Should We Rely on Adequate Patchwork Solutions
If They Do Not Address the Fundamental Problem?

June 7, 1999

Comment: #282

Discussion Thread: Comment #s - 281


Email from Bob Killebrew (USA Ret), "Subject: Re: FW: #281 - 11 Reasons Why Army Officers Don't Want to be Warriors," June 7, 1999

 In the referenced e-mail below, Bill Killebrew (whom I do not know), a retired Army colonel, circulated widely an email that refers to and appears to take exception to the discussion contained in Comment #281.

Readers will recall that Comment #281 expressed concerns about whether the Army's new officer personnel management system for the 21st century (OPMS XXI) would fix the problems it hoped to fix. It used an Army Times' report that said officers were opting for non-operational career tracks (Reference #1 to Comment #281) as a basis for raising issues regarding OPMS XXI, which if true, could have profound implications for the Army's future combat capabilities. These were made by a retired LTC (a veteran of three tours in Vietnam) and an active duty major.

Paradoxically, while COL Killebrew takes a personal swipe at me, I felt as if I agreed with much of what he said - particularly his observation that OPMS XXI is a patchwork solution rather than a real reform. But, not being a soldier (I come out of AF R&D community), I rely on soldiers in the combat arms to explain how the personnel system affects the Army's capability to fight, so I asked the Army major for his reaction.

His email response is contained below:

---------[email from army Major]----------


I agree whole heartily with COL Killebrew, who was the brilliant mind behind the July 1997 Army After Next Report to the Chief of Staff, which by the way, advocated "unit cohesion" for the Army of 2025, in a "changed culture."

To reinforce his positive points, it is good that officers are specializing to some degree. And all are getting to go to C&GSC, which, in reality, eliminates another aspect of the "competitive ethic."

There are important implications to his key remark, that "the new system is an adequate patchwork if you AREN'T going to address the fundamental problem." [emphasis added]. It is indeed a patchwork, because the senior member of the OPMS XXI task force already had his mind set when he arrived at the Hoffman building in July 1996. This was a shame, because the members of the task force were bright and had good ideas on how to fix the officer problems.

Instead, OPMS XXI is a compromise, like the previous OPMS studies, and by avoiding the harder issues of officer reform, it probably further entrench the very cultural problems Col Killebrew wanted to change in the July 1997 Army After Next Report.

OPMS XXI did NOT address the causes of officer careerism, lack of experience at the art of war, and lack of unit cohesion. It avoided trying to fix the unintended consequences of OPA 1947, and DOPMA 1980: a bloated officer corps vs. force structure, the negatively focused "up-or-out" personnel system, the 20 year, all or nothing retirement system, a one source evaluation system (the Officer Evaluation Report, or OER), and the individual system.

OPMS XXI was a compromise to appease most officers and left it to someone else to take-on these hard issues and solve them in the future - maybe in next report of Army 2025. But don't count on it. Finally, with regard to his remark about being fed up with this "warrior crap," I could not agree more. He is right, we should be PROFESSIONAL SOLDIERS - practitioners and scholars of the Art of War!!!!!

Maj XXX --------[End email]------------

The military is hemorrhaging young officers and middle grade NCOs. Many of these people are citing leadership problems as being central to their decision to leave the military. These problems have been the subject of many earlier messages. New readers can learn more about their different aspects by visiting the web site hot linked below and perusing Comment #s 46, 47, 88, 110, 113, 115, 126, 127, 129, 134,136, 138, 142, 149, 155, 160, 161, 172, 195, 206, 207, 233, 242, & 262.

Rather than defending a new personnel system as an "adequate patchwork if you aren't going to address the fundamental problem," perhaps we ought to think about addressing the problems themselves. The retention and leadership problems suggest that now is time to debate the need for real personnel reforms.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]


From: Robert Killebrew
Sent: Monday, June 07, 1999 7:27 AM
To: Kurtz, James Cc: Address list suppressed
Subject: Re: FW: #281 - 11 Reasons Why Army Officers Don't Want to be Warriors

Ladies, Gents:

I can't quite get as upset over the new officer management system as a retired infantryman is supposed to get. To get the most obvious part over with quickly, it's a good thing that all Army officers will get to go to Staff College. Anybody disagree? At a minimum, it makes all majors smarter, and it cuts out one of the many, many whiteknuckle hurdles that officers have to make just to stay in their career. So good lick for that.

Remember that "specialization" is necessary to serve the needs of the Army, not to prepare officers for post-retirement careers. Early specialization away from branches can cut too ways. There were at least two "specialization" harumphs during my career (and yes, I stayed in Ops) as a way to get officers to concentrate in areas in which the Army needed specialists. Trick was, of course, that if you stayed there too long, you lost your command track and became an also-ran. The new system is just a way to track earlier and give these guys & gals a chance to make 06 as a specialist, so they don't see themselves foredoomed at the rank of captain.

Yes, the underlying problem is the branch system. Young officers "socialize" to their branches, not to the Army, so that in the future, as they will leave their branches as Majors, they'll have to "socialization" at all, and the Army will have even less of a solid corporate identity. This is not due to specialization, but because, among lesser reasons, the Army consistently refuses to send ALL officers to a basic "Army" school where they can be yelled at by sergeants, sweat and strain together, enjoy the pleasures of Upatoi creek at midnight and do those other things that would send them out into the world as Army officers first, infantrymen or messkit repairmen second. That's a lick on the Army. But the new system is an adequate patchwork if you aren't going to address the fundamental problem ( which Ohle was not permitted to address).

Greg, did I get that part right?

Incidentally, I'm really starting to get fed up with this "warrior" crap. You've heard this from me before. If you want to find a "warrior" (I prefer the term "soldier," but that's another subject) go down to First Squad, Second Platoon, Bravo Company and look an infantryman in the eyes. He's the guy who pulls the triggers -- same for the tanker, the artilleryman and the Apache pilot. Enough already with field-grade officers whose closest approach to combat will be updating the maps in the CP. And that goes double for Chuck Spinney.

Bob Killebrew