The record indicates that John B. Keeley, 52, of Alexandria, was one of the Army's "best and brightest" who rose to command after World War II. He ranked high in his West Point class of 1952, was selected for 82nd Airborne Division upon commissioning and was promoted to a series of combat commands, including running a 9th Infrantry battalion in Vietnam and a brigade of the 3rd Armored Division in Germany. Later he was chosen to teach at West Point and the Naval War College, and went to Princeton at Army expense to earn a master's degree in international relations.
Yet, in 1976, when he was a full colonel with a good chance of making general, Keeley retired at his request because of the frustrations of command. He remains a student of the Army with a book to his credit, The All Volunteer Force and American Society, and beieves the frustrations he faced, and the disillusionment he felt, are still at work, impelling officers to turn down commands. Keeley discusses some of those frustrations
When I was assigned to the Pentagon in 1965 as a staff officer helping to assess and respond to requests triggered by the Vietnam buildup, I found the Army unwilling to do some sensible things because they were unpopular or some general didn't like it.
My disillusionment deepened when I went to Vietnam myself, where I commanded an infantry battalion in the Mekong Delta in 1967-68. I found that the Army as an institution was very interested in killing VC was considered really great because the numbers could be put on a scorecard. Winning the war was irrelevant.
The numbers became so all-important that I found some of my superior offices willing to lie and cheat to make them more impressive to their superiors.
One day my battalion spent the whole day beating through the bush and flushed and killed four VC. Another battalion was doing the same thing and killed two VC. We sent the number four and the number two to brigade for its body count report. There, the numbers were put side by side to make 42, not the six we actually killed. This was disillusioning.
In 1974, I went to Europe to command the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Armored as a full colonel. The rhetoric of the higher command didn't match its actions. . . . It seemed the last thing the generals over me were interested in was my getting the brigade ready for war. I was forced to spend about 40 percent of my time in meetings where one boss, the general who was the division commander, or the second boss, the general who was the community commander, told me what to do.
And then I had to hold other meetings to tell my own commanders what the generals had told them, meaning the junior officers then had to hold other meetings of their own to pass along all that crap which has nothing to do with winning anything. We were always involved in meetings.
The gap between the rhetoric about being combat ready and reality -- which was pass the inspection, zero defects, receive visitors, get the Coke cans out of the hedge, keep the AWOL and accident rates down, don't have any racial incidents, defrost the refrigerators, air out the sandboxes -- I have found it hypocritical emotionally and intellectually.
The gap got so great that I couldn't straddle it anymore. There was no time to teach, to coach my troops, which is what I wanted to do and felt I should do. It really wasn't the heat in the kitchen but the swell.
The Army is doing the same things today, giving its commanders command responsibility but not command authority. There is a little bit of the wife problem, like not wanting to move, but the reason officers are turning down command is that they are asking themselves:
"Why I should I go out there and take all the hell and not have the authority? I'll take all the responsibility for everything going wrong. But if I want to turn things around, and if I want to change the training program, or if I want to reenlist this guy, or I want to fire that SOB, I can't do it. Or if I do it, it's an extremely involved process."
I think you fix this problem of command by turning it loose.It's like a sailboat or an airplane. If there is trouble, you get your hands off the controls so things can right themselves.