Leadership: November 2, 2002

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Traditionally, every battalion in the U.S. Army had an NCO who could, by fair means or foul, obtain any special equipment the unit needed. The "scrounger" only survived because his commander would go to bat for him (and keep him out of jail) on those few occasions where he would get caught. Even less well known are those rare officers, usually veteran majors or lieutenant colonels, who do what the scrounger sergeant does, but on a larger scale. These guys usually have a general or two as guardian angels. When the army underwent a decade of reform after the Vietnam war, the officer scroungers were in great demand, as they wheeled and dealed their way through the military bureaucracy to make innovations happen. But with the end of the Cold War, enthusiasm for maverick majors waned. The armed forces were downsizing and holding onto a job became more important than making new and wonderful things happen.  But that began to change in the late 1990s. It was finally sinking in that no one really knew what the armed forces were going to do in this strange post Cold War world. So adventurous officers became tolerated once more. The creation of SOCOM (Special Operations Command) in 1986 may have also had something to do with the revival of risk taking adventures. SOCOM made it safer to be an imaginative Special Forces trooper or commando. There were some scandals in the late 1980s when some commandos became a little to adventurous, but the aftereffects of this had worn off by the mid 1990s. One obvious example of the return of the officer adventurer is the new (as of last July 4th) online combat simulation, "America's Army" (www.americasarmy.com/). Intended as a recruiting and public relations tool, the game cost nearly seven million dollars to create. It now has 929,000 registered players, 563,000 of whom stayed around ling enough to finish the basic training exercise. No word yet on how much this has helped recruiting, but it has shown that some spectacular projects can still come out of nowhere. "America's Army" was created, outside the army's multi-billion dollar (a year) wargames and simulation bureaucracy, by a handful of daring officers. Many toes were stepped on and some feelings were hurt. And we can only hope there's more in store.

 


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