Saturday, December 23, 2006

Zooming in on ISG recommendation # 44

While the Iraq Study Group Report has largely been dismissed out of hand by all comers, there are a few gems in it, if one digs deep enough.

Something interesting and illuminating to the public at large is recommendation #44:

The most highly qualified U.S. officers and military personnel should be assigned to the imbedded teams [ of units working closely with and advising/training Iraqi military units] and American Teams should be present with Iraqi units down to the company level. The U.S. military should establish suitable career-enhancing incentives for these officers and personnel (emph. added).

This recommendation exposes a fact those outside of the blue/green machines may find surprising. While military service outwardly seems like an egalitarian venture, inside there are some much more equal than others; for officers specifically, there are those who are on “the fast track” meaning they are competitive for command and promotion to increasingly higher rank, and there are those who are not. In the Army, the former comprises less than 20% of the force, a select few, indeed.

I confess that, having not served in Iraq, I am ignorant of the quality and hard work of the current embedded tactical trainers and advisors. But I believe it is highly unlikely that those deemed to be on the fast track (ie ladies and gents competitive for battalion and brigade commands) comprise the majority of leadership of these teams. Instead, I would posit that many are reservists, individual augmentees, and the like. This is an assumption on my part, but I bet I am right on the money.

This begs the question “Why are the people who are pegged to be the future leaders of the Army not deeply involved in what is no less than the schwerpunkt of our efforts in Iraq?” For the Army’s part, the service has a hard template for what an officer does on a successful career track, and it takes nothing short of an act of congress to change it. It actually took the Goldwater-Nichols act in the late 1980s to change the Army’s mindset on serving in joint (multi-service) billets as something beneficial to career progression.

Serving as an advisor, whether during wartime or not, is not yet something deemed as career-enhancing in the United States Army. Thus, there is no great stampede of the ambitious, hungry set rushing for assignments as embedded tactical trainers. Military culture is conservative, dug in deep, and changing it is always an uphill, controversial endeavor (remember the brouhaha when General Shinseki mandated the Black Beret?)

Andrew Krepinevich, in The Army and Vietnam, did a statistical analysis of the relationship between career progression and advisory duty; he found that as the war progressed, it was much more beneficial for officers to serve in conventional billets than to serve in the graveyard of advisory duties. Hopefully, it is not too late to ensure we are putting our best foot forward in Iraq when it comes to building that fragile state’s security apparatus.

Post Script: By no means am I denigrating the selfless service of those currently risking their skins on the line in Iraq (or Afghanistan, for that matter); rather, I want to detemine two things: Are the future leaders of the Army and other services involved in the endeavors most critical to our success in Iraq, and if not, why?


Rose Covered Glasses said...

There are good points in your article. I would like to supplement them with some information:

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting at my blog entitled, “Odyssey of Armaments”

The Pentagon is a giant, incredibly complex establishment, budgeted in excess of $500B per year. The Rumsfelds, the Administrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.

How can any newcomer, be he a President, a Congressman or even the new Sec. Def.Mr. Gates, understand such complexity, particularly if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?

Answer- he can’t. Therefore he accepts the alternatives provided by the career establishment that never goes away and he hopes he makes the right choices. Or he is influenced by a lobbyist or two representing companies in his district or special interest groups.

From a practical standpoint, policy and war decisions are made far below the levels of the talking heads who take the heat or the credit for the results.

This situation is unfortunate but it is absolute fact. Take it from one who has been to war and worked in the establishment.

This giant policy making and war machine will eventually come apart and have to be put back together to operate smaller, leaner and on less fuel. But that won’t happen until it hits a brick wall at high speed.

We will then have to run a Volkswagen instead of a Caddy and get along somehow. We better start practicing now and get off our high horse. Our golden aura in the world is beginning to dull from arrogance.

Bob W. said...


Thanks for the comment, and I bookmarked your site, too.

Changing organizational behavior in a creature like the Pentagon is extremely difficult, but is not, I say again, NOT impossible.

There are numerous examples of successes in the changes in doctrine or organization by the DOD over the years. The Navy, had it been left to its own devices, would have shelved plans for building aircraft carriers in favor of manly battleships (what Navy Captain in his right mind wanted to command a puny aircraft carrier in the 1930s, when he could command a BATTLESHIP??). Nonetheless, foresight prevailed, and the U.S. won the war in the Pacific largely off the decks of Aircraft carriers.

I think that the type of change required to ensure the best and brightest people are selected by the services as advisers is a relatively small change in the scheme of things; the service chiefs could make it mandatory to serve at least one year as an adviser for all critical promotion and command selection boards; on the Army side, I imagine that the Human Resources Command would be flooded with requests to volunteer as advisors.

Thanks again for your comments, and keep reading and posting your thoughts!

RoseCovered Glasses said...

I really believe we need to listen more to guys like the Pentagon insiders who speak up. See below link:

This guy had some greate ideas back in 2002. I was just about out of gas on the industry side by that time. Spinney has been blowing whistles ever since and so have these guys:

Perk up your ears, America!