Published by GovExec.com, November 1, 2005
Republished with permission.
Gen. Kevin Byrnes' real legacy might be shaking up the status quo in Army leadership training.
Despite a career spanning 26 years and tours ranging from Vietnam to Bosnia to the Pentagon, Gen. Kevin Byrnes was never a particularly high-profile figure. That changed in August, when Byrnes—the third-highest ranking four-star general in the Army and head of the service's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC)—made headlines as the first flag officer ever to be relieved of duty for failing to comply with a direct order to end an extramarital affair.
Byrnes, legally separated, was on the verge of finalizing his divorce, and his affair was with a civilian. It was hardly surprising that the coverage surrounding Byrnes' premature end as TRADOC's chief focused almost exclusively on the affair, and whether the punishment meted out by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker was fair. But according to a number of officers—including those who historically have not been Byrnes fans—an equally big story in the wake of his departure is what he accomplished at TRADOC. "He was actually trying to do some good stuff," says one senior officer. "He became something of a radical among the four stars, and did some things I never would've expected, like hiring a certain prematurely retired Army major. That might end up being his real legacy."
That retired major was Donald Vandergriff, an award-winning ROTC instructor at Georgetown University. He is a leading military reformer whose penetrating indictment of the Army's personnel system, Path to Victory: America's Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs (Presidio Press, 2002), attracted a serious following both inside and outside the Army. Despite, or perhaps because of, the favorable attention Vandergriff's book received, fellow retired military reformer the late Col. David Hackworth presciently called the pull-no-punches Path to Victory a "career-ending" endeavor.
Vandergriff went on to receive plaudits, including ROTC Instructor of the Year and the Legion of Merit, but it came as no surprise when he was passed over for promotion.
As his final day in uniform neared earlier this year, Vandergriff, like most retiring officers, was mulling over offers from various contractors. But at the annual Association of the United States Army breakfast in March, Vandergriff had a surprisingly pleasant encounter with Byrnes. "He apologized for not personally thanking me for a copy of Path to Victory, and then asked what I'd been working on," says Vandergriff. He then handed Byrnes a copy of his latest work in progress, a critical study of the Army's ROTC system and curricula titled "Raising the Bar," noting that it might be helpful with developing the Army's new Basic Officer Leadership Course.
Gratified as Vandergriff was for the brief exchange, his expectations that Byrnes would read the draft report were slim. He also was unsure about how his criticisms of the gestating Basic Officer Leadership program would go down. But three days later, Byrnes ordered his senior subordinates to read the report with an eye toward integrating elements from it into the program.
Not long after, Vandergriff had an offer to come to work at TRADOC's Futures Center (Forward) in Crystal City, Va., where he and others have been tinkering with the Basic Officer Leadership Course. According to several sources, their efforts at the Futures Center, headquartered at Fort Monroe, Va., had been well-received by both Byrnes and Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, head of Army Accessions Command, the TRADOC unit whose tasks include new officer training.
According to a number of active-duty officers, Byrnes wasn't considered a thoughtful innovator before going to TRADOC, but once there he seemed to grasp the importance of the human dimension of the Army's transformation" effort.
"While everyone from the Army Research Institute to instructors saw the flaws in BOLC, it was the beginning step in the right direction," says one officer. "And at the enlisted level, things aren't being done the way they always have. Drill sergeants aren't just barking orders, but are leading, more noncombat specialists are getting combat training, and more emphasis is being put on critical thinking and the importance of adaptation."
Byrnes laid a good foundation for his successor, Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, who, pending Senate confirmation, will get his fourth star and command of TRADOC in October. Just as Byrnes hired Vandergriff, Wallace—coming from a billet as chief of the Army's Command General and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.—last year hired retired Brig. Gen. Huba Wass de Czege, one of the Army's brightest military reformers from the 1980s, as an analyst at the staff college. "There's been no word if he's coming with Wallace to Fort Monroe," says one officer. "But if Wallace has had him on the payroll, it means he's serious about making the training system one that really puts an emphasis on leadership, thinking and adaptability."
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Fall From Grace
Jason Vest, GovExec.com