Published by Presidio Press, April 2002

The United States Army that raced across the desert sands of Kuwait and Iraq, sweeping the Iraqi army and its theretofore vaunted Republican Guard from the battlefield, is in crisis. Despite an outward appearance of health and vigor, today’s American army is an institution in crisis. It is not a crisis caused by its arms or its structure or its missions, although it is faced with vexing problems in each of those areas. It is a crisis of the army’s most precious resource: its soldiers.

This is a crisis of spirit, especially among the junior ranks of the officer corps. Captains, many of them the army’s best and brightest are voting with their feet. This is leaving the force in the hands of risk-averse middle managers. By default, they will become the high command of the future.

Official army doctrine calls for combat commanders who are “characterized by showing versatility and initiative, taking calculated risks, and exploiting opportunities.” Remarkably, the army’s personnel management system works diligently to ensure that the pool of officers from which the combat commanders of the future will be chosen will be overly full of what prominent defense correspondent George C. Wilson characterizes as “safe-playing bureaucrats.” And while the army, just like every other every large organization, needs men and women adept at keeping the wheels on the Pentagon’s wagon, these are not the leaders to whom we should look forward to entrusting our soldiers to on the battlefields of tomorrow.

Vandergriff’s analysis of the army’s personnel management crisis is informed by a complete understanding of the historical underpinnings of the army’s current system. At the turn of the century the then new “industrial” model of management was embraced by the military as a major reform from the cronyism of the past. In response to the emergency posed by World War II, Gen. George C. Marshall “perfected” the industrial model of personnel management as America mobilized and the army grew to number in the millions. Later it became increasingly apparent that the Marshall system, which had proved instrumental in defeating Germany and Japan, was not serving the army well in its preparations for the come-as-you-are battlefield that would mark a Soviet invasion of Central Europe should the Cold War turn hot.

In order to successfully meet the demands of what is called fourth generation warfare, a revolution in military affairs is needed. For the United States Army this upheaval needs to start with transformation of the management of its personnel: a revolution in human affairs. Author Vandergriff provides a prescription for just such a revolution. The army would be well served by adopting it.

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Major Donald E. Vandergriff, USA