Leadership (II) -- Is It Simply a Question of Restoring the Warrior Spirit or
Are There Deeper Problems? 

November 4, 1998

Comment: #207

Discussion Thread:  #206


[1] "Officer Professionalism and Cohort," Email from Lt Col ZZZ, An Active Duty Army Officer, November 3, 1998. Attached.

As I have said repeatedly, one of the most serious readiness problems now facing the US military is a growing wedge of mistrust between the lower level officers and senior enlisted ranks on the one hand and the senior officers on the other. A growing number of officers are beginning to question how personnel management policies, particularly those affecting promotions, command assignments, and unit cohesion, are root causes of these problems. The differing outlooks was apparent in the contrast between the thoughtful analysis of Faris Kirkland and the rather superficial analysis of General Moore in References 1 & 2 to Comment #206.

The email below responds thoughtfully to Dr. Faris Kirkland's essay on the tradition and role of leadership and officer professionalism in the US Army and its effect on organizational cohesion [Reference 1 to #206]. The author, an active duty Army Lt Col, describes his personal experiences as a commander of one of the experimental COHORT units in the 1980s. Note particularly his comments on positive effects of empowerment of the troops and negative effects of premature rotations for commanding officers.

Chuck Spinney

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Reference #1

"Officer Professionalism and Cohort"

Email from Lt. Col ZZZ, An Active Duty Army Officer
November 3, 1998

Dear Chuck,

It was great to read a current work by Dr. Faris Kirkland addressing professionalism in the U.S. Army Officer Corps. I read all his research about COHORT units before I took command of a COHORT firing battery in the 7th ID(L) in 1988. My battalion commander gave me the executive summary of the WRAIR technical reports and I studied them thoroughly before taking command and tried to implement the principles he wrote about. I taught classes to my NCOs on positive leadership and the special type of soldier they were about to get and how high their expectations would be.

Nine months after their arrival our battery was sent to Panama during Operation Nimrod Dancer to "protect U.S. lives and property and our rights under the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977." The soldiers did a fantastic job despite the high stress and uncertainty of an unfamiliar MOOTW situation. We represented U.S. national interests for 3-1/2 months then were rotated out. When we came back, we competed for, and won, the Gillmore Trophy, recognizing the best (i.e. most combat ready) firing battery in the 7th ID(L). The chief grader told me later that, "it wasn't even close!" The beauty of that accomplishment is that the SOLDIERS set the goal of winning the trophy, not me or my officers!

I emphasized "power down" and decentralized decision-making within the parameters of my guidance. I also solicited ideas for improvement from every soldier in the battery by stating that the senior NCOS, the officers and I did not have a monopoly on good ideas. As the soldiers' ideas filtered upward and were acted upon (when merited) they began to have increasing confidence in their chain of command and that we were willing to take them seriously. We worked on developing vertical cohesion as Dr. Kirkland writes about in order to build upon the horizontal cohesion that the soldiers already had.

The WRAIR study on COHORT lessons learned was right on the mark. The saddest day of my career was the day I had to turn over the battery after almost two years of command. Unfortunately, officer personnel management policy dictated that someone else had to have his turn for proper career development so the team lost a key player halfway through the game. The analogy to a sports team is most appropriate: yes, I was the commander but everyone had to be a team player and contribute in order for us to be successful. We conferred ownership of the mission upon the soldiers and they relished the opportunity.

The guy I took command from gave me the previous COHORT near the end of its life cycle. I still vividly remember him telling me as we were going through the inventory, "Remember, treat them like animals. Never let up. If you let up for a minute, they'll take advantage of you." Imagine the radical change in command climate when I came in. Yes, I had problems; major problems, as they experienced a 180 degree shift in climate. In fact, those were the darkest days of my career until the old COHORT died out and the new package arrived. My analogy to the situation as the old COHORT dissolved and the new arrived was like the Phoenix arising out of its ashes.

Dr. Kirkland's original study said that commanders should stay with COHORT units for the entire three-year life cycle. I agree. Officer personnel management policies and COHORT don't mix. One had to go; unfortunately COHORT lost. Commanding a COHORT unit was the highlight of my career. I was enlightened by the process. I hope that this resurgence in professionalism and genuine concern for your men over your own career welfare will ignite some flames of reform.