Small Wars Journal


New feature here: Small Wars Journal's Saturday Night Quote (SWJ SNQ). Once a week we'll highlight a quote of particular note, insightfulness, or just damn funny - or maybe two or three if our site visitors are on a roll. The inaugural winner, and probably no surprise to our regular viewers out there in SWJLand, is Schmedlap. In response to "After 9 years, where it matters, we don't get COIN" he had this to say:

I'm starting to think that I never will. The shortcomings that you cite seem, to me, to be not unique to COIN. But inability to "get" them seems to always be held up as evidence of not getting COIN.

Risk aversion, blind adherence to SOP, unwillingness to partner and embed, obsession with PowerPoint, excessive force protection, neglecting personal relationships, lack of coordination - it sounds to me like we don't get war. Of any type. I don't understand why our lack of knowledge is so often characterized as a more narrow deficiency of not getting COIN.


Ok. Agree with a very significant amount of what you said. I guess after going back and forth a bit you have helped me to refine my claim down to one issue: accountability. I think we can do a better job of this in OBC/ROTC but I think it may be more difficult there due to the fact that the MOEs that matter may be very difficult to quantify/establish metrics for.
To clarify: I do not by any means intend this to mean that we should only take the top 2% of every class (by current metrics). In my experience, those guys are often a variable in combat. (Plus I was bottom 20% in nearly everything I did that got graded).
I agree that shitcanning someone is amazingly difficult, and exponentially more difficult if the turd has a gold bar instead of stripes. That doesnt excuse us of the responsibility to find a way to hold them accountable. We move them as far from the line as possible, to some amazing FOB with ice cream and hot showers, and we forget about them while we are in the fight out on the line. I too did it when I was a PL (it was easy, right?). The problem is, they come back down to another part of the line, and repeat. Then we do it again. Then they go to the CCC. Repeat.
That is my biggest issue. The junior leader on the line is the most amazing animal I have ever seen, but we do them an eternal injustice if we do not purge the ranks of the non performers. Even if we dont kick them out, we can at least send them to finance or some other back office, never carry a ruck/rifle/see a Soldier again job, but we dont even force them out of the combat arms branch. We hide them until we are gone, then they become someone elses problem.
Take it for what its worth. I got out as a know it all CPT too, so I understand this is a limited view. The problem was, when I got to schoolhouse to finish out my time on AD, the problem was about a million times worse, and instead of firing the wizards to echelons above reality, we were making them platoon trainers at EOBC. I have heard similar stories from guys in RTB and at Benning, but I do not know about IOBC for sure..


Tue, 07/13/2010 - 8:11pm


What you typed tells me that things are actually working better than I thought.

That 10% - or even 5% or 2% - are, fortunately, the ones that I have dealt with; the small unit leaders operating far from the FOB. Those guys never ceased to impress me. So long as the system continues to man those critical slots with the most able folks, rock on. So we are fielding some poor performers? What's new? How do you change that? I don't think you can. Some people are simply not cut out for military service and sending them to Columbia or Clown College isn't going to change that. What you discussed is part of the due diligence that the force needs to do in order to separate the studs from the duds. I think it's great that you are unsatisfied with that process. We need people like you to continually find better ways to better prepare our leaders. But the fact that we are identifying poor performers is not an indication that anything is broken.

Yeah, we like to send our duds to BDE, DIV, or worse. Is that a training issue? Or is that a personnel issue in that it is so difficult to shitcan lousy performers? I say it is the latter. And it is made possible by the ridiculous number of staph positions at echelons above BN, which gives us an endless supply of slots in which to stick those performers so that they can be someone else's problem. Perhaps we need to reevaluate the number of slots and the manner in which we handle people who are not cut out for this line of work.

One caveat I would add about your point 1: I was a marginal performer in ROTC, OBC, Ranger School, and even in college and high school. I probably would not have even passed "Advanced Camp" at Ft. Lewis (not sure what it's called now), were it not for the pressure on the cadre to ensure people passed (the only way to fail someone was to present some kind of highly objective metric, like flunking the APFT - thankfully PT was never my weakness). I had 5 major minuses in Ranger School and 3 no-go's because me and the RI's didn't see eye-to-eye on much and in hindsight I still think I was right (but then again, I separated as a know-it-all IN CPT). Some of us just don't function in classroom/training environments. But on real-world deployments, I'll gladly stack my senior rater comments and reputation among peers and subordinates up against those of anyone whom I went through ROTC/IOBC/Ranger School with.

<blockquote><em>"We have begun (at least in my experience) to rely on that same 10% quite heavily, thus driving them to either become amazingly frustrated that nobody else is carrying weight and get out, or realize that they are smarter than their peers and jump over the fence to some SMU type entity."</em></blockquote>

I'd be lying if I said I didn't succumb to that. I thought my peers were lazy, soft, and incompetent. After ETS'ing and having some time to reflect, I think they just went about things differently. It doesn't worry me at all that they might be in command of troops at this moment.

It is worrisome that good performers may be pushed or pulled out, but that seems like more of a leadership and personnel issue in keeping them in and putting the right people in the right slots, rather than a training issue which forces studs to work with less capable peers.

"I'm not aware of anything that a junior officer in theater has had thrown at him that he couldn't handle through his own wits, training, intellect, education, or his PSG."
That is a pretty broad statement which will be difficult to back up, but also difficult to counter, as you and I will end up either one upping each other, or referring to obscure individual experiences with junior leaders and the war.
My claim is twofold.
1:, we are churning out a lower quality officer in order to meet current demand. Kids are coming to OBC with profiles, they are coming unprepared to execute simple tasks and process simple logical thought. We are recycling LTs through OBC. You heard me right. I was a BN S3 up until this April of one of the TRADOC BNs that oversees OBC/BOLC and the CCC as well as some WOBC courses and AIT. We send LTs back again and again, hoping they meet the "standard" and then launch then out to FORSCOM. It is sad to watch. We then end up with young leaders who are not suited to lead, but we have failed to establish enforced metrics and or actually invest the amount of time and energy required to establish a functional baseline.

2: In order to maintain this quota, we are not holding people accountable per our overarching standards, and we are not forcing those who fail to achieve the standard out of the military. Regardless of the point of view of the overall quality of LT coming out of the machine, I think we can all agree on the 2nd. It has become easier to fire someone to Division, or stick someone in a staff job to fill a gap instead of a chapter or relief for cause. This works great short term, but gets FUBAR when the FG he is working for thinks because he makes a killer slide deck he must be ready for another chance as a PL. Ask any line Soldier how often this happens.

Keep in mind Schmedlap, I am by no means saying the junior officer is not capable as a whole, I am saying that 10% of the rucks are carrying 98% of the weight, and that is going to result in some long term issues. I think the junior officer is one of the best enablers in the military when utilized correctly and given the freedom to solve problems and execute their own plans. We have begun (at least in my experience) to rely on that same 10% quite heavily, thus driving them to either become amazingly frustrated that nobody else is carrying weight and get out, or realize that they are smarter than their peers and jump over the fence to some SMU type entity. The main problem with this is, what once was 10%, may only be 5% after the CO CDR mark...


Tue, 07/13/2010 - 4:12pm

I think we're churning out good Officers. I know I'm supposed to pile on with vague old adages about cherry Lieutenants being green and untested and clueless, but I found the vast majority of our junior Officers highly capable and adaptive.

In a question of what Officers have to fall back upon when they encounter some situation that they weren't prepared for, Ken White nailed it: the platoon sergeant.

I'm not aware of anything that a junior officer in theater has had thrown at him that he couldn't handle through his own wits, training, intellect, education, or his PSG.

Yeah, our 2LTs are so young and inexperienced, and blah, blah, blah. Show me some evidence. They're doing a damn good job from what I've seen. If you're concerned about inadequate training or education among our Officer Corps, focus your attention on the senior officers who gang raped Hogan's goat in Baghdad in 2003 or the leaders who thought it was a good idea to abandon patrol bases and stick Soldiers in FOBs in 2005.

Good thought, but I think they may be more value added as an NCO (in most cases at least).
I think the solution (in parts) is a change to the officer development and promotion system, pre and post commission.
Not saying I have the solution, just that I see the problem too, and it was a good part of what drove me to get out (lack of accountability in the officer corps and lack of quality officers).
Maybe the issue is not the input, but it is the process itself..

"Where could the military develop such smart broadly educated cadets?"
~by Eric | July 11, 2010 8:07 PM

I would say that you could get them by ID'ing some of your good JR NCO's who may be on the verge of getting out (perhaps due to frustration - I know I've felt it) and sending them off to be commissioned and educated in line with what is needed in this war.

But some of the BS ROTC courses need to be sh*t canned and replaced with something relevant to the current fight.

I'm not saying you should rob the NCO Corps blind but you should skim off a few to go onto bigger an better things.

Someone that has a few deployments under their belt and who has met with some success downrange has a far better idea of what "right" looks like and what doesn't work in the field than some kid who went straight from HS to ROTC.

My two cents from downrange.


Mon, 07/12/2010 - 5:19pm

I'm sorry - Schmedlap, unfortunately you've been beat this week by the Pak Minister of the Interior. He was just a little tardy in getting his SNQ submitted:

"<i>Pakistan's interior minister says Nato and Afghanistan are not doing enough to stop Taliban militants crossing the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Rehman Malik told the BBC he blamed militants coming from Afghanistan for Friday's attack in Mohmand district.</i>"

Uh huh- AFG and NATO aren't doing enough to stop Afghan insurgents from entering Pakistan and causing mayhem. If this isn't the quote of the year, let alone week, from Capt Irony....I mean Mr. Malik, I don't know what is. Better luck next week Schmedlap. ;o)


Mon, 07/12/2010 - 3:18pm

Version 8 coming from a former recruiter

Clear-Hold-Badger into submission

Sad to say but it was the only way one guy I worked with had anyone enlist. He wore them down....

I agree 100% with that statement, when looking at the whole picture, and our lack of coherent strategy and policy from 01- on. We have no defined endstate and or communicated strategy from the WH down to Joe. Whether you agree or disagree with current strategy, it may be too little too late to create any headway in OEF...

gian p gentile (not verified)

Mon, 07/12/2010 - 10:27am

Mike F/Major K:

I add version Version -1: First, before anything else, DO STRATEGY RIGHT... and then for version 7 recongize that better tactics and operations cannot rescue failed strategy and policy.



Mon, 07/12/2010 - 9:05am

You missed Version 6:
- Clear, sporadically
- Hold, randomly and until nightfall
- Pack up and move out with no governance or relevant development follow-on
- Declare victory and go home, then blame the ANSF and GIRoA for <i>their</i> strategic failures

"Risk aversion, blind adherence to SOP, unwillingness to partner and embed, obsession with PowerPoint, excessive force protection, neglecting personal relationships, lack of coordination"
Perfect description of far too many TF HQs at this stage of the game. I agree with Schmedlap that there are significant capability gaps within todays military, and that they transcend the boundaries of COIN. It is a systemic problem given the fact that many senior leaders now focus on 4 things: 90 days, 180 days, 270 days, and 365 days for quantifiable outputs and accomplishments. You run into a high demand for very aesthetic powerpoints and useless statistics, instead of the relationships and tru comprehension of ones battlespace. With this is a lack of proper metrics to quantify progress (in most areas, not all) and we have an 0-6 trying to make a list of key victories during a deployment which equate to zilch.

On the issue of junior leaders:
I do not think the whole problem here rests with JOs (although I have argued in numerous papers and threads about the need to increase the level of academic development within junior leaders), I think a good deal of it may have to do with the officer corps as a whole. I will start with the junior os and move forward.
First, graduating ROTC or USMA means you are qualified to be a LT, not a platoon leader. We have forgotten that. Gone are the days when you give a kid his platoon, give him 45 days to sort it out with his PSG, and hold him accountable. We continuously send failing LTs and CPTs to BN, BDE, and DIV staff to "get developed" by some all star to come back down after filling some COLs coffee and be directed to take another stab at being a PL. No relief for cause, no do not promote. Senior leaders are shying away from holding junior leaders accountable, and the result is a lower quality of officer.
Junior leaders reliance on air power and artillery is also disturbing. There are times when a JDAM or 155 is the way to solve the problem, but the amount of time we request such power is alarming, given the fact that we are supposed to "close with and destroy the enemy." I have not seem as much closing with in my recent deployment, and that put young leaders at odds with senior over the ROE. If one guy is shooting at you from a small mud hut (qalat), do you A. maneuver your squads and take the building, or do you 2) JDAM is and hope that the village 50m east stays intact?? I am not saying do not support air/artillery, as I said, when it is the only option to keeping the men alive, absolutely, but it is not the cookie cutter solution to a TIC.
Not all, but a good deal of senior leaders seem to be having trouble moving away from some of the more outdated statistics to measure effectiveness. While some may have merit, many do not (number of EKIA, raids, schools built, wells dug, etc) and this creates friction within the ranks. Couple that with (for some reason) a lack of understanding about the ROE (it does not prohibit you from defending yourself) and we end up with junior and senior leaders at odds with each other.
Either way, I think the ROTC issue is a good point, but I think the issue is broader than education. If we dont hold leaders at all levels accountable, and actually fire the guys who cant swim, we will never more forward.

Mike Few (not verified)

Mon, 07/12/2010 - 6:42am

I had to team up with Steve the Planner to try and take down Schmedlap. Here it goes...

In theory, the academics tell us that third party counter-insurgency is as simple as clear, hold, and build.

In practice, it follows more along these lines,

Version 1. Clear-Hold-Beg
Version 2. Clear-Hold-Build
Version 3. Clear-Hold-Bribe
Version 4. Clear-Hold-Nag
Version 5. Clear-Hold-Kill

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 07/12/2010 - 6:41am

This one is for Eric. Someone is listening or are you really John Renahan.

New York Post
July 10, 2010
Pg. 21


Army foolishly shy of US cities

By John Renehan

IN the past two decades, the Army has shrunk the resources devoted to its Reserve Officers Training Corps programs -- a primary source of new officers -- at colleges in a number of large urban areas. According to public Army documents, the reductions were particularly sharp in the Northeast, which had 50 ROTC programs in 1987. That number is down to 27 today.

These closures were part of post-Cold War drawdowns and budget cutbacks, but the selective pattern of the reductions amounted to a nationwide realignment of ROTC resources.

A clear example of this shift is New York City.

For the past 19 years, the city of 8 million people has been served by only two Army ROTC programs, at Fordham University in The Bronx and St. Johns University in Queens, which together receive roughly the same resources as the ROTC program at Texas A&M.

Though the St. Johns and Fordham student populations combined are just under 23,000 to Texas A&Ms 38,000, those programs serve whats known as the entire "catchment" area of New York. That is the largest university student population in the country -- 605,000, according to the Census -- but in 2006, the New York City programs graduated only 34 new Army officers.

The Army also offers ROTC programs at Seton Hall and Rutgers in New Jersey, and at Hofstra in Long Island, to serve the New York area, but the lengthy commute time makes them unrealistic for many students in the city.

Apart from several instances of Ivy League schools turning their backs on ROTC, in most cases the military has not been ejected. Some schools that once hosted programs would welcome them back.

There are nearly 12 million people and dozens of colleges in the New York and Long Island area -- which is also home, incidentally, to one of the nations two busiest military enlistment facilities. Yet there are only three Army officer-training programs. Its not the city thats the problem; ROTC programs thrived for decades in New York before being closed by the Army during the 1980s and 90s. The CUNY system, for example, 50 years ago commissioned as many new Army officers as any school except West Point.

I did a brief stint in New York in 2005, recruiting for officer-training programs. I recall attending a career fair as a brandnew lieutenant, standing uselessly next to two recruiter sergeants in camouflage as students and recent graduates, in business suits with their resumes in hand, strode past our "Go Army" table without a word.

The recruiters hadnt been trained how to "pitch" to a college student -- let alone how to do it in a place like New York, where the uniformed services are practically invisible.

So I set out on my own, roaming the hall in my uniform and talking to young New Yorkers one on one about becoming a military officer. Students who had never really considered the military but were drawn to service began to see that it was something they could do.

Soon after that career fair, I had people seeking me out. A kid who was putting himself through Baruch College. A lawyer who wanted to join the JAG Corps but had gotten short shrift at the recruiting station. The son of a state assemblyman. They all wanted to serve, and they all told me that they were surprised to find an Army officer, of a similar educational background, ready to talk to them seriously.

Why are our huge and diverse cities -- especially New York, with a still-gaping wound in the Earth -- allocated paltry recruiting resources? Shouldnt the armed services, which need the best talent from across the country, do more to reach beyond what they see as tried-and-true recruiting grounds?

The Marine Corps, apparently, would answer in the affirmative. According to their recruiters, the Marines aggressively target would-be officers in New York and other major metro areas and get a diverse reward for their efforts. (Says one young recruiter based in the Northeast: "We kill it in the cities!")

The Army is artificially restricting its outreach. Thats no way to attract the best and the brightest to a military that urgently needs them.

Military service is a worthy endeavor for any American, from any walk of life and any part of the country. The Army should recruit its officers accordingly. In this ninth hard year of the Afghan campaign, it can hardly afford not to cast a wide net.

John Renehan, a lawyer with the Defense Department, was an artillery officer in the US Armys 3rd Infantry Division from 2005 to 2008 and deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, in 2007-2008. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Defense Department or its components.

Ken White (not verified)

Mon, 07/12/2010 - 2:36am

I would but my Pony hunting license expired... ;D


You should know that I've long annoyed people here by ranting about our inadequate initial entry training, Officer and Enlisted. So I'm on your side...

We agree! Columbia should have ROTC. The Army has totally blown the Northeast regional ROTC effort. I'm writing my Senator, a West Pernt graduate who thus is familiar with the Northeast and the Picadilly Hotel in Manhattan...

And I'm not making fun of you, I'm serious. I also know the answer to your last question: His Platoon Sergeant...

Eric Chen

Mon, 07/12/2010 - 1:17am


Well, it's ROTC at Columbia, NYC, and the urban NE. One trick pony? Call it an ignored herd. Simple as the right stuff and a good foundation makes for a good officer who gets it. Good input, good output. The potential cadets and learning resources don't get better than at Columbia combined with NYC.

You're describing a young officer who knows what to do but freezes up in the moment. That happens. Hard job. Simple fix - encouragement from the boss. What I'm describing is a young officer caught in a complicated situation, the Army didn't train him for it, and his CO doesn't know what to do and may not even be there to give a stupid order. Locals and his soldiers waiting for his next move. What does the young officer have to fall back on?


Sun, 07/11/2010 - 9:15pm


I know you're on a roll with the ROTC in Columbia thing, but it's not the cure for everything. I had a LT who was reluctant to take charge. I called him a pussy and reiterated instructions. He then took charge. No outlandish tuition and no room and board at Columbia were necessary.

Really, I'm cringing as I anticipate you proposing that ROTC at Columbia is the key to "victory" in Afghanistan, or the cure for cancer or something.

If you ever hope to win the SWJ SNQ, you can't be a one-trick pony.

Eric Chen

Sun, 07/11/2010 - 9:07pm

@Schmedlap: "I suspect it's a reluctance to take charge."

Maybe that happens more with young LTs and CPTs barely out of college thrown into the middle of advanced graduate problems, who feel way out of their depth, and bereft of the capabilities and capacity to innovate and adapt to high-variable complex challenges that fall outside of their traditional combat training.

In that situation, locals and soldiers need LTs and CPTs who are confident in taking charge because they can continue mission by drawing upon perspectives, knowledge, and personal resources gained outside of their military training, most likely as college students. Where could the military develop such smart broadly educated cadets? I submit ROTC in Columbia in NYC.


Sun, 07/11/2010 - 7:48pm

I don't think it's about a need to conform. I suspect it's a reluctance to take charge. Being a company-grade officer brings with it surprising flexibility and even autonomy when a unit is spread out. I don't understand the apparent propensity for some to ask first and then act, rather than act first and ask later. I've seen people get a finger wagged in their direction for that. But when based upon sound judgment, that's as far as it went.

Lawful actions that occur in a gray zone regarding commander's intent can easily be, and almost always are, forgiven when taken in order to advance the mission or protect your men.

carl (not verified)

Sun, 07/11/2010 - 6:35pm

Are you and I asking the same thing?"

I think we are. From reading, it seems to me that all those faults you so well enumerated eventually come to dominate, not all but most of the officer corps; or at least to the extent that they becomes the institutional norm. It also seems that to me that willingness to throw off those faults may be more prevalent in the lower ranks. So my question really is, at what level does someone have to throw off his better instincts and conform to get ahead? Or, when does somebody who won't conform say "to hell with it" and get out?


Sun, 07/11/2010 - 5:22pm

<blockquote><em>"Schmedlap is the perennial winner of nearly every SWC quote contest."</em></blockquote>

I'm buying a bigger trophy case tomorrow.

carl (not verified)

Sun, 07/11/2010 - 12:00am

The winner is most deserving.

I am curious about something. How much of this is imposed from above and at what level does the imposing start to hinder things? For example, if the captain wants to do all the right things is he squashed by the major, the major by the lt. col. etc.? I have no idea and I wonder about this.

Eric Chen

Sat, 07/10/2010 - 9:55pm

"it sounds to me like we don't get war. Of any type"

Solution: military leaders who 'get it' as normal, rather than exceptional, requires selecting and training officers to 'get it' at their formative pre-accession (cadet) stage.


As a Columbia ROTC advocate, one of my higher hopes is that a new ROTC program at Columbia gives us the opportunity to create a new progressive and innovative ROTC program that draws upon top students, top university resources, and NYC resources to produce the officers we need.

IntelTrooper (not verified)

Sat, 07/10/2010 - 8:27pm

The good counselor is correct, of course.