Fragging Soldierly Values
(Why the Best and Brightest are Leaving the Military -- A Repost)

August 1, 1999

Comment: #303

Discussion Thread:  #s 126, 129, 138, 142, 144, 155, 172, 186, 206, 207, 210, 211, 212, 214, 233, 238, 239, 242, 246, 261, 302

I received the following email response to Comment #302 from a active duty Army officer with a fine record of leading troops in the field. He correctly took me to task for missing some key points in my introduction to Lt Col Zimmerman's resignation memorandum. What follows is his critique of my message and his assessment of the importance of the Zimmerman memo.

Email Response to #302 by Maj XXX


You are correct that Lt Col Zimmerman's letter is very significant, but you missed two important aspects of that significance.

First, this officer CHOSE to get off the "fast-track." He was on his way to general's stars. He indicated he was two time below the zone (rapidly promoted). The system was taking care of him, he was two years ahead of the peers he was commissioned with. Normally, fast trackers become the system's spokesman -- the Army puts them at PERSCOM (where they can map out their fast track careers by influencing their transfers), or in the PENTAGON (where they can grease the rails by making contacts and getting face time with slick power point briefings).

At both places, they learn how pump out the party line, and being young, handsome and articulate, they are put into positions where the press will talk to them first, and they become Madison Avenue poster boys and girls for the "be-all-you-can-be" Army. By the way, the difference between a below-the-zone and a normal-time-in-grade promotion could be a single OER received as a lieutenant!!!!

To be sure, there are a few exceptions to the rule, MAJ(P) HR McMasters being an outstanding example -- at the NTC [National Training Center] he earned his two below the zone promotions and is an asset to the Army. But most fast trackers are self-interested careerists who have never been in one place long enough to gain the experience needed or had the opportunity to exercise the decisiveness to do what is right --is n the field, or in the office -- which is one reason why we have the leadership problems Zimmerman described. Zimmerman's coming departure is a double tragedy for the Army because not only are we losing one of our best troop leaders, he is one of the few jewels on the fast track who knows what is wrong and has the moral character to fix it. You missed that point.

Second, you forgot to mention how the personnel system had positioned him for his next promotion, as it does with all below-the-zone to Lt. Colonels. He was a battalion commander!!!! -- the primo job for a troop commander in armor. He retired exactly at 20 years. He was ensured COL, and if he got below-the-zone to COL, which seems likely, given his two previous below-the-zone promotions, he would probably get a brigade and likely become a general. He gave up all that power, prestige, and career success ... and he told the truth eloquently without bitterness or rancor.

We need this guy on CBS news to tell why Army officers, not just Air Force pilots are leaving the service. The media and Congress don't have clue about the real causes of the officer exodus (remember how ABC news gomered up the issue last year when the reported pilot retention) -- the only exception I know of is the recent GAO analysis of retention problems which began to zero in on leadership's contribution to the flood of departures. I have nothing against pilots being in the elite category, but they get most of the attention, and remember, it is easier to leave in disgust when there is a cushy Airline pilot's job around the corner and a great National Guard job doing wifferdills in an F-16 on the weekend. When a tanker like Zimmerman punches out, he will not find lot of tank industries out there, or wargame companies, or Guard jobs where he can step into his tank and duke out in realistic weekend drills. That makes his letter even more significant -- tankers, and other combat arms guys are giving up what they LOVE and leaving at or even before retirement (giving up assured life time house payments).

Why are the best and brightest leaving the thing they love? In my opinion, they are leaving because a DECAYING CULTURE that is sucking the life out of our values of selflessness, esprit, character, and sacrifice. Zimmerman touched on many of these issues. The problem is NOT MONEY, nor is the exodus a product of the Clinton Administration's policies, like some defenders of the status quo would have us believe. It is a self-inflicted wound caused by officer careerists FRAGGING the military's soldierly values. Our careerist officer culture is shedding its core values from the INSIDE!!!!! -- and no one is telling the public or the decision makers on the Hill.

You were right about the disgusting Armed Forces Day Poster, but you did not mention the problem of forgetting people is merely a symptom of a LEADERSHIP CULTURE in DECLINE. But then, culture is an intangible, its is hard to measure, unlike the "value" of a major weapon's system that brings money and jobs to a politician's district -- which is easy to measure.
Well ... there you have it -- I understated the problem. Maybe I should go back into the Howling Wilderness of Acquisition Reform where soldiering is not a relevant issue and lunacy is easier to measure.

Chuck Spinney

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