The Best Defense

The Gates files (VI): Iran, Pakistan, Doug Lute, and other things that kept him busy

  • Gates on Iran: "a kind of national security black hole, directly or indirectly pulling into its gravitational force our relationships with Europe, Russia, China, Israel, and the Arab Gulf states."
  • On Pakistan: "I knew that nothing would change Pakistan's hedging strategy; to think otherwise was delusional." Later, "I knew they were really no ally at all." (Tom's question: So how do you leverage a hedging strategy?)
  • In Afghanistan in 2008, the average size of an IED was 10 kilograms. By 2010, it was three times that. I didn't know that.
  • Both Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates wanted to fire Karl Eikenberry when he was U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, but "the ambassador was protected by the White House." Gates adds that he thought Eikenberry's Afghan policy "recommendations were ridiculous" and that his "pervasive negativity" permeated the U.S. embassy.
  • In something that might be related, Gates singles out for his disdain Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, the White House policy coordinator for Iraq and Afghanistan. "Doug turned out to be a real disappointment in the Obama administration." At one point, he instructed Gen. James Mattis, then running Central Command, "that if Lute ever called him again to question anything, Mattis was to tell him to go to hell."
  • Just a great line: "I was eating my Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner at home [when] the president called." That could be the first line of a thriller.
  • (OK, just one more Gates item to come.)

The Best Defense

Ok, let's talk about the views of NCOs

By "A. Grumpy Sergeant"
Best Defense guest grouch

Thanks for asking me as an NCO how things are going and how we can improve. 

Overall I think we're doing okay in the section. It's good that you introduced yourself to everyone, told us a bit about yourself, and let us know what your standards and goals for the section are. I think the most important reason for a successful section or unit is a healthy NCO-Officer relationship. We both need to know what our respective roles are and maintain standards (tactical, technical and ethical), and we need to help each other succeed.

How was my last deployment? If I may be candid, sir, my last deployment was frustrating. We had a toxic NCO-Officer situation; as a result the section overall was miserable. Most of the soldiers left the unit as soon as we returned home and a few left the military altogether. On the officer's part, he was not very competent in his branch. And worse, rather than spend time getting up to speed and talking with his NCOs and lieutenants (most of whom had deployed before and knew some useful stuff), he avoided interacting with most section members. And because he was insecure, he didn't hold his NCO to a good standard. I gotta tell you sir: That was a time I really felt an officer needed to be relieved. And he was a major. Ultimately I blame his leaders for tolerating him. Guess they put loyalty over competency, I don't know. Maybe that's a larger issue with our Army's personnel manning system. Clunky. In World War II all sorts of officers were relieved.

He also had a bad attitude towards women and minorities. It's not like he had a poster of Nathan Bedford Forrest on his wall; it was a subtle (and occasionally nasty) attitude that affected the way he treated some members of the team. I am tired of having to give equal opportunity and sexual assault/harassment classes, but the problem is not just with privates. Anyway, the kicker was, our platoon sergeant had all the same problems, so it was a perfect storm of toxicity.

To my eternal shame and regret, I criticized them in the presence of subordinates. Complain upwards, not downwards, I was taught, and I failed to uphold that standard of professionalism.

Sir, let me stress the major was the exception, not the rule. I have served under many good officers -- West Pointers, former infantry NCOs, ROTC, National Guard, and direct commissions. I don't assume one category is any worse or better than the other, like some NCOs do. We have a lot of smart officers who genuinely care about soldiers.

I do think the NCO-Officer relationship needs to be explained at all levels of leadership. These days it seems like we learn it in a school for an hour, and then that's it. Of course, with all the deployments there wasn't much time, but now that they're are winding down a bit, it's time to do some basics. The NCO-Officer thing needs to be explained and discussed at all levels -- squad leader, platoon sergeant, first sergeant, sergeant major, and the same for the Officers Corps.

Sir, I will treat you with respect, loyalty and integrity. I want our mission and you to succeed, not just take care of soldiers. I will never again criticize a leader in the presence of subordinates. I will keep and maintain a leader's book, counsel soldiers in a timely manner, and know what they're up to, unlike my last platoon sergeant. By the way, sir, did you know Specialist Jones has a Master's degree in political science? Yeah, she was a teacher. If we go back to Afghanistan, Sergeant Smith was a police officer who was born in Turkmenistan. He's a good troop and can get up to speed quickly on Dari.

Anyway, I don't need micromanaging, just give me adequate time and resources for a task. By all means, ask me what's going on, I'll be candid with you and won't give you the "stay in your lane" comment. Some NCOs misuse that.

And sir, here's that PowerPoint presentation you asked for. If I may ask a favor, sir, could you not let anyone else know I know PowerPoint? Thank you, sir. 

A "Grumpy Sergeant" is just that. Grumpy served in the U.S. Army and Army National Guard for 12 years. Grumpy did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as an NCO and later went back there as a civilian contractor, which made Grumpy grumpier. These opinions are Grumpy's alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S Army, the U.S. Army National Guard, the Defense Department, or the U.S. government.

Daniel DeCristo/Flickr