Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

The Garrison Monster Cometh

May 30, 2011 2 comments

I’m old enough to remember life in the Army before the GWOT.  Now that the Army is slowing down the OPTEMPO, there are more and more units spending time in garrison. After a decade at war, the big question is whether the Army will return to pettiness that characterized garrison life a decade ago.  There are now indicators that the answer to this questions is a regrettable, yeah…probably.

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“Cool Guy Syndrome” : New Illness Infecting Army Leaders

May 20, 2011 6 comments

The list of Army leaders getting fired is getting longer and longer as time goes on.  To recap the action, here is who has been canned recently:

GEN Stanley McChrystal, ISAF

COL Frank Zachar, 172nd Inf. BDE

COL James Johnson, 173rd Airborne Inf. BDE

LTC Frank Jenio, 2nd BN, 508th Parachute Infantry Regt.

COL Harry Tunnell, 5/2 Striker BDE*

*COL Tunnell had left command when the investigation was completed, however, the investigating officer said he would have fired Tunnell had Tunnell still been in command.

I’ve been doing a little research to see if I could find what all these guys have in common, and the results might surprise you.

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A Crisis in Army Leadership? Recent Brigade Commander Fails Have the CSA’s Attention

April 18, 2011 3 comments

General Martin Dempsey, commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, photographed at the Pentagon on Wednesday, May 20, 2009. (Sheila Vemmer/Staff)

A few months ago, I asked this question: Is the Army finally getting serious about toxic leaders?  It appears that the answer may be yes, although much remains to be seen.  What is clear is that the recent relief of two brigade commanders, COLs Frank Zachar and James Johnson, along with other embarrassing revelations of bad brigade leadership, has got the new Chief of Staff’s attention.  In the 25 April Army Times cover story, the new CSA promises action to curb these leadership failures.

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It’s Official: Frank Zachar is an Asshole

February 28, 2011 13 comments

Image_14725204.jpgIn a previous post about the relief of COL Frank Zachar, I posited that the reason for his relief may have been that Zachar was a toxic leader.

I hate to say I told you so, but….I told you so.

A follow up story by the Stars and Stripes indicates that a report on Zachar’s relief, authored by BG Jimmie Jay Wells, says that Zachar’s command climate was, ““at best ineffective” and “at worst toxic.”

Systems Thinking and Strategy –or- Why the “Spaghetti Bowl” PowerPoint Slide was Pretty Cool After All

February 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanks to Starbuck at Wings Over Iraq for posting this great video.

Remember the Spaghetti Bowl slide?  I always felt it was useful – it just had the misfortune of being composed on PowerPoint.  Unfortunately, two separate issues became intertwined.

First, the over-use of complicated PowerPoint slides (I’m not a fan).

Second, the use of Systems Thinking and Complexity Theory to help address tough problems like counter-insurgency (I am a fan).

Check out this video in which Ecologist Eric Berlow explains why the Spaghetti Bowl was a pretty neat product after all:

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Defeat: Department of Defense

February 16, 2011 Leave a comment


According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, all of the US military services issued a report on the murderous rampage at Fort Hood, Texas in November 2009 when Nidal Malik Hassan, a terrorist, killed 11 Soldiers, 1 civilian, and wounded 32 others.

None of the reports mentions radical Islam.

The same misguided, politically correct culture which contributed to the tragedy may be inhibiting the lessons learned.  It is widely believed that Hassan’s supervisors overlooked his professional incompetence and jihadist attitudes in the name of multi-culturalism and political correctness.  .

Translation: they were afraid to discipline or report Hassan because he was a Muslim.

Now it appears this same culture is not only absent from the report, but is actually causing the Department of Defense to deny, as an institution, one of the fundamental causes of this incident.

Not misinterpret.  D E N Y.  As in, we know that Hassan was a terrorist, but we are going to look the other way.

Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise to those who remember Army Chief of Staff George Casey, who, immediately following the shooting, said his chief concern was that the incident might “cause a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers.”

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2010 Iconoclast of the Year

January 24, 2011 1 comment

I consider myself something of a cultural insurgent, and so have decided to begin a new tradition.  I will present an annual award to the person or persons I believe have done the most to change the ugly parts of military culture.  This dubious honor will be given out at the end of each calendar year for the previous year.

Before I get to the 2010 award winner, I’d like to recognize three honorary award winners from years past who most certainly would have received this honor had it been in existence.

Previous Winners

Honorary Awards
COL John Boyd, USAFJohnBoydinsuit.jpg COL Boyd’s Energy-Maneuverability theory revolutionized the way combat aircraft were conceived, built, and employed.  Defying bureaucratic resistance, he successfully fought to create a light, fast, maneuverable, and inexpensive jet fighter which became the most produced of all time – the F-16.  Later, his theories on using time as a weapon and his concept of the OODA loop significantly influenced the development of US military ground doctrine.
COL Paul Yingling, USAYinglingWeb COL Yingling, disgusted with the strategic incompetence displayed by US senior leaders in the early years of the Iraq War, risked career suicide by penning a stinging critique of said senior leaders in Armed Forces Journal entitled “A Failure in Generalship.”  His article, despite drawing angry retaliation from some senior leaders, touched off a critical discussion about strategic leadership in the US Army.
COL Billy Mitchell, USAASFile:Billy Mitchell.jpg COL Mitchell was court-martial for his advocacy of air power in the years between World War I and II.  He successfully fought to gain limited budget resources for the development of air power.  His opposition was less concerned about national security than is was securing funding for its own parochial interests.  COL Mitchell’s effort resulted in a US Army Air Force that was able to fight and win over the battlefields of WWII.

Without further delay, I present the 2010 Iconoclast of the Year award to COL Lawrence Sellin.  COL Sellin wrote a scathing article regarding the bloated staff structure and obsession with PowerPoint in the US Afghanistan war headquarters.  You can read the entire article here. Among the more quotable quotes from COL Sellin:

“For headquarters staff, war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information”

“Around here, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a colonel.”

“The ability to brief well is, therefore, a critical skill. It is important to note that skill in briefing resides in how you say it. It doesn’t matter so much what you say or even if you are speaking Klingon.

Random motion, ad hoc processes and an in-depth knowledge of Army minutia and acronyms are also key characteristics of a successful staff officer.”

”Briefers explain each slide by reading from a written statement in a tone not unlike that of a congressman caught in a tryst with an escort.”

“Each day is guided by the “battle rhythm,” which is a series of PowerPoint briefings and meetings with PowerPoint presentations. It doesn’t matter how inane or useless the briefing or meeting might be. Once it is part of the battle rhythm, it has the persistence of carbon 14.”

For his efforts, COL Sellin was fired from his staff job and retired.

Bravo, COL Sellin, for saying what we all knew was true, but were too timid to say so.

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Categories: Culture, Organization