Tag Archives: Army

The Problem With Personnel Reform: Who Are the Army’s Best and Brightest?

This piece was originally published by Small Wars Journal and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Robert P. Callahan, Jr.

The phrase “best and brightest” is frequently used but ambiguously defined. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s Force of the Future aims to recruit and retain this group, but it fails to define who the best and brightest are. Many proposed personnel reforms do the same thing. Doctrinal and popular sources define which officers are the Army’s best and which are its brightest. These sources suggest that the Army’s best and brightest officers form two almost completely independent groups. The best officers succeed in traditional leadership positions, the brightest officers leverage their participation in Broadening Opportunity Programs to attempt to improve the Army, and the best and brightest do both. The firmly defined career track of the Army’s best and the Army’s up-or-out policy combine to prevent the best and the brightest from overlapping. A number of reforms have been proposed to address this state of affairs, but recent reports suggest that the Army’s policies will not change.

Setting the Stage

During late February 1991, Captain Herbert McMaster led Eagle Troop, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) east across the deserts of Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. Eagle Troop was ordered to the 70th easting (a measure of distance east or west) on the afternoon of February 26th, and their advance led directly into a village heavily defended by Iraqis. After engaging the Iraqis and bypassing the village to the north, CPT McMaster’s soldiers decisively engaged a dug-in Iraqi position on the back slope of a ridge. Weaving through minefields, clearing bunkers, and peppering the unprotected rears of Iraqi tanks, Eagle Troop wiped out the Iraqi position. During the course of these actions, Eagle Troop had moved beyond the 70th easting to the 73rd easting. When McMaster’s executive officer radioed a reminder that the 70th easting was the limit of advance, McMaster replied, “I can’t stop. We’re still in contact. Tell them I’m sorry.”[i] McMaster was awarded the Silver Star, the Army’s third highest award for bravery, for his initiative and the successes of Eagle Troop.

Following Desert Storm, McMaster rose steadily through the ranks, commanding 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment and the 3rd ACR. Then Colonel McMaster deployed to Iraq with 3ACR in 2005 and 2006. Before its deployment, McMaster replaced a typical National Training Center rotation, which would have closely resembled then CPT McMaster’s experiences at 73 Easting nearly 15 years earlier, with innovative language and cultural training, which even incorporated Arab-Americans role-playing as Iraqi locals. 3ACR put this training to use while clearing Tal Afar, Iraq in 2005 and 2006. At the outset of this effort, Tal Afar was a training base for foreign fighters and home to cells from Al-Qaeda, Ansar Al-Sunna, and former Baathist elements. 3ACR began pushing into Tal Afar on September 2nd, 2005 and successfully cleared the city after overcoming some heavy resistance. 3ACR’s cavalrymen and a battalion of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne then set out to keep the anti-government forces from retaking the city. These cavalrymen and paratroopers set up a network of small outposts throughout the city and they stayed for months, thereby convincing the locals that the American military and, by extension, the Iraqi government was there to stay. Violent incidents became less frequent and less deadly, and the 3ACR’s actions were heralded as proof that “individuals and units within the Army could learn and adapt on their own.”[ii]

Although McMaster’s career may seem prototypical, the years between his commands in the Middle East and his conduct as 3ACR’s commander marked McMaster as an unusual officer. McMaster taught history at West Point during the mid-1990s, earned a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina, and challenged the conventional wisdom that the military leadership was blameless for the conduct of the Vietnam War in the 1997 Dereliction of Duty, based on his dissertation. Despite these academic and professional successes, McMaster was passed over twice for promotion to brigadier general. Contemporary accounts suggest that it took bringing General David Patraeus, then the commander in Iraq, back to the United States to chair the 2008 brigadier general promotion board for McMaster to be selected for promotion.[iii] When the 2008 brigadier general selections were announced, Slate trumpeted, “Finally, the Army is promoting the right officers.”[iv] According to some commenters, McMaster’s promotion to brigadier general by exception proved the rule that the Army disdains innovative officers.[v] As these commenters tell it, the Army will face an unknown threat in the future, and stifling innovative officers, such as McMaster, will have negative consequences on the future battlefield.[vi]

Meeting the Future Head on

This argument is one of many that conclude that the Army’s current personnel policies, for whatever reason, are setting the Army up for failure.[vii] Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s Force of the Future, an initiative focused on recruiting and retaining the people our country needs “to serve and defend our country in the years to come,” is intended to prevent such a situation from occurring.[viii] During a speech introducing the initiative, Secretary Carter stated that the military is committed to recruiting America’s “best and brightest” to serve as soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, and that America will need its best and brightest to serve our country in order to meet the challenges of the future.

Perhaps the Force of the Future is just in time. Some people feel that the US Army has been losing its best and brightest since at least 2007.[ix] Others disagree, instead arguing that the best and brightest officers remain in uniform for a full career.[x] What both groups agree on is that there is some group of officers who are the Army’s best and brightest. Unfortunately, neither group defines who these best and brightest officers are. According to Secretary Carter, “college and higher learning are encouraged because we need our sailors, soldiers, airmen, and Marines to be the best and the brightest.”[xi] Secretary Carter’s logic suggests that the best and the brightest are the college educated. However, educational attainment is of limited use as a discriminator since effectively every active duty commissioned officer is required to hold a bachelor’s degree. Therefore, we need to understand who our best and brightest officers are if we are going to examine how our personnel system influences the military service of these officers.

Examining the relationship between the Army’s best officers and its brightest officers offers a path towards gaining such an understanding, and hopefully we can discover which of the following three statements is true: first, all of the Army’s best officers are also its brightest officers, second, some of the Army’s best officers are also its brightest officers, or third, the Army’s best officers and brightest officers are two entirely independent groups. ADRP 6-22 Army Leadership and the Officer Evaluation Report (OER) define the best Army officers, and both Army regulations and popular discourse can be used to characterize the brightest Army officers. These definitions will allow us to explore the relationship between the best and the brightest and to examine how these officers contribute to the Army. Finally, we can use the current state of the Army’s best and brightest as a baseline for discussing some of the proposed reforms; reforms that are predicated on maximizing the impact of these officers.

You Want to be the Very Best

According to a 2014 Human Resources Command brief, the Army changed its OER in part to “identify talent” and correctly assess officers at different grades.[xii] In an attempt to keep the OER relevant and adaptive, the changes were informed by a variety of sources including two Chiefs of Staff of the Army, the other Armed Services, and Industry examples. HRC highlighted that the new OER would help identify talent by assessing performance based on leadership attributes and competencies. According to ADRP 6-22, a leader’s attributes are character, presence, and intellect, and a leader’s competencies are leading, developing, and achieving. Although every officer is expected to demonstrate the leadership attributes and competencies, how these characteristics are evaluated depends on the rank of the rated officer.

The Army Leadership Requirements Model

First and foremost among the leadership attributes and competencies is character. Every officer who receives an OER is rated on her character. The character of a company grade or field grade officer is evaluated independently from any other metric; this emphasis says that nothing else matters if an officer’s character is deficient. A brigadier general’s character and potential are described in a single paragraph; this combination recognizes that an officer’s potential to shepherd the Army as an institution is inextricably tied up in his character. Although this notion may seem quaint, the aftermath of Colonel James Johnson’s affair demonstrated how an officer’s character influences his effectiveness as a leader and public servant. But what about the other attributes and competencies in the Army Leadership Requirements Model?

A company grade officer’s presence and intellect, who she leads and develops, and what she achieves are all described independently. For a field grade officer, these assessments are no longer independent, but are instead evaluated through one all-encompassing narrative. For a brigadier general, this assessment falls completely to the wayside and is replaced by two observations of her character and potential. What does this demonstrate about how the Army determines who its best are? One possibility is that if an officer has been promoted, then the Army has already determined that she possesses the attributes and competencies required of an Army officer in her grade; in short, her rank speaks for itself. However, as the saying goes, it’s never what you’ve done, it’s what you’ve done lately. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the Army has designed its rating scheme with a different justification in mind.

Making It Happen

According to ADRP 6-0 Mission Command, “military operations are complex, human endeavors characterized by the continuous, mutual adaptation of give and take, moves, and countermoves among all participants,” and “the unpredictability of human behavior affects military operations. Commanders and subordinates must learn from experience, anticipate change, and develop adaptability,” and these processes occur as a part of Mission Command.[xiii] “Mission Command is the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations.”[xiv] Each commander assigns a part of accomplishing the mission to each of his subordinate units and sets the limits within which the subordinate units can act towards mission accomplishment. As mission orders propagate down the chain of command, smaller and smaller units are assigned more and more specific tasks, but those tasks are still placed in the context of the one and two level higher unit’s mission and the higher unit commander’s intent. Eagle Troop’s success at 73 Easting can be viewed as a textbook implementation of this concept. Although then CPT McMaster had an explicit order to halt at the 70th easting, Eagle Troop did not halt there because continuing to engage the Iraqi forces would have done more to contribute to both 2nd Squadron’s and 2ACR’s missions that day than remaining at the 70th easting.

There is an inverse relationship between an officer’s rank and the availability of troop leading positions. A review of DA PAM 600-3 Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management shows that successful company grade officers are typically expected to be in at least two troop leading positions, specifically platoon leader and troop/battery/company commander, but higher ranking officers will spend the majority of their time off the line. A field grade officer will not command a unit again unless he is selected both for lieutenant colonel and for battalion/squadron command, and he cannot compete for brigade command unless he has already been selected for colonel. A typical general officer’s first command opportunity is a two-star division command. Furthermore, a specific leader’s breadth of responsibility decreases the further he is down the Chain of Command. Subordinate leaders must accomplish their assigned task in support of their immediate commander’s mission. However, they can also achieve results that contribute to their one and two level higher unit’s mission.

When 3ACR deployed to Tal Afar, then COL McMaster set the stage for his unit’s actions, but his subordinates actually made them happen. Indeed, then LTC Chris Hickey met with tribal leaders from both sides of the Shia-Sunni divide in order to lay the groundwork for stabilizing Tal Afar, and the company and platoon level leaders of and attached to 3ACR established and manned the network of outposts which created a semblance of stability in Tal Afar. The facts that lower ranking officers have more leadership opportunities and lower level leaders have an outsize opportunity to exercise disciplined initiative can together explain why an officer’s attributes and competencies go from individually evaluated, to generally evaluated, to not evaluated at all as an officer is promoted from the company grades through the field grades to the general officer level. Given this rating scheme, the best officers are those who possess impeccable character, excel in the Army’s desired leadership attributes and competencies early in their careers, and continue to develop potential as they are promoted up the ranks. Now that we understand what makes an Army officer one of the best, we can turn our attention to which Army officers should be considered the brightest.

Who Burns the Brightest?

The doctrinal definition for the brightest Army officers would most likely be those officers who best leverage the attribute the Army has dubbed intellect. According to ADRP 6-22, “an Army leader’s intellect draws on the mental tendencies and resources that shape conceptual abilities applied to one’s duties and responsibilities.”[xv] Using this definition sheds no light on who would be Army’s “best and brightest” since the Army’s definition for best already includes a consideration of each officer’s intellect. It would be akin to saying that CPT Smith has the highest PT score in the battalion and also did the most push-ups in the battalion during the last APFT. These two facts tell us different things, but the first tells us the totality of what the Army would like to know about CPT Smith while the second provides information that is suggested by the first. Ideally, defining the population of the brightest Army officers would provide some information not explicitly or implicitly provided by our definition of the best Army officers.

We can begin defining who our brightest officers are by examining which Americans are generally considered to be the brightest. In public discourse, someone is usually considered bright for one of two, usually juxtaposed, reasons. The first definition for a bright person would be one who has performed well in academic settings throughout their life, attended an undergraduate or graduate program with pedigree, and holds or will hold a high-prestige job in government, academia, or the private sector. Such people tend to be lampooned by many, including the proponents of the second definition. Under the second view, our country’s brightest are distinguished by their efforts to improve the lives of others, their innovative nature, or their commitment to change. As demonstrated by Forbes, these two definitions are not always mutually exclusive; pedigree does not preclude public service, nor does membership in an established profession necessarily prohibit fostering innovation.[xvi] Therefore, let us consider bright to generally mean some combination of a name-brand education or profession and a desire to innovate, a proclivity for change, or a drive to solve others’ problems.

Who among the Army’s officers would best match this description? The most likely candidates are participants in the Army’s Advanced Civil School options and other Broadening Opportunity Programs. According to MyArmyBenefits, ACS, “facilitates the professional development of Regular Army Officers by providing them the opportunity to participate in a fully funded graduate degree program.” Most, but not all, Broadening Opportunity Programs are administered under the aegis of ACS, but the Broadening Opportunity Programs have a specific mission of, “building a cohort of leaders that allow the Army to succeed at all levels in all environments.”[xvii] Those officers who participate in a Broadening Opportunity Program or complete Advanced Civil Schooling form the population that includes the Army’s brightest, but we still need a method for separating the truly bright from the academically inclined.

Although the term bright has intellectual connotations, our initial pool of possibly bright officers has already been defined purely by their educational choices and career paths. Perhaps then, the brightest officers should be identified by how their personal choices demonstrate the habits of mind indicative of an innovative nature or commitment to improving the Army. For example, McMaster was not marked as a one of the brightest Army officer solely for earning a PhD. Instead, McMaster’s reputation as a bright officer began when he adapted his dissertation research into a book which challenged the reader to reexamine the role of the Army’s leadership in national decision making. The Army’s brightest officers do not always tread the well worn path of the Army’s best. However, their personal efforts help foster a healthy institutional Army which the Army’s best officers can lead “to prevent, shape, and win in the land domain.”[xviii]

The brightest Americans are generally considered to be those who are well educated or act upon an outstanding character. The Army’s brightest officers are drawn from those who have participated in the Broadening Opportunity Programs or completed Advanced Civil Schooling, but they are specifically identified by the impact of their personal endeavors on their professional activities. Since we have identified that best as being responsible for leading the Army and the brightest for ensuring that we have an Army worth, it is time to turn our attention to the relationship between the Army’s best and brightest.

Whiz Kids or Warrior Monks?

The Army’s best officers are promoted to positions of ever greater responsibility, and its brightest officers leverage their additional education and nonconventional assignments to sustain and improve the Institutional Army. Some of the Army’s Advanced Civil School opportunities are functional area producing courses of study and a majority of the Army’s general officers are promoted from the combat arms, therefore the Army’s best and its brightest cannot be the same exact group. That leaves two possible options: there is some overlap between the Army’s best and its brightest or the best and the brightest are completely independent.

In 2015, Spain, Mohundro, and Banks found that ceteris paribus for a one standard deviation increase in what they termed the “Intellectual Human Capital” of a West Point graduate, that officer was 29% less likely to be promoted early to major, 18% less likely to be promoted early to lieutenant colonel, and 32% less likely to be selected for battalion command.[xix] Spain et al. suggested a number of potential reasons for this relationship. One hypothesis is that such officers participate in Advanced Civil School and other Broadening Opportunity Programs, which means that these officers receive fewer Officer Evaluation Reports and have less of the troop leading experience which the Army values. Therefore, these officers present a less competitive profile to the promotion and command selection boards. If Spain et al.’s hypothesis is correct, then there is a very strong case that the Army’s personnel policies create two groups: one comprising the Army’s best officers and another its brightest officers. Accepting this conclusion, the School of Advanced Military Studies’ Advanced Strategic Planning and Policy Program (ASP3) offers one of the few bridges between the Army’s best and brightest. The Army’s decision to allow select field grade officers the opportunity to both command and pursue a PhD highlights an important fact about the relationship between the Army’s best and brightest. Those few officers, like LTG McMaster, whose careers place them at the intersection of the Army’s best and brightest provide something that its best and its brightest cannot provide alone.

The career requirements placed on the Army’s best make it impossible for the best and the brightest to overlap at the tactical level. Many of the authors who have discussed the “best and brightest” offered suggestions for what to change in order to retain their undefined group of officers, advice which is no less valid when applied to a defined group of the best and brightest.[xx] In fact, Darrell Fawley posits that some of the Army’s best want the chance to also be its brightest, and the chance to become the “best and brightest” earlier in their careers.[xxi] Most of these suggestions can be summarized as loosening restrictions on the military’s labor market and eliminating time in grade or time in service considerations in order to place each officer in the position where they can best contribute to the Army’s mission.[xxii]

Regardless of whether or how the Army reforms its personnel policies, the policies the Army has in places matter because, as Colin Griffin points out, “[they are] about whether America can win wars.”[xxiii] The rhetoric surrounding the Force of the Future has been focused on preparing the US military for some nebulous “future battlefield,” but others argue that the future battlefield is now.[xxiv] If these dissidents are correct, the effects of America’s personnel decisions will be felt in the coming months and years, not years and decades. In the worst case, making the wrong choices will cost American lives and could cost the survival of the American experiment.

Secretary Carter’s Force of the Future initiative is motivated by a desire for the armed services to maintain a competitive edge in the quality of its service members and civilian employees. Thus far, these reforms have focused on improving the military services’ human resources practices and family leave policies; a good thing given that the military’s best and brightest can only consist of those who are willing to join and remain in the military. Recent reports suggest that, despite the Force of the Future, the Army will not change its personnel policies. The current policies discourage the best and brightest officers from overlapping; the result is that the Army’s best officers spend the majority of their time leading and its brightest officers do little else but think. If the Army wants to grow officers who can both lead and think, then its assignment and promotion policies must change. However, the Army must first ask itself whether it wants to change at all. The answer will depend on which officers get to answer. Who will it be: the best, the brightest, or both? SWJ.

1st Lieutenant Robert P. Callahan, Jr. is assigned to Fort Rucker, AL. Rob is an associate member of the Military Writers Guild.

End Notes

[i] McMaster, Herbert R. “Battle of 73 Easting.” February 26, 1991. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.benning.army.mil/Library/content/McMasterHR%20CPT_Battleof73Easting.pdf

[ii] Packer, George. “The Lesson of Tal Afar.” The New Yorker. April 10, 2006. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/04/10/the-lesson-of-tal-afar

[iii] “McMaster to Be Brigadier General.” BlackFive. July 16, 2008. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.blackfive.net/main/2008/07/mcmaster-to-be.html

[iv] Kaplan, Fred. “Finally, the Army Is Promoting the Right Officers.” Slate, 4 Aug. 2008. Accessed 24 Mar. 2016. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/war_stories/2008/08/annual_general_meeting.single.html

[v] Barno, Dave. “Major General Herbert Raymond McMaster: The World’s 100 Most Influential People.” Time. 23 Apr. 2014. Accessed 24 Mar. 2016. http://time.com/70886/herbert-raymond-mcmaster-2014-time-100/; Freedberg, Sydney J., Jr. “Army Taps Controversial Generals: What McMaster & Mangum Mean For The Future.” Breaking Defense. February 19, 2014. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://breakingdefense.com/2014/02/army-promotes-controversial-generals-what-mcmaster-mangum-mean-for-the-future/; Joyner, James. “H.R. McMaster Gets Third Star, Charge of Army Future.” Outside the Beltway. February 19, 2014. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/h-r-mcmaster-gets-third-star-charged-army-future/; Freedberg, Sydney J., Jr. “How To Get Best Military Leaders: CNAS Says Split Warriors From Managers.” Breaking Defense. October 25, 2013. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://breakingdefense.com/2013/10/how-to-get-best-military-leaders-cnas-says-split-warriors-from-managers/;

[vi] Schafer, Amy. “Why Military Personnel Reform Matters.” War on the Rocks. October 28, 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://warontherocks.com/2015/10/why-military-personnel-reform-matters/;

[vii] Freedberg, Sydney J., Jr. “Big Army Must Improve People Management Or Lose Talent.” Breaking Defense. September 12, 2011. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://breakingdefense.com/2011/09/big-army-must-improve-people-management-or-lose-talent/; Lind, William S. “An Officer Corps That Can’t Score.” The American Conservative. April 17, 2014. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/an-officer-corps-that-cant-score/

[viii] Carter, Ash. “Remarks by Secretary Carter on the Force of the Future.” U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE. March 30, 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.defense.gov/News/Speeches/Speech-View/Article/606658

[ix] Tilghman, Andrew. “The Army’s Other Crisis.” Washington Monthly. December 2007. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2007/0712.tilghman.html; Kane, Tim. “Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving.” The Atlantic. January/February 2011. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/01/why-our-best-officers-are-leaving/308346/; Andrews, Fred. “The Military Machine as a Management Wreck.” The New York Times. January 05, 2013. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/business/bleeding-talent-sees-a-military-management-mess.html?_r=0; Joyner, James. “Why America’s Best Officers Are Leaving.” Outside the Beltway. January 6, 2011. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/why-americas-best-officers-are-leaving/; Kane, Tim. “How to Lose Great Leaders? Ask the Army.” Washington Post. February 5, 2013. Accessed March 24, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-leadership/how-to-lose-great-leaders-ask-the-army/2013/02/05/725f177e-6fae-11e2-ac36-3d8d9dcaa2e2_story.html; Farley, Darrell. “A Junior Officer’s Perspective on Brain Drain.” Small Wars Journal. June 17, 2013. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/a-junior-officers-perspective-on-brain-drain; Schafer, Amy. “What Stands in the Way of the Pentagon Keeping Its Best and Brightest?” Defense One. July 14, 2014. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2014/07/what-stands-way-pentagon-keeping-its-best-and-brightest/88630/; Stensland, John. “Military’s Best, Brightest Deserve Commensurate Benefits.” Statesman Journal. September 10, 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/opinion/readers/2015/09/10/militarys-best-brightest-deserve-commensurate-benefits/72035738/; Barno, David, and Nora Bensahel. “Can the U.S. Military Halt Its Brain Drain?” The Atlantic. November 5, 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/us-military-tries-halt-brain-drain/413965/; Barno, David. “Military Brain Drain.” Foreign Policy. February 13, 2013. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/02/13/military-brain-drain/

[x] Hodges, Frederick. “Army Strong.” Foreign Policy. March 27, 2013. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/03/27/army-strong/; Kroesen, Frederick J. “Losing the ‘Best and Brightest,’ Again.” ARMY Magazine. March 2011. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.ausa.org/publications/armymagazine/archive/2011/3/Documents/FC_Kroesen_0311.pdf

[xi] Carter. “Force of the Future.”

[xii] “Revised Officer Evaluation Reports.” U.S. Army Human Resources Command. April 1, 2011. Accessed March 24, 2016. https://www.hrc.army.mil/site/ASSETS/PDF/MOD1_Revised_Officer_Evaluation_Reports_Jan14.pdf pg. 2

[xiii] ADRP 6-0: Mission Command. Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army., 2012. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/adrp6_0.pdf pg. 1-1

[xiv] ADP 6-0: Mission Command. Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army., 2012. Accessed March 24, 2016 .http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/adp6_0.pdf pg. 1

[xv] ADRP 6-22: Army Leadership. Washington, D.C.: Headquarters, Department of the Army, 2012. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/adrp6_22.pdf pg. 5-1

[xvi] “30 Under 30.” Forbes. 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.forbes.com/30-under-30-2016/

[xvii] “Advanced Civil Schooling (ACS).” MyArmyBenefits. August 4, 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://myarmybenefits.us.army.mil/Home/Benefit_Library/Federal_Benefits_Page/Advanced_Civil_Schooling_(ACS).html?serv=147; “Broadening Opportunity Programs.” U.S. Army Human Resources Command. January 29, 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016. https://www.hrc.army.mil/OPMD/Broadening%20Opportunity%20Programs%20Building%20a%20cohort%20of%20leaders%20that%20allow%20the%20Army%20to%20succeed%20at%20all%20levels%20in%20all%20environments

[xviii] ADP 1: The Army. Washington, D.C.: Headquarters, Department of the Army, 2012. Accessed March 23, 2016. http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/adp1.pdf

[xix] Spain, Everett S. P., J. D. Mohundro, and Barnard B. Banks. “Intellectual Capital: A Case for Cultural Change.” Parameters. Summer 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/parameters/Issues/Summer_2015/10_Spain.pdf

[xx] Simons, Anna. “Intellectual Capital: A Cautionary Note.” Parameters. Summer 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/parameters/Issues/Summer_2015/11_Simons.pdf; Wallace, Cory. “A Tale of Two Majors: Talent Management and Army Officer Promotions.” War on the Rocks. January 13, 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://warontherocks.com/2016/01/a-tale-of-two-majors-talent-management-and-army-officer-promotions/; Griffin, Colin. “Who’s Out of Control?” Small Wars Journal. February 6, 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/who’s-out-of-control/; Arnold, Mark C. “Don’t Promote Mediocrity.” Armed Forces Journal. May 1, 2012. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/dont-promote-mediocrity/; Schafer. “What Stands in the Way of the Pentagon.”; Barno. “Military Brain Drain.”; MacLean, Aaron. “We Don’t Reward Top Military Performers-and It’s Costing Us.” Washington Post. 9 Nov. 2011. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-leadership/we-dont-reward-top-military-performersand-its-costing-us/2011/11/09/gIQApzbj5M_story.html; Kane. “How to Lose Great Leaders.”; Joyner. “America’s Best Officers Are Leaving.”; Kane. “Our Best Officers are Leaving.”

[xxi] Farley. “A Junior Officer’s Perspective.”

[xxii] Grazier, Dan. “Military Reform Begins With Personnel Reform.” Project On Government Oversight. August 25, 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.pogo.org/blog/2015/08/military-personnel-reform.html; Grazier, Dan. “The Pentagon’s Pricey Culture of Mediocrity.” Project On Government Oversight. January 27, 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.pogo.org/straus/issues/military-people-and-ideas/2016/the-pentagons-pricey-culture-of-mediocrity.html;

[xxiii] Griffin. “Who’s Out of Control.”

[xxiv] Barno and Bansahel. “Can the U.S. Military Halt Its Brain Drain?”; “World War III: Stop Trying to Prevent It.” The Angry Staff Officer. February 13, 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://angrystaffofficer.com/2016/02/13/world-war-iii-stop-trying-to-prevent-it/; Buchanan, Patrick J. “No End to War in Sight.” The American Conservative. February 12, 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/buchanan/no-end-to-war-in-sight/

Featured Image: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter addresses U.S. Army ROTC cadets attending training at Fort Knox, Ky., June 22, 2016. (DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley/Released)

Re-Fighting the Battle of Hoth: An Engineer’s Perspective

By Angry Staff Officer for CIMSEC’s “Movie Re-Fights Week”

Anyone familiar with the late Galactic Civil War will remember the outstanding triumph by the Rebel Alliance at the Battle of Hoth. Many had considered that this would be a last stand by the Alliance, or at the very least a mere draw if enough transports were able to get away before the Imperial Fleet bore down on them. However, the Alliance was able develop a battle plan that was built on an analysis of the Imperial ground forces’ tactics, techniques, and procedures from years of fighting. This plan emphasized the Alliance’s maneuverability and the terrain that they had chosen for the engagement.

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Prior to the engagement, the general staff for the Rebel Alliance had wargamed possible enemy avenues of approach and strike group composition. Because they had effectively shielded their base on the snow-bound planet of Hoth, they knew that the Empire would have to land a strike force on the planet to try to knock out the shield generator. Attempts to enter the battlespace with air assets could be nullified by the Alliance’s Ion Cannon. Additionally, early warning sensors were placed both on the planet’s surface as well as in the atmosphere.

Echo Base Rendering, Courtesy https://echostation57.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/hoth-player-map.jpg?w=640&h=405
Echo Base Rendering, Courtesy https://echostation57.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/hoth-player-map.jpg?w=640&h=405

The Alliance’s Echo Base and shield generator were safely harbored inside a draw with only one ground avenue of approach. This site was carefully selected after a thorough intelligence preparation of the battlefield by Alliance engineers and intelligence officers. They could thus canalize any approaching ground force between two ridges of ice and rock. Analyzing the Imperial task organization from past battles, Alliance intel officers theorized that they would most likely attempt to infiltrate with heavy All Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT) Imperial Walkers and dismounted ground troops to exploit gaps. This would leave them vulnerable on their flanks and rear to air sorties from Alliance T-47 snowspeeders.

Additional preparations included the development of an engagement area in the draw, with obstacle emplacement and fields of fire picked out for concealed heavy weapons. Deep pits were dug and camouflaged with hologram imagery to make the ground appear level. These were offset between lanes of massive tanglefoot: lengths of wire attached to deep stakes sunk into the ice that would impede vehicular movement. Additionally, two belts of landmines were placed in the expected Imperial landing area to disrupt the attack at its outset. Heavy weapons emplacements were dug into the slopes of the surrounding hills to strike at any vulnerabilities in the AT-AT’s armor. In the enemy’s immediate front, several dummy gun emplacements were created to draw the Imperial troops into the trap. The goal was to create as much havoc as possible to the Imperial heavy armor to degrade the morale of their dismounted troops.

The ground forces commander established his heavy weapons fields of fire and coordinated with the Alliance air wings of snowspeeders, specifically Rogue Squadron, to define their flight patterns, where they would infiltrate the battlefield, and where they would exfiltrate, thus avoiding any friendly fire. They gambled that they would have immediate air superiority as the Empire would wait until the shield was down before sending in any air assets. Final protective fires were set at the entrance to Echo Base, where Alliance planners hoped that they could at the very minimum establish a choke point with destroyed Imperial vehicles. Rather than commit to a linear defense, the Alliance relied on a defence in depth, which allowed greater freedom of movement for their dismounted infantry to avoid the heavy guns of the AT-ATs.

The Alliance commander on Hoth, General Carlist Rieeken, assumed a certain amount of risk committing his forces to the battle. He maintained his contingency plan of escape from the planet via transports to assuage his conscience that was still plagued by the loss of Alderaan. Princess Leia Organa emphasized that Hoth was the ideal place to deliver the empire a dramatic defeat that would resound throughout the Galaxy, and Rieeken reluctantly went along with the plan.

Upon the Empire’s discovery of the Rebel base on Hoth, Lord Darth Vader devised a plan whereby the Imperial fleet would come out of hyperspace at some distance from Hoth and bring its heavy weapons to bear upon the planet. However, when Admiral Kendal Ozzel, commander of the Empire’s Death Squadron, brought the his ships out of hyperspace, they immediately triggered the Alliance’s early warning systems in planetary orbit. The shield was activated and Vader was forced to commit to a ground attack. As predicted, the Empire landed heavy armor along with several battalions of the 501st Legion’s snowtroopers on Hoth, at the only available entrance to Echo Base.

Major General Maximilian Veers had overall command of the Imperial ground force. An armor officer by trade, Veers had been stuck at the rank of colonel for some time. His last assignment had been as an instructor at the armor schoolhouse; with the destruction of the first Death Star, so many senior Imperial commanders had been killed that Veers was elevated to major general. Thus, he was entering his first major ground operation with little field experience in the current operating environment. This was perhaps why he walked right into the trap that the Alliance had lain for him.

Imperial Walkers deploying in line, entering the engagement area on Hoth (Lucasfilm, Ltd)
Imperial Walkers deploying in line, entering the engagement area on Hoth (Lucasfilm, Ltd)

He deployed his AT-AT’s in line abreast into the draw, with the dismounted 501st troopers behind them. Because of this, his first line of armor suffered significantly from the first two mine belts. Veers then moved two companies of infantry forward of his armor, to check for additional traps and mines. As the terrain constricted them into the draw, the infantry bunched up, and were immediately engaged by Alliance crew served weapons concealed on the flanks, causing heavy casualties amongst the snowtroopers. Veers ordered his lead AT-AT’s forward to knock out the Alliance weapons positions, but two were immediately lost when they stumbled into the pits. The top-heavy nature of the Imperial armor caused the walkers to completely collapse when they encountered the pits, rendering them useless and causing severe casualties to the troops trapped inside. In frustration, Veers ordered all his infantry to dismount to get eyes on the Alliance positions.

The dismounted infantry surged forward, encountering the tanglefoot. Company commanders reported obstacle locations back to Veers, who put his armor into single file as Imperial engineers began to slowly breach their way through the obstacles, taking catastrophic losses from Alliance positions. With his armor’s linear firepower thus limited, Veers could only watch in horror as Rogue Squadron struck from his left, their cannons decimating his ground troops. The second wave of snowspeeders were able to neutralize the rear AT-AT with the cables on their speeders, pinning the entire Imperial task force inside the engagement area. Veers panicked and ordered his armor to fan out to engage the targets that they could identify. This decimated the entire armored force, as they could not maneuver out of the engagement area. The armor took 90% losses, with the entirety immobilized inside the engagement area. Veers’ command vehicle was decapitated by concentrated Alliance firepower and he died in flames.

From space, Vader’s rage increased by the second as he monitored the battle below. When he lost communications with Veers, he flew into a fury and committed two more battalions of ground troops. These arrived to observe the last moments of the first task force, which disappeared under sustained blaster fire. Rather than walk into certain death, these two battalions elected to defect from the Empire in their transports.

Vader ordered the planet blockaded and called for reinforcements. However, word of the Imperial disaster on Hoth spread like wildfire around the galaxy. Revolts erupted in nearly every system, tying down all available ground troops and star destroyers. The Imperial blockade winnowed away due to attrition from small Alliance strike groups that ate away at it. In frustration, Vader abandoned the blockade and retreated to where the beginnings of the second Death Star were taking shape. Superior Alliance intelligence tracked him there, and the Death Star was destroyed before it could ever become operational. Battle damage assessments calculated that Vader was on board when it was destroyed, but could not confirm his death. His body was never found. The Empire vanished in the fire and destruction of the insurgency that began with the victory on Hoth.

Angry Staff Officer is an engineer officer in the Army National Guard with an enlisted infantry background. He has blogged under the name ‘Angry Staff Officer’ since 2014 and is a member of the Military Writer’s Guild. He has served in multiple positions in both staff and line units, at the company, battalion, and division levels, and served one tour in Afghanistan. Angry Staff Officer holds his master’s degree in history. He enjoys snark, satire, cynicism, history, and over analyzing foreign policy. He writes at www.AngryStaffOfficer.com and can be found on Twitter @pptsapper.

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Army’s Strategy Education Lessons for the Navy

By: Bowen Vernan, Navy Helicopter Pilot

In May 2013, Chief of the Army, General Ray Odierno stood in a small DC area ballroom in front of a few dozen graduates and their families. Central to the crowd were several Army Captains and recently minted Majors as well as the 2013 Class of the Institute for World Politics. General Odierno and the US Army were both familiar friends with IWP, having participated in speaking engagements and sending dozens of students through the tiny graduate school nestled in an old mansion on the outskirts of Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. IWP’s faculty of approximately 30 instructor-practitioners are all leaders in their diverse field of expertise. At no other institute of learning is such a small group constituted of Generals, Ambassadors, and former Intelligence Operatives. The high caliber of experience brought together by the instructors drives the school to focus in a few key areas. IWP’s majors are limited to Master’s Programs is the fields of Statecraft and National Security Affairs, Statecraft and International Affairs, and Strategic Intelligence Studies with an additional Executive M.A. in National Security Affairs.

In a city filled with storied centers of learning such as Georgetown University, George Washington University, and countless military and intelligence centers of excellence, why has the Army invested their time and money in a school of less than 150 students? The Army has simply adopted IWP as a vehicle for training their Officer Corps in a way that no other military or civilian institution can currently supply. Beyond the ever present push for inter-service “jointness” IWP takes the Army’s mid-level leaders to a new level of inter-agency understanding and cooperation. The broad array of government leaders is seen not only in the staff, but also the student body of IWP. A typical class, consisting of only a handful of students could contain of a Captain from the US Army, an analyst from the CIA, and a Foreign Service officer from the State Department, all instructed by a retired Air Force General, Intelligence Community Professional, or former member of the National Security Council to learn the lessons of the past and together share ideas using every facet of the United States Government’s foreign policy resources. In an environment where fiscal resources are being stretched ever thinner among all government agencies, the Army has used IWP as a planning lab for learning how to better achieve mission goals by employing the resources and expertise of all government agencies. Following their time at IWP, many Army graduates are able to take their newfound understanding of inter-agency capabilities and jointness to forge the future of a more integrated and more capable US Army and US Government. It is clear that the Army has found a unique and invaluable resource in a government focused melting pot of higher education. However, the US Army is currently the only branch of the US Military that sends active duty officers to be among the ranks of the student body of this particular school. If the Army has found value from this program, why have the other services not followed the Army’s lead?

The US Army has recognized the importance of strategically focused professionals since the creation of the Functional Area (FA) 59 designation for Strategic Planning and Policy Officers. The Navy is starting to realize a need for a similar expertise to the Army’s FA 59 program. Making strides to create a new US Navy skill set, the Naval War College has recently begun its inaugural year of a Naval Strategy program. While the program is a first step in creating a corps of strategically thinking Naval Officers, it appears to be limited in scope and lacks a “full government” approach. To be prepared for the future of warfare, US Navy military planners will need to be familiar with the realms of conflict that reach far beyond naval engagements and sea power to remain effective.

It is my belief that the US Navy faces an additional hurdle in its pursuit of a strategic level expertise: the stigma that in order to remain relevant an officer must remain tactical. As a junior officer, I have seen my role as a tactical asset in the aviation community quickly diminished by the ever present budget cuts and the ever expanding age of unmanned aerial vehicles fulfilling every role from air-to-air combat to airborne vertical replenishment. However, when I attempted to look to the future and the Navy’s need to focus strategically, I quickly discovered that even inquiring how to shape the next generation of war fighter was frowned upon by the operational environment.

While the US Navy will always have a need to build young officers to sharpen the “pointy end of the spear”, an equal value must be placed on sharpening the young ingenious minds which will shape the strategic picture needed to effectively employ the Navy’s spear alongside the CIA’s arrows and the State Department’s shield in order to maintain America’s role as the preeminent foreign policy leader.

New Strategic Geography Ends “Long Army Century”

Some historians attempt to reframe the timeline of history in order to highlight trends that might otherwise remain submerged in more traditional categories. The British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawn, for example, re-classified the long period from the French Revolution to the beginning of the First World War as the “long” 19th century. This change showcased a particular period of European ascendency through the Napoleonic, Revolutionary, Victorian and Edwardian periods. A similar effort might now be applied to the influence of the U.S. Army on United States strategic thinking. A “Long Army Century” is now drawing to a close due to new strategic geography and shrinking defense budgets.

Elihu Root

The “long Army century” arguably began in 1904 with the selection of New York corporate lawyer Elihu Root as the Secretary of the Army by President William McKinley in 1899. While the U.S. Army had been victorious in Cuba in the Spanish American War, its organization, operations, and logistics during that conflict revealed deep flaws that might circumscribe future success. Root undertook an aggressive program that created the modern Army General Staff, the Army War College, and the Joint Army Navy board for inter-service cooperation.
The Chief of Staff system, modeled on methods then used by American business, was a great success. Root’s reforms created the “modern” Army that was able to mobilize large numbers of volunteers for the First World War. This system eagerly embraced new technologies such as the tank and the airplane, and was successful in deploying millions of Americans to fight in France in a relatively short time. The Army also had great influence over large numbers of civilians for the first time since the Civil War, as high ranking Army leaders served in key roles on the War Industries Board that coordinated U.S. war production.

The end of the First World War brought a reduction in overall Army influence, but future influential leaders including George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Patton and many others were direct products of Root’s post-1903 reforms. These leaders fought the Second World War, and others again occupied significant roles in civilian government like General Leslie Groves who managed the Manhattan Project. The end of World War 2 should have brought about another reduction in Army strength and influence, but the emerging Cold War and the strong personalities of Marshall, Eisenhower, and other products of the Root Army War College had other ideas.

Eisenhower Patton
Eisenhower Patton Bradley

The Army targeted the Navy as unfairly hoarding resources in a “parochial” manner in order to gain its share of scarce financial resources at the beginning of the Cold War. One of the best ways to do this was to advocate for a unified “joint” military force with relatively co-equal branches under a supreme “generalissimo” of the U.S. armed forces. This is not surprising given the wartime experience of the post World War 2 U.S. Army leadership. Officers such as Marshall, Eisenhower, and Omar Bradley served primarily in the wartime European theater of operations where land and air warfare were the predominant modes of fighting. The “Battle of the Atlantic” against the German U-boat arm never fell under Eisenhower’s direct supervision. He and other Army officers respected the ability of naval forces to mount the Normandy invasion, but had little or no direct experience with naval combat. Postwar naval leaders such as Chester Nimitz, Forrest Sherman, and Arleigh Burke by contrast had experienced a relatively decentralized war in the Pacific. Nimitz and Army general Douglas MacArthur shared command authority and responsibility in a collaborative manner unlike the Army Chief of Staff system with one overall commander. As a result of this difference in leadership style and the fierce competition with the Navy and later the Air Force for funding, the Army enthusiastically adopted concepts of “joint” organization and control of the armed forces throughout the Cold War. Dwight Eisenhower as President tried to implement joint concepts of organization for the Department of Defense as a result of his war experience, but was thwarted in his efforts by key pro-Navy Congressional leaders.

Goldwater Jones
Senator Goldwater and CJCS General David Jones

The long and unsuccessful Vietnam War and end of the military draft in 1973 should have brought about a reduction in Army strength and influence, but the Army was again able to avoid large cuts by shifting to an all-volunteer force and refocusing on the European threat posed by the Soviet Union. Army leadership continued to advocate “joint” leadership of the U.S. Armed Forces in pursuit of desired force structure. The passage of the Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986 further cemented “joint” aspects of U.S. military strategy, policy and operations. The Gulf War of 1991 seemed to confirm that “joint” organization was crucial to U.S. military success. Building on triumph in that conflict, the Army was able to secure a significant force structure in the negotiations that produced the post-Cold War “base force” in 1994. The looming specter of a revanchist Russia, desire to enable a “New World Order”, as well as the continuing specter of Saddam Hussein’s armed forces convinced many decision-makers that there was continued value in a large expeditionary ground force. The Army found further relevance after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent ground invasions and counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army’s success on the battlefield in the last 100 years, especially in more recent “joint” operations has been largely enabled by favorable geography. Combat in and around the Eurasian landmass in both World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and recent wars in the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia all featured airfields within short range of hostile targets and an emphasis on the effects of land-based operations. The geography of future conflict however would seem to be shifting to largely maritime and air struggles in the Indo-Pacific basin. This region’s large maritime spaces offer few immediate venues for employment of land power as did the plains of Europe, the deserts of the Middle East and the highlands of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. The Air Force and Navy, rather than the Army, have the central role in Pacific strategy. The shrinking U.S. defense budget in response to national debt, trade deficits and massive new social welfare spending also works against the maintenance of continued Army force structure and influence. Without a defined mission in an essentially air and maritime battlespace, the Army has resorted to a kind of “me too” strategy advocating its ability to support the other services Pacific efforts through coastal defense, which ironically was one of the U.S. Army’s first missions in the new republic.


The Pacific Ocean, and the lands touched by its waves have always been of U.S. strategic interest. For the first time however since 1941 there is no comparable “land-based” strategic theater in competition with the Indo-Pacific region. The U.S. Army will likely have other expeditionary missions and conflicts in its future, and may again return to a level strategic influence like that it has possessed in the last 100 years. For the moment however, historians might be well served to give the present “Long Army Century” an endpoint in the early second decade of the 21st century.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD student in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941. He posts here at CIMSEC, sailorbob.com and at informationdissemination.org under the pen name of “Lazarus”.