Our Best Officers Are Not Running Off

No, our best officers are not running off: 4 officers respond to that Atlantic article at Tom Rick's Best Defense. Colonel James Miller, US Army; Captain Anthony Calandra, US Navy; Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel Vann Green, US Air Force; and Lieutenant Colonel R. G. Bracknell, US Marine Corps respond to "Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving" by Tim Kane in the January / February edition of The Atlantic. BLUF: "Departure of some officers is expected and required, and has been going on for as long as there have been armies. The key question left unanswered by Kane's article is whether or not the current departure of officers is tolerable."

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Unfortunately for the military, most officers in the rank of LTC and COL actually don't realize how they sound when they write these cheer-leading/defensive peices. If you read the STRATCOM coming out of Afghanistan or any Pentagon Press briefing you hear the same Pravda-type sound bytes that say little beyond "we don't like criticism". We make a show of communicating more and talking about becoming "learning organizations", but the reality is the paradox that the bureaucracy both actively fights and encourages talk of change (we need it, we say, but we can't really do it).

I'm not sure Kane was necessarily saying that the West Point grads' ideas should be implemented as much as he was saying: "here's a problem and here's what some smart guys said were possible solutions." Attacking his methodology would be great if all he did was conclude that those solutions were the only answer. Instead, what I'd have rather seen from some "fellows" would have been addressing BETTER solutions- since they admitted there probably were problems, but then spent the rest of their article slamming Kane's methods and offering nothing better.

Surely one solution would be a sort of "cohort" unit or post that could test some of these ideas and more- as the Army has done in the past. Indeed, Special Operations is talking of breaking away from the industrial-age HR system of the Army and managing their personnel differently: maybe the rest of the Army could build from their initiatives as results come in.

Interestingly, these officers do little more than support Kane's article's points...

I got out of the Army because I was sick of the bureaucracy, working for people who were linear thinkers and managers more so than leaders, seeing low-performing peers promoted at the same pace, seeing fellow Captains who were regarded as "duds" put into the command queue because they "needed their turn," and other grievances. In 8 years of pursing the harder jobs and doing nothing more than train for deployment, deploy, redeploy, repeat, those things did nothing but wear away at me. After a few years to step back, reflect, and mature, I now look upon my days in the Army more optimistically. I'd love to go back, but I'm not allowed to (policy and regulation prevent me from doing so). I'm sure others who left are in the same situation. So if retention is a problem (Is it? I don't know), then perhaps a solution is allowing more former officers to return.

"In the military, experience, hierarchy, and dues-paying count for a lot -- promoting a boy genius Harvard MBA graduate to colonel at age 32 simply will not fly when the majors serving under him have more years of experience and savvy, particularly in a military which has evolved to place a premium on experience, seniority, judgment and the wisdom accrued through years of service: to be a colonel (or a Navy Captain), and to be as accorded the esteem due a colonel in the unique context of the military, experience matters and is a prime factor in judging merit."

Really, really long sentence that basically says time in service is all that matters because we've all been trained to believe time in service is all that matters.

Understanding anecdotes are not proof, I'd still like to counter their fixation on hierarchy and tenure with two anecdotes from WWII. LTC Henry Mucci, founder of the 6th Ranger Battalion, was 32 when he assumed command. At the end of WWII, BG Donald Blackburn was a 29 year old colonel.

The rebuttal's idea that no one is exceptional is an offshoot of the idea that everyone is special. To allow an exceptional Soldier to move up the ranks at a rate commensurate with his abilities is to imply the Soldier is somehow better.

Furthermore, individualized career progression would also go against the human resources dogma that we are all similar cogs in the machine: interchangeable and replaceable.

Awful rebuttal to the Kane article. Written by careerists for the purpose of promoting careerism. I would submit an expansive narrative here but others on the site presenting the article have done a tremendous job doing so already.