The Best Defense

The Hodges-Barno smackdown: A view from the cheap seats of a junior officer

By "Si Syphus"

Best Defense junior officer panel

"Let's get ready to RUMBLE!" I can just picture Michael Buffer announcing the upcoming "prize fight." In the blue corner stands Lt. Gen. (R) David Barno and in the red corner stands Lt. Gen Fredrick ‘Ben' Hodges. The main event: Are we losing talent in today's Army?

Reading the differences between senior leaders is quite hilarious. I would equate it to watching two dudes argue about (insert sports teams here), in an alcohol-induced stupor, less the possibility of violence. Both bring up valid points, yet one uses "how they see the facts" to support their argument. However, no matter who is right and who wrong, what is lost in translation is the actual premise of the argument -- in this case junior leaders -- and nothing is done to rectify the situation. The end result is an epic 12-round bout with a split decision resulting in a draw, and a re-match likely on the horizon in a couple of years.

Lt. Gen. (R) Barno's "Military Brain Drain" echoes the position of Tim Kane's Bleeding Talent, stating that "if you ignore the expectations of today's young, combat-experienced leaders as you shrink the force, your most talented officers and sergeants will exit, stage left." Both Barno and Kane lament protecting the "crown jewel" of talented junior leaders is required for future success.

On the other hand, Lt. Gen. Hodges disagrees with Barno's supposition that there is a "brain drain" in the Army based on four main points: 1) junior officers are doing good things deployed, 2) there are "broadening" opportunities, 3) what his peers have to say, and 4) senior leader examples.

My response, for what it's worth:

Round One: Yes, junior leaders are doing exceptional things while deployed. That is because there is "freedom of maneuver." Problems are complex and our junior leaders are excelling with the opportunity to demonstrate their innovativeness, adaptability, and unique ability to solve the complex issues. However, when these junior leaders come home, this ability is stymied due to the fact of not being at war. The "garrison" Army was, is, and will continue to be a polar opposite to war-time. Junior leaders, ones that currently have less than 12 years of service, know absolutely NOTHING about "garrison." We are operationally minded, doing one of three things: prepare to deploy, deploy, recover. This has been the cycle, but that is about to change. Bottom line: There is not enough money or incentives in the world that will be able to keep 100 percent of the targeted group to stay in the Army, unless there is a change.

Round Two: Lt. Gen. Hodges mentions various things that the Army is offering to junior leaders -- "the best and most expensive" universities, fellowships, and training with industry. Let's be honest, all of these things are pretty cool and the fact that it is an option, also pretty cool. However, let's be realistic. The Army has the Olmstead Scholarship -- one per year. Congressional fellowships -- 25 per year. Advanced civil schooling -- a generous figure would be 400 per year. A realistic amount of junior leaders receiving this "broadening" any given year would be about 600. However, when applying for these opportunities, a junior leader is grouped with a total of about three year groups' worth, or about 6,000 other people. So this "broadening" is available to about 10 percent of junior leaders. If the target is to retain the "top 20 percent" and this is all the incentive, then we are falling short. Don't get me wrong, this is a good start. But let's not use this as the be-all end-all answer to saying quality junior leaders are not leaving. This is more of a "look what we are going to keep some of the talent."

If you have sipped the green Kool-Aid and are immersed in current Army rhetoric, now might be a good time to stop reading. Otherwise, you might berate me as a junior leader who doesn't know shit.

The following two examples are used by Lt. Gen. Hodges to support his argument that I take issue with the most:

Round Three: Lt. Gen. Hodges starts his argument saying he is "disappointed" in Barno's position because it is not something he sees or hears in his "dealings with senior Army leaders" or his peers. (Ok, I am going to believe it now because a bunch of crusty old men are saying it's not true. Sure.) I'm pretty sure this is the whole "group think" mentality we are trying to go away from. What about "outside the box" thinking? Apparently this only applies to junior leaders. What do other senior leaders and other generals know about why junior leaders are staying in? I got an idea: How about asking them and not your peers.

Lt. Gen. Hodges also claims that Barno's comments about the best leaving are "an insult to the thousands staying." Not the case. I stayed, and I'm not insulted. Lt. Gen. (R) Barno or Tim Kane never referred to me as "not talented" because I chose to stay. I understand where they are coming from when they point out the facts that quality junior leaders have left up to this point (true) and quality junior leaders will continue to leave until this situation is rectified (also true). I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid and buying into a senior leader telling me I should be insulted for something that is the truth. I'm also not buying it just because a bunch of them are saying it.

Round Four: The justification I most take exception to is the "this worked for me" approach.

"Senior Army leaders have emphasized this repeatedly and are setting an example by doing it themselves. My own experience validates this. In 33-plus years of service and about 25 different duty positions, there were only two times when I ended up in a duty position I had specifically requested or pursued. Every other assignment was the result of personal intervention of commanders, mentors, or some senior leader in the span of my career who wanted to invest in me and prepare me for greater challenges. That has been my experience- indeed, that is the norm I have witnessed for over three decades- and it's the legacy I have tried to pass to others."

This statement is what is wrong with our current Army and exactly the premise that Barno and Kane are using to explain the exodus of talented junior leaders. Just because this worked for Lt. Gen. Hodges does not mean that it will work for all current junior leaders or for that fact even the majority. While this style might have worked for Lt. Gen. Hodges's three decades of service (20 of which were predominantly during times of peace), this should not be the direction of the future.

The Army currently is structured in such a way that in order to be successful, you have to meet certain "gates" at certain times. If you don't meet them, no matter how much talent you possess, you are considered "at-risk" for advancement, as well as ineligible for any of the extra incentives Lt. Gen. Hodges invoked. Likewise, it doesn't matter who you are, if you checked the right block at the right time, then you are good to go. Hypothetically speaking here, what is wrong with a captain who doesn't want to be a commander but makes a great intelligence officer, signal officer, or whatever staff position? If he or she had the opportunity to continue as a staff officer, he or she could be an integral component of the team. Why must that individual be a commander, where he or she might not excel, just to be eligible for promotion?

Let's take an example of two Army captains. In this example, all things are equal. They are in the same year group and have the exact same jobs. Captain #1 has been stationed at Ft. Hood (heavy) for 3 years, and wouldn't mind staying for another 3 years. Captain #2 has been stationed at Ft. Drum (light) for 3 years and really wants to go to Ft. Bragg (also light). Captain #1 receives orders for Ft. Bragg because he doesn't have light experience. Captain #2 receives orders for Ft. Hood because he doesn't have heavy experience. Why is it not possible for the two to switch and be happy? Well, it has been determined that in order for both to be successful, they need to be diverse. The outcome of this scenario: two disgruntled junior leaders who might end up deciding to get out. On the other hand, had the opportunity presented itself to get what they both wanted, both might stay in.

Nowadays people want stability over anything else, especially as we begin to emerge from a decade at war. I would venture to say that this is the driving factor over anything else on one's decision to "stay or go." Being obligated to pick up and move (children are deep-rooted at a school and/or a spouse is well-established in a career) just to check the block for promotion presents an officer with an undesirable choice. Nobody should fault that individual for choosing to get out -- that is, putting family first.

Rather than argue and maintain a stubborn mindset that there is nothing wrong, or that the Army is better off without the junior officers who choose to leave, my first recommendation is that current Army senior leaders LISTEN to what Barno and Kane are saying on the subject. Barno said it perfectly in his 13 February "Military Brain Drain" article:

There is no reason not to listen and respond to the concerns of younger officers -- while also fully meeting the needs of service. But you can't do it with a World War II mindset, an insular outlook, or an industrial aged personnel system- all of which are markedly in evidence today. And in the coming years, throwing money at the problem is not likely to be as easy as in the past.

The decision: Talk to junior leaders and find out what THEY want. Continuing down the current path won't "break" the Army; however, it certainly will hinder it for future generations.

"Si Syphus" is the company-grade officer sitting just a few desks away from you. Go ask him what he thinks.


The Best Defense

Hey, Tom: The next time you write a book, try looking up from the ground

By Lt. Col. Tom Cooper, USAF

Best Defense aerial book critic

In order to support our Best Defense host's desire to learn more about Air Force history, I thought I'd provide an airman's perspective on The Generals. Many reviews of Tom's most recent book ping-pong back and forth against the Army and in favor of the Army but make no mention of the teamwork required to execute military operations since World War II. I don't have much experience working under direct Army leadership but I do know that the contributions of the joint team were not fully accounted for in the book.

The subtitle of Tom's book, "American Military Command from World War II to Today," is not a complete statement because it neglects all naval and air leaders who have made significant contributions to military operations in the same period. Fortunately for the nation, more than just the Army and Marine Corps conduct military operations. The narrow vision of "the military" presented in the book does not fully capture the lessons of leadership for the way joint warfighting is conducted today. It is joint teamwork that makes American military operations succeed. And it is perspectives born from different service experiences that help broaden the thinking of leaders and produce the high-level of trust needed for joint success.

Unfortunately, many assume the strategic leader ought to wear the same "boots" as the guys sent to fight -- probably tactically appropriate, but unproven strategically. A single-service strategic perspective does not take advantage of the joint force the nation has prepared to fight its wars. The Joint Task Force Commander should be surrounded by a diversity of thought, not same-service minions that benefit from agreeing and reinforcing the same-service leader's way of thinking. The military successes (and military failures) of the leaders highlighted by Ricks require deeper examination through a joint warfighting lens. Each success in The Generals embraced diverse viewpoints of how to fight over single-service concepts.

Many people assumed that the wars of the past decade needed leaders with a ground perspective, but leaders who can approach problems from other viewpoints might have led to different outcomes. A different perspective might have created innovative ways to operate in Iraq and Afghanistan that may have cost less and risked less. In My Share of the Task, General Stanley McChrystal's descriptions of increasing the pace of operations of Task Force 712 to hunt Zarqawi is similar to the military challenge General Carl Spaatz faced when put in charge of achieving air superiority before D-Day. I don't know if General McChrystal ever studied air operations over Europe, but the challenge of generating an operational pace that can exhaust your enemy while not exhausting your own was a significant lesson Carl Spaatz learned in the skies over Europe in early 1944. Similarly, "it takes a network" rings very closely to how airmen across generations thought about generating an effects chain to disrupt enemy actions before "effects-based operations" became a "concept that should not be spoken of" by a respected senior leader.

To understand the diversity of thought brought by different military experiences, consider the following academic example. As an airman, I chose a path that did not train me to understand the tactics of an infantry squad, and I have no expectation that I should lead in the infantry. However, in choosing the Air Force, I chose a service that develops an innovative mindset not hindered by geography and more conscious of range.  

This became particularly evident to me while participating in a recent Army-led Antietam staff ride. The experience included the entire South Mountain campaign and siege of Harpers Ferry, giving a more strategic viewpoint than what happened in the individual, but instructive, skirmishes. We began on a hillside looking north towards Frederick, Maryland, where our leader, a well-respected, retired infantry colonel, asked us what Lee was trying to do by moving towards Pennsylvania. My Army counterpart, a SAMS graduate who has thought about these things at length, responded, "The terrain in the valley was a natural funnel for Lee to take the ground ahead of him and move into the North." I looked at the terrain, thought of the geography, remembered my very slight skimming of Landscape Turned Red and said, "Didn't Lee really want to get across Maryland into Pennsylvania to gain access to the industrial capacity of the North and possibly show the European allies that the Confederacy was for real?" Right or wrong, what struck me was that I saw "terrain" across a broader distance like you'd see from the air and my Army counterpart's view was shaped by infantry experience of being on foot. It was the sharing of two diverse viewpoints that created a broader view of what Lee was trying to accomplish.

Similarly, Ricks's most successful examples in The Generals used contributions of diverse thinking airmen to strengthen the fight. General George Marshall's embrace of the yet-unproven Army Air Corps and faith in its leader, General Henry "Hap" Arnold, to strengthen the independent Army Air Forces early in World War II is proof alone of the need for a broader viewpoint towards warfighting. Marshall's trust in Hap Arnold to grow the AAF to a robust, independent fighting organization, sometimes at the expense of ground force priorities, was critical to military success. Just as highlighted by Ricks, it is Marshall's superior leadership that many look to for a superior example of how a strategic leader should lead. Marshall's leadership skill is solidified by the fact that all his ground Army subordinates in both theaters embraced the contributions of airpower.

In Europe, Eisenhower clearly understood the use of airpower to change the situation on the ground. Eisenhower had significant trust in RAF Air Marshall Arthur Tedder and AAF commander in Europe General Carl Spaatz. Tedder was Eisenhower's second in command for the invasion of Normandy. Spaatz was "Eisenhower's Airman" as he commanded United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe. Eisenhower understood the integration of ground and air forces so well that when it came to establishing his headquarters in England, he co-located his with Spaatz. Eisenhower rated Spaatz and General Omar Bradley as the two leaders who did the most to defeat the Germans, specifically describing Spaatz as an "Experienced and able air leader: loyal and cooperative; modest and selfless; always reliable." A final testimony of this trust is in what Eisenhower wrote to Spaatz in 1948: "No man can justly claim a greater share than you in the attainment of victory in Europe." General Omar Bradley, when asked by Eisenhower to rank top generals in prioritized order based on their contribution to the defeat of Germany, listed Spaatz as number two and General Elwood R. "Pete" Quesada as number four. Two in the top five were airmen. (Bedell-Smith was one, Courtney Hodges was another, and Patton didn't make the top five.)

In the Pacific, General Douglas McArthur's relationship with General George Kenney is one of the more interesting stories of how an innovative air leader changed the way we fought on the ground during World War II. Kenney's ability to integrate both air and ground fighting to hop through the southwest Pacific is what MacArthur's success was built on. From innovative new bombing techniques to airdrop methods using bombers and cargo aircraft to cutting trucks in half to move them into the fight, at every turn Kenney used his unique experience and perspective to strengthen the fight on the ground. MacArthur's own words about Kenney are the most descriptive of what he contributed: "Of all the commanders in the war, none surpassed him in those three great essentials of successful combat leadership: aggressive vision, mastery over air tactics and strategy, and the ability to exact the maximum in fighting qualities from both men and equipment." It is clear that Kenney had MacArthur's trust to use his unique viewpoint on how to fight to achieve military victory.

Numerous examples exist and all become clear in a recently released volume of biographies titled Air Commanders. This book's detailed descriptions of air commanders in conflicts ranging from World War II to Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom highlight the role played by airmen and the contributions of airpower to these conflicts. The unique perspective provided by these air leaders to achieve military effects differently than what would have been achieved by fighting through a single-service lens is a critical lesson for future commanders. Each example is stronger or weaker based on the teamwork between the ground commander and the air commander. Our most successful military operations tend to have leaders that understood fighting in the air as strengthening the fight and not as threatening to the Army as they increasingly have since the early 1950s. A couple of the less lauded Army leaders in The Generals begin to exhibit fear of airpower during the Korean War. Maj. Gen. Ned Almond was opposed to the Air Force's concept for conducting air operations and Gen. Mark Clark advocated that tactical air forces should operate purely under the command of the ground commander. In both cases, airpower's flexibility was not embraced and may have limited airminded solutions for fighting in Korea. Just look to one of the heroes of The Generals for what a dose of airmindedness can achieve -- General O.P. Smith's first action during fighting at the Chosin Reservoir was to build a runway.

Services don't fight wars, the nation does. The nation fights wars by the application of the full capabilities of joint force to achieve a military outcome. Ground combat should not be the goal of military leaders when they develop plans, in fact it might be argued that we should fight in a way that makes forces on the ground engaging the enemy a last resort. By discussing generalship and its effectiveness purely in terms of the Army, it discounts the strength of the joint team and what our nation expects and deserves. Our nation invests heavily in building a trained joint force that integrates diverse warfighting perspectives across the spectrum of military operations. Using examples from one service viewpoint, without recognizing joint teamwork, is half the story and does not strengthen future leaders with examples of leadership that truly strengthens how we fight today. As we continue toward a smaller, more capable, more adaptable military for the United States, leadership examples with unique perspectives, teamwork, and, most importantly, trust are increasingly important and should be emphasized.

Lt. Col. Tom Cooper is deployed from Headquarters Air Force to the Office of Security Cooperation -- Iraq, where he works to build more than just one strong Air Force.

Myles Cullen, U.S. Department of Defense