Sunday, July 30, 2017

Making Generals

The Colonel has witnessed considerable hand-wringing from the enuresis-prone journalistic masses concerning the "over-militarization" of the current American administration.  Such concern, in the Colonel's not-so humble opinion, betrays a complete and inexcusable lack of subject matter knowledge.

For the Bama and LSU grads: They don't know what they are talking about.

It may come across as a bit parochial of the Colonel to say so, given that they are his contemporaries, but as far as his experience and historical study tells him, this generation's crop of flag officers (generals and admirals) are the best this nation has ever produced, and among the best the world has ever seen.  

Allow the Colonel to explain why.

First of all, since the inception of the All-Volunteer Force, competition for commission as an officer in our Republic's military has been increasingly stiff.  To qualify for a commissioning program, a candidate must score in the top tenth percentile of college entrance exams, effectively meaning that the officer corps is drawn from the top ten percent of young Americans.  In addition to high aptitude, an officer candidate must possess a near spotless moral background -- no arrests, no drug use, no documented anti-social behavior.  Completion of undergraduate studies and possession of a bachelor's degree is required for commissioning. 

Secondly, today's American military officer receives the most intensive initial training of any military in the world.  And, then, that officer receives yet another round of intensive training to qualify him or her for a specific specialty.  New officers spend anywhere from one quarter to one half of their obligated service (four to six years depending on commissioning source and occupational specialty) in initial and specialty training.  By the time new officers join their first operational unit, they have all they need to be successful, except experience.  

That leads us to the third point.  Experience as a military officer is one of the most valuable, yet underrated qualifications of any man or woman in their twenties attempting to enter the civilian job market.  By the time they are 26, American military officers have led, in highly strenuous training, if not battle, groups of men and women numbering 40 to 100, on continuous missions replete with life and death decisions.  By the time officers reach high flag rank, they have led thousands of men and women in the most challenging environments, operating the most technologically complex systems, and conducting the most dangerous tasks on the planet.    

Fourthly, the American military is today one of the world's most finely tuned meritocracies.  It isn't perfect.  But, advancement in our Republic's military is truly "what you know and did" and only marginally influenced by "who you know and what you did for them."  It is possible to hitch one's wagon to a rising star, but that will carry you only so far.  The military's assignment apparatus stirs the officer corps to a heady froth.  It is rare to serve more than a couple of 2 or 3 year tours with the same folks over a twenty-year career.  Promotion and command screening boards are fairly adept at spotting and negating favoritism.   

Fifth, our Republic's military has the foremost continuing education program in the world, military or civilian.  By the time an officer has surpassed twenty years service and been advanced to the rank of colonel (Navy captain), he has typically attended two or three professional military education (PME) schools and possesses one or more advanced degrees.  This Colonel's PME is typical of a Marine officer -- at the 8 year mark, a year at a school to prepare him for operations at the battalion level; at the 15 year mark, a year at a school to prepare him to think strategically and act operationally as part of a high-level staff in a joint (with other services) and combined (with other nations) environment; at the 21 year mark, a year at a school to prepare him to employ not just the military components of power to further national strategy, but the political and economic, as well.  At the 17 year mark, this Colonel, on his off-duty time, completed study for a Masters of Science in Human Resource Management.  Oh, and graduation from the Navy War College at the 21 year mark came with a Masters of Arts in National Defense and Strategic Studies.  Again, this Colonel was nothing more than a typical Marine Colonel.    

Sixth, before colonels (Navy captains) in our Republic's military can, by law (Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986), be considered for advancement to brigadier general or rear admiral, they must have served in a joint assignment.  Each service is a little different, but generally a colonel will also not be advanced to general without command time (combat command time, preferably) at every rank at which that particular service bestows command.  In the Marine Corps, if a ground officer (aviators are a little different) hasn't commanded at the company (180 Marines), battalion (800 Marines), and regimental level (3000 Marines), he ain't getting a look at a star.

Advancing through the officer ranks is an "up or out" proposition for the most part.  If a captain fails selection to major twice, he is out -- without opportunity to stay for the coveted twenty-year "retirement."  A major must typically make lieutenant colonel to stay beyond the twenty year mark.  Promotion opportunity to major and lieutenant colonel (Navy lieutenant commander and commander) varies by service, and from year to year as personnel requirements change to meet congressional force structure authorizations, but, generally, 70 percent of captains make major and 60 percent of majors make lieutenant colonel.  This Colonel, a member of an unusually over-strength cohort, survived promotion opportunities of only 60 percent to major, 47 percent to lieutenant colonel, and roughly 35 percent to colonel.  

From a crop of hundreds of highly qualified Marine colonels at the, roughly, 26 year mark, a small handful (a dozen or so, on average) are selected for advancement to brigadier general -- low single digit promotion opportunity.  

Once an officer is advanced to the flag ranks, his responsibilities, and the expectations of his decision-making prowess grow exponentially.  

And, it is still "up or out." 

Advancement from one to more stars is a whole 'nuther ballgame.  Fail selection to major general (two stars) or rear admiral, upper half (don't get the Colonel started on the strange rear admiral ranks), and you retire.  Advancement to three and four star ranks are actually billet appointments, with no time in grade or service requirements.  For example, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford, was nominated for the rank of major general and two months later appointed to a three star billet.  The Colonel is not completely sure, but he doesn't think General Dunford ever actually wore two stars. 

By the time officers reach the three and four star ranks, as well as during those assignments, they have operated at the very highest levels of government, participating in the formulation, and execution, of plans and policies to support national strategy in all three overlapping spheres of national power -- economic, diplomatic, and military.  The Colonel dares to say that almost any three or four star officer in our Republic's military has as much education and experience in diplomacy as all but the most senior foreign service officers, and certainly far, far more than the typical political hacks who follow a candidate from state or local government to the White House.    

In conclusion, the senior officers of our Republic's military have reached the pinnacle of leadership in the most complex, mission-oriented, and internationally-engaged meritocracy in the world.  Their "discipline," a term often used more disparagingly by civilians than not, is not to be confused with the notion of blind obedience or unthinking robotic execution.  The discipline instilled in today's American military, and exemplified by its senior generals (with radically few exceptions), is the unerring compulsion to selflessly do the right thing for the right reasons.  Modern American military discipline suborns self to the organization, nation, and, ultimately, the Constitution, the sole entity in support of which American military officers pledge their honor and lives.

Wring your hands over "militarization" of our government if you wish to show your ignorance.  As for the Colonel, he'll take an American general over a Chicago community organizer, Texas oil man, or New York millionaire any day of the week and twice on Sunday!                                    

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