Small Wars Journal

Midlevel Officers Weigh Risk, Reward of Criticizing Army Leadership

In a Stars and Stripes article, Midlevel Officers Weigh Risk, Reward of Criticizing Army Leadership, LTC Daniel Davis and COL Paul Yingling are featured:

… The net effect of each man’s article on the Army and its wars - in Iraq then, and Afghanistan now - is hard to assess. But it raises other important issues: How it affected each man’s career, and what it portends for other line officers who depend on the military for their livelihood but who believe they see their leaders failing and want to speak up…




Tue, 02/21/2012 - 6:47pm

In reply to by tomkinton

It could be that I misunderstand the situation, but I do not understand what the problem is. A cabinet official made a political decision. Service members are encouraged to remain apolitical and are not to use their uniforms to advance political causes or advance causes during duty hours, or otherwise pursue political advocacy in a way that implies official sanction arising from their position in the military.

Using your AKO email to contact other members of your organization about the cabinet official's political decision, in order to air your opinion on the matter, seems to fall toward the darker end of the ethical grey area. It is not quite "in uniform" and it is not quite "on duty" but falls perilously close and could be interpreted or perceived as being one or both. It is not 100% clear that it is advocacy for or against a political issue, but likewise seems like it could be easily interpreted as such. Thus, your commander had to make a judgment call.

A Soldier appears to be advocating for a political issue in a way that could be perceived to be occurring during duty hours or with some official sanction. Furthermore, your emails seem to be at odds with a lawful decision of the civilian leadership. Your commander appears to have acted in a way that mitigates the risk of any resultant controversy, without over-reacting and hauling you into his office. His judgment seems reasonable.

But, again, perhaps I am not clear on the facts, or perhaps there are other relevant facts not presented here.


Tue, 02/21/2012 - 3:29pm

Allcon: just to build out the idea here of corporate censorship. Last week you may remember the flack generated when SecDef denied the Military Archdiosese the latitude to read a statement concerning Catholic doctrine v. military secularization. In a righteous huff, I fired off an email via AKO to some fellow Soldiers. One day later I received a response from my CDR, advising me to keep my politics local, and with the further advisement that he (my CDR) was contacting BDE/higher 'just so they won't get blindsided'.

Gents, I've had it. 30 years in and out of uniform, three deployments and now they want me to keep my politics local?

To paraphrase Reagan: 'big Army IS the problem'


The real problem stems not from solely the existence of those individual leaders who a) put self before mission/unit b)put perceived performance above actual c) use the new promotion schemes. The ideology of the military has become weakened. I realize that there exists successful units and successful leaders, but they are becoming a rarer resource. I do not know how it would be possible to fix this issue, but I do believe that additional initial filters are not the correct way. The training of the individuals needs to not only teach skills but also develop the personality of the individual. Currently, leaders are not made by the military. Those filling the slots either have it in them to lead or not. The current training is not successfully instilling leaders with the ideology of the military. The mission being the fulfillment of orders AND the welfare of the subordinates.

The challenge the military currently faces is thus: the current openness of information, sharing of opinions, and organizations to support them all. This is good for developing well rounded individuals, but a military requires machines. The failures in leadership are proof of humanity. As long as people pulled into the military are allowed to express their own opinions, standards remain less than universal, and leaders are judged on numbers not personality, the song will remain the same.


Sat, 02/11/2012 - 12:38am

In reply to by sappeur

My understanding is that he has thus far only shared unclassified information with the public and classified information with parties whom he is legally authorized to share it with.

From the AFJ article:
<blockquote>Much of what I saw during my deployment, let alone read or wrote in official reports, I can’t talk about; the information remains classified.
If Americans were able to compare the public statements many of our leaders have made with classified data, this credibility gulf would be immediately observable. Naturally, I am not authorized to divulge classified material to the public. But I am legally able to share it with members of Congress. I have accordingly provided a much fuller accounting in a classified report to several members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, senators and House members.

A nonclassified version is available at [Editor’s note: At press time, Army public affairs had not yet ruled on whether Davis could post this longer version.]</blockquote>


Fri, 02/10/2012 - 11:02am

Has it been deterimed if this officer violated any regulations with regard sharing the classified information?


Thu, 02/09/2012 - 6:23pm

In reply to by carl

@carl: I think that there are folks inside who portray reality accurately, but those portrayals are not always the ones that are publicized. I think whether a source is inside or outside is almost irrelevant without leaders willing have their perceptions, plans, and demands challenged.

My experience (CSTC-A 2010-2011) was that most negative realities were downplayed in favor of the positive realities (some real, some perceived, some hollow). Messaging was inherently positive, which was sometimes not wholly accurate - not from deceitful intent, but incomplete due to the emphasis on the positive.

Its sort of like being an can't kick the addiction until you admit you have a problem. I think that is mainly a function of the Army culture (I can't speak for other branches) of saluting smartly and moving out. No one wants bad news and even fewer want to deliver bad news because it is equated to failure...instead of being recognized as a point for honest reassessment/adjustment/adaptation.

I think outside sources are/would be/will be screened, shaped and controlled to provide the desired message. I doubt the source really matters. Leadership sets the tone. "'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know".


Thu, 02/09/2012 - 1:31pm

In reply to by TM

TM: Your comments about moral courage and risk-reward assessment not being relevant to the exercise of moral courage get to the beating heart of the matter. Well said.

I ask you and Gian and anybody else a question. Are the military and gov too focused on self-generated information? Should they be looking more to outside sources? Can they see outside sources?

Gian Gentile and Carl nailed it. I would just like to highlight one other point.

We expect our Soldiers to face fear, danger, and adversity <strong>both physical <u>and moral</u></strong>. That is what the "Personal Courage" value means. I still remember that nearly 4 years after ETS, not because I have a good memory, but because it is important.

Whether an action is moral or ethical is an entirely different and unrelated question from whether it will expose you to unfair treatment. Your duty is to do what is moral and ethical, regardless of that unfortunate consequence.

The lesson is <u>not</u>: LTC Davis and COL Yingling did not suffer, so it is okay to blow the whistle.

The lesson <u>is</u>: If your duty is to blow the whistle, then do it.

The title of the article, coupled with a discussion focusing on the consequences of their actions, suggests that the risk-reward assessment is somehow relevant to the decision to act. It is not.


Thu, 02/09/2012 - 1:20pm

In reply to by gian gentile

Gian: You're right. The conventional establishment mass media (say that one ten times fast) loves these "Oprah's Next Featured Guest" stories. And they are mostly falling down on the job. (I consider Frontline a notable exception.)

But the non-conventional media isn't falling down on the job. They have been reporting exactly what LTC Davis is saying for years. The various internet outlets, Afghan Analysts Network, blogs like Registan, SWJ, academic groups, even various think tanks not connected to the beltway have been all over this for a long time.

Perhaps we need to stop looking toward the conventional establishment mass media for useful information and get used to looking elsewhere. The information is available.

gian gentile

Thu, 02/09/2012 - 6:45am

So what is the underlying assumption with this article and many others of the same type over the years that lamented Yingling's apparent rough treatment by the army for his 2007 article?

Is the assumption that so called whistle blowers deserve to be promoted up through the highest ranks simply because they blew the whistle and if not well that means the army has squashed them and doesn’t get it? Maybe there are other factors involved.

The press loves these kinds of stories like cat nip since they portray the bold, plucky individual set against the big stupid, unfeeling and unmovable army. Maybe what needs to happen is the journos who write these pieces ought to be asking why it took a serving army colonel to tell this story about the lack of progress in Afghanistan and senior officers who are unable to tell things as they really are.

In short why people like LTC Danny Davis and Major Bill Taylor with these articles and not the reporters themselves?

What i think l'affaire de Davis really points too is a greater failure of the mainstream media to do good investigative and critical reporting on these wars.