Friday, August 28, 2015

Goofing Off, Generally

Twenty years ago, this month, the Colonel graduated from the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia.

The class was a collection of U.S. and Allied officers and DoD civilians completing the second phase of Congressionally mandated Joint Professional Military Education (JPME II).

In the early 1980's, Congress passed legislation that reformed the Department of Defense and drove the services to work together in a much more "joint" manner. Interoperability was a mandated goal of the Goldwater–Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986.

Goldwater-Nichols codified many of the recommendations of Reagan's Packard Commission that had critically assessed the stove-piped U.S. Military and its warfighting command structure.

Among other things, Goldwater-NIchols established the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs with a Joint Staff that would oversee service procurement and operations of joint combatant commands.

To hold the services' feet to the fire with regard to ensuring that they assigned their best officers to joint duty -- not necessarily considered a plum assignment within any of the services -- Goldwater-Nichols mandated that before any officer in any service could be selected to "flag" rank (brigadier general or rear admiral) that officer had to have completed JPME phases I and II and served in a joint assignment for at least three years (waivers for shortened joint tours granted for officers selected for command tours within their services.

What this meant in practical terms was that as an officer reached the rank of major and lieutenant colonel (lieutenant commander and commander in the Navy) that officer's service began to pay much closer attention to the "tickets" being "punched." By and large, the services' requirement for an officer's selection to flag rank was that the officer successfully completed command tours as a lieutenant colonel and colonel. Under Goldwater--Nichols the services now had to "dual-track" the "ticket punching" of officers on their way to eligibility for selection to flag rank.

The two tracks -- command and joint -- actually began to influence each other.

If an officer got his or her "joint ticket" punched early in his or her career (as a major), the likelihood that he or she would get a command tour as a lieutenant colonel was increased, because the services, taking a long view of their officers' careers, had to ensure that they had a large enough pool of Goldwater-Nichols -qualified colonels (Navy captains) from which to select flag officers.

There is no other way to explain how a mediocre Marine infantry officer by the name of Gregory achieved the rank of Colonel.

After surviving a tour on recruiting as a major, the Colonel was rewarded by assignment as a student at the intermediate level command and staff college of his choice.

The Colonel chose the Air Force's Air Command and Staff College (ACSC).

He could blow smoke up your trouser leg and tell you his choice was a purely professional one designed to broaden his professional military education, but the Colonel will be honest.

ACSC is aboard Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama -- halfway between the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda's folks in Panama City, Florida and the Colonel's folks in Columbus, Mississippi.

That, and, seriously, how hard could the Air Force's staff college be?

After three grueling years of recruiting duty, the Colonel was ready for a year of hunting, fishing, and general non-military goofing off.

All of the services' intermediate and senior level schools (command and staff, and war, colleges) were required by Goldwater-Nichols to include introduction of joint education (JPME Phase I) and include officers from the other services on their instructor staffs as well as in their student classes.

As the Colonel (then still a major) completed his year as a student at ACSC, the opportunity to stay on staff as an instructor presented itself -- not due to any particular excellence as a student, mind you. There were two Marine officers (one major and one lieutenant colonel) on the instructor staff and they both had orders to leave at the end of the school year.

The Colonel called his assignment monitor at Headquarters, Marine Corps (HQMC) and volunteered for the job. The monitor said something to the effect of, "You wanna stay in Alabama?!? I had you penciled in for a staff job at HQMC. Wouldn't you much rather live in Northern Virginia?"

The Colonel's druthers most certainly did not include working at HQMC as one of a hundred majors on a staff, and, oh, by the way, commuting in and out of D.C. everyday.

But, one dare not tell his assignment monitor that he would rather not do what the monitor wants him to do.

"Look," the Colonel offered helpfully. "I know you aren't going to find any volunteers to come live here in Alabama." The Colonel pronounced "Alabama" in his best Forrest Gump accent, paused for effect, and concluded his sales pitch with, I'm already here; saves you a PCS move."

The monitor was quiet for a long moment -- he was no doubt doing the calculus of what course of action was going to save him the most staff time. Finally, he said, "Okay, but you need to call the joint duty monitor to get his approval."

"Joint duty monitor?" The Colonel had no idea that the job was actually a joint assignment. No where else in DoD can one go on vacation for three years and get joint duty credit.

The joint duty monitor was an easy sell and the Colonel told the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda later that evening that, "We will probably end up retiring right here in Alabama. I'll make it to lieutenant colonel, take the 20-year retirement, and find a job at Walmart or something to keep you in the standard of living with which you have grown accustomed."

After a year teaching airpower theory -- yeah, that was a hoot -- the Colonel was assigned to the small instructor branch that taught the joint education requirements mandated by Goldwater-Nichols. The Navy commander running the Joint Branch welcomed the Colonel with, "You got your JPME Phase II ticket punched, yet?"


"You haven't been to the Armed Forces Staff College, yet, have you?"

"Uh, nosir."

"Well, call your monitor and get in the next class -- they're three months long and you should be able to knock it out and be back in time to start the next academic year here."

The Colonel (still a major, but selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel) spent the summer of 1995 in Norfolk, Virginia at the Armed Forces Staff College, where he majored in golf and softball.

One morning, the Colonel was sitting in his seat in his conference group's small classroom -- strategically situated nearest the coffee machine -- when the conference group leader walked in and announced, "Gregory, report to the Commandant's office, ASAP."

On the way to his office, the Colonel rehearsed his excuses for any number of reasons why the school's commandant would call the Colonel onto his carpet.

The Colonel reported in and the commandant smiled broadly and waved a piece of paper at the Colonel, "Congratulations, major, the Marine Corps has selected you for battalion level command!"

"Sir, the major apologizes for his poor showing on the last exam. I'm just a knuckle-dragging infantry Marine, and... Excuse me, sir, did you say I was selected for command?"

Needless to say, there was a bit of a celebration that night at which the Colonel will neither confirm nor deny that prodigious amounts of adult beverages were consumed.

A few months later, the Colonel pinned on the the silver oak leaves of a lieutenant colonel of Marines. A couple of months after that, the Colonel got a call from his assignment monitor, "Congratulations, a battalion just came open and you are the next in line. Report to 3rd Marines for duty this summer."

"Third Marines? That's in Hawaii, ain't it?"

"Yep, pack your board shorts."

Three years later, after successful command of an infantry battalion -- due completely to the excellence of some of the best Marines with whom the Colonel had ever served -- and a year as the executive officer of the regiment, the Colonel was selected for attendance at the Navy War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

While at the Navy War College, the Colonel was selected for promotion to colonel. And, because he had his JPME Phase II and Joint Tour tickets punched, the Colonel was designated a Joint Specialty Officer (JSO) -- another requirement of Goldwater-Nichols.

Designation as a JSO got the Colonel assigned to an insane job running the operations division at US Forces, Korea, in Seoul.

But, that's another story.

Bottom line: the Colonel owes his success to a deep desire to just goof off.
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