Personnel Reform and Military Effectiveness

Photograph of U.S. Army firefight in Kunar
U.S. Soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division return fire during a firefight with Taliban forces in Barawala Kalay Valley in Kunar province, Afghanistan, March 31, 2011. Photo by Pfc. Cameron Boyd.

Interestingly, the literally hundreds of American observers who were regularly sent to the old continent during the course of the 19th century to study the constantly warring European armies completely missed out on the decade long discussion about the revolutionary command philosophy of Auftragstaktik. Instead they focused on saddle straps, belt buckles and drill manuals. This is one reason why the most democratic command concept never found a home in the greatest democracy. The U.S. officers simply missed the origins because of their own narrow-minded military education.[1

Dr. Jörg Muth
21 September 2011

Warfare is first and foremost a human endeavor. Wars are fought by people using their minds. Weapons are only tools used to implement people’s ideas. People and the ideas they wield make the difference between a sharp, decisive victory like Desert Storm and a slow, deadly slog like World War I. Fostering the right ideas requires a culture of Mission Command. Harmful personnel practices preclude such a culture in today’s military, however. The United States now has an opportunity to implement key changes to the personnel system that will retain and promote the right kind of people with the right kind of ideas. Not doing so risks America’s ability to be successful on the battlefields of the future.

The U.S. Military must possess the moral courage to identify the numerous bureaucratic obstacles to reform if a culture of Mission Command is ever to succeed. Once identified, these obstacles must be carefully evaluated, either to be reformed or to be eliminated completely. Any attempt at Mission Command without such an effort will never go beyond the rhetorical level, existing as nothing more than buzzwords on PowerPoint slides and empty doctrinal slogans. Empty gestures will be most damaging to the next generation of leaders, who will be quickly disillusioned when they constantly hear one thing and then watch as the institution behaves in a manner contrary to true effectiveness.

I sincerely wish the Honorable Brad Carson, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Reserve Affairs, the best in his mammoth undertaking of reforming the current antiquated personnel system, as well as its supporting force structure. The personnel system is the foundation of the military culture and how we develop leaders and personnel for war. The current state of affairs is the biggest barrier the U.S. military faces in implementing a culture of Mission Command.[2]

A personnel system fostering Mission Command is decentralized in all aspects. People are granted wide latitude to manage their careers. Quality is the overriding focus, even when staffing and promotion goal numbers are not met. Only high quality and well developed leaders and personnel can execute Mission Command. It is a system based primarily on trust. Without trust, Mission Command is impossible, and without Mission Command you cannot practice Manœuvre Warfare. As defined in the Marine Corps’ capstone doctrinal publication, Manœuvre Warfare “is a warfighting philosophy that seeks to shatter the enemy’s cohesion through a variety of rapid, focused, and unexpected actions which create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which the enemy cannot cope."[3]

When the U.S. Army and Marine Corps adopted Manœuvre Warfare as their official doctrines a generation ago, it signaled a dramatic shift away from what has come to be known as the “American Way of War.” Previously American forces sought to destroy her enemies through sheer industrial might and numbers in head-on clashes, but with Manœuvre, the U.S. Military would defeat her enemies by rendering their forces ineffective through an indirect approach. An ideal Manœuvre campaign would see the enemy defeated without a battle. Accomplishing this requires commanders capable and well-versed in the doctrine to be given the freedom to exercise individual initiative.

Reform is complex not just because it’s difficult, but because it includes consideration of many second and third order effects that must be anticipated and understood to be successful. There is much we can do now, like reforming the 1980 Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA, mandating the “up or out” system), gradually reducing the number of officers (especially at the top), and improving the Army’s education and training programs.[4]

Artwork for the Path to Victory book cover

In Path to Victory, I proposed overlapping reforms to build a force capable of practicing Maneuver Warfare. Such a force has a culture that embodies Mission Command. It is one where leaders would command in annual war games, free-play “force on force” exercises just short of actual combat. These exercises would count heavily toward promotions or reliefs.

A smaller officer corps would be more effective at developing officers. In today’s bloated officer corps, young officers are rushed through command tours in order to give everyone a chance to command. Our captains command too early and too briefly to be effective. It takes time to grow into the job. Most will say they were great, but then immediately turn around and admit they did not “get it” until they were almost done.

Piecemeal reforms are unlikely to work. Instead, reforms must go across the board—or what is called Parallel Evolution—changing several institutions side by side simultaneously. As I described in my March 2005 presentation to the Commanding General of Cadet Command titled “Raising the Bar,”

The Army will fail if it tries to change its parts (institutions) in isolation without changing the culture, particularly in regards to providing the climate to nurture adaptive leaders and innovators. Solution: “Parallel evolution” defines organizational evolution as a holistic problem… [5]

True reform will require broad support not just within the military but also from Congress and the civilian DoD staff. Congress must support these efforts by changing DOPMA 1980 and reducing the number of officer positions mandated by law (e.g., joint services, acquisition programs, etc.). We need to move away from the belief that a military with more officers is a better military. The German military has a saying, “Better no officer than a bad officer.” The U.S. Military should adopt a similar attitude.

 

On Auftragstaktik (Mission Command)

It is not a Command and Control doctrine.

It is not a Command and Control system.

It is not a ticket to a free for all.

It is not a way to write short or no orders or to rely on verbal orders.

Auftragstaktik is a cultural philosophy. It is the highest form of military professionalism. There should be no sole block of instruction in teaching it. Instead, it must be integrated into all education and training from the very beginning of basic training. Even more importantly, it must be integrated into all aspects of so-called “garrison” life, in everything the military does. As a great practitioner, LTC Chad R. Foster says,

The intent behind changing the terminology was to get away from viewing the application of command merely in terms of technical systems and tasks. As usual, we seem to be missing the mark—Mission Command as we SAY we want it to be is a cultural concept, and one that can't be quantified in an easy metric. It also can't be standardized, at least not in the sense of specific step-by-step processes (our institutional favorite, of course).[6]

Historical Photo of Philip Sheridan

General Philip Sheridan

Since the 1870s, when the U.S. Army sent General Philip Sheridan and Lieutenant Colonel Emory Upton to study the Prussian military system—along with the other armies of Europe and Asia—the U.S. Army, like many others, has tried and failed to understand and apply the meaning of Auftragstaktik to its own culture. Muth writes,

Auftragstaktik. The word sounds cool even when mangled by an American tongue. What it means, however, has always been elusive to Americans. The problematic translation of that core German military word into mission type orders completely distorts its meaning. Auftragstaktik does not denote a certain style of giving orders or a certain way of phrasing them; it is a whole command philosophy.[7]

Captain Adolf von Schell, an exchange officer to the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia in the 1930s, translated Auftragstaktik into mission tactics:

In the German Army we use what we term “mission tactics”; orders are not written out in the minutest detail, a mission is merely given to a commander. How it shall be carried out is his problem. This is done because the commander on the ground is the only one who can correctly judge exiting conditions and take proper action if a change occurs in the situation.[8]

Although it has been translated into English in several different ways, it is difficult to understand unless one strenuously researches the origins of the concept. That research shows that the Prussian/German concept is interesting for two reasons.[9]

First it explains how the Germans believed they could operate faster than their enemies. The Germans mean “faster” not just in terms of raw, physical speed, but “faster” in terms of making better decisions. Timely and better decisions results in better physical speed relative to the enemy. Germans accomplished this with a progressive and innovative approach to leader development. Technology was only viewed in terms of enhancing their leader’s abilities make more effective decisions.

Secondly and more importantly, it defines what kind of officers and soldiers a military needs in order to operate successfully under this concept. This is key to understanding what kind of culture a military force must cultivate in order to be successful.

U.S. historians have long explained away German victories in the early years of World War II with tales of superior German equipment and numbers. Nothing could be further from the truth. As prominent historian Dr. James Corum explains in the introduction of Condell and Zabecki’s book On the German Art of War: Truppenführung:

For years after the 1940 campaign the German victory was explained by Germany’s employment of masses of tanks, motorized forces and aircraft against an enemy bound to the Maginot Line and a defensive strategy. However, we know now that in terms of numbers of troops and weapons, the Wehrmacht in 1940 held few advantages. Indeed, it was often at a disadvantage against the Allied forces.[10]

Corum dismissed the Western or Industrial-age tactical principle that an attacking force must have a force ratio advantage of 3:1 to defeat an enemy in a prepared defensive position. He explains the German success in terms of the intangibles of leadership and good ideas, rather than raw numbers of men and material. What counted more was how the Germans developed and nurtured leadership. It was not the content of how they developed leaders, but the environment in which leadership was taught and developed. This is a very foreign concept to many in the U.S. Military, which prefers to focus on content, time, and inputs, rather than outcomes or results. To effectively practice Auftragstaktik a military force must incorporate these ideas every day in everything they do, in war and in peace.[11]

Auftragstaktik is a, broad concept...embracing aspects of...a theory of the nature of war, character and leadership traits, tactics, command and control, senior subordinate relationships, and training and education. It...[is] a comprehensive approach to warfighting.[12]

The common translation of Auftragstaktik as “mission-type orders” or as “mission command” can be misleading. This focuses attention on the mission statement of the U.S. Operations Order. A true understanding of Auftragstaktik would focus attention on Paragraphs 3a (Concept of the Operation) and 3b (Coordinating Instructions).[13]

Auftragstaktik emphasizes commander’s intent, which provides subordinates a framework in which to make their own decisions in harmony with the overall plan:

The German Army used mission statements...in the form of the commander’s intent...The commander then assigned tasks (Aufträge) to subordinate units to carry out his superior’s intent. The subordinate commander decided upon a specific course of action which became his resolution (Entschluss).”[14]

Auftragstaktik “explains basic principles of giving orders for operations.”[15]

Fostering this kind of individual initiative was the guiding principle of German military education. In short, officers were taught how to think, not what to think.[16] Generals Hermann Balck, and von Mellenthin, during discussions with Col. John Boyd and Pierre Sprey in 1979, said they “considered the individuality of the German fighting man—his freedom to take initiative and the system which engendered these policies and attributes—to be the key to superlative German performance.”[17]

In the German Army culture, a higher commander rarely, if ever, reproached a subordinate if he showed initiative. They believed it was better to make a good decision immediately than to wait and make a better decision later, possibly missing a fleeting battlefield opportunity. An unforgivable mistake in such a culture is one of inaction. Waiting for perfect information before making any decision was not tolerated. This attitude extended down through the ranks, to the individual soldier. As Dr. Bruce I. Gudmundsson has written, the German Army was, since the days of Frederick the Great, one of “the most decentralized ones in Europe.”[18]

In situations where contact with the higher commander was lost, subordinates could be trusted to take the action he thought appropriate, rather than stopping and waiting until contact could be re-established. This aggressive attitude allowed units to take advantage of fleeting opportunities and local successes. In short, “... nothing laid down from above in advance is sacrosanct. A subordinate commander ... is justified ... in modifying or even changing the task assigned him” as long as his action supports the higher commander’s intent.[19]

The core of the success of Auftragstaktik was the strenuous selection and development of German leaders. There were three personal qualities the Germans clearly valued in their officers: knowledge, independence and the joy of taking responsibility.

Knowledge served at least two purposes. First of all, knowledge was what made the officer know what to do or was the foundation for making a decision:

At the same time, it was also the main source for generating trust among your subordinates. Independence was also related to decision making. Independence was needed because, as an officer, you were the only one present where decisions had to be made. You could not wait for others to tell you what to do and when to do it. The last and the most important personal quality was the joy of taking responsibility. The joy of taking responsibility was what kept you on the battlefield. It was what forced you to stay despite the horrors you were experiencing. It was what made you endure.[20]

The best way to separate the great from everyone else was holding everyone—from the top commander down to each individual soldier—responsible for their actions. Not only were they responsible for their own units but they were responsible for “service to the people.” This leads to the introduction of the term Verantwortungsfreudigkeit. The 1921 manual of Führung und Gefecht der Verbundenen Waffen in 1921-23, says that “the most distinguished leaders’ quality is the joy of taking responsibility.”[21] German doctrine used this term as early as World War I, but particularly it is highlighted in the 1933 Truppenführung.

Truppenführung delves thoroughly into the concept by stating that “all leaders must in all situations without fearing responsibility exert his whole personality. The joy of taking responsibility is the most distinguished leader quality.” This clearly states how important the Germans viewed responsibility. They strove to cultivate officers who not only accepted responsibility, but actually thrived and excelled in situations when great responsibility was suddenly thrust upon them.

Photograph of sailors stand on the bridge of the U.S.S. San Jacinto

Mission Command Applies to All Branches of the Service (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Why is it important for an officer to enjoy responsibility? Independence was what equipped an officer to handle uncertainty and still make effective decisions. But when faced with the horrors of the battlefield, an officer needs more than just independence to keep him vigorous. When everything is difficult and everyone around him seems to have given up, that is when the feeling of responsibility kicks in. It is the feeling that no one but him can determine the outcome of the engagement after everyone else has given up and he experiences the “emptiness of the battlefield.”[22] This is why “Verantwortungsfreudigkeit” [23] is what makes the officer “endure the situation” on the battlefield, and is the most important quality for a leader.[24]

There is a reason there is no discussion about any single individual here. I do not write about leadership with discussions of a Patton or Grant. Individual personalities do not play a major role in Auftragstaktik.[25] The Germans were able to teach it to a great many officers and NCOs. They discovered a way to make it stick as their culture. It is Auftragstaktik playing the major role and not the people. The following examples highlight how Auftragstaktik enabled good leaders to be even greater regardless of their rank.

History of the Personnel System

Photograph of Elihu Root

Elihu Root (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

A little history will help us understand “the why” behind the U.S. Military’s current Industrial-age leader development approach. In 1899 President McKinley picked Elihu Root as Secretary of War to bring “modern business practices” to the “backward” War Department. Root was a highly intelligent lawyer, specializing in corporate affairs. He acted as counsel to banks, railroads, and some of the great financiers of that era. Root approached reforming the American military by inserting the ideas of management science—then in vogue—into the Army’s ossified decision-making process. He wanted the Army to run like a modern large corporation (sound familiar?).[26]

President McKinley simply tried to bring in the most accomplished people from around the country to serve in his cabinet. His appointment of Root was no different than President Kennedy’s appointment of Robert McNamara to lead the Department of Defense three generations later, with even more disastrous results. Both believed the skills and knowledge that had made them so successful in their civilian pursuits would directly transfer into their government roles. The problem is the military fills a very unique role in society. Specifically, it holds a monopoly for organized violence. Because of its unique role, the military requires unique rules to effectively govern it. Methods that may work in the civilian sector will often be extremely detrimental in the military.

Photograph of Fredrick Taylor

Fredrick Taylor (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

At the center of management science was Fredrick Taylor, one of the intellectual fathers of the modern industrial production system. Perhaps his greatest contribution to production efficiency was to break down complex production tasks into a sequence of simple, standardized steps. This permitted him to design a standardized mass-production line around a management system that classified work into standard tasks and workers into standard specialties. This combination established work standards, and the people who were trained to these standards became interchangeable cogs in the machine. It also greatly simplified personnel management in a vast industrial enterprise.[27]

To be sure, Taylorism transformed industrial production, but it also had a dark side: Taylorism treated people as unthinking cogs in a machine. By necessity, these people had to accept a social system based on a coercive pattern of dominance and subordination, as well as centralized control from the top. Every action and every decision made in the organization was spelled out in the name of efficiency. In theory, the entire regimen flowed from the brain of one individual at the top of the hierarchy.[28]

To this end, Root applied Progressive ideas in personnel management—ideas like Taylorism and social Darwinism—to the Army’s personnel management. This approach should not be surprising. Root was a product of the big corporations that dominated the Progressive Era and would soon dominate the U.S. government.[29] He believed that Taylor’s theories could be used to make the military more efficient.[30] The reforms instituted did make the internal mechanisms of the U.S. Military operate more smoothly to a certain degree, but they had the unintended consequence of reducing overall combat effectiveness.

A complimentary management dogma also emerged during the Progressive Era. This was the theory of “Ethical Egoism,” which asserted that all people are motivated solely by self-interest.[31] By extension, all people would respond predictably to a variety of positive incentives (money, pleasure, advancement, distinction, power, luxury goods, and amenities) or negative incentives (fear of losing the positive benefits, punishment, and pain). Easier accessions, faster promotions, no obligation to attend professional courses, and quicker pay raises are fully consistent with this theory of human behavior.[32]

Taken together, the idea that people are interchangeable cogs in a machine and the idea that self-interest is the only significant motivator of behavior help explain why the military thinks that increasing its “production” of lieutenants, cutting out necessary training for young leaders, and reducing the promotion time to major will solve its statistical readiness issues with deploying units, meet near-term requirements mandated by the Army and Congress for field grades, and address potential retention problems. The ideas of Taylor and Root dominated management science and War Department circles a century ago, and their ghosts still haunt places like the Army’s Human Resources Command and the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel (DCSPER) staff. Moreover, the ghosts of Taylor and Root will continue to haunt the military’s personnel managers as long as Congress shows no interest in rooting out the causes of our personnel crisis.[33]

French Origins of the American System

The “crawl-walk-run” or “lecture-demonstration-practical application” methods used in the military’s leader development curriculums today is also a holdover from a bygone era. This approach was born out of necessity in World War I. The U.S. Army, arriving on the field of battle unprepared for large-scale war, followed the French military approach to education based on the philosophy of René Descartes.[34]

Descartes was a famous mathematician who broke down engineering problems in sequence, making it easier to teach formulas to engineering students. This approach was translated into French military training, where the French found it easy to break down military problem solving into processes (checklists) to educate their officers and their awaiting masses of citizen soldiers upon mobilization.[35]

The Cartesian approach allowed the French (and later the United States) to easily teach a common, fundamental doctrinal language to many new to the military and significantly reduced the time it took to master basic military skills. The inherent weakness of this approach, however, is that it reduces war (complex problems) into a series of processes where the enemy is only a template, not a dynamic, free-thinking adversary playing very important role in determining a plan’s execution.

The Cartesian approach also slows down a decision cycle by turning the planners’ focus inward to its own processes rather than outward on the enemy. Military planners end up spending far too much time creating proper-looking paperwork to please their bosses rather than actually solving the problem at hand. It is the same thing with operations research, a powerful tool for solving certain well-defined problems. Military officers, a majority heavily educated in mathematics and engineering, try to apply the Cartesian approach to all sorts of inappropriate problems. The French, relying on a massed citizen army in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, used it to instruct many citizen officers quickly in military doctrine.[36]

Additionally, the horrendous casualties of World War I and the lethal advancements of modern weaponry forced the French to find a way to teach its officers how to manage these resources properly. They compensated for their lack of unit skills on the battlefield by concentrating firepower. Their orderly and systematic approach to planning was the forerunner to the current US Army’s Military Decision Making Process and the USMC’s Marine Corps Planning Process.

Black and white historical photograph

The First US Soldiers Arrive in Theater, St. Nazaire, France, June 26, 1917 (Source: Army)

When the United States Army arrived in Europe in 1917, led largely by citizens transformed into officers almost overnight, it needed to rapidly learn the fundamentals of the profession of arms. All U.S staff officers and commanders attended French schools in planning and controlling forces in combat. When the United States and France emerged as the perceived victors in World War I, they saw that as a justification of their training process.

After the French developed Methodical Battle in the interwar years, the United States copied it and its accompanying process-focused education. The analytical approach to leader development inherent in such a system supported the nation’s mobilization doctrine, and it worked well for the Army in World War I & II.[37] The attrition doctrine used by the United States in World War II was based on the French style of intense supporting firepower, called “fire and movement tactics.” It relies on one unit firing while another one moves, supported by massed indirect fires (very much in keeping with the French doctrine of Methodical Battle). These fire-and-movement tactics are linear—Napoleonic on an operational level. The doctrine focuses on closely tying in the flank of one unit with its neighbors, rigidly adhering to detailed map graphics, with centrally controlling nearly every aspect of the operation at a higher headquarters. The end result of a doctrine of this type is to force officers, educated to rely on inherently rote procedures, to focus inwards on themselves rather than outwards on the enemy.[38]

1946 photograph of General George C. Marshall

General George C. Marshall (1946)
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

This French-based doctrine was already institutionalized when George C. Marshall became commandant of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1929. Marshall countered the doctrine’s demand for strict obedience in the way he altered the curriculum at Benning to align more with the progressive approaches employed by the Germans. As soon as Marshall left Benning, the school reverted back to its linear and French way of leader development. Both the Army's infantry school and the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, drilled their officer students in tactics devised by the French in the latter part of World War I and during the interwar years. Marshall was the sole exception, who tried to get away from this top-down, rote dogma being taught everywhere in the US Army.

George Marshall was one of the very few to work against such thinking. He advanced many approaches similar to German officer education methods of the same period. He took students to different locations and then changed their mission, forcing them to adapt to the suddenly changed situation. He also allowed officer students to challenge the school solution with their own courses of action. Marshall’s practices in education were advanced for the day, but were also an aberration to the norm in all other Army courses and schools. Also significant was that Marshall attempted to move away from long, formal written operations orders in favor of shorter versions or verbal orders. This was also similar to what the Germans were practicing in all levels of their schooling.[39]

Although a great doctrinal debate existed in the interwar years among officers, the French way of war was deemed the correct way. It helped that the industrial warfare methods were more easily explained than the German approach. American doctrine called for a systematic approach—from strategy, at the highest level, to tactics, at the lowest level—so coherent and so simple that even an army of semi-trained amateurs could quickly learn to fight effectively.

To properly gauge the French influence on army doctrine, one must go beyond what was promulgated in doctrinal publications. The 1930 manual for large-unit commanders was never raised to the full status of "permanent doctrine," but it was extremely influential. Put another way, what a general stamped "official" is far less important than what resonated in the minds of captains, majors, and colonels of that period.

One reason that the Manual for Commanders of Large Units was so popular was that it was familiar. It fit well into the military mentality of an officer corps that had fully absorbed the French approach to war. It was adopted at West Point (which emphasized a Cartesian approach to education), in the writings of Baron Antoine Henri de Jomini, in the extensive study of the French language, in the use of French translations as a means to study German methods, in the influences of the centralized corporate culture of the Progressive Era, and, most powerful of all, in the experience of World War I.[40]

As Dr. Gudmundsson describes, “This does not mean that most American officers were slavish imitators or even enthusiastic admirers of the French army. Indeed, most American officers who served during the interwar period would deny that they practiced anything but a uniquely ‘American way of war.’[41] This was particularly true where infantry tactics and the "spirit of the offensive" were concerned.” Yet, at a time when maneuvers involving forces larger than a regiment were rare, the U.S. Army needed a means of making sense of the tactics of divisions and corps. The French approach in general, and the Manual for Commanders of Large Units in particular, promised to fill that need. The dependence on the trained amateur also institutionalized the doctrine of centralized command and control and authoritarian leadership that began in World War I.[42]

Other military schools, like the Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, were not held in high regard by its graduates for the style of teaching. U.S. Army professional journals at the time carried articles criticizing the poor quality of instruction, as well as more weighty concerns. One writer complained that the instructors were “insufferably boring.” He counted a third of the officer-students who were “frankly and openly asleep” before the writer “himself succumbed.” A more serious criticism appeared in a 1937 Infantry Journal issue. The writer pointed out that the practical problems might last “two or three hours” but in combat the decision-maker might have only minutes to identify and implement a solution.[43]

Students and journal writers criticized the “school solution” as a basis for evaluating performance. The school solution was the “correct” answer to a map exercise, or a tactical problem, as defined by the instructors. Many recognized that the school solution grading method, which relied on inflexible grade sheets, prevented many students from presenting innovative solutions to complex problems. The Leavenworth faculty took these concerns seriously and devised a system of student appeals, recognizing the school solutions might not be the only possible solutions. The system of appeals fostered an environment in which students could experiment with ideas many of them would soon apply in World War II.[44]

Centrally controlled, attrition-based doctrine attempted to make up in discipline and control what the military lacked in thorough training and cohesive combat units. The doctrine also fit into the culture begun by Elihu Root. The Army's (and society's) culture liked the idea of imposing an artificial order on war. But war is inherently disorderly. Army officers were comfortable with this type of doctrine because they were trained to think analytically. Exceptions were few, as in the case of the famed 4th Armored Division commander, John Shirley Wood, who knew better and taught his officers how to integrate different combat arms and to think holistically.[45]

Photograph of U.S. Marines in Operation Allen Brook - Vietnam

U.S. Marines in Operation Allen Brook - Vietnam (Source: WIkimedia Commons)

Doctrine Command versus Mission Command?

Ideas derived before and during World War I dominated the thinking of American military leaders through World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The disastrous experience in Vietnam prompted some within the defense establishment to reevaluate the way United States forces should fight. American military leaders recognized that the single-enemy focus of 2nd Generation Warfare or 2GW (linear warfare) would not be relevant in a 4GW (non-state warfare) world.[46] Transformation to a more deployable, adaptive, and agile force began. Information dominance across the tactical and operational levels, enabled by technology, formed the basic assumption about how the United States would fight. However, the models for designing, testing, and evaluating new concepts remained tied to 2GW types of mathematical and linear threat models used by General William DePuy, the first commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, to justify force development funding in the 1970s. This model needed definitive assumptions about how the Army would fight that could be rationalized mathematically on the linear battlefield.[47]

Even though the nature of conflicts in which the military would engage was changing, the assumptions about threat models used to create change did not. After 30 years and a decisive victory in Desert Storm, it could not question them without calling into question the basis upon which the size, composition, and required capabilities of the force were justified in terms of budgetary requirements. The evolving face of war into the Fourth Generation through new world situations in which non-state groups were becoming more powerful, combined with technological advances on which the DoD was spending development funds, led many to conclude that the military would be able to “do more with less.”[48]

This was and is a troubling paradox for a large institution. Its inability to reconcile the desire to operate in an efficient, businesslike manner, in a world in which the desired results cannot be defined quantitatively, persists. The DoD had firmly attached itself to a force development model in which doctrine was not “how we will fight” the nation’s wars, but “how we will justify acquiring and managing resources” on a macro-level. Doctrine no longer was the engine of change, because the extensive bureaucratic systems built in the post-World War II 2GW world now held doctrine captive to process. Doctrine became overly dogmatic, which defeated the entire concept![49]

Not only did assumptions about how the military must be developed remain stagnant, but many 1970s assumptions about how forces should train remained unchallenged. No one would now argue against the idea that accepted methods used to train soldiers for World War I did not apply to the new battlefield realities of World War II a mere 23 years later. But oddly enough, there are many in uniform today who passionately argue that training methods developed for winning a first battle in Central Europe in the 1970s and 1980s are still unquestionably valid for 21st century battles with state and non-state actors.[50]

The success of Desert Storm exacerbated the problem by apparently validating General William DePuy’s training philosophy of “task/conditions/standards.” It was no longer merely recognized as his philosophy, but instead firmly embedded as culture across the services. Leaders raised under that philosophy chose not to question it—even in the light of Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and other 4GW conflicts around the globe. Tactical problems are viewed as either the failure of subordinates to understand doctrine, failure to develop detailed standard operating procedures applying the doctrine, or political failures resulting in the improper (non-doctrinal) use of military forces. They are certainly not indicative of a need to critically examine Army assumptions and doctrine in the minds of many military leaders.[51]

Commanders determine training priorities based on their analysis of the missions they may have to conduct by devising a Mission Essential Task List (MESL). MESL development has evolved from a tool for commanders to focus efforts to their mission, to a very broad listing of approved task words related to larger and centralized higher headquarters’ use of certification as the primary method for assessing readiness.[52]

Chart Showing Mission Essential Task List

Mission Essential Task List (MESL) (Source: Globalsecurity.org)

While the direct connection between how to train doctrine and how to fight doctrine was unhinged by the emergence of 4GW, Army leaders’ attempts to retain 2GW training doctrine remain strong. To challenge the rationale of the methods used to train was to challenge the doctrine itself. This was professional behavior increasingly less desired by a military still celebrating the leaders and successes of Desert Storm.[53]

A concurrent event at the time, unrelated to war-fighting, helped entrench organizational conservatism in the military. The dramatic drawdown of the 1990s shrank the Army by half and the other services to lesser degrees. The effect of the drawdown on people who remained/survived was to instill a strong professional conservatism and group-think. In the 1980s, internal Army debates about how to fight and how to train that had accompanied evolving Army doctrine were supported indirectly by robust resources.[54]

The drawdown and resource crises of the 1990s slowed and almost stopped doctrinal innovation. Because the defense establishment is biased towards designing and building expensive weapons systems, when budgets conflicts arise, military personnel and training suffer first. This should not be taken as a blanket call for perpetually high defense budgets, but rather better prioritization in the minds of all involved in making decisions about national security. The priorities should always be people, ideas, and hardware … in that order. When defense dollars are limited, decision-makers should first look to cut spending on weapons acquisition programs, not in how people train.

Training became increasingly centralized as commanders attempted to husband resources. Junior leaders were not allowed to squander limited resources learning their craft. Instead, most were taught “what right looks like” by their seniors, because there was too much risk in allowing junior officers and NCOs to develop professionally the same way their seniors did. Innovative training methods such as those employed by Special Forces were considered inappropriate for conventional forces. Junior leaders emulated the behaviors of their seniors, centralizing and directing the “task/condition/standards” activities-driven subordinate activities, and held doctrinal correctness as an essential measure of leader competence.[55]  Junior officers should be trusted to train their troops as they see fit rather than merely executing a rigid training program.

In the Army and Marine Corps, training as a measure of leader competency was also replaced by training resource management, which is quite unrelated to the actual execution of training. Careful stewardship of resources, and the satisfactory completion of resourced events, took precedence over the actual effectiveness of training. Training itself changed from experiential training (proficiency gained through realistic experiences) to event-driven training, following strategies determined by TRADOC. [56]

These strategies determined the approved methods and allocated resources and external “trainers” for unit commanders. The Army’s Combat Training Centers (CTCs) changed from an environment in which leaders trained their units to fight, to a place where outsiders told leaders to follow approved doctrinal methods. The same occurred at the Marine Corps’ Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, CA. The fundamental training methods remained unchallenged by critical analysis and became the hallmark of leader risk mitigation. Leaders who survived the drawdown ended up following doctrinal methods precisely and evaluating others by how well they followed the same methods.[57]

The gap between intentions and reality became public in 2000 as officers and NCOs began voting with their feet. The volunteer professional service lost staff sergeants, captains, lieutenant colonels, and colonels faster than even a smaller military could handle and still fulfil its requirements. Command climate surveys showed wide and deep dissatisfaction with senior leaders, formal schools, training methods, and overly restrictive command climates. “Highlighting the disconnect, it is interesting to note that while General Eric Shinseki, Army chief of staff from 1999 to 2003, commissioned a series of Army Training and Leader Development Panels to try to understand why the gulf existed, the TRADOC commander continued to insist (in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee (HASC)) that training and leader development were the strengths of TRADOC and that there were no issues requiring fundamental change.”[58]

Photograph of General Peter Shoomaker

General Peter Shoomaker (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

By 2003, with the Army CSA, General Schoomaker engaged in changing the Army, not only to help win an ongoing war but to prepare for future security needs, still found he was hamstrung by a generation of subordinate leaders in the institutional Army who survived and thrived by not changing any systems unless they were first given the approved answer. Army leaders—officers and NCOs—became victims of goal displacement. Faced with uncertainty and ambiguity, they transformed what their cultural experience told them they could do (and could not do), into what they believed they should do. It only became worse when the broader organizational and senior leader culture did the same, misusing methods such as quarterly training briefings to measure events as if they were measures of effective training.[59]

Until recently, the Army used training methods for wartime readiness as if it were still the 2nd Generation Warfare, Volunteer Army of General DePuy’s day, expecting to be told what to do, how to do it, and what the standard is. Everyone was assumed to know nothing until trained and certified by an outsider. Indeed, in the operational Army there is still a reliance on TRADOC doctrinal products (and the hierarchy of multitudes of quality assurance inspectors) as a substitute for commanders’ vision, concepts of operation, and innovative training strategies.[60]

When the United States found itself thrust into the murky waters of the post-9/11 world, the military found itself with new operational requirements and many new technologies, but a professional officer and NCO corps that did not really know how to train it to fight and wage 4GW. “It could execute published tasks, under defined conditions, to simulated standards, but the culture imposed upon the Army caused it to struggle with how to fight and how to train to fight when conditions or requirements did not conform to officially approved assumptions.” The DoD had, through its own cultural behaviors in the 1990s, taught itself what to think, not how to think.[61]

As a result, a great deal of training today does not encourage thinking and decision making. In fact, it often discourages it. Although the best instructors—and especially those recently returned from combat—take great efforts to explain to their students why things were done a certain way, the program itself stressed only the mechanical application of tasks. Worse, the atmosphere established during some courses emphasized “total control.” In some units, particularly basic training units extended beyond the point of usefulness, that atmosphere sometimes remained nearly until graduation. Drill sergeants yelled, while instructors at leader courses assumed the “know and be all” stance that prevented anyone from questioning their authority. Cadets, candidates, and junior officers, as well as the troops, asked few questions, and infractions were answered by mass punishment, while education techniques are rote and boring.[62]

The process for training mobilized Guardsmen and Reservists was even more obsolete and narrow. Guardsmen and Reservists, many of whom had active component experience, were treated as if they had never trained their units, and training at the mobilization centers has continued to be lock step in compliance with First Army’s, FORSCOM, HQDA, and CENTCOM training requirements for theater. Many Guardsmen and Reservists have stated, “I’ll deploy again, but I never want to go through another mobilization center run by First Army.”[63]

Young leaders and soldiers are not forced to work things out for themselves or to learn to be individually responsible. Not understanding why tasks are performed a certain way, they often fail to adapt properly to changed circumstances. Fortunately, thousands of leaders at the officer, NCO, and retired levels have recognized the downfalls of today’s training and education doctrine and are moving from the bottom up to fix it, better preparing tomorrow’s military for the changing face of war.[64]

 

Pillars of Today’s Personnel System

The fundamental problem remains untouched, however. The DoD continues to deal with short-term adjustments to an already over-taxed, legacy personnel management system designed to produce officers trained to fight in a linear or Second Generation War. Proposed reforms to the military culture still avoid changing the system’s legacies, which also serve as the four pillars holding up the cultural structure. The four legacy pillars of today’s culture are:

  1. The up-or-out promotion system
  2. Quantity-based vs. quality-based officer accessions
  3. Centralized control of individual performance appraisal and selection systems
  4. A top-heavy officer corps and too many headquarters

The Army pillars include first and foremost the “up-or-out” promotion system. The requirement to achieve periodic promotion or leave military service is the strongest part of the foundation and in turn supports the other three pillars. Knock down the up-or-out policy and the other pillars will follow.

Up-or-out was a unique U.S. alternative to European military organizations’ professional entrance requirements, a step that satisfied anti-militarism sentiments in American civilian society. Up-or-out was also an acceptable replacement for the Congress’s opposition to the rigorous entrance requirements that the Prussians created to restrict and control access to their officer corps. Creating tough professional entrance requirements based solely on aptitude for military leadership in America was almost impossible in the late 1800s, and remains so today.

America’s victory in World War II, defeating the warlike cultures of Germany and Japan, made it appear unlikely and unnecessary to reform the American military system. Even today, one encounters many critical of those who wish to adopt certain methods used by our old adversaries in the U.S. military. However, there are methods the Germans used to great effect in educating junior leaders in cognitive and character development that bear careful examination. Transformation has normally been quicker and more complete for defeated armies unburdened by the legacy of a recent victory. Nevertheless, the goal of this monograph is not to duplicate a specific doctrine or historical period with that of either a victorious or defeated Army.

The German approach established the concepts of both professional and individual trust early in the training process, as every officer–through a shared bonding experience–had to negotiate and pass through the same tough standards. This accomplished the creation of a genuine bond of trust within a small but professional officer corps, and it freed the officers to focus on mastering their profession rather than their career.[65]

The U.S. alternative, while lowering the rigors of initial entrance requirements into the officer corps, created a continual career-long endurance test for those who joined it. This accompanied the Army’s move at the beginning of the 20th century to the philosophy of “Taylorism,” which focused on “producing” large numbers of officers in the event of a major war.[66]

The U.S. officer accessions process became a rough, never-ending road of short-term performance measures far from the standards required for winning on the 4GW battlefield. Up-or-out was created to prevent the appearance of elitism (which other civilian professions such as medicine, engineering and law subtly claim), while proclaiming the façade of equity for all who possess the will to climb.[67]

In fact, up-or-out creates something much worse, as personnel expert and author Lt. Col. Harry Bondy proclaims through his extensive study of personnel management systems:

[The up-or-out policy] does little to improve team performance because individuals do not have a measurable effect on productivity. Legitimacy and commitment suffer because almost everyone not promoted to senior officer and non-commissioned member rank … is dissatisfied with the current system. Those who are promoted and in control dismiss the dissatisfaction as ‘sour grapes’.[68]

Col. Ike Wilson, Ph.D., who is currently assigned as a professor at West Point, points out an additional result of the up-or-out promotion system in a U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) manuscript in 2003:

This author’s criticism begins where [Maj. Donald E.] Vandergrift’s ends: the negative and unintended effects OPA 47 and the present officer management system is levying on officer experienced-based learning. The legacy of OPA 47 continues to enforce the ‘competitive ethic’ that derives from a centralized promotion system that, by design and implementation, ‘defines success’ upon a very small set of critical career-enhancing positions and experiences – command, aide-de-camp (to a general officer), and ‘key and essential’ staff officer positions, such as Battalion and Brigade operations officers (S-3s) and executive officers (XOs). … The argument that a ‘one size must fit all’ approach to officer promotions, assignments, and experiencing is wrought with problems.[69]

Photograph of Air Force Academy Oath Taking

The Pentagon must end the practice of treating military officers as interchangeable cogs in a machine. (Source: Air Force)

The second pillar is an officer “production” system that uses never-ending yearly cohorts (the grouping of all officers, of various skills, needed in the service for that fiscal year)—that creates a yearly “promotion tournament.” This undermines trust between officers and encourages negative competition—as if a new automobile model must be turned out yearly in the competitive automotive industry. This cohort management system was created before the age of computers simplifying the management by pencil at military personnel command. There is no scientific or management theories to explain the need to manage a pool of people by yearly cohorts except to ease control.[70]

The third pillar is the centralized control of promotions and selections based upon individual evaluation systems. In practice, these create the psychological conflicts that counter the values the military espouses. Bondy continues:

Modern management techniques do not always build good social capital and discipline. Research has shown that individual performance appraisal and selection systems, for example, are inaccurate, unscientific, and prone to sub-group subversion. More than half of any rating variance is due to ‘idiosyncratic rater effects’ such as how much the rater likes the ratee; whether they have similar personalities; their views on performance; stereotypes on gender, race and ethnicity; self-interest; sub-group factional interests; and variations in work context, which are significant in the military. Most importantly, centralized transfer and promotion queues lead to frequent, expensive postings that reduce social capital, erode trust, and add to careerist credentialism. The annual promotion ‘tournament’ shifts people between units, as if robbing Peter to pay Paul, primarily to reward the winners. This does little to improve team performance because individuals do not have a measurable effect on productivity.[71]

The final pillar is the top-heavy officer corps. It too has become an accepted truth: The only way of doing business is for the military to possess a high ratio of officers, particularly middle or field grades to junior grades and soldiers. It evolved to the point that both headquarters and laws have been created to justify the officer bloat. However, a top-heavy officer corps is counter to an effective military trying to operate in a 4GW environment, as veteran defense analyst Franklin C. Spinney points out:

The increasing proportion of officers coupled with the downward trend in force size since the early 1950s means that command opportunities have declined over the long term, and command experience has decreased correspondingly, because command tours have become shorter as we shoveled people through platoon- and company-level commands to feed the voracious appetite for officers on the proliferating variety of staffs. This evolution naturally pushed decisions up the chain of command to higher ranks and led to increasing centralization as officers on staffs found it increasingly difficult to justify their existence. Couple that with mobilization-centric personnel policies like the up-or-out promotion system and you have the ingredients for a risk-averse, ticket-punching careerist culture, where self-interest takes precedence over organizational purpose. Not surprisingly, younger people, particularly captains, with their futures still before them, are saying, “This is BS, I’m outta here!”[72]

What the DoD must address and fix are these untouchable legacies that lie hidden underneath many cosmetic proposals to educate and train leaders. The problem is that the legacies, particularly the top-heavy officer corps and the up-or-out promotion system, are valued by those within the military who have thrived within the current system and could potentially lose the most if it were to be disrupted. The military’s strategic leaders must have a long-range vision to challenge the legacy systems in order to replace them with pillars that support a culture that encourages and protects adaptive leaders.

Past Victories Still Influencing Decision-Making

If anything, recent successes like Desert Storm have allowed the Army to unknowingly continue toward a more bureaucratized and centralized organization in light of the proclaimed and real attempts to implement adaptability. The four cultural foundation pillars are the most potent and subtle social control mechanisms in the military’s previously discussed legacies. These legacies, defined by laws and policies, as well as the culture’s criteria of success “have the greatest impact on demonstrating and teaching the values of the organization.”[73]

Retention of these legacies provides the primary power levers for changing or maintaining culture. These legacies, particularly selection and promotions, the up-or-out policy, and individual evaluation systems, presented as inherently fair, determine awards and access to positions of influence and control. They provide specific instructions when tasking subordinates due to an obsession with certainty. The individual and the “system” carefully monitor the execution of their instructions, and track all activities and outcomes with the finest attention to detail. Unfortunately, “professional systems and structures are not very adaptable.”

While emphasis is on the importance of “institutional culture” to properly embrace Mission Command, existing military culture is dominated by a personnel system running on out-of-date assumptions and facts. The regulations, policies and laws guiding the personnel system impact all behavior throughout the DoD. Personnel bureaucrats fight the wars of today with practices from the past.[74]

For example, standards in officer accessions (preparing individuals to become officers) leader development, promotions, and access to military and civilian education opportunities were lowered during the last 14 years. This was done to meet the need for “bodies” or “spare parts” for Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite lessons that should have been learned in the personnel arena during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, these mistakes were repeated during the past 10 years by legacies of the past. In 2010, the Defense Science Board concluded that the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) with “up or out” as its centerpiece and other policies and regulations “have the effect today of inhibiting the Department’s flexibility and adaptability.”[75]

A 2011 Secretary of the Army Human Dimension Task Force found the Army’s solution was to balance input with output by pumping up the input, in this case by beginning to demand more from accession sources, raising the percentage of officers who just made major, considering cutting down time in rank requirements to qualify for promotion to major, and sending lieutenants to a combat zone without attending Ranger school in order to fill “lieutenant slots” in battalions deploying to an insurgency war. In short, despite past evidence of its weaknesses, the conveyor-belt method of mass production of officers ensures only that the quantity of service members remains high. Their quality, on the other hand, is compromised by the inadequacies present in these current methods of educating them.[76]

Photograph of a soldier giving direction

Bold leadership and innovative ideas make the difference in combat. (Source: Marine Corp)

Along with the other cultural foundations, the Army in particular does two other things to undermine its ability to practice Mission Command. The nature of 4GW will require lieutenants to make decisions with strategic implications. Yet they will be provided with fewer development opportunities at the small unit level. This is a recipe for disaster. However, we continue to move them along this conveyer belt. We also persist in the practice of providing short command tours for captains. The rule currently is 12 months to 15 months, with two years two command tours for the lucky 10 percent. From the institutional perspective, it is more important to give everyone a chance than to maintain cohesion and professionalism engendered by longer tours, which is when captains can grow into their complicated and very important assignment.[77]

For the past 14 years, the Army’s solution has been to install a larger bilge pump rather than plugging the hole sinking the ship. Why is this happening in the 21st century? The Army still views the management of its people through the tired old eyes of Secretary of War Elihu Root and turn-of-the-century industrial theorist Frederick Taylor. This was further impacted by the institutionalization of management science by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in the 1960s.[78]

In recent years, the military has retained officers by promoting them, trying to solve a structural problem by bribing people to stay. Leaders hoped the positive incentive of faster promotions could buy loyalty, patriotism, and the moral strength to go into harm’s way. Yet this kind of appeal to self-interest is precisely the kind of policy that has failed repeatedly in the past and will serve only to increase the exodus of our “best and brightest” young people. It is based on the dehumanizing assumption that our officers (and noncommissioned officers) are mindless, undifferentiated, replaceable cogs in a machine. This implies that anybody of a certain rank will suffice. So much for highly developed professionals.[79]

Examples of developing technology instead of personnel abound. Most recently, Congress and the press have been blinded by the sterile promises of another techno-centric analogy—the Air-Sea Battle (“Revolution in Military Affairs on steroids”). This is based on the idea of war as a mechanistic process and that machines are the true source of military prowess, with our opponents standing in the open all day, allowing us to kill them. It was with this belief that the Army went to war with Iraq. As soon as the troops were out of Iraq and starting to pull out of Afghanistan, the Air-Sea Battle, the specter of Root and Taylor, began to haunt the Pentagon once again.[80]

There are dangers of reasoning by analogy. Used properly, analogies are powerful reasoning devices because they unleash the genius of imagination and creativity. Einstein’s thought experiments are excellent examples. But analogies are also very dangerous, because they simplify complex problems and capture our imaginations. Used improperly, they shackle the mind and take it over the edge of the cliff. Believing that the military is like a business, or that good business practices will solve military problems, are examples of misplaced and dangerous analogies.[81]

Effective business practices are often very different from effective military practices such as Mission Command. This is particularly true in the area of personnel policies, where the idea of soldierly virtue embodies the ethos of self-sacrifice and where, as Napoleon said, the moral is to the material as three to one. Numerous studies over the years have pointed out these issues with the American way of war. In 2011, Eitan Shimar stated in Transforming Command: The Pursuit of Mission Command in the U.S., British, and Israeli Armies,

The American approach [to war] was influenced by Frederick Taylor’s principles of scientific management. They sought to control war through efficient planning and execution processes. Thus, for example, the regulations emphasized loyalty as opposed to independent action.[82]

Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno and Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey have endorsed a belief in Mission Command and Leader Development as their top priorities. To achieve these goals, their successors General Mark Milley and General Joseph Dunford must also boldly fight the personnel bureaucrats to achieve the necessary regulation reforms and work with Congress to change laws such as DOPMA 1980. In order to make Mission Command a powerful combat multiplier, they must exorcise the ghosts of Root and Taylor from the defense bureaucracy forever.[83]



[1] Jorg Muth, Command Culture, Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press; Reprint edition, April 7, 2013, p. 44. Also see Jorg Muth, “A Crisis in Command and the Roots of the Problem."

[2] Andrew Tilghman, “New Officer Careers Being Mapped,” Military Times, August 12, 2015.

[3] Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1, Warfighting (MCDP1), Washington, DC: HQMC, June 20, 1997, p. 73.

[4] Donald E. Vandergriff, Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs, Forward by COL Douglas MacGregor, PhD, Novato, CA: Presidio Press, April, 5 2002, p. 315.

[5] Donald E. Vandergriff, “Raising the Bar.” Briefing to Major General Alan Thrasher USA. Slides available online.

[6] Lieutenant Colonel Chad Foster USA, e-mail message to author, April 27, 2015.

[7] Jörg Muth, “An elusive command philosophy and a different command culture,” Foreign Policy, September 9, 2011.

[8] Adolf Von Schell, Battle Leadership, Quantico, VA: The Marine Corps Association, 1988, p. 17.

[9] Ola, Kjoerstad, German Officer Education in the Interwar Years, Glasgow, Scotland: University of Glasgow, 2010, pp. 2-5. (Hereinafter Germen Officer Education)

[10] James S. Corum, Condell, Zabecki (eds), On the German Art of War, Truppenführung, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001, p. ix.

[11] Several books on the subject, as well as even US Doctrine allude to this fact, but very few seem to grasp the significance of it, because so few practice it in times of “peace”.

[12] Richard E. Simpkin, Race to the Swift: Thoughts on Twenty-First Century Warfare, London: Brassey’s Defense Publishers, 1985, p. 18.

[13] John T. Nelson II, “Auftragstaktik: A Case for Decentralized Battle,” Parameters, Carlisle, PA: US War College, September  1987, p. 21.

[14] Daniel J. Hughes, “Abuses of German Military History,” Military Review, Ft Leavenworth, KS: US Army Command and Staff College, December 1986, pp. 67-68. (Hereinafter German Military History)

[15] German Military History, p. 67.

[16] German Military History, p. 10.

[17] Pierre Sprey and Franklin C. Spinney, personnel communication with author, December 4, 2007.

[18] Bruce I. Gudmundsson, Stormtroop Tactics: Innovation in the German Army 1914-1918, Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995, p. 18.

[19] Richard E. Simpkin, “Command from the Bottom,” Infantry, Vol. 75, No. 2, March-April 1985, p. 34.

[20] German Officer Education pp. 42-50.

[21] H. Dv. 487 Führung und Gefecht der verbundenen Waffen (F.u.G.), Neudruck der Ausgabe 1921-1924 in 3 teilen, Osnabrück, Biblio Verlag, 1994.

[22] H.Dv. 300/1 Truppenführung, p. 3.

[23] Quote is from Ola Kjoerstad, “German Officer Education”, p. 67. Also see, Oberleutnant Hauck, “Wissen und Können”, MW 1927, no 38, column 1395.

[24] German Officer Education, pp. 64-69.

[25] Major General von Haeften, ”Heerführung im Weltkriege” MW 1920, no 18, column 389.

[26] Jack C. Lane, Armed Progressive: General Leonard Wood, S Rafael, CA: Presidio Press, 1978, p. 150.

[27] Emory Upton, The Military Policy of the United States, Washington, D.C.: General Publishing Office, 1904, pp. 1-101. The manuscript remained unpublished until Secretary of War Elihu Root had made public in 1904 during his last year in office. Its contents then were familiar to reformers, and most of the ideas appeared Peter S. Michie, The Life and Letters of Emory Upton, New York: D. J Appleton, 1885. Also see, Andrew J. Bacevich, "Progressivism, Professionalism, and Reform," Parameters 5, No. 1, March 1975, p. 4.

[28] Frederick W. Taylor, Scientific Management: Comprising Management, The Principles of Scientific Management and Testimony before the Special House Committee (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), pp. 4-6.

[29] Emory Upton, The Armies of Asia and Europe, Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1878, p. 219.

[30] Richard C. Brown, "General Emory Upton: The Army's Mahan," Military Affairs 17, No. 3, Fall 1953, p. 16.

[31] Alfred Chandler, The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution In American Business, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957, pp. 45-56.

[32] Weigley "Elihu Root Reforms," 24; Frederick W. Taylor, Principles of Scientific Management (New York: Harper Brother 1911), 10-16.

[33] James H. Hayes, The Evolution of Military Officer Personnel Management Policies: A Preliminary Study with Parallels from Industry, San Monica, CA: Rand, 1978, 80.

[34] John W. Masland and Laurence I. Radway, Soldiers and Scholars: Military Education and National Policy, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957, pp. 81-82.

[35] Weigley "Elihu Root Reforms," 24; Frederick W. Taylor, Principles of Scientific Management (New York: Harper Brother 1911), 10-16.

[36] Walter Willis, Arms and Men: A Study in American Military History reprint, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1986, pp. 158-162. See also John M. Gates, "The Alleged Isolation of U.S. Army Officers in the Late 19fh Century," Parameters 10, no. 3, Autumn 1980, p. 14.

[37] Interviews with Capt. Robert Bateman, USA, 13 Aug. 1998, and Bruce I. Gudmundsson, 21 Aug. 2000. See also interview with COL Robert Doughty, 2 April 1999. One of the best arguments for French influence exists in the publication of the French manual A Manual for Commanders of Large Units (1930). This manual filled the gap between the 1923 Field Service Regulations and later tactical manuals published in 1942. It was a translation of the French manual of the same name. However, it was never accepted as official doctrine retained as a "narrative" publication until the Field Service Regulations were updated on the eve of World War II.

[38] Robert Doughty, The Seeds of Disaster: The Development of French Army Doctrine, Hamden, CT: Archon, February 1986, pp. 2-9. One need only compare the 1930 edition of A Manual for Commanders of Large Units to U.S field manuals written in 1942 to see the close resemblance.

[39] John R. Maass, “Benning Revolution,” in Jon T. Hoffman, editor, A History of Innovation: U.S. Army Adaptation in War and Peace, Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 2009, pp. 28-33. Also see Daniel Bolger, "Zero Defects: Command Climate in First U.S. Army, 1944-1945," Military Review 73, no. 4, 1993, pp. 66-67. Marshall would always have a bitter view of the education officers received at Leavenworth.

[40] U.S. War Department, Office of the Chief of Staff,  A Manual for Commanders of Large Units (Provisional), Vol. 1, Operations, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1930.

[41] Bruce I Gudmundsson, e-mail message to author, March 12, 2009.

[42] V. Ney, Evolution of the U.S. Army Division, 1939-1968 Fort Belvior, VA: Combat Operations Research Group, January 1969, D-41,90, p. 112.

[43] Forrest Pogue, Education of a General, 1880-1939 New York: King Press, 1963, pp. 252, 347.

[44] Martin Van Creveld, Fighting Power: German and US Army Performance, 1939-1945, Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, June 30, 2007, pp. 23-45.

[45] For examples of the authoritarian leadership style see, David R. Campbell, Fighting Encircled: A Study in Leadership, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1987), 9-10, 21; Mallonee II, Naked Flagpole, 16-29; Stouffer, American Soldier, 2:49-51, 97, 112-21.

[46] William S. Lind, “Understanding 4th Generation War,” Anti-war.com.

[47] John C. Tillson, Merle L. Roberson and Stanley A. Horowitz, Alternative Approaches to Organizing, Training and Assessing Army and Marine Corps Units, (Alexandria, VA: Institute for Defense Analysis, November 1992), p. 23: A band of excellence resembles a roller coaster of training ups and downs with the band representing the mean average of the surges of training that occur with constant inflow and outflow of personnel

[48] General Paul F. Gorman, The Secret of Future Victories, (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, June 18, 1979), p. 56-57.

[49] Robert A. Doughty, "The Evolution of U.S. Army Tactical Doctrine, 1946-1976," Leavenworth Papers 1 (Fort Leavenworth, (KS: Combat Studies Institute, August 1979).

[50] Major Paul Herbert, “Deciding What Has to Be Done: General DePuy and the Creation of FM 100-5, Operations,” p. 4.

[51] Paul L. Savage and Richard Gabrial, “Turning Away From Managerialism: The Environment of Military Leadership,” p. 58.

[52] Herbert, “Deciding What Has to Be Done: General DePuy and the Creation of FM 100-5, Operations,” p. 44-45.

[53] Barry Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain. and Germany Between the World Wars, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984).

[54] Robert W. Komer, "Strategy and Military Reform," Defense Reform Debate, ed. Asa A. Clark IV and others (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), p. 14 (in footnote 1).

[55] McCormick, p. 120-156; Dave McCormick talks about the selections for early retirement boards used to help accomplish the Army’s drawdown.

[56] James G. Pierce, Is the Organizational Culture of the U.S. Army Congruent with the Professional Development of its Senior Level Officer Corps?, (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College, 2010), iii.

[57] Herbert, “What Needs to be Done…”, p. 23.

[58] McEnery, “Changing Army Culture,” p. 6. Department of the Army, Army Capstone Concept, iii–11. For the past several decades, the Army’s doctrine consistently referenced the vital nature and essential element of “adaptability” both organizationally and operationally. A review of historical documents and Army Field Service Manuals, FM 100–5 and FM 3–0 (Operations), as well as FM 22–100 and FM 6–22 (Leadership), for the past 50 years, demonstrate and reference the imperative that doctrine, strategy, operations, tactics, organizations, and leaders must be flexible and adaptable in the face of fluid, changing environments, missions, requirements, and adversaries, as circumstances may require.

[59] General Peter Schoomaker, “The Future of the United States Army.” Remarks given at the American Enterprise Symposium, “The Future of the United States Army,” April 11, 2005.

[60] Asymmetric Warfare Group, “Outcome Based Training and Education: Fostering Adaptability in Full-Spectrum Operations,” briefing, December 2008, slide 7.

[61] From discussions with Command Sergeant Major William “Morgan” Darwin (USARet.) December 2007 through March 2009.

[62] Colonel Casey Haskins, “Commander’s Mid-tour Assessment, 198th Infantry Brigade,” unpublished memorandum (Fort Benning, GA: U.S. Army Infantry Center, August 13, 2007).

[63] Colonel Mike Galloucis, “Changing the Army Culture,” unpublished memorandum. Army CSA Staff group (Washington, DC: Department of Army, February 13, 2005).

[64] William M. Darwin, “Adaptability Learning Symposium,” Asymmetric Warfare Group (Fort Meade, VA: AWG, December 11, 2007), slide 3.

[65] Defense Science Board, Enhancing Adaptability of U.S. Military Forces (Washington, DC: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, 2011) 140.

[66] Casey Wardynski, Davis Lyle, and Michael Colarusso, “Toward a U.S. Army officer corps strategy for success: employing talent,” Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army, 15 March 2011.

[67] Maren Leed and David Sokolow, The Ingenuity Gap—Officer Management for the 21st Century (Washington DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2010), chap. 3 and 4.

[68] Lt. Col. Harry J. Bondy, “New Regiments, New Specialist Corps, and a New General Staff.” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies. Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Institute. Winter 2004. pp. 3-5.

[69] Maj. Isaiah Wilson, III., “Educating the Post-Modern U.S. Army Strategic Planner: Improving the Organizational Construct,” (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies. February 2003) pp. 43-44.

[70] Kent W. Park, “Assembly Line to Custom Design: Reforming the Officer Development System,” (Association of The United States Army, Land Warfare Paper no. 81, 2010).

[71] Author e-mail correspondence with Lt. Col. Harry J. Bondy (Canadian Army), April 2005. Also see: Bondy, “New Regiments, New Specialist Corps, and A New General Staff," pp. 3-5. Bondy and the author have shared many facts and ideas over the last few years. Many of the factors that affect the U.S. Army also affect the Canadian Army.

[72] Franklin C. Spinney and LT Colonel John Sayen, “Sayen Report: Officer Bloat Creates a Shortage of Captains,” Defense and National Interest. July 16, 2000.

[73] Bondy, “New Regiments, New Specialist Corps, and A New General Staff,” p. 3.

[74] Lieutenant Colonel Scott M. Halter, “What is an Army but the Soldiers? A Critical Performance Assessment of the U.S. Army’s Human Capital Management System,” Military Review, (January–February 2012), pp. 16–23.

[75] Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Understanding Human Dynamics, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, March 2009,

[76] Halter, “What is an Army but the Soldiers?”

[77] Brigadier General Mark C. Arnold, “Don’t Promote Mediocrity,” Armed Forces Journal, May 2012.

[78] Ronald Barr, “High Command in the United States: The Emergence of a Modern System 1898–1920,” in Leadership and Command: The Anglo-American Experience Since 1861, ed. G. D. Sheffield (London: Brassey’s Defence Publishers, 2002), p. 57.

[79] Arnold, “Don’t Promote Mediocrity.”

[80] David E. Johnson, Commanding War: The Western Origins of American Military Hierarchy, (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2004), pp. 157–158. The author has had numerous discussions from 2010 through 2012 with Dr. Johnson on these subjects.

[81] Maturin M. Ballou, Treasury of Thought, (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1899), p. 407.

[82] Eitan Shamir, Transforming Command: The Pursuit of Mission Command in the U.S., British, and Israeli Armies, (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011), p. 62.

[83] James G. Pierce, Is the Organizational Culture of the U.S. Army Congruent with the Professional Development of its Senior Level Officer Corps?, (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College, 2010), p. iii. Dr. Pierce postulate(d) that the ability of a professional organization to develop future leaders in a manner that perpetuates readiness to cope with future environmental and internal uncertainty depends on organizational culture.” This hypothesis was based on the assumption that organizational culture enables organizational adaptation; organizational culture perpetuates adaptability and promotes relevance and continued existence. Pierce’s conclusion is alarming. He finds that Army leadership “may be inadequately prepared to lead the profession toward future success (italics added).”

photograph of Maj. Donald E. Vandergriff (U.S. Army, ret.)

By: Maj. Donald E. Vandergriff (U.S. Army, ret.), U.S. Army, retired

Don Vandergriff, CDI Military Advisory Board Member, is the author of four books and over 60 articles dealing with military reform issues, specifically personnel and training reform. His book “Raising the Bar” is mandatory reading for cadre at U.S. Army Cadet Command and the Department of Military Instruction at the United States Military Academy.