February 26, 2014

Privates always believe they possess a greater situational understanding than lieutenants and captains, who believe they know more than generals. In his Feb. 23 Outlook commentary, “Fire the generals,” Adrian Bonenberger, a former Army officer, perpetuated such thinking. In fact, the military is doing what Mr. Bonenberger suggested.

While the best leaders and thinkers of the Class of 2002 (those Mr. Bonenberger said came into the service to fight terrorism) will not make colonel for another six years, numerous captains and lieutenants who led combat actions in Afghanistan and Iraq (and were commissioned between 1995 and 2001) started becoming colonels last year. They will enter general ranks this decade. Also, the view of junior officers is not as beneficial as Mr. Bonenberger suggests. PT boat skipper John Kennedy’s disdain for the brass contributed to the Bay of Pigs debacle. The observations of a generation of Vietnam-era junior officers shaped the doctrine that won the first Gulf War; those same observations buried the lessons of counterinsurgency learned in Southeast Asia. Such lessons would prove vital for those junior officers Mr. Bonenberger praised and could have been available sooner.

The “up-or-out” promotion system of the U.S. military is not flawless. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel should ensure that the system avoids today’s problems, encourages the adaptation Mr. Bonenberger suggested and finds a new leader in the mold of Gen. William DePuy, commissioned in 1941, who led critical parts of the post-Vietnam reforms in the Army.

John E. Valliere, Montclair

The writer is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.

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