Originally found at
27 March 2001
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Read with great interest your report entitled "American Military Culture in the 21st Century." I thought you might be interested in my thoughts as I read the report.
For your information, I am a single white male Army battalion operations officer, thirty-nine years old, no dependents. I have seventeen years of service in Korea, Europe, the Balkans and the US, to include time in the 2nd Infantry, 101st Air Assault, and 1st Armored Divisions. I also served as an observer/controller at the Joint Readiness Training Center, and have instructed at West Point and the Aviation Officer Basic Course.
1. In my opinion, Army basic training is no longer a rite of passage. I cannot write with any authority on what occurs there, but weekly I receive the graduates. New soldiers are increasingly undisciplined, rebellious, and more concerned with their rights than their responsibilities. They often have little sense of teamwork or duty. My suspicion is that the "Army of One" mentality (in place long before the phrase was coined) is teaching them to ask not what they can do for their country, but what their country can do for them. Army recruiting strategy with its offers of money and more money is where this pathology begins. Since there is apparently little quality control in basic training, active units receive, relatively unmodified, the raw product of American Society. I would prefer to see (A) Recruiting based
on the Marine model, because one gets what one asks for. The USMC asks for young men who wish to serve their nation and challenge themselves, while the Army asks for people who want money. (B) Even if it means a smaller Army, I would prefer to see some quality control in basic training. In short, if recruits do not meet rigid standards of ethics, behavior, and performance, they should not be allowed into the service, period. (C) Basic training that is a tradition based and challenging rite of passage. Bottom line: Recruits must join the Army, not the other way around.
2. I do not agree that soldiers identify with the Army as the report contends. Junior officers and soldiers identify with their small units, and senior officers and NCOs with their staffs (commanders and command sergeants major excepted). I believe that the importance of service identity is overstated, and that now is the time to transition to one service. The pay-off in procurement and standardization would be immense, without damaging unit cohesion. The other side of the coin, however, is that morale is so poor and unit cohesion at the lower levels so weak due to years of over commitment, under resourcing, micromanagement, and social engineering, that morale needs some intensive shoring up. I believe there are some ways to do this: (A) Give us back our officer and NCO clubs. They may not be efficient, but they are effective in building esprit and strengthening the ever-weakening line between the ranks. (B) Power down. Our company commanders are no longer that, but instead "company managers." Let's get brigade commanders and division commanding generals out of company physical training programs, and instead focused on directing their staffs to do more than crank out endless taskings which do not support battalion essential combat tasks. (C) Allow units to develop and propagate unit specific symbols and insignia at the battalion level. (D) Recruit regionally and field units on the now defunct COHORT model. (E) Organize in multi-functional regiments on the USMC model.
3. I do not believe as the report contends that we have demonstrated military prowess in Desert Storm, Bosnia, or Kosovo. The report did not mention Somalia in this vein, a conflict that demonstrates how bad things can get when we face a resolute enemy. Therefore, the "lessons of success" learned in the Balkans and Desert Storm need some perspective. What we have demonstrated is that because we have a lot of money, we can overcome an enemy that does not fight, or is more concerned with criminal activities than military engagements. I believe that, should we face a resolute enemy in open combat, the results would be catastrophic (Bunker Hill, Bull Run, Kasserine Pass, Task Force Smith, Vietnam, Somalia). America, between its major wars, has a long history of demanding efficiency rather than effectiveness from its Armed Forces. Unfortunately, the Armed Forces are not IBM or Microsoft, nor are they the Department of Interior or Bureau of Weight and Measures. Efficiency rather than effectiveness in peacetime translates to heavy casualties in the opening weeks of the next real conflict.
4. I was interested in the comment of the report that "military culture by definition must differ significantly from civil culture in a democratic society." I could not agree more, which is why I am perplexed at the Herculean efforts in the last ten years to civilianize the military.
5. Beware the fidelity of survey data. The atmosphere of fear in the Army is impossible to overstate. Years of conditioning to zero-defects and fear of offending have resulted in answers to survey questions that will be generally lukewarm at worst. More importantly, survey data is manipulated by the chain of command. While I was in Kosovo, yet another of a seemingly endless line of "Blue Ribbon Panels" traveled there to sound a group of captains reference retention. Prior to the arrival of the panel, the senior officers dictated that no maintenance or headquarters company commanders would participate, knowing that these are the most thankless command positions. Additionally, the senior officers further weeded by name the remaining line commanders. The best survey or interview is the one in which the interviewee does not realize he is being interviewed. If you want to know what the Army is thinking, just listen to soldiers converse in bars. Pay particular attention to junior NCOs and officers.
6. Because captain retention is so poor, Department of the Army has chosen to make captains from lieutenants at three years of service. Additionally, the selection rate for captain was this year 99%. This decision is typical of the kind of short-sited decision making common at senior levels. The long term result is incompetent captains, whose poor leadership creates disgruntled soldiers and NCOs who resign or do not re-enlist. The captains themselves, frustrated that they cannot perform as expected, will also resign as soon as they can. Recommend fewer officers of higher quality. If this means a smaller Army, so be it.
7. Casualty and risk aversion, euphemized in the Army as "force protection," have expanded beyond all logical proportion. In Kosovo, I actually heard a brigade commander say "The worst thing we can do here is discharge a weapon." I tend to take the more traditional view that the worst thing a military force can do is fail in its mission.
8. Commanders and other leaders within the Army are daily faced with the following conundrum: Follow the regulations, or accomplish the mission. Our penchant for risk aversion and micromanagement has done away with judgment, while regulations reproduce themselves at an alarming rate. The cynicism and stress on integrity the above conundrum creates is a huge burden. One of the reasons junior officers join the Army is for the opportunity to exercise their judgment. If platoon leaders are not allowed to do this, why have them? Put a pile of regulations in their chairs. Soldiers requiring management can consult the regulations, judgment no longer required.
9. "Proper" race and gender relations, currently propagated in the Army by the much despised and canned "Consideration of Others" program, has guaranteed the poorest possible social climate. We have taught a generation of soldiers to see themselves not primarily as soldiers, but as African-Americans who happen to be soldiers, or females who happen to be soldiers. Worse yet, we have taught them not to be polite and respectful, but instead to carry chips on their shoulders, searching for someone to offend them. The result in the loss of unit cohesion has been devastating as soldiers are isolated in social fear. Additionally, the never-ending stream of "African-American Months" and "Asian-Pacific American Months" has done nothing more but accentuate differences. Recommend we have "American Soldier Year" and be done with it. The self-fulfilling prophecies created by racial and gender hypersensitivity are assisting in the destruction of morale.
10. Technology, as useful as it is, has helped to create slaves to perfection and intense micromanagers. The man-hours wasted on just the right color for power-point presentations number in the millions, while subordinate commands await the "perfect" operations order. Junior officers watch senior officers slave away on presentations for generals and ask themselves "Do I want to be doing that in three years?" Perhaps if the generals would refuse to accept this kind of waste, the colonels would follow suit. Additionally, nobody wants a corps commander in their tank or cockpit with them. Recommend we stop the search for real time terrestrial omniscience at the higher levels, and start trusting our subordinates again. Human nature dictates that what can be known will be known. The question is, just who needs to know it? Does the theater commander really need a monthly report on venereal disease cases in platoon X? I think not, but he gets one by name and social security number.
11. We have entered an interesting and twisted period in military sociology when abuse is not defined by the institution or the senior, but rather by the subordinate. The ramifications of this environment are self-evident. Schofield's venerated definition of discipline is often quoted to justify this position: "The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment." Nowhere in this statement does Schofield indicate that the private soldier should define "harsh and tyrannical."
12. The Army has long been wedded to what I have come to think of as the "Chase your tail" method of training. As we move from execution to execution, the training of subordinates suffers. We do so much so rapidly that little is done correctly. We "check the block" and move on to the next task. I recently saw a corps G-3's annual training calendar, of which he was exceedingly proud. Not a block of empty space on it. When then, do the division, brigade, battalion, and company commanders, not to mention platoon leaders and NCOs, have time to train as they wish? Either the corps G-3 knows every platoon's training needs better than platoon leaders, or there is something very wrong. Here in USAREUR my battalion requires 397 days to meet the annual training requirements placed on us by higher headquarters. Simultaneously, my battalion services endless garrison support taskings and those of higher headquarters to resource someone else's training. Meanwhile, company commanders are chided by general officers for not giving their soldiers predictability. One does not know whether to laugh or cry. The solution for this problem is simple...slow down. We can do a few things very well or we can do a great many things poorly. There is no middle ground. Long ago the military developed the concept of main and supporting efforts, as well as mission essential tasks. If we would employ these concepts, everything would not be a priority, and unit focus would not shift from day to day. Movement is not necessarily progress, nor is constant re-organization.
13. The study made much of married soldiers and soldiers with dependents, asserting that these are stabilizing influences. Apparently no one interviewed any company commander known to me, some of whom spend upwards of half their time dealing with family abuse, teens in trouble, dependent related alcohol and drug problems, unwed pregnant soldiers, single soldiers who have no plans to care for their children in the event they deploy, etc., etc. I remember several years ago a USMC general suggesting that junior Marines should not be married. He was pilloried in the press, but I think he was correct. Recommend that the services accept no first term married soldiers, and that all unwed pregnancies be immediately discharged.
14. Soldiers generally are not opposed to deployments. The problem lies in the perceived value of the deployment. If I am to ask my soldiers to separate from their dependants for six months once every two years, I must give them a good reason to do so. Police work in Kosovo is not what I consider worthy of that kind of sacrifice. We do more, but it is meaning less. I cannot overstate the cynicism that this situation creates.
15. I similarly cannot stress enough the importance of swift, bold decisions to solve these problems, or at least to acknowledge them. I am aware that the Army is a large organization averse to change. I am similarly aware, however, that many of these problems were apparent ten years ago. Executive summary after executive summary, panel after panel, committee after committee, task force after task force, with no tangible results other than new headgear (make no mistake, even the lowliest private sees that pitiful measures for what it is). Soldiers have lost patience. Having taught at West Point, I maintain an active correspondence with dozens of junior officers I met there. I do not know one who is planning on staying in the army past his initial commitment. Company commanders are refusing second commands, and captains are refusing first commands in favor of resignation. Lieutenant colonels and colonels are also refusing commands. These actions were very rare...almost unthinkable ten years ago, yet they are all around us today. We have a problem that requires serious effort. Our greatest threat is not criminals in Kosovo, weapons of mass destruction, or Osama Bin Laden. Our enemy is domestic: rock bottom morale. We wonder which of two unpalatable situations we face...either the senior leadership does not recognize the low morale, or they do recognize it and do not care. In my opinion, anything we do which distracts or keeps us from solving the morale problem is tantamount to re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
16. The report repeatedly suggests that military service is not fun anymore. There is no truer statement. Most everything we had that made the service fun has been taken away from us. The net result of the loss of fun or job satisfaction is a "workaday" attitude. I see in myself and in more and more officers a view of my service as just a job, rather than a way of life. I never thought I would see it that way, and was surprised and saddened when I did. The Army I joined is not the Army I am in, and I believe I am betrayed. Idealism has met reality, and those two concepts are too far removed from one another.
I am aware that as I have written, my comments have become increasingly emotional and urgent. I have allowed this to happen, and you receive this letter without edit. Those of us who live in this environment day in and day out are extremely frustrated, and I wanted you to read that frustration, unvarnished.
Finally, one of the "things" that frustrates me most is the lack of survey feedback. Armies of lab coated technicians and sociologist sally forth from Washington annually to poke us, prod us, and test us. As they snap closed their briefcases, they always promise us feedback. In seventeen years, I have seen feedback twice, once when Prof. C. Moskos provided me some directly at my request, and once when I saw your report a few days ago, purely by accident. The average soldier does not demand immediate solutions. He does, however, harbor the hope that his senior leadership recognizes problems and takes positive, effective action to solve them.
Thank you for your time, patience, and study.