View Full Version : Learn From the Past Before It Is Too Late

07-18-03, 05:33 AM

Learn From the Past Before It Is Too Late

By Donald E. Vandergriff

Can you imagine General Eisenhower returning to the States just two months after the surrender of Nazi Germany? Can you imagine Maj. Richard Winters – the heroic citizen-soldier from Stephen Ambrose’s renowned World War II history, Band of Brothers – returning to the States only a month after the defeat of Nazi Germany to get on with his career?

I recommend to nominees Army Secretary James Roche and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, please pull out the 1970 U.S. Army War College report, Study of Professionalism, written by then Colonels Walt Ulmer and Mike Malone – and read it! Its findings show what happens when our culture forces its leaders to pick their careers over their soldiers.

Now I am hearing we are beginning to use tried and failed methods to keep up personnel strength in units in Iraq? Tell me it is not so! That old Frederick Taylor, the great 19th century industrial theorist, the real hand behind the assembly line, is at work again.

We do know better. Why has the Army formed a Unit Manning Task Force composed of some very bright people to come up with ways to revolve personnel policies around a unit manning system?

Before Unit Manning, the personnel system also made attempts to haphazardly rotate units to and from Afghanistan. Our culture allowed the personnel system to throw them together, and then tear them apart upon their return (like we do after CTC rotations). But, it was a positive start. Oh, did I mention, but we still changed commanders out while units remained – remember the 101st brigade change of command in Afghanistan.

With Operation Iraq Freedom (OIF) we waived many policies that allowed the 3rd Infantry Division to cross the LD on March 21 with solid teams of soldiers, led by leaders at all levels that had worked and bonded into a “band of brothers” through tough training in harsh conditions. This formula was a central part for the 3rd ID’s success.

I knew this could not last long. It was too good to be true. The personnel managers took the reins back. War is a distraction from the more important job of managing careers.

But now we are at war and will remain at war for quite a long time. It is time for a revolution in our industrial age personnel system that focuses on the individual at the cost of the unit.

Put yourself in the shoes of a soldier who has trained stateside, done an NTC rotation with that group of soldiers called his unit. He is then deployed months before combat again. More bonding takes place. Trust is built at all levels. A cohesive unit is formed.

Then, some career manager using a career template, based on theories developed a century ago, says it’s time to move this soldier’s commander. “Others are waiting in line behind, we have to be fair,” they say. “Other jobs must be filled stateside. We must be fair.”

Is it fair to the unit in combat, its soldiers, to watch the commander drive away, fly away, while the soldiers remain? After the change of command formation, the soldiers return to patrolling, checkpoints and convoy security. Officers come and go – this sounds like another war, a threat to cohesion and morale. Unit effectiveness has to be degraded as the unit adapts to the ways of the new commander. We have produced more officers than we need.

Imagine now that you’re the new guy just arriving at Baghdad International: First you were shipped with many others to Kuwait. You notice how hot it is as you’re bristled off individually to a unit operating somewhere in Iraq. You join a unit that has already been there for a while. You’re the “newbie” – the one that no one trusts, the one that gets extra duty the “vets” don’t want. You are left to learn the ropes of a hostile, strange environment. If something bad is going to happen, it is going to happen to the new guy. The “vets” keep their distance out of self protection. It is a lonely place.

Please, Mr. Roche and Gen. Schoomaker, transforming the personnel system should be one of your top priorities upon taking your oaths of office.

The Army personnel system, characterized by the individual replacement system and the Officer/NCO career management system, is the primary cause of these problems. American units and service members have long suffered from the excessive personnel turbulence and careerism caused by the personnel system. The system itself was last codified at the end of World War II. Several Army Chiefs have tried and failed to change the system. The personnel system is a fundamental repudiation of the efforts to take care of and honor the individual service member.

Opposition to change has historically centered in the personnel bureaucracy.

Personnel turbulence prevents training continuity and thereby causes low readiness, low proficiency standards and high levels of Worktempo and Deptempo as units strive to overcome organizational defects by long hours of training and frequent training deployments.

The existing system allows careerism to flourish. This in turn leads to micromanagement and distrust. It destroys cohesion and turns brothers-in-arms into competitors.

The Army can create units that are more ready and service members who are more satisfied by changing the personnel system. The key aspects of such a change would be to use a unit, vice individual, replacement system and to allow officers and NCOs to manage their own careers. A unit rotation system would allow units to keep people together for three or more years and would allow units to develop true competence, e.g., Delta Force and the SEALs. Allowing officers and NCOs to manage their own careers, in conjunction with the elimination of counter-productive policies like “up or out,” would allow individuals to develop true expertise in skills that are becoming increasingly important.

Transforming the personnel system thus will sharply increase readiness and proficiency while lowering personnel stress and enhancing the satisfaction of individual service members. A new personnel system is essential to obtaining the benefits of Army Transformation.

A 2001 study by the Army Science Board found that Army transformation plans must include transformation of the personnel system. The reasoning is simple: The personnel system prevents current and future combat units from executing their increasingly complex missions effectively.

So I beg the incoming Secretary and Chief of Staff to dust off the 33-year-old Study of Professionalism report, study its findings and lessons, and then adapt and change the old ways before it is too late.

The current Army personnel system does not promote Army Values.

Editor’s Note: The report, “Study of Professionalism,” is not currently available to read on the internet, but attempts are underway to post it for readers’ benefit. SFTT and DefenseWatch will announce the report’s online address when this is done.

Major Donald E. Vandergriff, an armor officer, is a DefenseWatch contributing editor and is author of “Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs.” He can be reached at vandergriffdonald@usa.net




07-18-03, 07:16 AM
"A unit rotation system would allow units to keep people together for three or more years and would allow units to develop true competence, e.g., Delta Force and the SEALs."

Three or more years. I have a question. How are promotions affected?

If an NCO, Staff NCO, or Officer is not afforded leadership opportunities and responsibilities commensurate with his rank what does that do to his subsequent promotion opportunities?

And upon transfer, with TIG seniority but no leadership experience how effective will be be in his new unit?

I agree with the total concept, it's just that I believe that three or more years is too long a time unless adequate thought is given when assigning personnel to the unit.

For example; Assigning a "boot" Corporal to a Corporals billet will have him ready for Sergeant when his tour is up. If he made Sergeant in his first two or three months, he would NOT be ready for Staff at the end of his tour in a Corporals Billet.