What follows is one lieutenant colonel's explanation for turning down the Army's traditional prize of commanding a combat battalion, an artillery outfit in this instance. the officer, who turned down command last spring but is still in the Army, agreed to have his remarks tape-recorded in an interview with The Washington Post but declined to be identified.
I probably would have had a lot fun doing it, but I also probably would have been relieved for refusing to do some of the things that drive me absolutely bananas about the Army today.
I know full well that if some senior officer pounded on the table and said to me that area beautification is our No. 1 mission this month, I'd say: "Bull----! Being able to go to war is my major mission this month and any month. It's not area beautification; it's not reenlistment; it's not all this other junk. It's being able to go to war. I will area beautify as the time permits, but I'm not going to stop the training of my battalion and go out there and cut grass and paint buildings."
The Army today has excellent management and terrible leadership. Management is collecting data, using computers and systems analysis to develop trends. . . . But you cannot take an Army unit, which is a single entity, and run it through a computer. But that's what we're doing in the Army today. It's all statistics.
We have so many damn programs going in the Army: organizational effectiveness, equal opportunity, bond participation, area beautification, a society for whatever local unit you're in like the Big Red One society, reenlistment. In and of themselves they are important. But I have felt for a long, long time that no one anywhere is taking a look at the scope of these things to see how they are impacting on the individual units; how they detract from being able to accomplish a combat mission.
My reason for being in the ground with artillery pieces and personnel is to be able, at the drop of a hat, to go to war and kill people and not have my people killed. And the only way you can do that is training and training and training. I'm firmly convinced that in the artillery the lowest-ranking cannoneer will stand on his head in a mud puddle for hours as long as he can put rounds down range as long as he can make those big guns shoot. Now, with very few exceptions, we don't go out and shoot rounds.
. . . a lot of it because as a commander you have so many competing demands on your time that you can't devote the amount of time you should to that major mission: getting ready to fight. And the funny thing about it all is that your major mission in life, getting ready to fight, requires the least amount of paperwork.
All this overhead of management and running units by computer is a syndrome of our leadership which goes back to Vietnam where we had the squad leader in the sky. When you got a hot contact in Vietnam, the next thing you knew you had two, three, four, sometimes five or six helicopters up there looking down on you telling you what to do. There were layers of senior officers directing the poor lieutenant or captain on the ground on his combat.
I'm sitting up to my nose in water in the reeds and somebody in the sky says move 100 meters to your left. They didn't realize that under those reeds was a big damn canal that I can't swim across.
Leadership to me is the ability of the senior officer corps to realize these are conflicting demands and go out and tell the person, "This is your mission. We have these other programs we have to do our best on also, but do your mission. If the resources are adequate, I expect you to do your mission. If your resources are inadequate, come see me." Then I go out and do my work.
I think the reason we can't do that is that we're a victim of Vietnam where everything was directed out of here [the Pentagon]. The problem is that between these guys out there on the ground -- these battalion, company and troop commanders -- and "Shy" Meyer [Army Chief of Staff E.C. Meyer], there's a whole lot of people who have been ingrained with the combination of [former defense secretary Robert S.] McNamara management and taking the control and decision-making to the top. They believe in giving you as a commander just so much time, and if you screw up, firing you.