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03 September 2015

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turcopolier

TTG

I think minimally qualified would be good way to describe IOBC grads in my time. My class was all WP from the WP class that year. There were nine of us outsiders and the rest "them." They were insufferable in the assumption of their superiority. It was a great shock to them when I placed 2nd in the class overall. Number one was a guy named Ellis who had been Cadet Bde CO at WP that year. He beat me by three points from a possible thousand. Whaddaya think? pl

Patrick Bahzad

Hasn't changed a lot, well a little: same food for COs and NCOs but still separate tables. The navy's nickname to the present day has remained the same: they call it "La Royale" .. Says it all.
As officers, we had no choice but to eat with the navy guys but we would rather have stayed under deck with our men. What we did was to bring food of our own with the gear so we could eat some "saucisson" and huge pieces of ham cut right off the bone when it was just us there ... The navy guys wondered why we ate so little at their dinner table. Guess they thought the food wasn't to our liking :-)

Joe100

WRC -

Probably an M1 81 MM baseplate at about 45 lbs, a four deuce base plate is about 175 lbs and I don't think was considered "man portable"

Patrick Bahzad

PL,

It's real strange but this story of yours sounds very familiar !
We would run into the same kind of issues with the regular "saint Cyr" cadets ! Very cocky and imbued in self delusion about their superior skills, until they would get slaughtered in every combat simulation ...
And still, just as you, number one guy, just a few points ahead of four of us, was one of them ... I know what to think about that !!!

William R. Cumming

Why I asked!

William R. Cumming

P.L. My understanding is WP Infantry Branch officers in the WP Class of 1950
largely KIA in Korea and that attrition led to WP grads going through various Officer Basic Courses.

William R. Cumming

Thanks P.L. So your mortal after all?

The Twisted Genius

pl,

When we returned to Fort Benning for Ranger School graduation, a number of us read the daily inspection reports of the classes after ours. These were mostly West Pointers. The First Sergeant railed about all the discrepancies noted and ended with, "You're a pack of filthy pigs! Get your shit, get out of my barracks and never set foot in them again! Sleep in the street!" They had to sleep on the company street for the duration of their time at Fort Benning. That was in late January. Of course this was the same First Sergeant who came out to the demo range and told us, "I was supposed to bring your chow out here today. I forgot, so piss on ya." Then he just walked away. I still don't know if that was planned or not.

Thinking about it now, I'm surprised how few West Pointers I had to deal with. That is until I took two teams to Camp Natural Bridge to train cadets one Summer. Wish I had a camera for one incident. During survival training we taught a technique for hypnotizing a chicken before killing it to prevent it from running around without a head. I came upon one cadet fast asleep on his knees with his head on the ground and butt in the air. The chicken apparently outsmarted the cadet and was just walking around the sleeping figure.

scott s.

I imagine the culture and concept of the "wardroom" (and though not a flier I see similarities in the "ready room") is foreign to the ground-pounder. It probably can be said that the wardroom was where the real education of naval officers was fostered. I agree we can and should look at other models. There is of course also the idea of the "chiefs' mess" aka "goat locker" which has always been hailed as the backbone of naval leadership. In the USN we have the concept of warrant and limited duty officers, both communities prior enlisted (I think generally convert at the E-6/first class petty officer level). They try to draw a distinction between the two groups but I can't say I really saw a practical difference.

At least for the sea-going navy, you have two different jobs and I think the leadership/training requirements for each differ. Your day job is keeping your fraction of equipment/systems running, taking care of the troops, etc, and your other job is watchstanding where you are the alter ego of your CO. The thing about watchstanding is that typically you are not working with any of your own people, so you have a reputation based primarily on watchstanding with much of the ship. I think that is also an emphasis for submariners, while you have the "front of the boat/back of the boat" thing going on, to be "qualified in submarines" means displaying competency in all watchstanding tasks.

Fred

TTG,

Yes, that's the surface fleet mentality. It was moving into the sub force sadly. It seems some of the mid grade officers thought the attainment of higher rank brought with it additional gratifications rather additional responsibilities. It was a good way to destroy esprit de corps and ruin the retention rate along with it. Now we have the added benefit of the Walmart management approach to personnel; ah "human resources" as in use up your resources (humans) then go get more. I can't imagine what that leadership style will do when one is "in harms way" against a capable opponent. I guess we should just look that the Iraqi army (2014 version) for an idea of where we are heading.

BabelFish

WRC, yes. 1967 to 1971. Was trained at Pendleton after A schools but was not assigned to either a MarDiv or a SeaBee Battalion. My service was East Coast, North Atlantic and the Med.

Trillium

TTG,

what would you say the key lessons you learned from your MSgt mentor were?

The Twisted Genius

scott s.,

Yes, the wardroom is foreign to us ground pounders, grunts, doggies, gravel agitators. We eat in the same chow line as our men, but we never even contemplate getting in line until every last one of our men are fed. However, I understand how the wardroom culture evolved in the Navy given the close confines of a ship. Similarly, we have our battalion dining outs for all commissioned and warrant officers and the battalion command sergeant major. You would probably recognize our Army dress whites, now sadly gone.

turcopolier

PB

From my memoir, "Tattoo."

"The Infantry Officer Basic Course, the Basic Airborne Course, and the Ranger Course were interesting experiences.
Lang’s ROTC instructors at VMI had been concerned about scores and grades in the Basic Infantry Course. Several graduates had done poorly recently. The teachers wanted their “products” to score high. The curriculum for this course was available to them through army “channels.” The course documents contained detailed lesson plans for everything taught including diagrams and maps of the field exercises. The ROTC staff included several West Point graduates. They asked friends there if they “taught to the course material” and when told they did, proceeded to do the same. They built scale model sand table mock-ups of all the field problems and taught these to the cadets. They did the same with the written classroom material.
Lang was particularly good on the sand-tables. He had an instinct for terrain and its uses that never failed him. This was a “gift” from his father who liked to discuss passing topography from the military point of view. Pat Lang had participated in that “game” from early childhood.
Sitting in the bleachers at Fort Benning, and listening to an instructor discuss the first field problem in the Basic Course; he looked out over the man’s head at the rolling ground, wooded hills and small streams. It came into focus and he realized he knew every wrinkle in both the seen, and the invisible ground for a mile to the front. He suppressed a smile when asked to command a team in this exercise. His lieutenant classmates, nearly all West Point graduates from that year’s class, were apprehensive when he did not consult a map during the attack problem. They relaxed when they finished the exercise exactly in the right place at the right time and with half a dozen “Aggressor” prisoners taken in a pillbox that Lang had miraculously predicted would be on one particular hill. Evidently the teachers at West Point had not paid enough attention to the “script” for the course. Lang was not surprised when his course grade placed him second of two hundred at graduation. That put him just behind the man who had been cadet brigade commander that year at West Point. It was an obvious “set-up,” but he knew the army and expected that result."

William R. Cumming

Thanks "Doc"!

The Twisted Genius

Trillium,

I didn’t approach ROTC until well into my second semester at RPI. While perusing the literature in the office, I read about the possibility of jump school for cadets. I asked the ROTC Detachment sergeant major about this. He was good friends with the sergeant major at the Airborne Department and arranged for me to go as a cadet that Summer. Sergeants major could do things like that back then. That was my introduction to the Army.

After getting my wings, I went back to college a few weeks before the school year started. At the same time, Master Sergeant Albert H. Rivers arrived at the RPI Army ROTC Detachment. We immediately hit it off (at least I wasn’t a dirty leg) and began planning something big to kick off the school year… a trek on the rivers and lakes of the Adirondacks by rubber boat. We spent the next few weeks planning, gathering equipment and scouting the area. That was just the beginning. We worked together like that for the next two years. Ranger company activities and orienteering team meets filled well over half our weekends.

In MSG Rivers, I saw the soul of the Army. I learned through his example, his teachings, his occasional stern admonitions and his stories over many, many beers that a leader must place the good of his men, the Army, the mission and the country above his own good, his own comfort and his own career. A leader must always strive to be that quiet, competent professional, always sharing in the trials and tribulations of his men… always giving.

MSG Rivers retired in my junior year. As the cadet Ranger company commander, I have never stood in formation with such pride, admiration and love as he trooped the line for the last time.

Old Microbiologist

First, I wish to state I enjoy this blog and have lurked here for a while.

This is a very sensitive subject for me as I came up through the ranks. I enlisted when my draft number was 6 and spent 10 years rising eventually to the rank of SFC in 1979. However, I was promoted into an overstrength MOS so was forced to decide to become a Drill Sergeant or Recruiter so decided to ETS and did the ROTC simultaneous membership program instead. Because I only needed 1 year to graduate with a BS i went on to do a Master's to fulfill the 2 year ROTC program. I was told I was too old to be commissioned onto active duty so stayed in the Calif National Guard where I became a rotary pilot. However, as I had a Master's in Microbiology I was recalled to active duty into the Medical Services Corps. While I was enlisted I completed the Special Forces Q course but was never assigned to an SF until until I left active duty to attend ROTC.

I spent the next 18 years on active duty and was sent for a PhD at Cornell in Immunology only to find that MOS abolished (rolled into Microbiology) in my last year year at Cornell. I spent the next 8 years as a research scientist for the Army working on vaccines for biothreat agents. However, I was double passed over for promotion to LTC and as I had more than 20 years of service was mandatorily retired at 28 years of service. I was of course, surprised at this as I had TO&E command time, SF Qualifications, numerous awards, combat time, 3 tours overseas etc. I later learned my Branch had sacrificed any prior enlisted who were retirement eligible so that officers without 20 years could advance and earn retirement. I spent the next 10 years as a GS-15 level 10 research scientist (in my exact same job I held as a Major) until my retirement.

What I have observed over my almost 40 years in the Army is a slow decline in quality, particularly in the officer corps. I blame this on DOPMA. I also blame it on cronyism as well. There is an inherent advantage for West Point graduates and those blue bloods with political connections who often are selected to be General's aides which in my experience guarantees immunity and rapid promotions. The other main problem I see is a trend to promote vanilla officers who are either sycophants or stay in the background and never take risks or make controversial decisions. Those, like me, who lead by example and take charge often are down selected for embarrassing higher command for their command failures. There is a third type of successful officer who searches for what could be perceived as offenses and make their careers based on reporting others to look good. Surprisingly, this is a very successful approach.

What I see in action is leadership who cannot lead and make all decisions by committee. My last Commander who was an O-6 had an executive committee of 12 other O-6 Division Directors. He would not agree to anything unless there was 100% consensus of the Executive Committee. As you can imagine very little was accomplished and nothing that was risky (to his career).

However, we were a Joint facility and had the Navy equivalent in our building (WRAIR/NMRC). The Navy appears to run circles around the Army. They still encourage leadership and the Commanders and Division (Department) Directors all take charge and own their decisions. NO stupid endless meetings just do it if it is right. After I retired I continued to consult for 4 years (basically just doing the same science as before but no management) but I worked for both the Army and Navy. The differences are staggering.

I am not espousing sour grapes as I really enjoyed my career and loved doing research. However, the last several officers I had to serve under were progressively more and more idiots and completely incompetent yet selected for promotions, often below the zone. IMHO we now have a military led by sycophants and rat finks or worse bland never do anything risky types whose only loyalty is to their own careers. They are woefully incompetent and anyone with leadership skills is eliminated early in their career.

Patrick Bahzad

TTG,

Thx for the additional info ! I'll try and see if I can get the Army doctrine 2015, didnt know there was a new one ... as for the RMA, one more BS theory that has done a lot of damage especially with OIF.

Patrick Bahzad

scott,

it's a different clture as you sying. The requirements also are different when you're on a boat, that definitely plays into things, obviously.
To it, it wasnt so much those differences that I found hard to live with, but the mentality that the (French) navy fostered among its junior officers. Very much like in the old days.
But again, that is just old stories from retired guys like us. The question about leadership for tomorrow stands, and it is also a question for the Navy.

Patrick Bahzad

PL,

Sounds very familiar indeed ! A propos, what about your memoirs ? Hope you gonna publish !

Patrick Bahzad

OM,

Thx a lot for this detailed account. Confirms a general trend I think, and in times when armed forces are losing manpower due to budget cuts, this trend is only going to get stronger.
I'll have to get through your post again, might have a question or two, especially regading difference you noticed between Army/Navy.

Ulenspiegel

Some amateurish comments of an draftee (1985/6) serving in a tankdestroyer company ("Panzerjägerkompanie) of the cold war Bundeswehr:

1) The enlisted men respected an platoon leader not because he was an PT-stud but because he got the things done without fuss and was good in the more important parts of the trade (rifle range, navigation skills, theoretical instructions).

2) I learnt later, that the two officers (Kompaniechef, Zugführer) I considered the most competend started both as enlisted man, became later officers and timers.

3) Many of the senior NCO (Oberfeldwebel, Hauptfeldwebel) were very competent and had in contrast to some officers a very good feeling when to kick our asses and when to look away. Here a few years more on the job - in comparison to junior officers - made very liekly the difference. :-)

And last but not least a question for all who have servered as officers:
Have you read Jörg Muth's "Command Culture" and what is your opinion?

Old Microbiologist

I think it goes to the heart of the issue that Navy Commanders are trained to run ships which are often independent so must actually learn how to Command and live with their decisions. Only in the SOC where ranks has absolutely no value, does the Army permit independent thinking. It goes back to the post-Vietnam Era in the Army. I recall one of my good friends deployed with the 520th TAML (Theater Army Medical Laboratory) as the TO&E commander to Bosnia during that conflict. Scrub typhus for which there was no approved licensed vaccine was breaking out and a lot of civilians were going to die. He had vaccinated everyone in country using an experimental vaccine developed by the Army which was known to work and have no side effects but had not yet been licensed by the FDA. Hew probably saved thousands of lives but was given a General level Article 15 (by the Army Surgeon General) and relieved (after the deployment ended). Of course, it was a gentleman's deal and he made O-6 a few years later and took one for the team. But, he couldn't get anyone in his chain of command to approve it despite the obvious problem so he just did what was right. A similar problem was solved by another friend of mine regarding the anthrax vaccine. More doses were given than ever made at the only facility licensed to make the vaccine which during the Gulf conflict was barred from making vaccine due to alleged issues with safety in the facility. How is that possible? I'm not saying but he did what was the right thing to do and everyone in theater was vaccinated. So, there are still good guys out there who sacrifice their careers for the benefit of the military and the mission. That particular friend who wears a Bronze Star (unusual for a microbiologist) was denied promotion to Colonel despite being the Assistant Undersecretary for Chem/Bio defense. So, he paid the price anyway. I have a lot of these kinds of examples of leaders who did what was right but upset their higher commanders who couldn't get off the pot to make a command decision.

Old Microbiologist

I can validate what you are saying. The soldiers and sergeants know who they want to lead them and it nearly always is a prior enlisted officer. Partly it is because we already know all the stupidity that messes with a soldier's life because we experienced it first hand. We also know how to sham and can prevent those kinds of problems. The BS filter is set to high and little nonsensical stuff makes it down to the troops if a mustang leader is in charge. We know how to make decisions without involving higher officers if at all possible. I once was counseled by my senior rater that my main problem was I still think like an SFC. I thanked the Colonel for his excellent compliment. Of course I had a stellar performance that year and he had no basis to give me a poor rating. In the end it didn't matter anyway.

Patrick Bahzad

Not gonna disagree with that, having started as NCO myself !

Overall, the "Bundeswehr" is somewhat more difficult to compare to similar armies, givent the "command style" (and culture) that was implemented upon its creation.

What distinguishes the Bundeswehr from other armed forces of its time, maybe less so today, is the concept of "Innere Führung", which was developped as a counter-model to exactly the "command culture" that Muth speaks about and which utterly failed to prevent the massive war crimes and genocide by German armed forces in WW2.

It is an interesting concept of "citizen-soldier", but it has operational limits that have not been incorporated in it by the time it was put to paper (early 1950s). Probably needs an overhaul, considering in particular the - sorry - piss poor performance of German troops in Kunduz, but it deserves being looked into as an alternative for traditional "warrior ethos" culture.

Regarding Muth's book, I have to say I'm not a fan. He was never a military man himself, which has both upsides and downsides. On the upside, he has a critical distance to military institutions of both Germany and the US. On the downside, he fails to understand certain contingencies of "military life" and misses out on fundamental qualities of military leadership that are not learnt through an academic curriculum.

This brings me to a another important point: he writes a comparative analysis of "command structure" in the US and Germany in the period 1901-1940, without taking any contextual information into account, just pretending all other things were equal. This is a fundamental flaw of his book, however valid it may be on many points.This shows that he has not been schooled in strategy or has no sense for the geopolitics of a country.

Germany (or rather Prussia) had been a country whose armies had been utterly destroyed by French forces in 1806. The pride and soul of the nation - its army - had been slaughtered in a couple of weeks by Napoleon's troops, in a manner quite similar to the way the Wehrmacht did away with the French army in 1940.

That trauma of 1806 acted like a bone rattler for Prussian military. Combined with Prussian efforts at unifying Germany after the 1840s, this called for the creation of a military academy of high standard. After 1870, united Germany still was a country in the middle of Europe, susceptible to being involved in a war with plenty of enemies. thus, from a geopolitical point of view, being on top in terms of military thinking, education and tactics, was a question of survival. The militaristic culture of imperial Germany also had to the potential to attract some of the most brightest and capable individuals to join the army.

The US on the other hand, were in a totally different situation. By 1901, they had fought only one major war and that was a civil war. They had no existential threat on their border. They had no need for something like a huge 'kriegsakademie' and they were a country cherishing individual freedom, democracy and entrepreneur spirit. Many of the young men who would have had the character and abilities would much rather take part in the conquest of the frontier, rather than joining some rigid system of discipline and military drill. Besides, the US basically had no standing army until 1916. And in between WW1 and WW2 the situation almost reversed back to pre-WW1 level. The only exception being the Navy and it is interesting that Muth didn't pick examples out of both countries Navies' because this might have potentially put some of his results in doubt. In WW1, the German navy - the pride of the Kaiser - fought only one battle on the Skagerrak against the Roya Navy in 1916 and then went back into hiding into the North See ports. Not exactly an exemplary track-record.

As a side-note also, it has to be noted that some of the brightest examples of the German military leadership never went to the famous 'Kriegsakademie": Rommel didnt and Guderian for example wasnt even in combat troops in WW1.

What characterized these men was not so much the excellence of the education system they had been through (actually not been through) but 1. their personal experience of war (Rommel was an infantry lieutenant in trench warfare for four years in WW1) and 2. their strategic, visionary thinking in a context where Germany had no choice but coming up with creative choices in order to get out of the tight spot it was in (Guderian elaborating German "Panzer" strategy).

Overall, an academic book comparing systems can certainly come up with interesting although not revolutionary findings, but it doesn't explain how some individuals displaying outstanding leadership and military skills are not shaped just by the system but by sheer natural talent, combined with field experience.

Just improvised thoughts on this ... I may use this in a piece sometime soon about Muth's book actually ! The major upside I see in his work, is that it encourages people to think and question what is regarded as unquestionable. Always a good start !

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