Everyone in the U.S. gets the meme that “America’s military is without peer and that it’s Soldiers are the best in the world” smashed into their skulls with a pipe wrench. And yes, we could kick the ass of any other country today in a stand up high intensity conflict or whip any insurgent in unconventional warfare when our hands are politically untied (not likely anymore with globalised media) but, there is a plague in the military and thy name is poor leadership.
Our Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer corps have suffered greatly over the past decade of conflict. After Vietnam, the army took a good hard look on how it had squandered the necessary political capital to sustain the fight and made several adjustments. Gone was the draft and in its place is the American warrior caste, your modern all volunteer force. For a while it worked without damaging our combat or political power, the military became a family calling for most and the tragedy of combat losses were restricted to a small subset of American culture. That is until you factored in PTSD. With rising rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the military has seen an exodus of its NCOs and young officers and has tried to staunch the flow with increased recruiting and stop-loss.
That exodus has created a situation where people who should not lead get promoted just to fill the slot because there is simply no one left to do that job. Becoming an E-5 used to be a major event in an enlisted Soldier’s life, a mark of respect and responsibility, now they are handing the rank of sergeant out like candy.
Likewise in my branch basic school, the standard to pass the class and get the opportunity to command a platoon was based on proving to a seasoned staff sergeant that you were capable of accomplishing a combat mission with no sleep, little time, and extreme stress. That still occurred but I was shocked upon graduation to see fellow LTs who had failed their “gauntlet” mission (and the retest) standing beside me at graduation. I was so shocked that I went to my tester, Staff Sergeant Snider (An absolutely amazing NCO) and asked why the Schols-a-raptor had failed to get recycled or terminated. I even had to repeat a portion of the class when I failed to take into account how the frozen ground would limit my tank’s ability to establish a cordon on the objective (who knew that tanks slide on ice, zombie-christ-on-a-stick I’m from Texas). He looked at me apologetically and said that there was a quota in place and they couldn’t afford to fire him.
Unless you get a DWI or commit sexual misconduct these days, you are guaranteed to keep your job as an officer for the whole 20 years because so many people got out after the bad old days of Iraq and no amount of video game recruitment tools, bonuses, stop-loss, or hiding the true commitment of US power with contractors can fill the gap.
So when a captain calls me in to do his job and plan a tier 1 mission (something that I am not supposed to do at my current level) because he doesn’t know how, it hurts.
When a lazy leader cannot be bothered from playing Angry Birds to quality check his shop’s UAV request and the mission support for Soldiers on the ground who are in contact goes 40 clicks off path, it hurts and places Soldiers at risk.
And when incompetent officers who don’t do their jobs by supporting troops that are dying in an ambush and a Soldier defies their orders to save his friends, it hurts and leads to parents getting the dreaded knock. No medal or award can make up for the loss of life.
That shitty middle management type of boss that most people have had the displeasure of working for at some point in their life has now embedded themselves inside the military and instead of fucking up a meaningless TPS report; they are contributing to needless deaths of the very people they lead.
The snowball started by the PTSD exodus has become amplified by the new number one reason people like me and my young sergeants get out, poor leadership. Because we as a people have isolated the responsibility of military commitment to a small percentage of society we have reduced the supply of competent leaders and suffer for it. I firmly believe that leadership cannot be taught in a classroom, it must be forged from experience in people with inherent abilities. I learned to lead by observing bad examples during ROTC, by never accepting failure in the things that matter to me (though it took a good portion of my misspent youth to find what those were), and by honest self evaluation. I had the honor of being rated as one of the top Platoon Leaders in my battalion not by a PT score (mediocre by officer standards) but by reading my manuals and enforcing standards, by simply doing my job. Before my last OER (army report card) I honestly thought I was just doing the job to standard and I was. I didn’t even know if I was a good PL, something that filled my dreams and always motivated me to improve every day. I am not the greatest leader or even a particularly good one; it was just that everyone else sucked.
Tired leaders make bad decisions and most of the good leaders are tired from having to haul our substandard brethren along.
You can’t expect what you don’t inspect and many leaders can’t be bothered to check.
More sweat on the training ground means less blood on the battle ground, yet I was the only one who took my platoon out of the office to train counter-IED tactics on a regular basis.
We are a broken army, if we had to fight a peer level foe today we would still win but it would be an extra bloody affair because of stupidity and negligence. We as leaders have failed our Soldiers, their families, and our fellow citizens.
P.S. your tax dollars go to pay two officers twice the mode American annual salary to do nothing but write a two page order ever day because they are too incompetent to do their assigned jobs and that is just in the room that I last worked in and who’s continuing gross incompetency spurred me to write this rant. Being a staff officer is not glorious and that comes from one that gets to sit in on big planning sessions with colonels and majors as the only LT in the room (that can’t hurt my résumé). I know I’m blessed with the curse of competency but I am so demotivated by watching other officers in their shops fail to understand that their boring office existence has ramifications that can get people killed. But they don’t have to write those letters home, it falls to the butter bar whom I handed my platoon over too at the conclusion of my allotted platoon time, the staff officers just go back to playing fucking Angry Birds.