J.F.C. Fuller's Strategy
Donald Morris, The Washing of the Spears (Zulu Wars)
Gordon Corrigan's Mud, Blood, and Poppycock (attempts to bust many of the popular myths about WWI on the Western Front)
Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War (doorstopper-sized analysis of WWI)
Andrew Roberts' Masters and Commanders
The Tizard Mission: The Top-Secret Operation That Changed the Course of WWII, by Stephen Phelps
Not Mentioned in Dispatches
18 Platoon, by Sidney Jary
The Defence of Duffer's Drift, by Maj. Gen. Ernest Dunlop Swinton.
Brazen Chariots, by Robert Crisp
My War Gone By, I Miss It So, Anthony Loyd, ex-British soldier in Bosnia.
Forgotten Armies: Britain's Asian Empire and the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper
The Great Crusade: A New Complete History of the Second World War, by H. P. Willmott
Battle for the Falklands, by Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins
Sassoon's The War Poems
The Dark Hills, by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Bingen on the Rhine, by Caroline E. Norton
U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Francisco V. Govea II/ Released
Taking life-saving measures on behalf of a MWD is something all handlers prepare for before they deploy, as do their dogs. Handlers' veterinary knowledge should extend beyond the basics of day-to-day care, and they are trained to do things like administer IVs, identify the onset of shock and poisonous bites, set broken bones, and bandage bullet wounds, among other specialized care that may be necessary in combat theater.
So, when handlers -- and the community of servicemen and women who support them outside the wire -- say that a MWD is treated like any other soldier or Marine in their ranks, they not only mean it, they practice for it.
In February, Ted, a yellow Labrador retriever and bomb specialist, and his handler U.S. Army Sgt. Leslie Langford, along with others at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, LA, practiced combat patient care and "aeromedical evacuation in a simulated combat environment."
U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joselito G. Aribuabo
The training consisted of what appears to have been a variety of simulated injuries -- human and canine alike. Together, Ted and Sgt. Langford endured a host of training exercises that included X-rays, having his leg set in a splint, and a litter carry to a Black Hawk helicopter.
Along with MWD Ted and Sgt. Langford from the 550th Military Working Dog Detachment out of Fort Bragg, the servicemen and women participating in these exercises were medical personnel (including veterinarians) attached 328th Combat Support Hospital among others.
U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. John R. Nimmo, Sr
Almost as important as defaulting to the proper motions of emergency care is preparing for the momentum of adrenaline and stress that builds during a combat crisis. A handler has to know how his or her dog will react under strain, to be braced for it, to be practiced at it as a team. From the photos -- especially this one -- it looks like Ted tolerated the chaos and the discomfort, if begrudgingly.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
By "One Gone Cat"
Best Defense guest columnist
I thought of offering to write an essay for you that gave my own reasons or that made my own arguments for how the officer corps can be improved to retain the best and the brightest, but thinking about it just made me angry. It made me angry because I knew it would not make any difference, just as the countless opinion pieces written by disgruntled junior officers and NCOs or concerned senior officers and NCOs won't make any difference. The military is too inflexible, the senior officers are too comfortable with the status quo, human resources command believes too strongly in whatever crazy algorithm they have determining entry assignments, and the civilian leadership is too intimidated by a bunch of men who just lost two wars to force a change.
Writing about my experience won't make a difference because senior leaders will look at it and say that it's an anomaly, or that I don't have the ability yet to see the big picture, or that I cannot reflect and see how things actually work very well, or maybe that I got the career I deserved based on my abilities. I understand that they cannot understand me, because I don't understand them.
Sorry for the rant. I had to get it out there. You seem like the right person to send it to, since my mentors wouldn't appreciate the tone very much. It probably figures that a bunch of guys trained in an Army that didn't want to admit it lost Vietnam are pretty schooled in the art of self-delusion. But I became an Army officer because I wanted to be among the best, not because I wanted to be part of a group so adept at making excuses and criticizing anyone who doesn't want to stay in for the glorious pension at the end of the rainbow of mediocrity.
"One Gone Cat" is, for a bit longer, a U.S. Army officer. But guess what? The views presented here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Army or the Defense Department.
Was it Normandy? Blenheim? Waterloo? Goose Green? No to all.
Perhaps Naseby or Culloden? No again. El Alamein? Nope.
It was, indeed, Imphal and Kohima, the turning point in the fighting in South Asia during World War II. Now, I'm a Burma theater fan as much as the next guy. But this still surprised me. I wonder why they picked that. It wasn't just because President Obama's grandfather served there. Perhaps it was the ever-growing reputation of General Slim?
(HT to PL who had to read the original article upside down)
The other day a couple of commenters discussing innovation in the military mentioned one change (fwiw, the company-level intelligence cell) as a big reason why "we won in Iraq."
Hmm, I thought: Did we actually win that war? I am not sure. It doesn't feel like it. Yes, we got out with our shirts on. But win?
I thought about this again when I read this thoughtful comment by Lt. Gen. James Dubik in the May issue of ARMY magazine:
America is confusing "withdrawing from a war" with "ending a war." The two are very different. A war ends when strategic objectives are met or an enemy is defeated and recognizes its defeat. In Iraq, the war continues -- albeit at a level that the Iraqi security forces are, so far, able to handle and the Iraqi government can manage.
By "A Happy Camper"
Best Defense guest columnist
I am an Army captain with five years of service, married to a brilliant young woman.
Ideally, we would live downtown in a vibrant metropolis where we can walk or take public transit everywhere; my work would involve developing some sort of deep technical expertise in furtherance of national security, and my wife would be able to climb the ladder of her own lucrative career. Of course we'd also like to retain my current salary relative to our cost of living, my 30 days of annual leave, numerous four-day weekends, paid-for educational opportunities, as well as the option to collect a pension and virtually free healthcare for life after just 20 years.
Although reality falls short of our dreams, it's still pretty good. My wife got into teaching after we married because of its "portability," and the Army, to its credit, paid for her certification program through MyCAA. Teaching pays less than she might have earned otherwise with her education, and there will be frustrations as we move around (transferring her license, gaps in employment, leaving before vesting in any retirement plan), but she was hired immediately by the school district here and given good opportunities for professional development. As for my own work, I hope to find some greater depth and specialization by moving into a certain functional area. We can't put down roots in a big city yet, but I can choose to attend graduate school in one, and we could be assigned to Washington, DC at some point. Finally, when I add up the total compensation for 20 years of service -- salary, pension (assuming we survive to average life expectancy), healthcare, undergraduate, graduate, and professional education -- it comes to about $5 million (adjusted to 2013 dollars). That's $250,000 per year in uniform, with several of those years spent as a student in flight school, CCC, ILE, graduate school, etc.
I believe that I'd be competitive for civilian jobs with my STEM degree from a top-50 university, and many complaints about the Army definitely resonate with me, but it seems unrealistic to expect a much better deal than we're already getting. So for now I'm one junior officer that actually plans to stay in. That said, I value my marriage above all else; if my wife gave me an ultimatum because she wanted a high-powered career in big law or finance, or because she couldn't handle another deployment, I would choose to leave too.
A major in the 101st Airborne suggests that we do a reading list of modern military books that are not about the American military experience (and not the usual classics). Three of his suggestions are The Dambusters, Defeat into Victory , and Churchill's Generals.
To that start, I'd add Keegan's Face of Battle and Alistair Horne's Savage War of Peace. What else? I'll allow histories, memoirs, novels, and poetry.
ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images
I've been seeing a lot of blimpish comments about how today's younger officers need to pull up their socks and adjust. But a major difference is that wives 50 years ago typically didn't arrive at Camp Swampy with a huge law school debt.
I am a lawyer married to my high school sweetheart whose dream was always to join the military. I've known about his Army aspirations almost as long as I've known him and he has known about my dream to become a lawyer. I just never dreamed it would be this difficult to find any kind of work that requires a degree. I even was hired to work for JAG the summer between law school years as a GS 7. Now that I actually have a degree and a license, I cannot even get an interview for ANY federal job, let alone a legal one. I am not whining, because I chose this life when I chose my husband. But, it's a sad state of affairs for anyone who graduates with a law degree from a top school in the top 15 percent of her class to have to settle for an $8 an hour receptionist position. I wouldn't lose as much sleep over it if I wasn't over $200K in debt from law school.
I'm incredibly proud of my husband's career and accomplishments. He loves serving our country and I have loved supporting him through training and two deployments. But our future is uncertain, and everyday I pray that I find an opportunity that will give me a chance at a professional life of my own. I have sacrificed and invested in my own future as well and I just want to put my skills to use and earn a living.
The January-March issue of ARMOR magazine offers an article provocatively titled "How to Eat Steak with a Knife and Fork! A Return to the Core Competencies That Make Our Maneuver Force Indomitable."
Let's call it "HTESWAKAF" for short.
I am all for being competent. But I also am for winning our wars. I worry that we are not trying to do both. In other words, is the new emphasis on "core competencies" a way of turning away from the lessons of the last 12 years of our wars? Like, what if the enemy isn't serving steak?
Overall, I am a bit puzzled by such a focus on tactical abilities, because I think our biggest flaws in the post-9/11 wars have been strategic, with generals neither able to recognize the nature of their conflicts or to adjust to them. Yet I see little work being done there. And one lesson of Iraq 2003-06 was that good tactics won't fix bad strategy.
By Capt. Troy Peterson, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest husband
I'm at my 5-year point (initial commissioning obligation complete) and although I've signed up for ~3 more years, my desire for an Army career is being seriously challenged by the Army's career progression model and the inherent difficulty in supporting my wife's career. The lack of self-determination needed to coordinate our careers is a major problem for us, and this concern seems to be growing in the younger generation in the Army.
Like the Marine's wife in your most recent post on this topic, my wife is a true professional and a career woman. She's worked on Capitol Hill, worked abroad for the U.S. government, and now she's getting her master's degree from an Ivy League school (while we live apart for a couple years) -- all so she can continue to work in the public sector and we can both stay true to the ideals that mean so much to us.
Many of my peers face this situation; married to an educated, professional spouse who can't just pick up every 2 or 3 years to relocate to wherever the Army decides we should be, and continue their own meaningful professional career. It's a fact of life that opportunities vary with location -- Fayetteville, NC, and Columbus, GA, don't have the same job prospects as DC or New York. We don't expect the Army or anyone else to change that. I want nothing more than to continue my Army career, but if I have to, I'll find another way to continue serving my country and my ideals while allowing my wife to do something she finds professionally significant.
From the Army's perspective, this issue is a major part of the larger concerns about career satisfaction, retaining talented and strong performers, and competing with other professions for talent. My question is this: If the Army can have a great program for dual-Army career couples, why can't we also be more accommodating of dual-career couples who happen not to both wear ACUs?
My wife's "civilian" status doesn't mean her desire for a career of service is any less valid. Instead, the rigid career progression and lack of self-determination are forcing me to consider leaving the military entirely in order to preserve my marriage. However, the Army can adjust to prevent this stark decision from being a reality for many families. I've seen many couples get good results from the Married Army Couples Program. The answer for the rest of us isn't another, bigger Army program, but instead to reform the rigid career tracks and allow greater personal autonomy in job selection and relocation. Enabling individual initiative and greater personal control would facilitate dual-career couples achieving greater satisfaction, prevent us from facing a decision to leave the force just to preserve our families, and allow the Army to better retain what we so often say is our most precious resource -- our people.
CPT Troy Peterson is an infantry officer stationed at Ft. Benning. He served previously in the Second Cavalry Regiment in Vilseck, Germany and Zabul Province, Afghanistan. This article represents his own personal views and not those of Infantry Branch, the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, the U.S. government, nor even the pitching staff of the Florida Marlins.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
I came across a series of photos of Wilbur, a U.S. Marine Special Operations dog, taken over the last few weeks in Afghanistan by Marine Corps photographer Sgt. Pete Thibodeau. The collection of images follows Wilbur through Helmand Province -- working security, encountering livestock, playing fetch in front of an idle Humvee, and watching a group of children, his ears pricked in earnest attention.
Today's post title (and the use of the word "adventures") isn't intended to be flippant -- Wilbur is a Special Ops dog, which means his job is especially taxing and dangerous. But Thibodeau's photos show the non-violent side of combat-zone living from Wilbur's point of view with its own kind of wonder and whimsy -- a view worth seeing.
More photos of Wilbur are after the fold but first a couple of War-Dog Announcements:
60 Minutes will be airing a segment on MWDs this Sunday, April 21, called "Sniffing Out Bombs." The show sent a correspondent out to Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, home to the nation's premier pre-deployment course run by the USMC and Gunnery Sgt. Kristopher Reed Knight and his crew of experienced handlers. (I spent two weeks there last year.) Longtime readers of this column are likely to see the faces of those written about here on the CBS news show this week.
For DC locals (and supporters near and far): The Third Annual Annapolis 5K Run & Dog Walk is raising funds for America's VetDogs -- an organization that "provides service and assistance dogs, free of charge, to disabled veterans." The run will kick off at 9 am this Sunday at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, Maryland. Looks like early registration has closed but walk-ups are welcome, as are dogs -- leashed, of course.
U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released
By Richard Coffman
Best Defense bureau of Vietnamese War affairs
Hanoi's War is an important book drawing on secret Vietnamese Communist Party and government archives and chronicling how Hanoi planned and waged war in Vietnam following the defeat of the French in 1954.
More than that, the book surfaces serious dissension at the highest levels in Hanoi over priorities, strategies, and resources undermining, among other things, preparation for the Tet Offensive of 1968 and leading to arrests and purges. Had Washington and Saigon had a clearer picture of this, the war certainly would have been fought differently, and the outcome might well have been more favorable. It's probably fair to say that we knew as much about Hanoi's leadership then as we do the North Korean leadership today.
As it was, this book describes how badly U.S. bombing in the North and significant ground incursions into communist base areas in Cambodia and Lao hurt Hanoi's war effort. It further shows the utter failure and enormous cost of Hanoi's major offensives in 1968, 1969, and 1972, which forced the North into greater dependence on the Soviets and Chinese and ultimately to engage in negotiations to force U.S. withdrawal.
The author, Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, a native-born Vietnamese, naturalized U.S. citizen, and professor at the University of Kentucky, had access to a wealth of official Vietnamese language archives, personalities, and unpublished manuscripts. Among others, she interviewed Hoag Minh Chinh, once North Vietnam's leading communist theoretician and a purged dissident. She had access to the unpublished memoirs of the first of communist party First Secretary Le Duan's wives, who served in the Mekong Delta for years
Lieng-Hang not only plows much new ground, but does so in a well-organized, lucidly argued, and well-written chronological treatment of the Vietnam War and Hanoi's direction of it. Readers will be grateful for her facility in writing and organizing this substantively dense material, and that she makes clear that the archives she reviewed were sanitized and by no means complete.
To students of communist ideology and tactics, Hanoi's War neatly describes the rise to the pinnacle of power of communist party leader Le Duan and his close associate Le Duc Tho, and the marginalization of Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap. Indeed, these latter two internationally acclaimed heroes of the Vietnamese communist revolution, widely thought to wield unchecked power in Hanoi, sat out the Tet Offensive, Giap pouting in Hungary and Ho taking the waters in Beijing.
We further learn that despite Le Duan's repeated failures of strategies and tactics in the war in the South and immense personnel losses and the virtual destruction of the northern economy, he held on to power by virtue of brutal and non-stop repression. Even before the infamous Hanoi Hilton imprisoned U.S. airmen, it held scores of Le Duan's political opponents and dissidents, both real and imagined. His purges even claimed senior military officers close to Giap and some who helped plan the Tet Offensive.
In these and scores of less consequential matters, this book should humble Western intelligence and diplomatic observers, journalists, historians, academics, and the international left who got so much of North Vietnam wrong then and whose mistaken interpretations and judgments persist to this day.
Make no mistake, this is not revisionist history. The book's subtitle gives us a clue to her leanings: "An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam."
The author persists in describing the Vietnam War as "unwinnable" for the United States, which certainly must come as news to such eminent contemporary historians as Lewis Sorley and Mark Moyar, whose recent works, even without primary sources on Hanoi's troubles, make clear that the outcome in Vietnam was far from inevitable. Moreover, she has a palpable antipathy for Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger even while brilliantly and in great detail describing how they simultaneously leveraged both Moscow and Beijing to squeeze Hanoi -- and against his deep instincts, Le Duan -- to get the best possible negotiated deal extricating the United States from Vietnam.
Indeed, Le Duan so preferred massive offensives designed to trigger popular uprisings in the South that he sent his right-hand man, Le Duc Tho, to Paris to keep the lid on the negotiations. This follows Le Duan's pattern in dispatching trusted generals to command the headstrong southern communists who believed their revolution was betrayed by the 1954 Geneva Accords. How ironic -- or perverse -- that Le Duc Tho won a Nobel Peace Prize for his service in Paris.
Finally, she attributes Hanoi's victory not to its persistence and tenacity, not to winning hearts and minds in the South, not to the enormous sacrifices of North Vietnam's armies and people, nor to U.S. politics which hamstrung and undermined the U.S. effort, particularly under Richard Nixon, but to the unwavering and irresistible pressure of post-colonial, third-world, anti-war nations fed by Hanoi's clever propaganda and diplomacy and eager to teach the United States a lesson. This, she avers, is perhaps the greatest legacy of Hanoi's war and serves as a model to those planning future revolutionary campaigns against Western powers.
This flight of fancy only slightly detracts from what is otherwise a major and unique contribution to our understanding of what we faced in Vietnam. Students of military history, the Vietnam War, and revolutionary communism have much to look forward to as these archives are more fully mined in the years ahead.
Richard Coffman served as a Marine Corps officer in Chu Lai and Danang, RVN in 1965-1966. He then served in the CIA for 31 years, analyzing the North Vietnamese leadership there from 1967 through 1972.
By Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
I recently had the opportunity to speak to approximately 1,400 majors attending the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Ninety-eight percent of the U.S. Army majors at CGSC are combat veterans. Over 80 percent have more than one combat deployment, and nearly 40 percent have deployed three or more times.
But for all the hardships they've endured over the past decade, the next few years will be still be challenging, but in a different way. Our active-duty Army will trim nearly 70,000 soldiers from its ranks, with over 24,000 being involuntarily separated. Those who make up our formations may become frustrated as training resources dwindle, and as soldiers spend more time at stateside bases performing duties that just a few years ago none of them would have even had time to do, like picking up trash and mowing the grass.
However, this cycle is nothing new. I first experienced it 37 years ago, as a second lieutenant fresh from West Point. In 1976, I joined an Army which had just emerged from a painful war in Vietnam, and was beginning to transform from a large conscript force of nearly 1.5 million soldiers to a smaller, volunteer Army roughly half that size. Many predicted that the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) would be an absolute failure; yet, by the time I was a major, our volunteer Army had won one of the most overwhelming victories in military history.
What made the difference? We did have great weapons, but our ultimate success was the result of the quality of our men and women in uniform. After Vietnam, we made leader development our top priority, investing in our people, and in their education and training.
In 1974 only 61 percent of recruits had a high school diploma. During the latter years of the draft -- as well as the early years of the AVF -- crime, drug use, and racial tensions ran high. To fix the force, we had to concentrate on recruiting and retaining quality people. We instituted a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs, eliminating nearly a division's worth of soldiers for substance abuse in the early 1980s. Instead of relying on draftees -- committed only to a few years of service -- we developed a skilled, professional Army. To grow such a force, we had to invest in programs which helped keep soldiers in uniform for a lifetime, such as increasing pay and offering re-enlistment bonuses. We also began to institute family support programs and child care services, making the Army a family-friendly institution. Today, 60 percent of the active-duty force is married.
The new Army required recruits with the education, intelligence, and motivation to operate its new high-tech equipment. We also discovered that the best predictor of successful adjustment to Army life was a high school diploma. Today, over 99 percent of our active-duty Army has a high school diploma or its equivalent, and recruiters are excluded from signing up those who score within the bottom tier of their mental aptitude tests.
Finally, the Army underwent a revolution in training, establishing its Combat Training Centers, starting with the National Training Center in the California desert in 1980. There, entire brigades could participate in large-scale mock battles with a fully-equipped Soviet-style opposing force. The training was so rigorous that many felt that a rotation through NTC was actually harder than the Gulf War.
Having spoken to the most battle-tested group of officers our Army has ever produced in my career, it's clear that we must retain the last decade's worth of talent and experience, all while cultivating the Army's future leadership.
Leader development begins with a focus on making leader training our number one priority. However, during peacetime, professional development is especially difficult. Units may be manned at less than optimal levels, and commanders may be tempted to "hang on" to a stellar performer, instead of allowing them to attend the developmental opportunities they deserve. It will be easy for many to justify short-term success for their organization at the expense of the long-term health of our Army. Our future leaders must be able to think strategically, understanding how their actions affect the Army at large.
They'll have to reflect upon, and write about, the lessons learned from the last decade of war, and they'll have to apply those lessons or principles to future conflicts. At the same time, they'll need to realize that future conflicts rarely resemble the last one. Our adversaries have noticed how reliant we are on digital communications -- and are trying to hack our computers, jam our signals, and neutralize our satellites. When these systems fail, we'll truly appreciate the value of leader development. Mission command can only succeed if the next generation of leaders is trained to think strategically -- "two levels up," as we say. We need leaders who can fight and win with minimal guidance. To do that, we must afford them the opportunities to learn and grow, and to capitalize on their unique experiences and knowledge.
LTG William B. Caldwell is currently the commander of U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He will retire in July, after 37 years of active service, to serve as the president of Georgia Military College.
The more I read, the more I am persuaded that getting the leaders of the U.S. military to recognize that marriages are different now is of utmost importance. Here is one:
As a military spouse and struggling professional, I've found that maintaining my career has taken Herculean efforts on my part. My spouse is still a CGO and I eventually had to resort to more creative measures to keep my career aspirations afloat. I truly believe there is a giant culture shift afoot in the military community and it isn't just Junior Officers...it's across the board. All military spouses, regardless of their servicemembers' grade are fighting tooth and nail to hold on to a shred of their professional identity...and many of us just give up. Unfortunately the price of giving up is astronomical and when these military spouses try to reenter the workforce 10, 15, or 20 years later, it's demoralizing and a slap in the face. Thank you for writing this piece. I am dying to hear more.
And here is another:
I am the wife of a JO currently stationed at Camp Lejeune. I am also an attorney. I have finally found work in the booming metropolis that is Jacksonville, N.C., with the caveat that I was offered only part-time work with no expectation of partnership (as everyone knows we will pcs in a couple of years). Further, I make 1/5th the salary that I made when we were married 5 years ago (my pre-Marine Corps life), and, to put that in perspective, my former law school and law firm peers are currently law partners making 3-4 times what I was making 5 years ago. Put simply, the lost income is staggering. Only I am responsible for my choices in life, and I certainly don't regret mine, as I love my husband and the Marine Corps very much. But I never imagined it would be so difficult to find work. I have applied for countless gov't positions -- anything to get my proverbial foot in the door, mostly contract procurement jobs for which a college degree is not required -- and have never gotten so much as an interview. Thank you again for posting on this topic. It is a frustrating life, for sure.
And from a thoughtful male, after reading some of the comments from men:
I think some of the critics on this thread are hammering on the wrong nail. They think they are hearing serving officers say, "I wish I was posted in or near a big city." What they are actually hearing serving officers say is, "I married an educated woman with some gumption. There's not a lot for her to do with her education and gumption in F-ville. If the Army doesn't think more about this, then I have two choices: (1) lose the career or (2) lose my spouse." I don't think this is whining. I don't think this is a case of guys saying I'm a wimp and can't make it in Fort Hole in the Woods. This is the voice of reason looking for some reasonable answers.
By Roxanne Bras
Best Defense department of innovation
If you're in the military and have a good idea, do you know where to go? As recent debates erupted over whether the military encourages innovation and retains talent, I asked friends this question. Many had vague notions about programs at Leavenworth/IDEA Program/Quantico, but not a single person said he had confidence in this process. Now the plural of ‘anecdote' is not ‘data,' but in the absence of a survey about junior leaders' confidence in senior echelon responsiveness, I'm going to venture a guess that the low confidence exhibited by my peers is not spurious.
But we've debated this before, practically every month. Compare all the junior officer blog posts saying that good officers are frustrated with a geriatric bureaucracy to all the senior leaders' assurances that everything is fine. What do you get? I don't know, because these discussions quickly become personal, distracted by red herrings, and unsupported by data.
So is the military encouraging innovation? We can write about it, or we can test it by reaching out to emerging leaders and listening to their ideas. A group of junior officers has come together to try and do just that. We're organizing the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF), a three-day conference at the University of Chicago, because we believe that our peers have great ideas, strategies, and inventions that can make our military better. And we hope that senior leaders will work with us in this process; this conference is developed in a spirit of duty to our military and its continued improvement, not disloyalty or arrogance.
(Un)fortunately, this conference couldn't be better timed: The military's run out of money. Now it must really think. DEF hopes to provide a place where junior leaders can come together to propose new ideas, network with people from different services and ranks, and learn how to translate ideas into action. General officers and civilian entrepreneurs are also attending, keeping us from just preaching to the choir.
And so you don't think we fully drank the Kool-Aid, we'll admit it: Slogans and buzzwords about innovation and change can sound starry-eyed. But the process of moving from brainstorming to actionable innovations is messy and hard to capture in a bumper sticker. That's why we want to move this conversation to a physical space where we can get together, discuss ideas, and help create road-maps for implementation.
Please take few minutes and check out www.def2013.com, then register and come to the conference! If you have an idea, no matter how random, technical, or high-level, submit it to our Ideas Competition. We'll be picking the best innovations, and the winners will be able to share their ideas at the conference. We've also arranged for an excellent series of speakers, and lots of time for small groups and informal discussions. Sign up for more information, tell us what you think on our Facebook page, get involved, and we'll see you in Chicago.
Roxanne Bras is a captain in the U.S. Army, and a member of the DEF board. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
By Jesse Sloman
Best Defense office of Junior Officer Issues
Millions of electrons have been spilled in the last few months on the subject of junior officer retention. As a company grade officer in the Marine Corps, I've been following the widening debate with great interest. Although assertions of a crisis in the JO community have yet to be proven empirically, the volume of interest this topic has generated speaks to its importance as a national security issue. It's also clear that questions about retention resonate among my generation of officers, many of whom are currently mulling their own decisions about whether to remain on active duty.
Despite this outpouring, one critical factor in manpower retention has remained unexplored: quality of life for spouses, over 90 percent of whom are women. Relationship status and spousal satisfaction are crucial influences on a servicemember's decision to stay or leave the armed forces, yet these issues have so far been largely overlooked. As women take on ever greater roles in American professional life -- they now make up a larger share of the national work force than men -- their attitudes and expectations will be increasingly at odds with the traditional role of the military spouse. This is especially true for the spouses of junior officers, most of whom possess bachelor's degrees, strong employment prospects, and belong to a generation of women who have been raised with the assumption that they have as much right to long and fulfilling careers as their husbands. I have seen this dynamic firsthand among my peers. Two of the most promising lieutenants I know, including one who graduated at the top of his TBS class, are planning to curtail their military careers primarily out of consideration for their wives.
Consider the difficulties a young educated woman faces when her husband commissions into the armed forces. As she watches her friends enter the workforce and embark on their new careers, she will almost certainly be forced to move to an entirely new community with little in the way of local employment options. If she is lucky enough to find a good job, her excitement will undoubtedly be tempered by the knowledge that within a year or two she'll be forced to move and start over. Every time she begins a new job search she'll be competing against not just all the other recently arrived spouses, but also against non-military locals who employers know will not be leaving in the near future.
The numbers attest to the difficulties spouses face in finding employment. A 2004 Rand Corporation study found that military spouses are less likely to be employed than their civilian peers and earn less money when they are employed. This holds true even when they are compared against civilian spouses with similar employability characteristics. Given these obstacles, it's little wonder that 85 percent of military spouses say they either want or need work. Of those who are employed, it's not uncommon to find spouses working in positions for which they are manifestly overqualified. I know a former government lawyer currently employed at a nearby unit as a Family Readiness Officer, a job that does not even require a bachelor's degree.
None of these issues is new for military spouses, but it is surely not lost on them that today they are being largely excluded from one of the most important demographic shifts in American history. As Hanna Rosin, journalist and author of The End of Men, explains: "For the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce [has] tipped toward women, who now hold a majority of the nation's jobs.... Women dominate today's colleges and professional schools -- for every two men who will receive a B.A. this year, three women will do the same. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women."
To its credit, the Department of Defense has taken recent action to try and improve spousal employment with the creation of the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) initiative in 2009. SECO is made up of three programs: the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) tuition assistance program, the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), and the Military Spouse Career Center. Unfortunately, a 2012 Government Accountability Office report noted that, "DOD is not yet able to measure the overall effectiveness of its spouse employment programs," so it is impossible to know if they are proving beneficial.
I suspect that, given the obstacles arrayed against it, SECO will prove inadequate to the task of providing JO wives with fulfilling long-term employment. Instead, the military may need to come up with more radical measures, such as reinstituting homesteading and increasing the number of unaccompanied tours to locations suffering from limited employment opportunities. Another option is to ensure that spouses' careers are given weight when assigning servicemembers to new duty stations. There are significant practical obstacles to both of these ideas, but over time they may grow to be considered preferable to the problems brought on by spousal discontent.
Ultimately, effective solutions will only be possible when there is widespread recognition that the military's current social model is a legacy of a different time. Today's young women will be increasingly unwilling to sacrifice their professional ambitions for their husband's military career. The choice for young officers will become stark: Stay in the military and make their wives unhappy, or get out and give them a chance to pursue their dreams as well. Unless positive measures are taken to increase spousal satisfaction, I fear more and more JOs will choose the latter.
Jesse Sloman is a lieutenant in the Marine Corps currently based in Okinawa, Japan.
He may be retiring, but he remains quotable: "It's not an easy course. It's not designed to be. We're not here to get you in touch with your inner child."
Sgt. Maria Asenbrener/DVIDS
For the genre of "hard-won but sometimes humorous military wisdom," "Charlie Sherpa" mentioned these in a comment on the lessons of helicopter pilots, but they are too good not to run as a separate post.
1. Continually ask: "Who else needs to know what I know?"
2. Continually ask: "Who else knows what I need to know?"
3. Never speak with complete authority regarding that which you lack direct knowledge, observation, and/or suppressive fires.
4. Never pull rank over a radio net.
5. Let the boss decide how he/she wants to learn.
6. Let the boss decide how he/she wants to communicate.
7. "I am responsible for everything my commander's organization knows and fails to know, learns and fails to learn."
8. Know when to wake up the Old Man. Also, know how to wake him up without getting punched, shot, or fired.
9. The three most important things in the TOC are: Track the battle. Track the battle. Track the battle.
10. Digital trumps analog, until you run out of batteries.
11. Always have ready at least two methods of communication to any point or person on the map.
12. Rank has its privileges. It also has its limitations.
13. Let Joe surprise you.
14. Don't let Joe surprise you.
15. The first report is always wrong. Except when it isn't.
16. The problem is always at the distant end. Except when it isn't.
17. Exercise digital/tactical patience. Communications works at the speed of light. People do not.
19. The warfighter is your customer, and the customer is always right.
20. Bullets don't kill people. Logistics kills people.
21. Knowing how it works is more powerful than knowing how it's supposed to work.
22. Cite sources on demand. State opinions when asked.
23. Work by, with, and through others. It's all about empowerment.
24. Do not seek the spotlight, Ranger. Let the spotlight find you. Then, make sure to share it with others.
26. Humor is a combat multiplier. Except when it isn't.
By Lt. Col. Robert "Butch" Bracknell, USMC
Best Defense department of personnel reform
The Department of Defense needs to advocate for and implement certain reforms to ensure the Department is getting maximum return on manpower investments. Most notably, the 20-year retirement permits officers, including senior noncommissioned officers, to request placement on the retired list in the prime of their careers, denying the Department of Defense an opportunity to reap the benefits of 20 years of development and experience.
Smarter manpower management would find a way to extract additional value from a retirement-eligible servicemember by incentivizing his retention, perhaps in a reserve status, until service limitations.
In 2010, the Defense Business Board issued its report "Modernizing the Military Retirement System," recommending comprehensive restructuring of the military retirement system. The report concluded that comprehensive reform is warranted, and that a new retirement system based on an annual contribution model like the Thrift Savings Plan could contribute to military retirement sustainability. Citing unsustainable rises in costs, fairness to servicemembers who separate prior to retirement vesting, and the relative generosity of the military retirement system compared to civilian retirement systems, the board's Task Group that executed the study recognized that the "binary nature" of the system "creates a strong incentive for personnel to leave shortly after 20 years." The authors observed "in some areas of specialization, military servicemembers are only then reaching their peak performance."
After their initial service obligation, typically four to five years, and occasionally up to 10-12 years or more, active duty members take one of three options: (1) they remain on active duty, (2) they move to the reserve component of their service, or (3) they resign or allow their enlistment contracts to expire and separate from the armed services permanently. Active servicemembers can retire from active service after 20 years, which entitles them to 50 percent of their base pay as pension, where "base pay" varies in terms of calculation depending on the statutory retirement calculation system that applies to a servicemember's pay entry base date ("Final Pay", "High 3", "Redux", etc.). Each year served above 20 years raises the pension by 2.5 percent. Thirty years is the normal maximum career limitation, entitling the servicemember to 75 percent of his base pay in retirement (at 30 years, the usual "service limitation"). In unusual circumstances, certain colonels (with specific and unique qualifications) and general officers can continue to accrue 2.5 percent "bumps" in retirement pay up to a 100 percent base pay retirement benefit.
Reserve servicemembers who elect to continue participating until they have satisfied reserve retirement eligibility criteria obtain the same retirement benefit based on years of accrued service, participation "points," mobilization time, etc., but the benefit generally is deferred until the retired servicemember reaches age 60. A typical career path for one of these servicemembers is to serve four to eight years on active duty, then move over to the reserves to complete a reserve military career while pursuing a "primary" civilian career.
As I contemplated my own retirement from active duty at year 21, I realized I could be ready for new professional challenges. Simultaneously, I realized not only that I had not completely whetted my appetite for military service, but also that I had developed expertise and skills that could still benefit my nation in uniform. I explored my options; my manpower managers informed me that I could move to the reserves, just as if I had only completed four, six, or eight years of military service (an initial service obligation, or an initial obligation plus one or two assignments thereafter). The problem with this plan is that I would be sacrificing completely a $45,972 pension (based on 2013 retirement at O-5 with 21 years) for the privilege of continuing to serve. I love service as much as any Marine who ever wore the uniform, but my family cannot afford to forfeit a vested $46,000 annuity so that I can continue to serve as a reserve Marine.
The stark choice between an active duty career beyond 20 years and a reserve career that only makes financial sense if the servicemember moves to the reserve component earlier in his career, rather than later, counsels that there ought to be an accommodation for servicemembers caught in the middle. A the retirement-eligible officer with specialized skill, experience, and training, who is willing to continue serving as a reserve officer should be permitted to do so, without incurring a substantial financial penalty for the privilege.
Assuming my post-military career prospects are such that I am not going to remain on active duty to year 28 or 30, if I retire and walk away, taking my O-5/21 year/52.5 percent benefit with me, I am also depriving the Marine Corps of 21 years of accrued active duty expertise, nearly four years of cumulative post-9/11 overseas and deployed experience, and a substantial investment in my graduate education and fellowships. If I move to the reserve component, I forfeit a vested $46,000 pension. No rational economic actor would take this deal. As a result, if I retire this year, some other agency or company will reap the benefit of the Marine Corps's investment in developing me as a senior leader and technical expert for the past 21 years. There is no middle ground that would allow the military to reap that benefit, instead of some third party entity.
Moreover, the current system encourages the services to fill their reserve ranks with relatively inexperienced personnel -- an average officer who serves as an active infantryman for four years and as a reserve officer for 12 years is almost always less experienced and less competent at his military trade than an average officer (with similar intellect, talent, etc.) who spends all 16 of those years on active duty. Similarly, the officer who spends 25 years on active duty is deprived of the rich experience of life in the private sector or in another government agency. The absence of post-military experience may yield a less mature business sense for finance, logistics, and process management when compared to a reserve component peer officer who spends four years on active duty and 21 years as a chief financial officer or production manager at General Motors or Boeing. These two communities might be bridged by allowing career active officers to retire and continue service in the reserve component, as a career active duty/career reserve "hybrid." Such officers might represent the best of both worlds: abundant active duty experience, augmented by post-retirement private or other government sector experience that would benefit the third "tier" (the last 10 years) of the officer's combined active and reserve military career. Perhaps there ought to be a third "hybrid" personnel category that allows this to happen.
When an officer vests at 20 years and becomes retirement eligible under this notional system, he might have 3 options, instead of only 2 (stay on active duty or walk away). Those three options would be (1) stay on active duty, (2) walk away, (3) a hybrid option in which the board-selected officer could continue post-retirement as a reserve component servicemember while being paid the active duty pension already earned. In a case like mine, for example, once selected by a combined, proportional board of active and reserve officers, the officer would retire at year 20 and begin immediately to collect his "normal" (50 percent) pension. He would continue to serve for another 10 years as a reserve component officer while starting his second, post-active duty career. At the end of that 10 year reserve portion of his career, the retirement benefit would be adjusted incrementally and proportionately to account for the additional service beyond the 20 year mark. In fairness to those who stay on active duty, any increase to the hybrid officer's ultimate retirement pension would be fractionally adjusted; a smaller accrued benefit would vest in comparison to the hybrid's active duty counterpart who stays on active duty until year 30. At year 30, he would be eligible to collect 75 percent of his base pay, and the hybrid who retired from active duty at year 20 might collect some smaller amount -- perhaps only 57.5-60 percent at year 30 (0.75-1 percent premium per year served, rather than 2.5 percent per year). This would account for the 50 percent the hybrid would have already earned, plus some marginal additional compensation for the willingness to commit another 10 years in the reserve component. The formula might be adjusted to compensate for periods of mobilization; for example, if within that 10 year period of reserve service, an officer is mobilized for a major theater conflict for 2 years, then his active retirement would plus up to 55 percent, and the other 8 years of his reserve career might be compensated in retirement at the "normal" 0.75-1 percent rate. This notional officer eventually would retire with 22 years of active service (55 percent) of base pay, and his benefit would increase at age 60 to account for the other 8 years of reserve service (0.75-1 percent over eight years, for a 6-8 percent plus-up -- equaling 61-63 percent of base pay retirement annuity).
Purists may intone: "Bah, humbug. Pick one or the other. This is waffling. This is indecisive. This isn't the way we do things." Duly noted. But if the goal is to maximize return on investment, and to extract more value and service out of high-value, well-trained experts -- COIN experts, counterterrorism practitioners, logisticians, engineers, foreign area officers and regional experts, resource managers, aviators, strategists, cyberwarriors, physicians, etc. -- who have earned the right to walk away through 20 years of service, then we need a new paradigm for doing so. Modifying force management statutes and regulations to permit a new category of "hybrid" officer would improve the experience quantum in the most senior reserve ranks and would temper the loss of institutional knowledge and expertise when exceptional officers retire at year 20. There likely are multiple ways to realize additional return on our institutional manpower investment that fit each service's unique needs for manpower capabilities. This is but one of them.
Providing a third "hybrid" option in the future that makes financial sense to the servicemember while retaining talent for the total force is a win-win proposition. As we look forward to figuring out how to lean out the services and get the most return on our defense investment, it is clear the Department of Defense wastes an inordinate amount of human capital by allowing it to walk out the door at year 20 without providing any option for continued return on that 20-year investment. Proposing authority to Congress to modify the military retirement scheme to allow a 20-year retirement plus reserve continuation permits the Department to honor the "20 year deal" while extracting additional service value out of officers during the last third of an officer's potential 30-year career.
This option is far superior to letting talented, capable officers simply walk away at the 20-year mark with an annuity and a gold watch, taking 100 percent of their abilities and experience with them to a new employer.
"Butch" Bracknell is a Marine lieutenant colonel on active duty, but perhaps not much longer.
In a footnote in the Orwell diaries, I learned that more British civilians were killed by enemy action during World War II than were members of the Royal Navy (60,595 vs. 50,758).
Meanwhile, in other news related to World War II, for the first time in nearly 70 years, there is not a single American tank on German soil.
I like this list below. First, it is a good summary of the wisdom and humor in one military field.
Second, it is typical of a military genre -- the grim but humorous compilation of hard-won knowledge. I've seen multiple copies of a similar one on infantry ("Friendly fire, isn't"), but would like to see other examples you might have.
EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW IN LIFE I LEARNED AS A HELICOPTER PILOT IN VIETNAM.
1. Once you are in the fight, it is way too late to wonder if this is a good idea.
2. It is a fact that helicopter tail rotors are instinctively drawn toward trees, stumps, rocks, etc. While it may be possible to ward off this natural event some of the time, it cannot, despite the best efforts of the crew, always be prevented. It's just what they do.
3. NEVER get into a fight without more ammunition than the other guy.
4. The engine RPM and the rotor RPM must BOTH be kept in the GREEN. Failure to heed this commandment can affect the morale of the crew.
5. Cover your Buddy, so he can be around to cover for you.
6. Decisions made by someone above you in the chain-of-command will seldom be in your best interest.
7. The terms Protective Armor and Helicopter are mutually exclusive.
9. "Chicken Plates" are not something you order in a restaurant
10. If everything is as clear as a bell, and everything is going exactly as planned, you're about to be surprised.
11. Loud, sudden noises in a helicopter WILL get your undivided attention.
12. The BSR (Bang Stare Red) Theory states that the louder the sudden bang in the helicopter, the quicker your eyes will be drawn to the gauges. The longer you stare at the gauges the less time it takes them to move from green to red.
13. No matter what you do, the bullet with your name on it will get you. So, too, can the ones addressed "To Whom It May Concern."
14. If the rear echelon troops are really happy, the front line troops probably do not have what they need.
15. If you are wearing body armor, they will probably miss that part of you.
17. Having all your body parts intact and functioning at the end of the day beats the alternative.
18. If you are allergic to lead, it is best to avoid a war zone.
19. It is a bad thing to run out of airspeed, altitude, and ideas all at the same time.
20. Hot garrison chow is better than hot C-rations which, in turn, is better than cold C-rations which, in turn, is better than no food at all. All of these, however, are preferable to cold rice balls, even if they do have the little pieces of fish in them.
21. Everybody's a hero...On the ground...In the club...After the fourth drink.
22. A free fire zone has nothing to do with economics.
23. The further you fly into the mountains, the louder those strange engine noises become.
24. Medals are OK, but having your body and all your friends in one piece at the end of the day is better.
25. Being shot hurts and it can ruin your whole day.
26. "Pucker Factor" is the formal name of the equation that states the more hairy the situation is, the more of the seat cushion will be sucked up your ass. It can be expressed in its mathematical formula of S (suction) + H (height above ground ) + I (interest in staying alive) + T ( # of tracers coming your way)
27.The term 'SHIT!' can also be used to denote a situation where high Pucker Factor is being encountered.
28. Thousands of Vietnam Veterans earned medals for bravery every day. A few were even awarded.
29. Running out of pedal, fore or aft cyclic, or collective are all bad ideas. Any combination of these can be deadly.
30. There is only one rule in war: When you win, you get to make up the rules.
31. C-4 can make a dull day fun.
32. There is no such thing as a fair fight -- only ones where you win or lose.
33. If you win the battle you are entitled to the spoils. If you lose, you don't care.
34. Nobody cares what you did yesterday or what you are going to do tomorrow. What is important is what you are doing -- NOW -- to solve our problem.
35. Always make sure someone has a P-38. Uh, that's a can opener for those of you who aren't military.
37. Flying is better than walking. Walking is better than running. Running is better than crawling. All of these, however, are better than extraction by Medevac, even if it is technically, a form of flying.
38. If everyone does not come home, none of the rest of us can ever fully come home either.
39. Do not fear the enemy, for your enemy can only take your life. It is far better that you fear the media, for they will steal your HONOR.
40. A grunt is the true reason for the existence of the helicopter. Every helicopter flying in Vietnam had one real purpose: To help the grunt. It is unfortunate that many helicopters never had the opportunity to fulfill their one true mission in life, simply because someone forgot this fact.
If you have not been there and done that you probably will not understand most of these.
I am told this about the misconducted West Point superintendent, Lt. Gen. David Huntoon. Apparently there was an investigation of his relationship with a woman he brought in as director of strategic communications, whose influence was resented by some faculty members. But the Army keeps on stonewalling and saying only that he was cleared on that -- but won't drop the other shoe and provide information on the misconduct charge that the DOD IG did substantiate.
So what was he nailed on? I asked someone in the know. He told me this:
In the end, all they got him for was, he offered to take care of her cats....[But] the chief of staff wound up doing it. He had to buy cat food. So, after all the investigating, all they got him on was coercing a subordinate to do personal favors.... It's ironic because Huntoon has been all about the ‘image' of West Point.
Tom again: A bigger concern to me -- and to some civilians at West Point -- is the effect that the image campaign has had on the academic freedom of faculty members. I asked about that, and the person I was talking to said, "I think it's fair to say, there is concern that we cannot speak freely. We get messages all the time: ‘Don't talk about this.' There's a lot of concern about image."
A little transparency here would go a long way. But apparently the Army cares more about the feelings of its generals than about informing the people who pay its bills.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Unless these dogs are high on methamphetamines, the footage has clearly been manipulated, sped up as they launch over walls and through half-lit rings of fire moving at herculean speeds. As the handlers shout and make angry gestures, the dogs pounce on paper likenesses of South Korea's defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin (NoKo's "Enemy No. 1"). Tactically speaking, these dogs -- of which there appear to be only five or six -- have all the precision and training of a rabid mob. I suppose that might be frightening in its own right, but it would be a mistake to assume a military dog is a super threat just because he/she is savage. The really "dangerous" dogs are the ones who are impeccably controlled by their handlers.
So, who should be afraid of North Korea's war dogs? Probably no one.
I sent the clip over to a career dog handler over at the USAF Academy, Kennel Master Chris Jakubin, who after viewing the footage of NoKo's dogs attacking stuffed mannequins said it had the intimidating power of a Benny Hill skit. All it needs, he said, is the music.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.