View Full Version : Transforming the U.S. Army Officer Corps

11-07-03, 05:38 AM

Transforming the U.S. Army Officer Corps

First of Two Parts

By Donald E. Vandergriff

Many of the reforms Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker is currently pushing on his service merit our applause.

One of my favorites is the new program, “Every soldier a rifleman first.” Other reforms include the transformation of the personnel system from individual to unit manning in which officers and enlisted personnel will stay together through a three-year cycle. Such moves also mean many second- and third-order effects on Army culture.

One as-yet unanswered question is: Should this “every soldier a rifleman first” concept also apply to the officer culture? As one who has studied military personnel issues for many years, I believe that it should, and have outlined a way in which the Army can successfully carry this out.

I call it, “Every officer an enlisted soldier first.”

One of the questions I frequently hear is how will unit manning impact the Army’s officer culture. A better way to phrase this is, “Will the Army officer culture destroy unit manning before it has a chance to succeed?” There is evidence that without a radical transformation of how we select and train Army officers, unit manning and other essential reforms may be doomed to failure.

Studies on the Army’s unsuccessful unit manning program of the 1980s called Cohesion, Readiness and Training (COHORT) found that units in the program evolved much faster than units still utilizing the Individual Replacement System (IRS). Studies also found that the constant rotation of officers and senior noncommissioned officers was an impediment to COHORT units reaching their full potential.

In the past, as well as today, many Army senior leaders and personnel managers believe it more important to sustain Progressive-era personnel policies that focus on the individual than to keep the same leaders throughout the life cycle of a unit. The Army’s entrenched personnel bureaucrats – then and now – see individual career progression as more important than unit readiness. This has even occurred in Iraq this year as commanders at all levels were initially being rotated out as the troops stayed in the fight, seriously hurting morale. Fortunately, Gen. Schoomaker has ordered this Vietnam-era failed practice stopped.

Dr. Faris Kirkland, a principal researcher into the COHORT experiment, found that few leaders sent to COHORT units knew how to foster “the development of vertical cohesion [between leaders, NCOs and the troops] and its resulting dramatic improvement in mission-related performance.” Kirkland also discovered that the Army’s system for producing commissioned officers – West Point or ROTC, along with the officer basic course and any follow-on schools – created officers who could not keep pace with the challenges that they confronted when assigned to units in the COHORT program.

As these units mastered tasks that IRS-filled units could not master more than once with the same people, the COHORT units kept asking their leaders for more, and those leaders, brought up under the old system, could not produce. Officers grown under the old industrial “make-or-break” promotion system failed to understand the training challenges that COHORT units presented. From captains commanding COHORT companies to colonels commanding brigades with COHORT battalions, these unprepared leaders could not appreciate what they had, and could not create a mission order in that new command climate designed to fully leverage the full combat potential of their units.

In my 2002 book, “The Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs,” one of the most controversial proposals for reform was that every commissioned officer should first serve in the enlisted ranks. The goal is that officers would then possess the range and depth of experience to deal with the complex leadership challenges inherent in units organized under the Unit Manning Initiative. Future lieutenants in the future would arrive at their units as both experienced soldiers and well-trained leaders.

History provides strong evidence for how this concept would succeed. The most successful armies, particularly the Israeli Army from 1948-1973, and the German Army from 1864-1944, practiced very tough officer accession policies. Why? In the come-as-you-are-wars that they fought (and the U.S. Army is fighting now), leaders discovered there was no time to develop and “grow” their junior officers. They had to be a competent element of that unit from the time it crossed the line of departure to battle.

The needs to create vast numbers of officers for both World War I and World War II (and later Vietnam) evolved to today’s system of using the attendance of college as the most important criteria for obtaining a commission. This occurred in the absence of a professional military accessions system. Quantity versus quality became more important as the United States fought its wars of attrition using material and firepower rather than brain power.

In reality, what “Every officer an enlisted soldier first” would do is help screen out from the officer ranks early on any poor and unmotivated candidates. I always say, “No officer is better than a bad officer.” Additionally, by requiring them to go through the enlisted ranks first, it would help ensure that potential officer candidates possessed the high degree of motivation that would enable them to succeed.

Here is how such a system would work:

The officer candidate enters basic training, where a screen – consisting of psychological testing – is made to identify the candidates deemed suitable for leadership positions. As candidates complete AIT, a further screen – using more psychological testing and decision-making tests – determines whether each candidate is adequate for leader training or should remain in the enlisted ranks.

As potential officer candidates proceed through their enlisted service, personnel experts will monitor them and identify those viewed as strong contenders for Noncommissioned Officer Candidate School (NCOCS), the next stop on their path to an officer’s commission.

The same drill continues as the soldier advances into the NCO ranks after attending NCOCS and during service as an NCO.

Once those identified as officer material complete their enlisted time (a minimum of two years), they will receive full scholarships to ROTC programs, or appointments to attend West Point.

The end result will be that every officer in the future U.S. Army will already be a successful rifleman and junior NCO in a unit before arriving at West Point or a university ROTC program. The best candidates go to combat arms as officers, but even those selected for CS/CSS service will have survived a tough selection process.

By creating junior officers from exceptional and seasoned soldiers, the Army will create an entirely new leadership environment where 2nd lieutenants enter their units already respected by from soldiers and NCOs who know what those leaders had to do to earn their commissions. This will strengthen the unit manning system with trust all up and down the chain of command.

The “enlisted first” concept proposal does several things for an Army that desires and urgently needs speed and mobility in this era of 3rd and 4th Generation Warfare:

* Every officer will know what it is like to be a rifleman – having been there already.

* Every NCO assigned to a CS/CSS unit will perform assigned duties with a sense of urgency confirming that each one knows from personal experience on the receiving end, just how important the support function is to combat arms units.

* Every officer will intimately know the tactics and techniques of individual self-defense and installation force protection of the CS/CSS mission, and will be prepared to plan, conduct and supervise their units in the defense and local counterattack role.

* Every officer will be a combat-ready replacement for a combat arms unit, of proven capability to be thrown into the breach, should a crisis require it.

So before the Army organizes its new “Every soldier a rifleman first” program, the service’s leadership will be well-advised to launch the “Every officer an enlisted soldier first” plan.

Next: Selecting officers for command and promotions.

Donald Vandergriff is a Contributing Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at vandergriffdonald@usa.net.




11-07-03, 03:23 PM
Maybe they should just send army officer candidates to TBS at Quantico and save trying to re-invent the wheel.
Best officers in the world come from TBS