Small Wars Journal

The U.S. Army General Staff in the 21st Century

Thu, 03/12/2009 - 6:41pm
The U.S. Army General Staff

Where Is It in the Twenty-first Century?

by Lieutenant Colonel Louis A. DiMarco, Small Wars Journal

The U.S. Army General Staff in the 21st Century (Full PDF Article)

A Myriad of problems plagued the U.S. army in the first few years of operations in Iraq. At the eleventh hour General Petraeus led a new counterinsurgency doctrine inspired "surge" campaign that may have saved the entire war effort. However, the question must be asked --why did the war effort of the most sophisticated army in the world come down to a final moment "Hail Mary" pass that was reliant on the genius of an individual commander for victory? The answer is that the U.S. army experienced a crisis of command. Pundits gradually came to the conclusion that the performance of U.S. generalship and senior leadership had been mediocre at best and at worst largely responsible for the problems associated with prosecuting the war in its initial years. Army Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling wrote: "These debacles are not attributable to individual failures, but rather to a crisis in an entire institution: America's general officer corps." Yingling's analysis was echoed by military affairs analysts such as Ralph Peters and Douglas McGregor. Even Chief of Staff of the Army, General George Casey allowed that "we don't do as good a job as we need to training our senior leaders to operate at the national level." However, mediocre generalship alone does not account for the initial uninspired reactive prosecution of the war. Also contributing to the inconsistent and ineffectual prosecution of the war was the absence of a professional corps of general staff officers operating in support of the senior leadership.

The U.S. Army General Staff in the 21st Century (Full PDF Article)

About the Author(s)


Let me first start by saying that I agree with the overall premise that more emphasis needs to be placed on operational/strategic thinking within the PME of the officer corps. Generally speaking, officers, unless placed in positions which require higher level analysis, planning and decision making, rarely step above BN level until post CGCS. More rigor needs to be placed on getting officers "out of the foxhole" earlier in their careers to cultivate a broader frame of mind. That being said, I don't believe that a singular focus on SAMS is necessarily the proper means to achieving the desired outcome. With the function of "educat[ing] the future be agile and adaptive leaders who think critically at the strategic and operational levels to solve complex ambiguous problems" there are additional venues outside of SAMS to produce similar skills. I would argue that it can be counterproductive to funnel these officers through a single system which can work against the desired affect and produce a level of group-think within this "smart, elite" corps. The Army has recently expanded the eligibility for receiving a 6Z skill identifier. By simply completing the Strategic Studies Elective at CGSC (there are other programs which also qualify), students are now awarded the same SI as SAMS graduates. This is a clear indicator that SAMS is not the sole proponent for these skill sets/training.

In addition, the efforts outlined in the article are currently idealistic given officer manning constraints. With an O4 manning delta of ~2000, (which has only been exacerbated with the FG intensive AAB/SFA requirements) the ability of the Army to allocate additional human capital to SAMS isn't feasible without additional risk to current operations.

Again, while I agree with the premise, the scope of the solution seems too narrow and isnt currently feasible with ongoing operations. Like Chuck, I am in the process of reviewing the Army's leadership initiatives to see what efforts are underway to address some of the concerns outlined in this article.

Charles W. Ray… (not verified)

Sun, 07/25/2010 - 7:22pm

I find it quite disconcerting that the Army's senior leadership - the Chiefs of Staff, the Vice Chiefs of Staff, and all the Deputy Chiefs of Staff G1 to whatever - have let slip the Army General Staff, as denoted by the five point star with coat of arms, and the "liver patch". Perhaps the problem is the emphasis on getting Joint Assignments, as reflected in the rules for promotion to General Officer, accompanied by the proliferating Defense decorations for Attaboys. All of this smacks of style over substance.

Of course, with respect to the Iraq failures, as opposed to the Gulf 91 successes (except at the end that allowed so many Iraqis to escape at the 100 hour War mark - (see Schwarzkopf's memoirs)), the real problem there was, IMHO, Rumsfeld's "war on the cheap" with total disregard for post combat activities, to include the trashing of the Department of State plans, under the guidance of SecState Powell (who knew the reality of things to come, IMHO). Also, give credit to General Shinseki as Army CofS for that period who did announce in front of Congress the need for several hundred thousand troops for all operations, prior to actual combat, only to be dissed by a flakey Deputy SecDef named Wolfowitz. Pundit M. Dowd was certainly on target asking (back then) "[Why] are we still paying him?"

This was an interesting read about a concept with the potential to professionalize the Army at the operational and strategic levels. The issue with it remains, I believe, in identifying these officers early, and making a professional General Staff Corps attractive. While it is true that the skills that make an outstanding commander great are not always linked to his performance as a staff officer, it is often in his/her performance as a staff officer that they can get "noticed."
I believe it will require a revo- as opposed to merely evolutionary shift in thinking to create this corps. In order to entice an outstanding officer to committing to a life of staff work-at any echelon-there has to be a manner to reward and promote him and more importantly give him equality with his "command track" peers. This has the potential to create a culture of haves and have-nots and the opportunity for a "command track guy" to look down on or disregard input from one of those "professional staff guys." I am sure that the Germans and Prussians dealt with this as well and would be interested to hear how it worked.

Chuck Chappell (not verified)

Sun, 03/14/2010 - 4:15pm

Interesting article. I agree with the problem as presented, will have to think a bit more on the proposed solution.

There is already a tendency to conflate 59As and SAMS grads in the non-Army parts of the joint force, as witnessed by certain joint planner billets being described as "59A required, SAMS graduate preferred". Currently, SAMS grad 59s are rare animals, and will remain so unless the predominately "command track" SAMS O-4/O-5s rapidly shift over to the 59 community after they complete SAMS. As SAMS is often seen as a chance for brilliant future commanders to become more brilliant, and 59s lack a command track, as constituted this ain't gonna happen.

To get the right mix of skills and knowledge for such an army General Staff, LTC DiMarco's proposed solution, to make SAMS a prequisite for 59-hood, would require that the selection criteria for SAMS be considerably broadened (as opposed to "watered down"). How to do that without losing the quality of the current SAMS program, and how to identify good candidates overall for selection would, obviously, require a massive change to the personnel system beyond that currently envisioned. I would be interested to know if these issues are currently being addressed in TRADOC's Leadership Development initiatives.

LTC (R) Tom ch… (not verified)

Fri, 03/12/2010 - 5:52pm

This article should be read by the senior leadership of the Army and when they have digested it make it happen. Having a pure professional Staff Officer who does not become one to "punch his ticket" for command but rather enjoys the professional atmosphere of thinking at the highest level is what we should seek in our Army. In some cases great staff officers might not want or seek command yet be invaluable to our Army and the course it will take in the future. I hope this article gets the widest coverage....although it might scare some to read it.