09 March 2011

Jack of Everything (Follow-on comments to my previous post)

Really enjoyed the multiple, and broad, responses to my last post. Unfortunately, Blogger didn't like my 1000+ word response. So I decided that instead of cutting it into multiple comments I would just create a new post. My responses by commenter:

@ The Constitutional Insurgent:

I too mostly agree with what you wrote. Every NCO I’ve sent off to an NCOES over the last 3 years (at least) has already served at the level he was attending school for. This goes for 11, 13, and 35-series NCOs who have worked for me across multiple Battalions, so it’s not just a specific unit or MOS that’s behind the power curve.

We’re seeing a major transformation of the POI for the training centers right now. I think the first Hybrid Threat MRX happened just a couple months ago. Starbuck from WoI has a great post on the much ado about nothing that is the hybrid threat here.

In terms of phased operations, this is a major issue that I think many Officers across the board will (and are already) struggle with. My recent first-hand experience shows two types: the first is so tired of COIN/LIC/SASO/SOSO/SO/IW/AW/not-HIC that they see this merely as an opportunity to get back to the “good ol’ days” of getting their K on, and the second group is stuck in the minimization of collateral damage and win hearts and minds absolute far-left end of the spectrum of conflict. Neither, obviously, is better than the other; but more importantly it likely shows the lack of flexibility/adaptability in the thinking of many leaders. The ability to move fluidly along the spectrum of conflict and transition from Full Spectrum Ops to COIN to HA-type operations, or wherever in between, by phase or otherwise, is paramount. What I’ve seen over the last six months is leadership getting stuck on just one phase and forgetting about everything after that one specific phase. More in a couple paragraphs that should help finish this thought.

@ Pat:

Fully agree on all fronts. TRADOC has failed a half decade’s worth of Officers at least. I recently saw an entire Battalion fail one of their low-numbered firing tables; I’m sure a sizeable portion of that failure was attributable to TRADOC. Not that I’m discounting leaders’ responsibility in this, but if you don’t know your job it’s probably a lot more difficult to make it through gunnery tables.

This stroke of brilliance dawned on me as I sat here tonight next to Mama Mac studying for her next ACSC exam. What if the Army adopted a liberal arts style continuing education program for its Company Grade Officers? By this I mean a correspondence program where an Officer must complete one course focusing on a specific portion of the spectrum of conflict annually. The courses could be self-paced but with a mandatory completion date, take two to three months each, be tracked via AKO, accountable on OERs with no deployment waivers authorized, and focus separately on historic HIC, COIN, HA events/wars/uprisings, etc. I think a program like this would have tremendous benefits. It would help fill the gaps that TRADOC wasn’t able to get to. It would help span the spectrum of conflict and perhaps help broaden perspectives under GEN Dempsey’s new training plan. It would also help fill gaps in the Officer’s commissioning source education (think directional schools vs. USMA and Engineering vs. Military History undergraduate degrees). With a written paper or two in each course it would help Officers actually think in and write full sentences (which many cannot). With this program an Officer, while training for the hybrid threat or the Red Horde, would read Galula and Trinquier and learn about the Algerian War; they would learn about British CT efforts in Northern Ireland, WWII, etc., the options along the spectrum of conflict are numerous and would help fill gaps. I know as well as you that you can’t just expect most Officers to learn about this stuff on their own; most of them would rather play Call of Duty than read anything. And I know what many of you reading this are saying, but what about JRTC/NTC/MRX/CPX/field problems? The classes would be self-paced and two to three months long, if it’s mandatory you’ll find the time to do it. This sort of program probably would have kept me a little more sober (and out of trouble) as a young Lieutenant, so there’s another benefit. Enough with my diatribe, but I think the Army would be well served with a program like this.

@ Anonymous (JB… didn’t think I’d catch that did you?!)

I was actually considering a full post about the misapplication of the Full Spectrum Operations term and how most senior leaders are treating it solely as if it is HIC/MCO. Phase IV what? But instead of writing that post I decided to go fly fishing.

Now a couple disagreements from your comment.

First, I think Division and Corps-level exercises, while obviously difficult to execute and manpower intensive on subordinate units, are vitally important. Take I Corps as an example, who will be deploying relatively soon. Should their first non-digital exercise be in the combat environment in which they will take over day-to-day operations for? How do you truly test your systems?

Second, while I do agree with you that policy makers must understand and accept that actual Full Spectrum Ops should be off the table for the next couple years until the Army is back up to par. I think we’re seeing that now in the push back against military intervention in Libya. Or maybe that’s because policy makers have no idea what the goals of intervention would be, a logical stopping point for our intervention if you will, and are loathe to commit US forces to another open-ended operation. Perhaps. I digress. What I disagree with is your sentence where you say we should only do what we do well moving forward. In a perfect world sure, but I don’t see that world coming any time soon and we as an Army should be prepared to serve our Nation’s goals in whatever capacity POTUS decides to employ us in. A more realistic goal perhaps would be to train toward perfecting MCO and then implementing the broadening program I outlined above for CGOs; and then possibly expanding the ILE and War College-level cross-training opportunities for the best and brightest of each annual class. This could help create a solid cadre of senior-level SMEs on the core capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, etc, of each specific agency of the government. So with this kind of model you’d have a force trained for combat and leaders at every level able to understand and conceptualize Phase IV operations; with senior leaders able to maximize the efforts and contributions of all contributing agencies in a JIIM environment.


  1. Josh,

    I see your point in trying to broaden an officer’s knowledge through advanced education, but without a specific goal, or syllabus if you will, that knowledge may just reinforce pre-conceived notions. To build on your idea, the Army could have officers decide after a couple of years what they want to focus on, provide the opportunity for distance learning, and build that young officer’s resume. Next step would be for that lieutenant or junior captain to submit his resume to different units and apply for a job in a field he feels best suited for (like LinkedIn, Monster, etc). That way, the myriad of units out there could be filled with 1) leaders/staff who want to be there and 2) are best suited for the mission of that unit. By the time that officer is at the level of battalion/brigade command, he has a very specific skill set that is refined and focused to be the best person for that job/mission. I believe the Army tries to do this in practice, for example, SMUs are built on idea of finding the exact skill set to match the exact mission. But the officer education system is built on making each officer a generalist, i.e. jack of all trades.

    As far as your concerns with the Army doing only what it does well, what do you think led us into 10 years of mission creep? Being told to go kick a country’s ass, but no plan or training on what to do after has lead us to having over 200k hooahs spread over 2 theatres with no idea of what “winning” looks like. Yes, the Army still serves at the leisure of the POTUS and yes, we will salute the flag and do what we are told. My main point is that policy makers should take the 2nd and 3rd order effects into consideration before taking part in these “splendid little wars”.

    Stay classy,

  2. Josh...doggonit, you beat me to the punch on Gen Dempsey! But as discussions go I think this is one of the most critical. I think its a fair shake to say that as an officer corps we are poorly prepared institutionally to do what we actually do through the entire career, ROTC to CGSC. We have a bias towards wanting to see war as what we want to see it as rather than seeing war as the thing we must master, meeting our social and moral obligation to defend American interests.
    Full spectrum is just that, full. The argument between LIC and HIC misses a crucial point: They are both on the spectrum. While we can argue about frequency of one type or another in this theater or that, the fact of history that should motivate us is simple: Say this century we fight 100 wars of which 99 are LIC and 1 is HIC. We can lose any number of LIC's with variable effects on this policy or that, on oil price, continuing misery of third world civilians, or more difficult diplomacy. If we lose the 1 HIC, for lack of better words, we're screwed. Losing a HIC is simply not an option. Failing at that we fail at our very raison d'etre. So, what is Full Spectrum? Everything from marching in a parade to battling an enemy Army Group.

    We only have to look to history to realize the true nature of military employment. The Roman legions spent 600 years ensuring their Empire. Of those years they spent perhaps >90% of their days patrolling, quelling rebellions, building palisades and towns and roads, in the LIC as it were. Of that time <10% was spent fighting set piece battles.

    For any Army, whether Rome's or Brittain's expeditionary Army, Full Spectrum is the only paradigm that justifies it's very existence. Most critically, the Army is always the instrument of occupation in any age (USAMGIK, post-WWII Japan and Gemany, Philippines etc). So it's officer corps must be one of the most educated (liberally educated, not just technocrats with engineering and physics degrees) segments of society. I believe it is best summed up in the dichotomy of the job and the profession. Those that think being a Commissioned Officer is a job are dangerous because what they must be committed to is not being good at their job, but being good at fulfilling their purpose.

    Sorry if I sound a bit 'direct' on the matter, it aroused some passion. :)

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