Tag Archives: Personnel

Self, Shipmate, and Ship: Bringing Balance to Naval Leadership

By Jimmy Drennan

Secretary of Defense James Mattis was on a plane last year, wrestling with how he would explain President Trump’s “America First” policy to our allies, when an idea came to him. He would draw a parallel to flight attendants requesting passengers put their own oxygen mask on first in the event of an emergency, before assisting family members. Say what you will about our national leadership, this is a wonderful metaphor. America can only contribute to the common interests of our Allies when we first secure our own national interests, across the entire political spectrum. Taking care of our own interests first allows America to be what our allies need – a strong, legitimate partner in promoting freedom and democracy.

Sliding all the way down the U.S. military chain of command, the youngest Seaman Recruit swabbing the deck on a Navy warship receives a very different message. He or she is taught a traditional saying that sailors use to succinctly describe their priorities: “ship, shipmate, self.” Like most nautical jargon, the aphorism has a certain graceful ring to it that captures the Navy’s mission-first mentality in very few words. It evokes dramatic notions of sailors agonizingly shutting a hatch on shipmates to save the ship from flooding, or sacrificing their own safety to save a shipmate from an engine room fire. Unfortunately, like most dramatic notions, these are largely fictional. In the real world, the U.S. Navy does not jump from one dramatic moment to the next. It operates a global force of six fleets, 284 ships, over 3700 aircraft, and 324,000 sailors, and it does so 24/7/365. Instead of maximizing mission effectiveness, using “ship, shipmate, self” as a set of priorities creates unrealistic expectations and tension in the minds of U.S. Navy sailors.

In truth, neither “America first” nor “ship, shipmate, self” are perfect models for sailors.

There are times when sailors truly should sacrifice their own interests and the interests of their shipmates for the sake of the ship, but more often than not, the energy they pour into the ship is in line with their own interests, not contrary to them. There are also many times when sailors need to prioritize their shipmates over the ship – just consider the massive amount of operational resources and time dedicated to recovering a single man overboard. Furthermore, and perhaps controversially, sailors often encounter situations in which they should prioritize themselves over their shipmates and their ship, although these situations often go unnoticed due to Navy culture epitomized by “ship, shipmate, self.” Over the past ten years, an average of 44 active duty sailors died by suicide each year. Imagine how many sailors could be saved by focusing on “preventive self-care” vice reactive clinical treatment. Many will probably view this “selfish” approach as subversive and contrary to what the Navy stands for, but radical ideas are often viewed this way at first. In fact, it is a dynamic approach to leadership that encourages emotional intelligence, in leaders and followers alike, to optimize mission effectiveness. To truly achieve sailor wellness and promote an effective mission-first culture, the Navy should use “ship, shipmate, self” not as a set of priorities, but rather as a triad with each element being critical to the mission.

Ship

Understandably, the ship is traditionally the focal point of naval operations. For centuries, ships were the only means that the world’s navies had at their disposal to project power on their enemies.

Today, even with the advent of naval aircraft, missiles, and other deployable systems, ships (and submarines) remain the quintessential element of maritime presence and power projection. There is no metric for naval strength quite as easily understandable as the number of ships a navy operates and maintains. Much naval strategic planning happening right now in the Pentagon and D.C. think tanks revolves around President Trump’s stated policy of achieving a 355 ship Navy. So, it makes sense that tradition would coalesce around a maxim that prioritizes the ship over all else. After all, sailors literally rely on the ship for their survival, and to return them to their loved ones after deployment.

Yet, for all its traditional primacy in Naval operations, the ship is no more important than the people who operate her. Just as sailors rely on their ship, the ship relies on her crew. It has long been said in naval circles that a new ship is “brought to life” when the commissioning crew runs aboard. What’s needed now is a shift in mindset away from the idea that the ship is something separate that sailors need to prioritize over themselves, toward the idea that sailors and ships are interconnected parts of a larger system that drives toward mission accomplishment, neither being more important than the other. Viewing the ship as a separate and distinct “other” for which one must continually sacrifice their own interests naturally breeds tension and eventually resentment, especially when sailors hear lip service about their wellness being the Navy’s top priority. In truth, the Navy’s top priority is, and always will be, to win our nation’s wars at sea. People, platforms, and payloads are all equally important to that mission. The message to sailors needs to be “take care of the ship, take care of your shipmates, take care of yourself, you are all critical to the mission.” When sailors view themselves as a critical element of a system of mission accomplishment, they begin to find purpose – a reason for the incredible sacrifice all sailors must make. Military leaders have long recognized a sense of purpose as being one of the most powerful motivators for transforming individuals into effective warfighting teams.

The nature of this generation of young sailors is another reason compelling reason to reshape the way the Navy characterizes its priorities. Millennials, as children of the “Peace Dividend” of the 1990s that followed the end of the Cold War, watched their parents pursue individualistic dreams and often expect the opportunity to do the same. Many Millennials were not raised in a time period that was as focused on the same selfless sense of service that some previous generations took for granted. Patriotism just looks different today. However, every American generation has been convinced the following generation was deficient in some way. Even the parents of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” probably lamented in 1920 that America’s youth were not ready for the challenges of the “real world.” The prevailing view of Millennials is nothing new, and it’s also not helpful. The fact is, the Navy’s workforce is composed mainly of Millennials, and the challenge of leading them rests with senior leaders, to put it plainly. In this author’s experience, what is often misinterpreted as a “what’s in it for me?” attitude, is in fact a Millennial trying to determine “how do I fit in?” Sailors today seek to thrive personally even as they serve the nation. 

Shipmate

In the past, it would have been obvious to say that sailors will put the needs of their shipmates ahead of their own. They are military servicemembers after all, and most of them joined the Navy motivated by some level of selflessness. There are countless times throughout a sailor’s career when they will rightly sacrifice their own interests for the sake of a shipmate, but as a hard and fast rule, it is not necessarily beneficial to the mission for sailors to constantly put themselves last. Sailors sometimes need to prioritize their own health and readiness to ensure they are capable of contributing to the mission. Sleep, for example, is a hot button issue in the Navy right now. Some claim that systemic lack of sleep in the fleet is causing sailors and officers to perform sub-optimally on watch, potentially contributing to two tragic collisions in 2017. To be sure, the Navy needs to examine its own processes to ensure it is affording sailors the requisite time to rest so that they can do their jobs. Still, some responsibility falls on individual sailors to ensure they are getting enough sleep. This is not strictly self-interest. Sailors are one part of a system geared toward mission accomplishment. So, by declining to help out a shipmate on a late night task so they can get enough shut-eye before watch, a sailor is not only taking care of themself, but also supporting their ship’s mission. A four-star admiral once said “Tired staffs are okay, tired commanders are not.” This was not permission for commanders to work their staffs into the ground, rather it was meant to illustrate that staffs have built-in resilience due to depth, whereas commanders represent single points of mission failure. The admiral was directing his commanders to ensure they prioritized their personal health and readiness, because a commander who cannot make sound decisions due to exhaustion could actually endanger the mission, vice support it.

Today, Millennials are often motivated by more individualistic goals. That does not mean, however, that they are not willing to prioritize their shipmates over themselves, and even their ship. Consider a “man overboard” scenario. When a sailor falls into the water, every sailor stops what they are doing and supports the recovery in some way, even if it is just to muster for accountability to help identify the sailor in the water. Prioritizing the sailor above all else is not just contained to a single ship. Every ship and aircraft that can be contacted proceeds to the scene at top speed. Small boats are deployed in questionable sea states. Helicopters might be launched with winds just outside acceptable limits. Short of actual combat or avoiding collision, nothing is more important than recovering an overboard sailor. Every day, sailors put their piled-up workloads aside to give their junior shipmates on- the-job training. Entire career paths, such as Culinary Specialists and Yeomen, are dedicated to the service of other sailors. In fact, every sailor puts in work to serve their shipmates, their ship, and, ultimately, the mission. The key for leaders is to enable sailors to see how they contribute to the mission.

Self

Taking care of yourself is not necessarily selfish. Usually, it is the mindset of “ship, shipmate, self” that leads sailors to perceive those who prioritize their own wellness as “selfish.” On the contrary, when sailors understand how they contribute to the mission, they can maximize mission effectiveness by ensuring they are prepared mentally, physically, and emotionally to give 100 percent focus and effort toward their duties. It is important, of course, for sailors to understand how they fit in to the overall Navy system, and to not take “self-care” too far. Inevitably, there will be times when sailors will only be looking out for themselves, regardless of how their actions affect their shipmates, their ship, or the mission. Clearly, in a “ship, shipmate, self” culture, these sailors are highly frowned upon and quickly corrected. If they cannot be corrected, they are typically shunned.

The problem with this dynamic is the Navy ends up with sailors who are not contributing to the mission. Worse, in almost all cases, selfishness is not an immutable aspect of a sailor’s character, but rather temporary behavior that can be discouraged through sustained command-wide effort. So, the key is understanding one’s role on the ship and in the mission. As one Commanding Officer once put it, “Everyone can contribute. It’s up to the leader to help them figure out how.” Sometimes that might involve creative solutions such as reassigning sailors to other divisions or so-called “Tiger Teams” – small groups dedicated to specific short-term tasks. Sometimes, the answer is as simple as effective command indoctrination, mentorship, and training. Once a sailor truly understands that they are part of a team and how they contribute to the mission, performance will inevitably improve, usually significantly. This growth process requires leaders to exhibit emotional intelligence – the ability to manage emotions in oneself and in others to guide behavior and achieve one’s goals. To help a person who doesn’t want to help themself is often emotionally taxing, and it can be tempting to dismiss that person, but this does nothing to advance the mission.

When the leader views their relationship to an unmotivated sailor not in an adversarial way, but rather in terms of an interconnected system, that leader can begin to see even small ways the sailor might contribute, which is critical because that enables the sailor to then grow their own emotional intelligence. The key insight is that the sailor’s health and readiness are critical elements in an overall readiness system, not afterthoughts to be prioritized behind the ship and shipmates.

Conclusion

Importantly, transitioning from the idea of “ship, shipmate, self” being a set of priorities to a description of an interconnected system not only improves individual sailor wellness, but overall mission effectiveness as well. As much as Navy leadership discusses the importance of sailors and ships, nothing ever comes before the Navy’s mission to “maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas.” Fundamentally, accomplishment of the Navy’s mission comes down to individual sailors working as teams to operate the finest ships, submarines, aircraft, and supporting systems in the world. To truly contribute to this mission accomplishment, every level of leadership, from work center supervisors to fleet commanders and beyond, should seek to understand how their organization fits into the overall Navy system. When the Auxiliaries Officer sees how auxiliary services support the ship’s mission, and a Strike Group Commander understands how naval air power supports their fleet, they can empower the most junior sailor with a motivating sense of purpose.

Every sailor should understand more broadly how the Navy contributes to national defense. When a sailor examines how they fits into the overall Navy system, it can be extremely fulfilling to realize that their nation depends on him to keep enemies far from its shores. If Navy leadership wants to move toward a more effective warfighting force, a good first step is the recognition that ship, shipmate, and self are all equally important, interrelated elements dedicated to mission accomplishment.

Jimmy Drennan is the Vice President of CIMSEC. These views are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of any government agency.

Featured Image: (June 19, 2018) Hawaii-area Sailors render honors to retired Chief Boatswain’s Mate and Pearl Harbor survivor Ray Emory during a farewell ceremony held before he departs Hawaii to be with family. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Pacheco/Released)

How XO/CO Fleet-Up Enhances Operational Competence

By Capt. Henry Adams

Introduction

Among the many debates occurring across the Navy in the wake of the USS FITZGERALD and USS JOHN S. MCCAIN collision mishaps of last summer is whether or not the Surface Community should continue with the unit-level XO/CO Fleet-Up policy. Strong, considered opinions exist on both sides of the issue as thoughtful professionals seek to settle the question regarding the value and future of the policy. Although many factors should be considered, the first question the Surface community should ask is whether the XO/CO Fleet-Up policy contributes to the imperative of operational competence, which I define as the ability to handle and fight a ship at sea safely and effectively. This is the gold standard by which we measure success and should be the first test for whether the Fleet-Up policy should continue. In my view, unit-level XO/CO Fleet-Up comes with great benefits that contribute to operational competence, with the caveat that certain potential risks must be addressed to ensure the best possible outcomes.

Benefits and Advantages

As someone who has participated in both the “traditional” and Fleet-Up models, in addition to leading a squadron of ARLEIGH BURKE Destroyer (DDG) Commanding Officers (CO) and Executive Officers (XO) through the process, my perspective is that the XO/CO Fleet-Up model works. I was XO in USS PORT ROYAL (CG-73) for 22 months from 2004 – 2006 and screened for O-5 Command during that tour under the traditional command screening process. Following a 27 month shore tour, I received orders to USS STETHEM (DDG-63) as the first XO/CO Fleet-Up in Destroyer Squadron FIFTEEN (CDS-15) forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan. I spent 12 months as XO in STETHEM then fleeted-up to CO for the next 18 months for a total of 30 months in the command leadership team. More recently, I reported to CDS-21 in March 2015 as Deputy Commodore, fleeted-up in August 2016, and am currently in my 19th month as Commodore. During my time as Commodore, I have worked with, led, and observed as many as eight Fleet-Up XO/CO teams at a time.

Like any policy, XO/CO Fleet-Up has its benefits and risks. The three greatest benefits with regard to operational competence are leadership consistency for the crew, CO’s knowledge of the ship, crew, and mission, and the CO’s readiness to command with confidence on day one. Leadership consistency results from the stability and longevity in the XO/CO team that the notional 36 month Fleet-Up tour provides. Because the XO will presumably one day become the CO, and the CO has to live with the outcomes of decisions made while XO, the leadership “diad” is incentivized to be more thoughtful and consistent in executing shipboard management, including key programs such as training and maintenance that have a direct impact on a ship’s operational effectiveness.

A CO’s knowledge of the ship, crew, and mission benefits greatly from XO/CO Fleet-Up. After having served as XO for 18 months, the new fleet-up CO has intimate knowledge of the ship and crew. Individual strengths and weaknesses, troubled systems, and the myriad other challenges that face a ship CO will be well-known as a result of having spent the previous tour as XO dealing with those issues. This effect of carrying the knowledge of ship, crew, and mission from XO to CO within the same lifelines is particularly helpful given the growing complexity in ship systems and mission areas over the years. Ballistic Missile Defense ships in particular benefit from the Fleet-Up policy because of their technical complexity and unique training requirements.

The final major benefit of XO/CO Fleet-Up is that COs report for duty ready to lead with confidence on day one in command with a flatter learning curve as they proceed through their tour. As the previous XO, the new CO comes aboard with knowledge of the ship and crew and, thanks to the quality training provided during the approximately three-month PCO period, is immediately prepared to command.

Risk and Reform

Although there are clear benefits to operational competence inherent in the XO/CO Fleet-Up policy, there are also potential risks that must be addressed to better support operational competence. Those risks include CO fatigue, CO quality control, and time between Department Head (DH) and XO sea tours.

The notional Fleet-Up tour length is 36 months. Candidly, this is a long time to shoulder the workload associated with being the XO followed immediately by assuming the inescapable, 24/7 responsibility and accountability inherent in being the CO. I spent 30 months as an XO/CO Fleet-Up, and I was frankly exhausted by the end. I had no chance to rest and reset prior to assuming command. This is the fatigue risk inherent in the Fleet-Up policy: that COs may burn out while in command and, as a result, will be at greater risk of making bad decisions at sea.

Fortunately, this concern has been addressed with recent policy. In 2016 the Surface community implemented the “18-3-18” policy refinement to Fleet-Up, which requires a three month break between XO and CO tours and affords PCOs the opportunity to take up to 30 days of leave. This policy was enacted in part to allow future COs to recharge prior to assuming command. In addition, that three month period ensures that PCOs complete additional required pre-command training at the Surface Warfare Officers School (SWOS) in Newport, RI.

The shift to XO/CO Fleet-Up resulted in the perceived loss of quality control by removing a long-standing checkpoint on the path to command: the traditional XO ride. Before Fleet-Up, COs had the final say on whether their XOs were fit for command. The XO Fitness Report (FITREP) was a “one or a zero” and had tremendous influence on command screening boards, which typically occurred late in an XO’s tour or during the follow-on shore tour. The “bit check” still exists in the Fleet-Up policy. Now, it is designed to occur during the XO tour when, in order to move on to command, the XO must receive positive endorsement from the CO, ISIC, and Type Commander. Additionally, the Fleet-Up selection board uses the same key inputs (Department Head FITREPs), career timing (the first look occurs two years after O-4 selection), and is actually more selective than the traditional process because it screens fewer officers for command rather than creating a larger XO bank that must then be culled to identify future COs.

To further reduce risk from quality concerns, the Surface community has modified the Fleet-Up policy over time. Quality checkpoints now include the requirement to pass the Command Qualification Assessment (CQA) – a rigorous process that takes place at SWOS – as a prerequisite for command screening board eligibility; mandatory Command Qualification Board (CQB) topics to standardize criteria for command endorsement; and a ship handling go/no-go test during the first two days of the Surface Command Course. The go/no-go test is a recent addition to the Fleet-Up quality control process. Notably, PCOs must demonstrate proficiency in ship handling and the Rules-of-the-Road or risk being sent back to their ISIC for remediation or, more likely, loss of command opportunity and administrative reassignment. I currently have three PCOs in CDS-21 preparing to assume command later this year; they all report the go/no-go test is challenging, fair, and provides excellent feedback.

Excessive time between DH and XO tours remains the greatest potential risk to operational competence inherent in the XO/CO Fleet-Up policy. Shortly after implementation of Fleet-Up, the average time command-screened officers spent between the end of their DH tour and reporting aboard as XO spiked to as high as seven years, the result of screening to opportunity and not the Fleet requirement, resulting in a large bank of command-screened officers waiting for orders. This inordinate delay in returning to sea was never part of the original Fleet-Up policy, which anticipated a 5 – 5.5 year pause.

The unintended extended delay between operational tours set officers up to enter the Fleet-Up program with low proficiency and lack of confidence. In contrast to the traditional approach of command selection, which averaged 3.5 – 4 years between XO and CO tours, the Fleet-Up policy sought to accept risk earlier, namely between DH and XO tours, thereby ensuring a direct transition from XO to CO with the attendant benefit to operational proficiency. Today, the average time between DH and XO is down to 5.3 years and trending back to the 4.5 – 4.7 years as originally envisioned. It is clear from attending waterfront briefs that Surface community leadership recognizes the importance of reducing the time between DH and XO and is actively working to shorten it. If the Surface community can get that gap back to a reasonable length of time so that degradation in operational skills is not a major concern, then the risk will have been mitigated.

Controlling for Quality

Among the three risks identified above – CO fatigue, quality control, and time ashore prior to XO – quality control presents the biggest challenge. Managing the potential impact of fatigue is a simple matter of policy (the three months in the “18-3-18” plan) and one that the Surface community has already implemented. The same goes for reducing the time between the end of a DH tour and the start of XO/CO Fleet-Up. Policy can, and I believe will, fix that. Quality control is another matter because it requires the consistent, combined efforts of selection boards, SWOS, unit COs, and ISICs to hold the line on standards and weed out underperformers before they get to command.

Based on my experience as the ISIC for CDS-21, in working with my COs, and observing my peers, I am convinced that the Surface community is on the right track with regard to quality control on the path to command. My fellow ISICs and their COs are not afraid to prevent underperforming DHs or XOs from moving on to command. During my current tour as Commodore, I failed two candidates at their CQBs and I declined to fleet-up one of my XOs. In the case of the XO, the CO and I had the full support of both operational and administrative chains-of-command. My COs have collectively Detached for Cause four DHs, removing them from their assignments and essentially closing the door on any opportunity to screen for command in the future. In short, I see Surface community leadership at all levels moving out on implementing or executing policies to drive higher standards and quality control in the Fleet-Up model. I also see a general commitment to removing underperformers at every stage of the SWO career path.

Conclusion

The unit-level XO/CO Fleet-Up policy contributes to operational competence for the reasons discussed, namely consistency in shipboard leadership, the CO’s intimate knowledge of the ship, crew, and mission, and CO’s readiness to command on day one. The combination of these three factors set the conditions for a CO who is ready to operate his or her ship competently and confidently and lead the crew to achieve the combat readiness the Surface community expects and the Navy requires. We will not see these positive outcomes, however, unless we address the risks associated with Fleet-Up. To get after those risks, the Surface community must continue to implement and lock in the various quality control points to ensure we select and train the best available candidates for command-at-sea. An attrition model should be applied at every quality checkpoint, and we should be unapologetic about this. Any competitive system that prizes high performance relies on attrition to screen out underperformers and, equally important, demonstrates a commitment to excellence to our high performers. Finally, the Surface community should continue to screen officers for XO/CO Fleet-Up based on Fleet requirements and return the length of time between DH and XO tours back to the originally envisioned limit. If we continue to invest in the benefits of Fleet-Up and fully commit to mitigating the risks, the Surface community and the Navy will gain COs with greater operational competence, who stand ready to lead their crews and employ their ships with skill and confidence.

Capt. Adams is a career Surface Warfare Officer who has served in a cruiser and multiple destroyers. A former commanding officer of USS Thunderbolt (PC 12) and USS Stethem (DDG 63), he is the Commander of Destroyer Squadron 21. He is a 1991 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and holds a Master of Science from the National War College

Featured Image: YOKOSUKA, Japan (May 3, 2016) Cmdr. Ed Sundberg, off-going commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85), returns a salute to Cmdr. Ed Angelinas, the ship’s oncoming commanding officer, during the ship’s change of command ceremony. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Patrick Dionne/Released)

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)

Abolish the Officer-Enlisted Divide? Negative

The following is an enlisted response to It’s Time to Abolish the Enlisted-Officer Divide at Task and Purpose.

Task and Purpose published an article by former active duty Marine William Treseder titled, It’s Time to Abolish the Enlisted-Officer Divide”. As an active duty enlisted member that would like to see some changes to the current regulations, I was disappointed by both the arguments and the lack of a solution presented.

Early in the article, we see this: “Despite significant changes in almost every aspect of the defense department, however, a lot of outdated practices remain. The worst offender is the distinction between enlisted and commissioned personnel.”

The worst offender is the distinction between enlisted and commissioned personnel? Why? What makes it the worst offender? I can think of any number of gripes and complaints I’ve heard from my shipmates (both officers and enlisted), and the enlisted officer divide is at the bottom of that list, if on the list at all.

The fundamental divide between an officer and an enlisted member deals with Responsibility, Authority, and Accountability. Simply, an officer is given more, and more is expected from him/her.

Many junior enlisted (myself included when I was but an ET3) look at an Ensign and don’t have an understanding of what accountability is. When junior enlisted make mistakes, the consequences are generally small. Treseder mentions his job as a corporal in charge of a fire team of six Marines. Yes, that is an enormous responsibility, but fundamentally different from the level of responsibility an Ensign standing Officer of the Deck underway has. While both have control over life and death, the impact is different. National security is impacted when a ship runs aground, if a fire team loses two Marines it is a tragedy for their families and teammates, but the mission will still continue, and national security is very likely to be maintained.

Furthermore, an Ensign’s mistake is likely to be the end of their career, while a junior enlisted’s mistake will generally result in reduction in rank and restriction…but a career-even a very successful one-is still possible.

Interestingly, Treseder points out a great explanation of what the difference between officers and enlisted is that came from Quora. I recommend following that link, because former active duty Marine Jon Davis explains the differences very well. This is waived aside by Treseder, however, by saying the difference between the two groups is “imaginary…convenient system we keep using because it is easier than trying to reorganize”.

As an Electronics Technician with 11+ years in the Navy, let me be the first to say that while I have no problem regularly scoring in the top 10% of my shipmates on the advancement exam, and a qualified Junior Officer of the Deck underway, I have very little knowledge on how to be a Department Head on a US Navy warship. Could I learn? Absolutely. But I would first have to learn how to be a Division Officer, spend at least one deployment as Officer of the Deck, learn how to think and act like an officer instead of an enlisted person, etc. Troubleshooting radios and ensuring communications work is vastly different from running a department.

To say there is a difference between the two groups is not to say that one is superior to the other. Only you can make yourself feel inferior to another human being. Anyone with military experience knows the difference between a leader who can make things happen, and one who can’t. I’ve met boot Ensigns that were better leaders than some Chiefs, although the opposite is generally the case. No leader relies on rank to make things happen: leaders get it done; rank follows. Both officers and enlisted use the same basic tenets of leadership, but each lead in different capacities. It is a disservice to each to pretend there is not separation of responsibility, accountability, and authority.

This reminds me on another thing I hear on occasion from junior sailors: “we should salute Chiefs”. The mistake made there is that a person requires a salute to be respected, or that a salute somehow solidifies their leadership role. But as a service member moves up the ranks, it becomes more obvious that Chiefs don’t need a salute to be effective. Their ability to get things done, which was rewarded with anchors (not created by them), commands respect.

Here’s the money quote, which directly contradicts the first paragraph of the article: “The military currently organizes, trains, and equips its personnel based on the assumption that everyone — save a select few — is a conscripted idiot who needs constant supervision.”

In case you forgot the first paragraph: “Our services are better manned, trained, and equipped than ever before.”

Which is it? Are we better trained now, or not? Why did the author put that line in the first paragraph, if he doesn’t believe it to be true?

jopa-patchI’m going to go out on a limb and say if you’re treated like a conscripted idiot, you’re probably creating that reality for yourself. And that is a reality that is neither confined to the enlisted nor the officer ranks. And if you don’t think that new officers are frustrated by their superiors, I’d suggest you find out what JOPA stands for.

Let’s stop fiddling with our military for five minutes and appreciate some of things it actually does correctly.

ET1(SW) Jeff Anderson is the San Diego CIMSEC chapter president and currently is assigned to LCS 2 (USS Independence).