Leadership: The Very Modern Major Generals

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March 23, 2006: The U.S. Department of Defense is using more commercial management techniques to save money, and get things done quicker and more effectively. Although the American military, especially the air force and army, have preached that sort of thing for over half a century, there's been more preaching than practicing, especially in the army. But with the navy, for example, adopting commercial ship automation techniques into their new ships, the army is reconsidering how it does things. What the army is finding is that there's lots of opportunities to do what they are doing now, but do them quicker and at less cost by making small changes.

All the services have been forced to adopt some new, more efficient, techniques, because they often must buy commercial equipment, which usually requires more efficient methods to operate. But as all soldiers know, there are always three ways to do things; the right way, the wrong way and the army way. In peacetime, reluctance to change methods, for fear of adopting something that won't work in combat, creates a culture of inflexibility and worship of tradition. Ironically, in war time, there is far more readiness to try something different, and adopt new techniques. But that's mainly because you have ample opportunity to try things out in combat.

The war in on terror, and especially the combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, have created that war time "try anything" atmosphere, and the Pentagon brass are taking advantage of it. A lot of the most important innovation is taking place out of sight, as more administrative and technical methods are overhauled and changed every month. But one of the more ambitious changes is the introduction of commercial habits of perpetual examination and reform. It won't be known, until peacetime returns, if this particular reform will take. But for the moment, everything is up for study and reform. While the media tends to concentrate on the combat units, these comprise less than ten percent of those in the army. Thus the big changes are happening in combat support, and while they may not get a lot of attention, they will be felt. For example, supplies are moving more quickly, and with more certainty, by adopting techniques pioneered by FedEX and UPS. Over 20,000 troops have been transferred combat units because their combat-support jobs were eliminated by efficiencies. Even in combat units, robots and computers are doing more and more jobs that troops had to do. The troops don't mind, because the machines are taking over many of the more boring (guard duty) and dangerous (taking point) jobs.

 


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