The Best Defense

Quote of the day: Gates nixes putting big U.S. land forces in Asia or the Middle East

From Defense Secretary Gates' very good speech today (Friday) at West Point:

The need for heavy armor and firepower to survive, close with, and destroy the enemy will always be there, as veterans of Sadr City and Fallujah can no doubt attest.  And one of the benefits of the drawdown in Iraq is the opportunity to conduct the kind of full-spectrum training -- including mechanized combined arms exercises -- that was neglected to meet the demands of the current wars. 

Looking ahead, though, in the competition for tight defense dollars within and between the services, the Army also must confront the reality that the most plausible, high-end scenarios for the U.S. military are primarily naval and air engagements --  whether in Asia, the Persian Gulf, or elsewhere.  The strategic rationale for swift-moving expeditionary forces, be they Army or Marines, airborne infantry or special operations, is self-evident given the likelihood of counterterrorism, rapid reaction, disaster response, or stability or security force assistance missions.  But in my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should "have his head examined," as General MacArthur so delicately put it.

Gates also quoted retired Lt. Gen. David Barno's comment that, "In a smaller professional force competing for talent with the Googles of the world," reform of Army personnel systems is a must. Gates didn't say where he read that (and there was no reason to do so), but it was nice to see the sec def quote this blog.    

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The Best Defense

The annals of toxic leadership: Col. Frank Zachar on loyalty vs. Lt. Gen. Walter Ulmer on what a good unit feels like

Col. Frank Zachar, recently tossed as commander of an Army brigade in Germany, allegedly told his subordinates that, "If we were disloyal … then he was going to take an ice pick and shove it in our left eye."

Zachar is said to have explained, "It [is] all about loyalty. Performance does not matter, potential does not matter, only loyalty matters. If you are not loyal … you will not survive this brigade."

This reminds me, by contrast, of something I read the other day by Lt. Gen. Walter Ulmer, one of the Army's under-acknowledged heroes, who led the way in the revival of ethical leadership following My Lai, when as lieutenant colonel he played a big role in a study showing Gen. Westmoreland, the chief of staff, how screwed up the Army was.

In 1986, Ulmer wrote:

What is the essence of a 'good climate' that promotes esprit and gives birth to 'high performing units'? It is probably easier to feel or sense than to describe. It doesn't take long for most experienced people to take its measure. There is a pervasive sense of mission. There is a common agreement on what are the top priorities. There are clear standards. Competence is prized and appreciated. There is a willingness to share information. There is a sense of fair play. There is joy in teamwork. There are quick and convenient ways to attack nonsense and fix aberrations in the system. There is a sure sense of rationality and trust. The key to the climate is leadership in general, and senior leadership in particular.

Maybe that should keep Zachar around as a living example of what not to do.

It's hard times for separate brigade commanders in Europe -- the commander of the 173rd just got himself "suspended." Anyone know what's up with that? ("Bryan H. in Heidelberg," feel free to post anonymously.)

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