By Richard Buchanan
Best Defense office of mission command
In 1993, when I left the Army as a CWO (HUMINT/CI) myself and another CWO (Order of Battle) were training 7th Infantry Light non-MI personnel on MI skill sets using a hand-jammed two-week NEO scenario exercising against Abu Sayfeh. Down right counter guerrilla if you ask me as we were using my Special Forces Vietnam experience to frame the scenario. Bottom line up front -- if a light fighter is trained well in his infantry skill sets counter-guerrilla operations are not a problem -- it was true in 1993 and it is just true in 2012 so why did we have to create COIN?
We were actually breaking ground in 1993 by creating the CoIST and DATE concepts years before they became standard terms. The MI Center in Ft. Huachuca was interested in the scenario and concepts of our version of CoIST/DATE, but came to the decision that guerrilla warfare was where the Force was not heading so they basically canned what had been provided to them.
I then left the Force and moved into the IT world of ATT and Cisco where for years we spoke using the IT slogan "people, processes, tools" long before the Army broke into the G/S6 world.
Now 29 years later the Army has "people, processes and tools" -- People is a PME system generating Cmdrs and Staffs, Processes is Science of Control, and Tools is multiple mission command systems.
I recently meet (after 29 years) that same retired CWO who has as a retiree done his rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan and just as I am he is still trying to educate the Force. When we met we simply smiled and almost at the same time said "boy did we get it right 29 years ago" and then compared notes on what has been working and what is failing since 1993. There are not many of us greybeards still out there working with the Force -- and still the Force does not "listen."
So Tom's recent question ("Mission command is nice but what will commanders actually practice it?") caused me to go back and give it some serious thought as mission command is really something some of us have been where possible practicing since 1993.
The question of how do we facilitate mission command training in a Force that is centrically singularly focused on mission command systems is a valid concern and yes one might in fact think the Force is only paying lip service. Processes and tools are simple to understand/control -- but the Art of Command is all about Leadership and right now "Leadership" in the Force is a "black art."
The fuzzy "black art" thing we call Art of Command with the equally warm and fuzzy terms of team building, open dialogue in a fear free environment, and TRUST is the elephant in the room that everyone wants to ignore. It is ignored in the AARs coming out of the DATE exercises, it is ignored by MCTP AARs, it is ignored in Staff training exercises and the list goes on.
WHY? The answer is easy -- not many are comfortable and confident with themselves in the areas of Trust and open dialogue or they have had negative experiences with these terms. Trust and dialogue are hard to mentor day to day in the current Force.
Has anyone recently seen in any CTC AAR or in any MCTP AAR a section on Trust? Meaning, was Trust being demonstrated within the Staff or between the Cmdr and his Staff, a section on how was dialogue being handled within the Staff or what the Cmdr's leadership style was? That is, did it contribute to team building or did it push dialogue and or contribute to trust being developed in his unit? Or was there ease in the way the NCOs and Officers worked with each other. Or was failure tolerated and learned from with the Cmdr leading the way in the lessons learned by a failure?
Has anyone recently seen a CTC AAR or a MCTP AAR speak out about the quality of the Cmdrs Mission Orders to his subordinates (was it clear/concise) or did they speak about the quality of the Commanders Intent -- two critical core elements in the "Art of Command"? Or did the OCs speak about his and his Staff's micromanagement?
What is inherently missing is a clear strong Army senior leadership emphasis on Leadership in the current group of O5/6s and one/two Stars. Leadership that develops the team, develops/fosters open dialogue and fosters Trust. If junior officers see that emphasis in their daily routines then it becomes second nature to them -- right now not many O5/6s are leading by example. We have way too few "truth seekers" in the current O5/6 and one/two Star ranks.
In some aspects the necessity for mission command (Art of Command and Science of Control-the processes not the systems) has been articulated in ADP/ADRP 6.0, in the concept of "hybrid threat" TC 7-100, in the doctrinal thinking behind Capstone 2012, and anchored in the new DATE scenarios that are now standardized at the CTCs.
With the future of the Army training being refocused on hybrid threats tied to DATE training exercises the "Art of Command" is the key in moving forward. If the Cmdr has built his team using the elements of Trust and open dialogue there is no "hybrid threat" scenario that cannot be mastered by an agile and adaptive Cmdr/Staff.
In addition the concept of "Design" then starts to make sense and just maybe we can move into a open debate about whether the current decision making process MDMP makes sense in a "hybrid threat environment" or should it be replaced by a different problem solving process which actually "Design" and "mission command" demands.
Or as a recent article in Tom's blog put it, "I am leaving the Corps because it doesn't much value ideas." It is not only the Army that is having Trust issues. We are losing the "best and the brightest" simply because senior leaders are not serious about a "Leadership" that builds teams, fosters dialogue, and Trust.
Richard Buchanan is mission command training facilitator with the JMTC/JMSC Grafenwoehr, Germany training staffs in the areas of mission command, MDMP/NATO Planning Processes, MDMP/Design, and Command Post Operations. From 2006 to 2008, he rebuilt as HUMINT SME together with the Commander Operations Group (COG) National Training Center (NTC) the CTC training scenario to reflect Diyala Province. From 2008 to 2009, he introduced as a Forensics SME into the NTC training scenario the first ever battlefield forensics initially for multifunctional teams and then BCTs. From 2010 to 2012, he trained staffs in the targeting process as tied to the ISR planning process as they are integrated in the MDMP process. The opinions here are his own and not those of U.S. Army Europe, the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, the U.S. government, nor even the shattered remains of the once-proud New York Jets.
As a holiday gift for myself, I read an advance copy of the last of Rick Atkinson's trilogy on World War II in Europe. The book is out in May, but you can pre-order on Amazon right now.
It was like slipping into a warm bath: Good writing ("Sherman pyres on the Caen plain") and fine narrative.
But most of all, fascinating facts:
Colonel Gentile, a strategic bombing expert who also was a cavalry squadron commander in Iraq in 2006, concludes that I am both simplistic and dangerous: "In one sense Mr. Ricks is right that the American army has not produced strategic thinkers in its higher ranks. But his simplistic solution is also quite dangerous if the policymakers and others who read it come to believe it is true. America at war with Syria, Iran, Yemen, sure -- just relieve a few generals, get the right ones in place, and victory will be assured."
Then, in a really low blow for a historian, he accuses me of having the mindset of a political scientist: "He undertakes a political science approach to the exploration and analysis of history, developing a template and then compelling the past to conform to that template."
He also says the book is a regression from the works of John Keegan. Well, if I have to regress from anyone, I'll take Keegan. I am not as good a baseball player as Derek Jeter, either.
What I don't get is that he accuses me of failing to show that relief of generals leads to better results. I don't know how he can say that, given that I discuss how Africa went better after Fredendall was ousted, Anzio went better after Lucas was booted and Truscott took over, Korea went better after Ridgway went over there and started cleaning house.
Does he think Vietnam would have gone any worse had any generals been relieved for being ineffective? But then Gentile is a big fan of Westmoreland -- "Westmoreland, I think, was very efficient, very proper, highly intelligent, a good organizer, a good manager, and I think up to a -- and I think a good leader" -- and I am not.
Also, I'd like to file an objection to the way he uses "narrative" like it was some kind of dirty word. Rather, I think it is what makes us human -- putting together events to try to make sense of the rushing world of reality. We know other animals use tools, but as far as I know, we are the only animal that uses narrative.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
This time last year, Sgt. Alyssa Jackson, Capt. Katie Barry, and Sgt. William Vidal, who made up the entire veterinary team at Bagram AFB, were celebrating the holiday season in Afghanistan. (They are the exceptional team-of-three who organized the war-dog run in Bagram earlier this year.) And while the three have since left their post in Afghanistan and are now serving on other Air Force bases around the world, they have fond memories of their last Christmas spent with the MWDs and their handlers stationed at Bagram.
Jackson said the dogs especially were remembered during the holiday season. "Many people would send us care packages for the dogs. The packages would have kongs, treats, and all kinds of toys," he said. "It was great that our Military Working Dogs are not forgotten during the holidays."
Above, MWD Paty sports reindeer antlers in the small veterinary office on base. Barry writes that when this photo was taken Paty was suffering from "pretty severe PTSD so she was on her way home. She's been dispo'd and I think her handler adopted her."
This photo at left comes straight from Zombalay, Afghanistan, taken just a few days ago. Handler SSG Donald Miller posed for this postcard with his Patrol Explosive Detector Dog, Ody. The pair has been in country since September.
TIM ZIELENBACH/AFP/Getty Images
A bunch of senior State Department officials got booted over security failures at Benghazi. A friend comments, "This is functionally equivalent to the sacking of GOs."
The contrast to the lack of accountability for the Abu Ghraib mess is striking. And I am confident that the prisoner abuse scandal, by outraging Iraqis and fanning the flames of the insurgency, resulted in the deaths of more Americans than did the lapses in Libya.
By Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor (USMC, ret.)
Best Defense voice of experience
Of course any hierarchical and conservative institution can be resistant to change and unwelcoming of out-of-lane independent thought. But I believe the Marine Corps has a pretty good record of being an exception, i.e. many officers in the chain encourage that sort of thinking and help get a subordinate's message a hearing at a higher level.
I was the recipient of such support from the time I was a new lieutenant and over the years came to expect it. And I don't think I was an exception. Let me cite some milestones in my career:
1952 -- Korea -- 2d Lt. Rifle Platoon Leader -- We were taking unwarranted patrol casualties following prescribed techniques. I proposed some changes to the Bn. CO during a visit to my platoon. He rejected them out of hand, but the S-3, Maj. J.K. Hogan, accompanying him, saw merit in my ideas and successfully went to bat for me and overcame the CO's resistance.
1953 -- 8th Marines -- 1st Lt. At an Officers Call I argued that the USMC triangular organization was less effective than a square formation in the embryonic days of helicopters. The Regt. CO Col. DeWolf Schatzel (one of the notorious "Chowder Society" members in the Unification fight) encouraged me to put my arguments in writing and submit it to the Marine Corps Gazette. It was published as "The Triangle and the Square." It was a voice crying in the wilderness, but I was encouraged, not discouraged by my seniors.
1960 -- 1st Recon Bn Capt. Company Commander -- Upon returning from exchange duty with the Royal Marines, I argued for the adoption of some of the deep penetration recon techniques the Brits were using against the EOKA insurgency in Cyprus as being ideal for Vietnam, which was looming on the horizon. My proposals were opposed by some within the Recon community, but supported by Lt. Col. Hank Woessner, Bn CO and subsequently by the CG, Maj. Gen. Jim Masters. The techniques were expanded, improved, and served as the precursor for the successful Sting Ray operations in Vietnam.
1968 -- MC Command & Staff College -- Maj. Instructor -- I recommended and sold a series of out-of- the-box "creative thinking" initiatives as part of a curriculum change to the senior instructor, who supported it and passed it to Maj. Mike Ryan, the director, who then carried the ball and won over the director of the ED Center and the hated school solution "Yellow" was minimized (I hope it has remained so).
1970 -- Vietnam -- Lt. Col. CO 1/5, Quick Reaction Force -- Over the vehement opposition of the ADC, the CG, Maj. Gen. Chuck Widdecke (a tough SOB if there ever was one) overruled him and supported a new attack SOP/technique that I proposed to introduce.
Needless to say, the more senior I became, the easier it became to have my voice heard. But the point is that throughout my career senior Marine Corps leaders welcomed and were open to new ideas -- and along the way, most of the officers between me and the decision-makers were a help, not a hindrance.
To repeat, I think my experience is more representative than those who have been frustrated by what they categorize as a closed-minded Marine Corps bureaucracy.
Lt. Gen. Bernard "Mick" Trainor (USMC, ret.) is a veteran of combat in Korea and Vietnam, a former military correspondent for the New York Times, and co-author of several books on the military, most recently Endgame.
DVIDS/Lance Cpl. Tyler Main
By Capt. John Byron, USN (Ret.)
Best Defense department of maritime affairs
When I was a baby-duck ensign in my first ship, the Gun Boss, a grizzled lieutenant commander, offered me these words of wisdom on career success in my new profession as a Navy line officer:
Be a successful shipboard department head as a lieutenant, a successful executive officer as a lieutenant commander, and a successful commanding officer as a commander...and you will make captain.
In this succinct capture of the traditional road to senior rank, my friend outlined the essence of two parallel pathways an officer must follow, ticking off the gates to pass through in assignments and in progression up the ranks. Within the Navy, this surface-navy description also holds true for submariners and aviators, and there are comparable paths to be followed for staff corps and restricted line.
Running alongside these two there's a third path as well, of professional gates peculiar to the warfare or staff specialty. A submariner, for example, needs graduate sub school, nuclear power school, and prototype; qualify as a diving officer, an engineer of the watch, and an officer of the deck; qualify in submarines and earn his (and now her -- wow, three of them) dolphins; pass the two-day engineer's exam at Navy Nuclear Reactors; complete submarine command quals; get through Prospective Executive Officer and Prospective Commanding Officer schools; and not screw up at Nuclear Power PCO School ("Charm School").
These three paths made up of parallel and intertwined assignment, promotion, and professional gates define career success for Navy line officers.
Point One: The rest of the Navy and the other military services have comparable three-thread career paths with their own gates that officers must go through to reach full success. There are many nuances, some individual exceptions, more or less flexibility, but in general there's a pattern here that's pretty much unwavering and unavoidable.
Point Two: This is highly competitive at each gate on each of the three pathways; the services have far fewer loaves and fishes than there are people in the crowd.
Point Three: If you miss a gate, you're probably screwed.
Point Four (and the reason for writing this): Command is just one of the gates. Which is to say that command, highly visible and properly viewed as perhaps the most important job an officer can hold, is but one of a series of steps and stops in which success is mandatory and failure may occur. So yes, command is important...but the individual's performance and a service's ability to train, educate, and evaluate its people are measured at myriad points continuously throughout a career.
Point Five: If a military service or one of its specialties fails to demand accountability against proper standards at every one of these gates, well, shame on them for failing the nation. Pretty much the point of Tom's book, that.
By Brett Friedman
Best Defense staying in correspondent
On Friday, you posted one lieutenant's view on how the Marine Corps views new ideas. If I could, I would like to make a quick rejoinder. It's unfortunate that this Marine's experience has convinced him that the Marine Corps, as an institution, does not value new or challenging ideas. Unfortunately, this perception does not match reality. I have found the Marine Corps to be extremely tolerant of ideas both new and critical.
I have been writing publicly about military issues since I was a first lieutenant in 2007, when I wrote an article in the Marine Corps Gazette that was extremely critical of the training package providing to Military Transition Teams deploying to Iraq. Despite its critical nature, my chain of command was congratulatory when the article was published. Advisor Training Group, the target of those criticisms, even offered me a position on their staff based on the article. A later article that was critical of the methods used to train artillery scout observers in the fleet was subsequently assigned to students at the Expeditionary Warfare School. This post on the Marine Corps Gazette blog, where I am now a regular blogger, was both extremely critical of the Marine Corps and widely circulated. Still, I received nothing but laudatory feedback from both within the Marine Corps and without.
I say this not to brag but to make the point that if a Marine is both critical and tactful, there is no danger to expressing new ideas. In fact, there are benefits to doing so. Many of my articles have drawn favorable e-mails from high-ranking Marines, including some that work directly for the commandant. The Marine Corps Gazette even hosts an annual writing contest that rewards the author who best challenges established doctrine or concepts with $3,000. The reality of the modern Marine Corps is that we have fostered an extremely healthy environment for challenging and fresh ideas.
It's unfortunate that the lieutenant feels that his ideas have been ignored, but for anyone else out there who still wants to voice their ideas, here are my tips for doing so in the Marine Corps.
1) "Kiss the Corps:" When I first started writing, a senior Marine told me that every time I wrote about the Marine Corps I needed to "kiss the Corps." Start your criticism out with a paragraph extolling the Corps's virtue to establish yourself as a true believer, then fire away. If your readers perceive you as someone who is disgruntled and angry at the institution, they'll stop reading. Make sure they know you criticize out of love rather than hate and they'll listen.
2) Know your stuff: Marines value tactical and technical proficiency. If you make bad assumptions or factual errors about your subject matter, the rest will be ignored. Every writer makes a mistake at some point, but mitigate it as much as possible. The lieutenant's post has an example. He apparently expects more than tactical direction from a battalion. A battalion is a tactical organization through and through, so the lieutenant's assumptions about where the battalion should be focused may be off. A battalion should absolutely discuss strategy and operations, but that discussion is more appropriate for the commander's PME sessions than the AAR.
3) Courage and commitment: Marines are quite fond of our core values of honor, courage, and commitment. Courage and commitment are relevant for the Marine writer; they're your words on the page, use your name. Marines will respect you for doing so even if they disagree with your ideas.
4) Tact: It's a Marine Corps leadership trait for a reason. Above all, avoid ad hominem attacks against anyone, not just senior leaders. Don't just complain, offer solutions.
Stick with those rules, and keep writing, and people will eventually start listening.
By Capt. Doug Pelletier, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest respondent
I want to respond to a post from a Marine first lieutenant in your blog on Friday. While I have experienced the type of mindless arrogance he described in his letter, I have come to different conclusions about the solution. I have been truly outraged in the military was when I was in Iraq conducting engineer operations and had to suffer through listening to an O-6 explain to me and my peers that the engineer branch was not what it used to be. The O-6 condescendingly explained to us that he feared for the future of the military because none of me or my peers had ever emplaced a minefield. While that comment was hilarious given the amount of combat experience in that room, there is nothing funny about the arrogance and presumption behind that mindset. While I agree that this sort of attitude is a danger to the military and is hurting retention, I disagree with the author's conclusions that new ideas are not welcomed in the military.
I wrote when I was a first lieutenant serving as an executive officer in Iraq. The ideas therein were put together by myself, my first sergeant (now a sergeant major), and my operations sergeant (now a first sergeant). All three of us have pushed this paper and the ideas contained in it very aggressively and I must say that I have found a very receptive audience. I have gotten the paper into the hands of one three-star general and have received multiple emails about it from senior NCOs, both active and retired, who are helping to push the ideas that we were able to come up with. I have found the upper echelons of the military to be very receptive to good arguments that are well-developed and presented professionally. The problem is that our senior leadership are not receiving very many good ideas from the junior ranks.
Far too often, junior officers in the military see the dysfunctionality of the organization they find themselves in and, rather than fighting back, they complain about their leadership and walk away from the problem. I have seen far too many of my peers complain about what senior officers are doing to the military; however, when I ask them what they are doing to counteract these bad ideas and influence decision-makers they have nothing to say. Most of the senior leaders I have met are very open to new ideas, they are just not receiving any from the men on the ground. My point is that junior officers have responsibilities that we have been shirking. It is far too easy to sit back and complain about our leadership without getting involved. Junior leaders need to be actively involved in the debate about the future of our organizations or else we will be ceding both the argument and our ability to complain about its outcome.
Douglas Pelletier is a 2007 West Point grad who served as an engineer platoon leader and executive officer in Iraq from June 2009 to May 2010. He recently completed the Special Forces Qualification Course at Ft. Bragg and is awaiting transfer to Ft. Campbell to join the 5th Special Forces Group. The views expressed are his own.
A friend comments on some of the differences between Afghan tribes and those in Iraq:
- Obviously Hierarchical
- Easily Mappable
- Objective Hierarchy
- Not Obviously Hierarchical
- Not Easily Mappable
- Not Necessarily Ordered
- Subjective Hierarchy
Tom again: His interpretation of what this means is that Petraeus got it wrong when he tried to apply Iraq to Afghanistan -- and that al Qaeda got it wrong when it tried to apply Afghanistan to Iraq:
One of the reasons that bin Laden and the other Arab Afghans were able to work their way into the local Pashtu networks is because there the hierarchical power is not transmitted by descent type of kinship arrangements. When these guys tried to export the model to Iraq, specifically in Anbar, but also in Sunni enclaves that were more tribal in other places, all they did was piss off the actual guys with authority -- the sheikhs. And because so much of tribal/familial and religious leadership is combined in Iraq, they managed to piss off two institutions at once: the tribal and the religious leadership at the same time. And there are almost no purely Sunni or Shi'a tribes in Iraq. So the anti-Shi'a message, combined with not understanding the societal dynamics, cost them. It wasn't the only reason that the tribal guys wanted to come in from the cold, but it was a contributing factor.
Best Defense department of junior officer retention
I'm an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. I deployed last year to Helmand Province on an embedded training team with the Afghan National Army. It was an incredible experience, and I'm proud of what we accomplished together, but now I'm in my last month of active duty and I'll be getting out as a first lieutenant. I decided to leave the Marines a few months ago. (I was career designated, which I say not to brag, but so you don't think I'm some disgruntled jarhead.)
I've been closely following the discussion that you kicked off with your book, your piece in The Atlantic, and on Best Defense. I want to weigh in on one point about which I feel strongly -- it is that firing certain generals will send a message to junior officers about the value of adaptability and critical thinking. I don't know that it will, but you are absolutely correct that such a message is necessary.
The conclusions you fear people may draw regarding Petraeus's departure -- "critical thinking and ideas are overrated" -- were particularly poignant. I know you're talking Army. Sadly, it applies to the Marine Corps, too.
An example: As the wars draw to a close, the Marine Corps is preaching a return to its roots. This is all well and good. But it seems as if everyone is holding up the 1990s as an idyllic time in the Marine Corps's history, as if the past decade with all of its lessons and changes was an aberration. My fear is we will learn very little from it.
In my battalion's after action report from the deployment, there are more than fifty topics discussed. Just three of them relate to partnering, the main effort in Helmand and our primary mission. The rest are tactical prescriptions with a few operational suggestions thrown in -- not the sort of analysis you want from a battalion staff.
If you've read Rajiv Chandrasekaran's new book, you know how General Larry Nicholson is portrayed. He isn't perfect, but he at least "gets it." My impression, having endured dozens of empty speeches from generals these past few years, is that men like him are few and far between. What concerns me much more, though, is that among my peers, the ones with ideas are the ones getting out, because they just don't feel the organization values them.
During the summer of 2011, the author served in Helmand Province as a Tolai Advisor to the Afghan National Army's 215th Corps. The views presented here are his own.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
On November 10, Tygo, a Specialized Search Dog on deployment in Afghanistan, was killed by an IED. On December 4, Fort Leonard Wood kennels held a memorial service for their fallen comrade that included "a ceremonial rifle volley and the playing of taps," as well as the customary sharing of memories to honor the dog's service.
Though his career was cut short, Tygo had a solid reputation for detection work. Earlier this year, he and his handler, Spc. Seth Rodenberger, won first and second place for endurance and explosive detection challenges during the 2012 Hawaiian Islands Working Dog Competition.
Tygo was known for his laid back temperament and was a dog who, according to a base press release, possessed a "fierce tenacity for detection" and was "always steadfast and ready." Even during Tygo's brief three months of his deployment, the four-year-old Irish setter earned a formidable reputation among the Special Operations teams.
In his closing remarks at the Specker Chapel service at Fort Leonard Wood, Rodenberger (who seems not to have been injured in the attack that killed Tygo) thanked his former partner for "keeping the team and especially me out of harm's way. You're my battle buddy, my friend and my hero."
As one other sergeant remarked while they will all miss Tygo, "his loss will only make us more determined to succeed in our mission."
Tygo's recent death is hopefully the last in a year that has claimed a relatively high number of lives from the MWD community -- both canine and handler. As we near the close of 2012, it's perhaps a sad ending note but I think one worth dwelling on, especially considering the pointed remarks of Engineer Canine Company Commander Capt. Patrick McLain, who eulogized Tygo on December 4.
When it was McLain's turn to speak, he talked first of Tygo's role in keeping soldiers working outside the wire safe. But then he asked those gathered to view the dog's death not only as a tragic loss but also "as a very hard and sad reminder that the Engineer Canine Company currently has 43 soldiers in harms way." Of those 43, McLain continued, 18 are in combat arms. Those "military working dogs [and their handlers] have the most dangerous job that the military has to offer," he said. And that job is "finding casualty producing devices that cause so much damage in today's operational environment."
Here is your big chance: Skip the Saturday morning cartoons and instead watch a discussion of the book on Dec. 15 at 8 am. Or, if you can't wait, they very nicely give you the option to watch it on your computer right now.
Armed Forces Journal also ran a thoughtful review by Joseph Collins. The heart of the matter:
Ricks' book is an important study on command and accountability in wartime. It is also a précis of much of American military history over the past 70 years. It will make many officers uncomfortable and some generals squirm. Its arguments can be disputed; they cannot be ignored.
Accountability is critical; we must do better. . . . As senior officers go to school to study military history and modern generalship, they would be well advised to read this important book. Ricks will make them uncomfortable. They will curse his excellent pen, his often irreverent tone and his biting commentary. But Ricks has something to teach the next generation of general officers, if they will let him.
Still can't get enough? OK. Here's the transcript of my recent discussion with Neal Conan on Talk of the Nation.
Meanwhile, let me know if the comments system is still messing you around. I will forward to the powers that be. Apparently it is in their contracts to screw up the comments system every few months.
Maj. Mark Glaspell recounts this episode from his time commanding a company of the 101st Airborne in 2010-2011 near Gardez, Afghanistan:
MG: . . . The Soldier was a female and the interpreter was a male. Of course, the interpreter was immediately fired; kicked off the post and he's gone.
Q: How do you confirm those types of allegations, especially when it's a lot of "he said/she said?"
MG: What she ended up getting in trouble for was that she was caught in the interpreter's room. She got caught red-handed by her supervisor.
AH: Okay, so that was the confirmation.
MG: Yeah. We knew what was going on but we couldn't charge her with that because there was no direct witness, but we knew what was going on. He was out and the colonel basically threw the book at her as much as he could for being in that room. She was married. It was just bad all the way around. He actually sent her home because with her job she immediately lost her security clearance and she couldn't do her job without her clearance so they sent her back home.
By Joan Johnson-Freese
Best Defense office of saving PME
My recent book on Professional Military Education (PME), Educating America's Military, advocates including experienced career academics in administrative positions at the nation's war colleges, which, currently, rarely occurs. But the October 2012 Navy Inspector General (IG) report that resulted in the firing of the president and provost at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) largely faulted civilian academic administrators for the myriad issues they found there. Though these recommendations may seem to contradict each other, I would contend otherwise. Rather, I contend they point out unaddressed difficulties PME institutions face while attempting to commingle two very different cultures as they aim for ambiguous goals, thus setting up circumstances that consistently lead towards extremes, rather than getting it "just right."
There are important differences between war colleges and the NPS. Admiral James Stavridis stated his view on war college goals in his 2011 convocation speech at the National War College. "I knew what I was good at...but also sensed what I did not know or understand well: global politics and grand strategy; the importance of the ‘logistics nation'; how the interagency community worked; what the levers of power and practice were in the world -- in essence how everything fits together." The goal of the war colleges should be to educate students in the areas beyond their comfort zones, to broaden their horizons from largely technical and operational backgrounds. The NPS, on the other hand, offers graduate technical degrees in areas such as engineering and oceanography. According to the IG report, more than 42 percent of entering students have a background in liberal arts. Faculty composition is an important ramification of this difference. Whereas war college faculties can be and are significantly populated by individuals, including active duty and retired military officers, with little or no academic background in areas they teach, it is more difficult to bluff your way through teaching an engineering course than it is a history or economics course. To accomplish their mission, the NPS inherently needs and is therefore dominated by, a higher percentage of civilian academics.
But what are their missions?
Here is where similarities between problems found by the IG and problems I cover in my book converge. The number one recommendation in the IG report is: "That SECNAV determine the mission, function and task of NPS." Likewise, on page two of my book, I question if: "War College goals are clear, and whether articulated goals are then supported by practices and processes at those institutions." The military wants a highly technical-educated officer corps; Congress, through the Goldwater-Nichols Act, requires that officers be educated for "intellectual agility." All schools must constantly demonstrate "relevance" or risk being seen as low-hanging fruit in budget battles -- which means they are constantly expanding their missions and programs -- and all education programs are to be executed at breakneck speeds to get valuable officers back into operational billets, with no failures. The IG report references education as being seen as "a pump and not a filter" part of the NPS's mission. Throughput drives all PME institutions, as the graduation rates at the war colleges are near 100 percent, and the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported a similar rate of 98 percent at the NPS.
A shift in the NPS 2008 Strategic Plan, toward research, and an apparent coup of civilian academics over pushed-aside military officers was determined to be at the heart of the NPS's issues. The IG report documents flagrant violations of regulations in the use of government funds, and states the NPS prioritized research over teaching. But who are these "civilians"? The president was a retired Navy vice admiral. Civilians come in many different varieties, including retired military, practitioners with no academic experience, and academics with administrative experience and those without administrative experience. A civilian academic is not simply someone not in uniform, or with a doctorate, and broad-brush blame seems to serve little constructive purpose.
While career academics are notoriously bad administrative managers -- preferring to focus on their disciplines -- their expertise is critical in providing students a valuable educational program. I argue that just as pilots are certainly included in designing and executing pilot training programs, and doctors in military medical programs, experienced, career academics similarly ought to be included in PME academic administration, including curriculum design and delivery, as well as hiring and promotions. But academics are product oriented, frustrating the military which is process oriented. Nevertheless, the two cultures must work together. If they don't, it can result in -- as suggested in both my book and the IG report, quoted here -- an organization operating "neither as a Navy command nor the universities it strives to model itself after."
Apparently the NPS president was isolated from those who could advise him on process violations by layers of administrative bureaucracy, created by the ham-fisted civilians to push aside the hapless military officers. (That the military officers would allow that to occur seems curious and raises other questions.) While I have no basis for comment on the intent of the administrators running interference between the president and his staff (the IG, the JAG), I have no doubt about its existence. Administrative bloat is an issue that needs attention at all PME institutions. Too often, these positions are created as rewards for those considered "team players" by PME power holders, of whatever variety.
The IG report succinctly points out the tensions that exist between military and academic cultures, and it's about time. A war college civilian colleague recently conveyed an exemplary story. He had used the word "tension" to describe relations between civilian and military (retired, in this case) faculty in a meeting and was pulled aside afterward, and censured for such. It doesn't exist, according to "team players." Tension, however, can be useful if managed correctly. In fact, this military-civilian tension is the innate advantage any war college possesses to fulfill the likes of legacies such as Luce, Mahan, Spruance, and Turner.
Faculty at PME institutions must live by DOD and service rules. Most individuals I know fully understand that, but problems arise when policies are ambiguous, with rules arbitrarily imposed depending on leadership desires and the legal officer in place at any given time. I was once told by a legal officer that legal officers take one of two positions: that it is their job to find legal ways for individuals to accomplish their mission, or that it is their job to say "no" to any question or request as a default position, to protect the organization. The person telling me that readily (and proudly) admitted she took the latter approach. Having worked at three PME institutions I have experienced the same rules interpreted different ways within and between institutions -- with one legal officer telling me that something for which I had written approval to do in a different PME institution he considered illegal, and threatened legal action.
The irony of the IG report is that it assumes a cut-back in research emphasis will result in more attention to teaching. But the need to graduate officers quickly and easily -- the "pump, not filter" issue -- is not entirely or even primarily a function of research being prioritized over teaching. In PME, the issue is largely one of students being "too big to fail."
Also noted in the IG report is that many NPS faculty are tenured, with the implication that job security gave them the ability to ride roughshod over the military. It is certainly true that faculty without tenure at other PME institutions would be unlikely to challenge policies. In fact, faculty, typically on three- or four-year contracts, become too cowered to challenge anything, including the pressure to be a pump, not a filter. Tenure policies can vary dramatically between and even within PME institutions. The Air War College had tenure, dropped it, reinstated it, and then dropped it again, giving those on tenure-track contracts the draconian choice of foregoing tenure or receiving a one-year contract. Rules can change quickly, often, and opaquely.
The IG report raises important issues. Some can be fixed by organizational process changes. I fear, however, that rather than comprehensively addressing the institutional problems, a knee-jerk reaction will follow to demonstrate activity in addressing the multitude of recommendations made, likely to include some activity with counterproductive results. Already, I'm told, consideration has been given to requiring each and every faculty presentation or potential publication to go through a substantive review process -- one that goes beyond checking for security violations, which is within regulatory purview but irregularly required -- though there is no office at the NPS capable of doing so in a timely manner. That will present a very real chill on the faculty's ability to act as a faculty.
Overreaction has already set in. Ostensibly in reaction to some small number of groups/organizations holding or paying for conferences at what the Navy considered exorbitant rates, Naval War College faculty wishing to attend any conference or workshop must now get approval external to the institution. Inattentiveness or lack of personnel to process these requests for approval has already resulted in faculty, including myself, having professional trips cancelled. In my case it was a trip to attend a meeting of the Space Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences, funded by that organization. I took vacation time to attend. Another chill on a faculty regularly acclaimed as "world class." This seems inconsistent with General Dempsey's white paper on education to "attract and maintain civilian and military faculty members who are among the very best and brightest of their contemporaries." Creating pre-publication review processes and erecting hurdles to academic conference participation guarantees to undermine the chairman's goal.
The tensions inherent in trying to kluge together two very different cultures can be managed, but requires acknowledgement of legitimate perspectives on both sides and a clearly stated mission. Denial and quick fixes help no one, not the students who attend these institutions, nor the nation that pays for their extended scholarships.
Joan Johnson-Freese is a professor and former department chair at the Naval War College. She is the author of Educating America's Military (Rutledge, 2013). The views expressed here are strictly her own.
This ran as a comment a few days ago. I think it is a powerful meditation on personal sacrifice in public service. If you missed it then, read it now. If you read it then, please do so again.
This subject goes to the heart of all I (now) believe. I'm wrong to spit anger your way.
Brotherhood and respect for the Fallen are two very romantic notions that I believe in fully, but I still question them. I'm afraid these days that I question just about everything. My notions when I was a young Midshipman are far from where I am now. Hell, I even voted for Ronald Reagan twice. In my twenties, I quite enjoyed one year when I received 4 pay raises: annual COLA, promotion to Captain, going over 4 years, and a Reagan COLA kicker. I look at politics and economics differently now.
The profession that you are about to enter is an honorable and, dare I say, very enjoyable one. But as you progress, you will view things differently. Maybe you won't question things -- you state that you will subjugate yourself to the government. But to subordinate yourself totally and blindly to the actions of said government is to denigrate yourself. Hogwash to think that everything your government does is the correct thing. If you so believe that, you have lost all your undergrad education to wasted time.
I do not advocate government overthrow, but I do plead for citizen and soldier participation in formulation of legal, moral and honorable actions of the government. I won't preach to you about the sins of the last decade. Whether the USA was correct or not in wars upon Iraq and Afghanistan is yours for personal analysis.
I saw wrong when I stood at the upstream end of TSA one day with tears in my eyes watching my son walk away never to be seen alive by his mother and me again. Some in this forum say I wear my heart on my sleeve, because of my personal loss, in my comments. No, my son's signature is tattooed on my right bicep for all the symbology that is probably obvious with that. My heart on my sleeve is for my country and our lost way since 9/11/01.
I understand the essence of brotherhood -- I served 7 years on active duty as a USMC officer. I hated the Iraq War, but allowed pride of service to guide me as I watched my Marine son walk toward combat. I understood that he had to follow orders; I would expect nothing less of him. I didn't protest the war until he died, out of respect for him and his platoonmates, many of whom I had already met and today treat like sons. Afterwards, I took to the streets (literally) and joined the failed attempt to stop the Iraq war. As it was, the war drifted off to some "honorable" withdrawal, nearly 3,300 American KIA's after my son later. For what was it all for I will continue to search and reflect until I die.
It was not foreseen in 1997, the year my son enlisted, that the USA would be committing itself to multiple ground wars in Islamic countries. I have in-laws who still spout shit: "He signed the papers himself didn't he? He knew what he was getting into didn't he? He wasn't drafted was he?" Superficially, these inane comments are true. But, in my opinion, none of us signed up for Executive Branch stupidity. Blindly following immorality is not service or courage, it is stupidity.
Politics, professional soldiering and parenting ARE all pushed together. We live in that world. I hope you can incorporate that notion in your future studies. Love is hard. Strange to see those two words in the same sentence but it is true. And there is nothing selfish about demanding that the country shows the same duty and honor and service as does the soldier.
That's the suggestion made by Leo Blanken (of the Naval Postgraduate School) and Jason Lepore (of Cal Poly) in a paper I read on the flight home from Kansas City. As they put it, "the manner in which one measures progress incentivizes the behavior of those who are conducting the war."
For example, they say, the use of the "body count" in Vietnam "incentivized large-scale killing and destruction, which worked against the goal of building a viable political regime in the South."
But I am not sure I agree with their assumption that the "principal" (the policymaker back in Washington) "possesses more strategic information about the conflict" than does the "agent" (the commander in the field). Looking at Iraq, I would say that with the first three commanders in Iraq, neither side had more strategic information. Then, when Petraeus took over, he actually knew more strategically than his bosses (Gen. Peter Pace, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and President Bush) did.
BTW, if you plan to read this paper, it helps to like math.
Like I said, I generally don't think that the military should use business as a model. But there are exceptions in specific cases, especially on leadership of large organizations.
Peter Drucker, one of the great thinkers about how corporations really work, in describing the Generals Motors of the 1940s, mentions that 95 percent of all decisions were left to the heads of the company's various divisions. "Hence central management refrains as much as possible from telling a division how to do its job; it only lays down what to do."
Mission command, anyone?
Phil Cave reports that the security clearance office known as the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO) is being replaced by a much less cool office named the Department of Defense Central Adjudicative Facility (DoDCAF). I thought it should have been called GANGSTA or something.
By Col. Hank Foresman (U.S. Army, ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
In the December 7 Washington Post there is an interesting opinion piece by Generals (Retired) Reimer and Chiarelli, where they urged that Congress repeal a provision of the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act that prevents commissioned and non-commissioned officers from talking with their troopers about their gun ownership.
One of the most effective measures of suicide prevention is to ask those perceived to be under duress: "Do you have a gun in your home?" If the answer is yes, we might then suggest that the individual put locks on the weapon or store it in a safe place during periods of high stress -- things that any responsible gun owner should do.
Unfortunately, that potentially lifesaving action is no longer available to the military. A little-noticed provision in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has had the unintended consequence of tying the hands of commanders and noncommissioned officers by preventing them from being able to talk to service members about their private weapons, even in cases where a leader believes that a service member may be suicidal.
I commanded three companies for a total of 54 months. I did not have to talk to my soldiers about their gun ownership because I did not have to deal with the epidemic of suicides that face the military today. But, if I had, I would have wanted to know about gun ownership so if I thought a trooper was suicidal I could do something to help him.
I know how important this is. A few years ago, shortly after I retired from the Army, I experienced several weeks of acute vertigo. As a result of being carted out of the Pentagon on a stretcher, I experienced a very serious episode of depression to include having suicidal thoughts. When I realized what was happening I had my wife gather the pistols which we each keep near the bedside and had her lock them up in the gun safe; on top of that I had her change the combination of the gun safe and not to give it me. Why? Because I wanted to take away any access to weapons that would allow me to do something stupid.
I got help; the doctors were able to address not only the vertigo, but also the underlying depression. I now know the combination to my gun safe, and I regularly go shooting. In fact I am doing so today.
Generals Reimer and Chiarelli are right, commissioned and non-commissioned officers need to have every tool available to them to battle our epidemic of suicide to include asking soldiers about their gun ownership. Despite what some in Congress think, this is not an attempt to circumvent the Second Amendment of the U. S. Constitution. Rather, it is a tool to our soldiers.
The author served 33 years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a colonel. He deployed to Kosovo, Iraq, and Kuwait.
Unusual though it is, the New York Times and the Marine Corps Gazette are on the same page.
In his Sunday Times review, Max "Das" Boot basically summarizes the book. He calls it "an entertaining and enlightening jeremiad that should -- but, alas, most likely won't -- cause a rethinking of existing personnel policies."
In his Marine Corps Gazette review, Frank Hoffman writes, "Aside from Ricks, no one has yet had the courage to step back and assess the big lessons from conflicts that have seen the United States sustain great burdens and spend no small amount of treasure for little strategic gain. . . . The Generals does not lay the blame for leadership shortfalls entirely at the feet of the uniformed military but does argue that we should shoulder our share and regenerate a mastery of strategic leadership and operational art worthy of our soldiers and Marines. For this fact alone, The Generals is strongly recommended reading for all students of the art of war."
The Weekly Standard also is approving. Tim Kane states in his review that the book "does not get bogged down in the logic or bureaucracy, but tells a fascinating story of how Army leaders came out of Vietnam with a singular focus on tactics at the expense of strategic thinking." His conclusion is that "Ricks shines, blending an impressive level of research with expert storytelling."
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.
From a comment posted the other day by "jvizzard":
The danger in a shrinking army is that we become sheep always seeking the center of the flock, lest we stick out and get picked off.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
At eleven years old and after a long career of detecting explosives and no fewer than two deployments behind her, Hexa is hanging up her working leash. She is leaving her home station kennel at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, AZ (not to be confused with the Yuma Proving Ground) for life as a housedog with former MP Staff Sgt. Neal Moody.
It seems that Hexa is suffering from a neurological disease that will ultimately leave her blind; Even now you can see that her eyes are coated with the telltale milky glaze. The article also reports that Hexa is suffering from Canine PTSD, though it doesn't hint at a specific trauma or how deeply affected her day-to-day life is by either affliction. Still while life as a working dog wears on any animal (as do multiple deployments), Hexa's handlers report that her keen sense of smell is very much intact and the article makes special mention that she still goes wild for tennis balls.
Back in her heyday Hexa, a large Shiloh Shepherd, was a force to be reckoned with. In 2010 she helped lead a demonstration aimed to prepare the Combat Logistics Regiment 15 for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan -- the special lesson being how MWDs could be used in a hostile combat zone. They are not only there to help find bombs or drugs but can be used to chase down and detain a suspect. The "suspect" Hexa detained in this tutorial was Sgt. Jay Parales who described the experience (seen in the photo above) as "pretty intense" and "scary but fun."
"That dog," Parales said then speaking of Hexa, "Took me down like I was a little toy."
War-Dog Aside: In last week's post I wrote that Marine canine handler Sgt. William Sutra was going to be awarded the Navy Cross for the heroics he (and his dog Posha) displayed in Afghanistan. You can watch Sutra receive the Navy Cross here. The comments offered during this ceremony give a far better account of what happened on that fateful day than any report I've read elsewhere. (Hat tip: Mike Dowling.)
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Atria Books in September 2013.
Photos by Cpl. Aaron Diamant
One of the things a good senior leader does is move around his or her unit. Don't wait for bad news to come to you. Often, it won't be allowed to.
The new issue of Army Times has a good piece by Michelle Tan about a predatory drill sergeant who in one 10 day period earlier this year had various forms of sex with one female recruit, oral sex with another, a groping and kissing session with a third, and indecent language with some others.
The first woman to complain was a 20-year-old victim who found the chain of command unresponsive. She went to one drill sergeant, who told her, "You don't want to open that can of worms, Private. . . . That's my battle buddy's career you're trying to fuck up." Her first sergeant didn't believe her. The company commander said he would launch an inquiry, which, she said, led nowhere, and wasn't reported to superiors. The woman said that other trainees who had been assaulted were afraid to come forward, especially after they saw how the drill sergeants ganged up on her and accused her of lacking integrity.
Then she ran into the battalion command sergeant major as he was moving around the unit. He listened to her, then called a meeting of all the females in the company. It lasted about 90 minutes. "That's when the others came forward," the woman said.
The abusive drill sergeant, Luis Corral, has been found guilty. He was busted to private, sentenced to five years in the brig, and will get a bad conduct discharge when he gets out. Then he must register as a sex offender.
Here at Best Defense we've never really gotten into VUCA, an acronym apparently developed at the Army War College to describe the "Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous" environment that many think we will face in coming decades. It actually brought to mind a woman I dated in my senior year of college for a few crazy weeks. It was a learning experience, OK?
But I think the acronym-makers missed a chance here. If they added "Lethal" in the middle and "Novel" at the end, then we could face a "VULCAN" challenge.
I've long found Paul McHale, a former member of Congress and also a former Pentagon official, a clear thinker. Here he questions the Pentagon's "pivot" to Asia:
"Does it make sense for the United States Army to prepare for a protracted land war against China? . . . Should the Army really be focused on North Korea while paying insufficient attention to Iran? And if a post-2014 civil war in Afghanistan spills over the Durand Line and threatens the stability of Pakistan's government, are there any issues in Myanmar that trump the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons by the Taliban?"
By Luke Hutchison
Best Defense department of military education reformation
When West Point was founded over 200 years ago, it was created to fix a key problem in the Army, the lack of officers with engineering skills. Without officers who knew how to build roads, construct forts and fire artillery accurately -- the Army would be completely ineffective. With no engineering programs at other American universities and a problem that required more than basic training, Colonel Thayer set out to make a rigorous academic program based on an engineering curriculum. Today, West Point needs to assess just like Colonel Thayer did over 200 years ago, what is required of its graduates so that they will best contribute to the common defense.
Today education in Strategic Studies -- understanding how to develop and execute strategy in complex and protracted conflicts that go far beyond just tactical symbols -- is seriously lacking. The U.S. Army in Iraq had to pull a complete 180 degree turn in strategy, scrapping up a "victory" by the skin of its teeth -- losing many more lives in the process and fixing American combat power in Iraq while the insurgency in Afghanistan regrouped. Today in Afghanistan, as over one hundred thousand ISAF soldiers fight on in their 11th year in that country, they find themselves in a much harder and far longer fight than anyone anticipated. How was a better trained, better equipped, and more numerous army ensnared twice in a decade and nearly defeated by poorly trained and equipped insurgents? A lack of Strategic Studies education at West Point certainly may be a place to start. Just as Colonel Thayer identified engineering as the key area of study graduates needed 200 years ago to provide for the common defense, today it is Strategic Studies that needs to be focused on.
West Point's faculty have done a tremendous job adding relevant Strategic Studies related courses such as: Advanced International Relations, Counterinsurgency Operations, Terrorism and Counter Terrorism, Information Warfare, Winning the Peace, and Negotiation for Leaders. Yet outdated policies bar the vast majority of cadets from taking courses such as Counterinsurgency Operations, which has space for less than 10 percent of cadets. In particular, West Point still requires all cadets who are not engineering majors to take an additional three course Engineering Sequence, adding an additional 120 class hours. Cadets complete this watered-down engineering minor with no additional credentials, except being more "aware" of engineering. I am hardly the first to question this Engineering Sequence. West Point's dean from 2000-2005 attempted to remove the Engineering Sequence, but was only successful in trimming it from five courses to the three it is today.
Replacing the Engineering Sequence with three required courses in Strategic Studies could have real tangible benefits to mission success. Had more cadets taken Counterinsurgency Operations, perhaps the chaos in Iraq could have been avoided. Instead of requiring an insurgency of officers within the Army to make an about-face in strategy, the counterinsurgency concepts would have already been broadly understood. Advanced International Relations would allow graduates to better explain to our allies why the United States is "tilting" to one region of the world instead of another and critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of such a shift. The Conflict Resolution, Analysis, and Negotiation course would help officers understand that the conflict in Afghanistan is probably driven much more by regional forces than by internal ones. Negotiation for Leaders would have made an effective Key Leader Engagement second nature, instead of being awkward and counterproductive. Or a platoon leaders' first time visiting a mosque wouldn't have been in Iraq, but in Winning the Peace, where they would have already visited a mosque and learned about the intricacies of other world religions.
Organizations outside of West Point have already embraced West Point's robust Strategic Studies courses. The FBI, NYPD, and members of Congress rely on the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point for some of their education on terrorism. Navy SEAL teams and Special Forces groups fly teams from the West Point Negotiation Project across the country to teach them how to improve their negotiation ability. How is West Point missing this great opportunity right under its nose?
The world has changed a lot in 200 years, and so has what is required of Army officers -- it is time that West Point catches up. Removing the Engineering Sequence requirement, and replacing it with courses on Strategic Studies, seems like a good place to start.
Luke Hutchison is a cadet in the class of 2013 at West Point. The opinions expressed herein are his alone and do not represent the official position of the Department of Defense, United States Army, or the United States Military Academy.
Engineering Sequence requirement
Counterinsurgency Operations course #s
Dean from 2000-2005 attempting to remove requirement.
No other engineering programs at West Point founding.
Existing Courses at West Point.
Winning the Peace course visiting a mosque.
FBI and intelligence community using Combating Terrorism Center.
Navy Seals and Special Forces using West Point Negotiation Project.
I was talking about the 1943 American/British/Canadian campaign in Sicily the other day, which got me sidetracked into talking about the film Patton, which is how most Americans today know anything about that fight. Two little-known facts: The film was produced by Frank McCarthy, who had been an aide to George Marshall during World War II.
And, it was written by one Francis Ford Coppola. Given that much of the film takes place in Sicily, does that make it a kind of prequel to the Godfather series?
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.