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Subject: Military SF and the Army Transformation
Adam Selene    9/11/2002 9:51:30 AM
Regrettably, many of the suggestions drawn from Mr. Robel's review of the cited works of military speculative fiction and put forward in the fourth and concluding installation of "Military Science Fiction and the Army Transformation" are not practicable. Inherent in the majority of Mr. Robels lessons and recommendations is the presumption that it is both possible and desirable to create within the U.S. Army combatant units composed largely - no, make that *OVERWHELMINGLY* - of long-service troops, each unit drawing upon those of its personnel potentially capable of being developed as non-commissioned and commissioned officers during the course of their military careers. The principal fly in the otherwise emollient ointment is the fact that in even a moderately prosperous economy, there are civilian sector opportunities which tend to draw from the ranks of the serving military *PRECISELY* the kinds of people upon whom Mr. Robel would rely for leadership in such long-service units as he proposes. Beyond this, though there will always be a hard core of highly capable military officers and enlisted personnel who sustain their careers out of professional and patriotic dedication, the image of the long-serving "Lifer" - the fellow who's found a home in the Army simply because he cannot compete in the Real World - evokes well-justified scorn and is ghodawfully robust. The military has always tended to accumulate deadweight, including (as anyone with a history of active service can confirm) people who have risen to positions of authority not due to capability but as the result of having learned how to "game" the bureaucratic system. Beyond this, of course, is the fact that the system tends to crush out genuinely innovative people. Combat arms in particular have always been conservative in mindset - and for good reason; fancy damnfoolishness tends to lead to fiasco, and gets people killed without getting objectives attained. It's only in wartime - when things get desperate - that the Colonel Blimp types and the DoD suits with MBA degrees give the oddballs enough freedom to explore new avenues of attack. In times of peace there is precious little incentive for the true "outside-the-box" thinker to remain in such a fundamentally hostile environment. Nothing of Mr. Robel's discussion addresses the problems posed by these characteristics of the U.S. Army establishment. As for longevity of service in a unit (building unit cohesion), I would draw attention to Army Regulation 600-82, establishing the U.S. Army Regimental System (USARS), which - together with the COHORT (COHesion, Operational Readiness and Training) Unit Movement System - became part of The New Manning System in 1981. This was supposed to address concerns of unit cohesiveness and a soldier's identification with a particular regiment or corps. If it hasn't accomplished what Mr. Robel would like to see, it's worthwhile considering why it hasn't, and what might be done to supplant it with something that does. ...
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Kitchen Wolf    The difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense   9/11/2002 11:08:08 AM
One of the intentional side effects of the constant transfer of officers between units (besides offering diverse training and experience to the officer corps) is that the CO does not build more loyalty to himself than to the organization. This combined with the large number of one term troops makes it nigh impossible for anyone to gain enough support for a military coup (not a big deal nowadays, but no doubt tempting during one or more national crises). Secondly, if fiction were an accurate guide for military strategy, we just needed to send John Wayne over to Nam and the Duke would have settled that little score inside of two hours (or at least within a double feature).
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Adam Selene to Kitchen Wolf    RE: Military SF and the Army Transformation   9/11/2002 12:34:07 PM
Further discussion on "the constant tranfer of officers between units" is available in Major Donald Vandergriff's chapter from *DIGITAL WAR: A VIEW FROM THE FRONTLINE*, available at One of the passages I find extremely revealing - and which speaks to a much greater problem than the exceedingly unlikely for an officer with high regimental or brigade loyalty to leverage a *coup d'etat* - is the corporate mentality of the modern military. With elision of statistical stipulations, I include these two paragraphs: "A study on personalities (using the Myers Briggs Type Indicator – MBTI) and the effects on their change in relationship to rank in the Air Force was conducted in 1991. It found that Air Force Academy cadets had a wide variety of personality types. When an analysis of personalities was conducted between Army O-5s and Air Force O-5s, it showed very similar personality groupings – no statistical significant difference. When the O-5s were compared to the cadets there was statistical difference. Then a group of 161 Army generals was studied compared to the Army and Air Force O-5s there was no statistical difference. When the group of O-7s was compared to Air Force cadets there was statistical significant difference. Some 56% of the O-7s comprised of two personality types – Introvert Sensing Thinking Judgment (ISTJ) and Extrovert Sensing Thinking Judgment (ESTJ)!" "In analyzing the two predominant personality types, ISTJ and ESTJ, it was found that these types have a preference for stability, and avoiding organizational conflict. In other words, they tend to be 'corporate men' or bureaucrats, with a 'don’t rock the boat attitude.' Psychologist Otto Kroger has been holding seminars on the Myers-Briggs at the National Defense University since 1979. Kroger states that if his students switched uniforms for business suits, it would be impossible to distinguish them from the corporate executives he also tests. Somewhere between the O-3 and O-5 it is postulated that there is a significant shift toward these preferences, and officers are either weeded out with 'up or out' or they get out because they do not want to conform to the management science cultural mind-set of 'playing the game.'" There's a joke among science fiction fans that of the four Myers-Briggs personality types, the SJ (which Dr. Kroger found predominating among pay grades O-5 and above) couldn't possibly appear on the bridge of the starship *Enterprise*. The SP "Man of Action" is represented by Captain Kirk, the NF "Touchie-Feelie" by Dr. McCoy, and the NT "Promethian" is present in the character of Mr. Spock - but the SJ "Organization Man" is such a schlump of a mundane that you couldn't get the sonofabitch off the planet Earth. Mr. Robel, by the way, is also wrong about the military backgrounds of the writers whose works he cites. Heinlein may have been the only *professional* military man among them, but I know for a fact that Jerry Pournelle was an artillery officer during the Korean Police Action. His redleg history unfortunately accounts for his unwarranted reputation as a loudmouth. His hearing was blasted away by unprotected exposure to the fire of the battery he commanded, and like most folks with that sort of hearing impairment, he tends to speak at a level much higher than normal. ...
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Mike Robel    RE: Military SF and the Army Transformation   9/11/2002 6:26:14 PM
Thanks for your notes on my article. I actually think that something serious has to be done about the US Army personnel system. I have been in units where the whole staff changes within 4 weeks of our return from an NTC rotation. In my brigade in the 1st Infatry Division. The commander changed command and went to Korea. The XO left and went to the Pentagon. The S-1 became the XO for 90 days. The S-2 left. The S-3 left. I as the S-4 was the only staff officer 6 months later in his original position, and I left shortly thereafter. Battalion commanders, company commanders, and staff all changed. Within 8 months, this was a whole new brigade and near the bottom of its combat effectiveness. On the other hand, I commanded a COHORT tank company for 24 months. 6 months in the US and 18 months in the 1st ID (Forward). In that case, I too had some personnel turmoil as I lost officers to promotion and the advanced course, but all my NCOS and tank commanders stayed in the same position for my whole time of command. We were very nearly effective at the end of our time as we were at the 18 month point. Were we perfect? Nope, but we were effective and reliable. And we were replaced by a company that was also near the height of its experience due to its service together. The replacement commander commanded that company for the whole 36 months of its existance. Sadly, there was only the one COHORT company in the battalion, so everyone else had constant turmoil. COHORT was never implemented in such a manner that it had a long term chance for success, but it did have some strong successes. See Major Vandergrifs books for his opinions on these matters. Long Service does not mean that everyone in the unit will stay 20 years. It does mean that if you do stay 20 years in the Army, the majority of your service will be in that unit. In my proposal, the unit would not be the battalion, but a brigade or division. There would be ample opportunity to be detached for school or higher level assignments, but also the opportunity for professional company commanders, tank commanders, or S-3 sergeants. In the interest of space, I did not list military service of the authors of the books I read. Orson Scott Card, David Weber are not former miltiary. Dave Drake, John Ringo, Jerry Pournelle, Robert Heinlein certainly were. Rick Shelley was. Keith Lamour was in the Army Air Force and USAF. I think the thoughts of some on this board about miltary coups are in left field. The American Officer Corps prides itself on staying out of politics. The Army attracts the same type of people any other profession does. Some are outstanding, some are just there for the ride, and others are terrible. The Army always seems to get along and having stable units due to long service would only raise the bar for all units. Again, thanks for reading and your comments.
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David Blue    RE: Military SF and the Army Transformation   9/11/2002 7:38:08 PM
Michael K. Robel's series was excellent. (And if you're reading this, Michael K. Robel, hi there!) I see this from a slightly different point of view: from the point of view of US allies who are serious about contributing to the common defence and not being free riders. I think science fiction is a better guide to proper military organisation that US military practice. A US-style super-bloated bureaucratic system (with seperate heads of services and so on) is a poor model for a small country with a small military. Instead of doing things the American way because we're lined up with the Americans, it will be better to make the armed forces as lean as possible, like these fictional units. One thing these units have in common is top quality. Of course, that works for fiction: effective characters are more interesting. But it also makes sense: additional raw quantities of semi-trained troops, let alone additional bureaucrats in uniform, are not needed by our overwhelmingly populous and wealthy American friends: they can supply all the "suits" and cannon-fodder they want. However, red-hot, top-quality, highly cohesive units composed of long-service veterans can make a real contribution. Compromises that have to be made in other areas to maintain unit and personnel quality should be made. An "up-or-out" greasy-pole-climbing American system is a lousy way to retain expert sergeants etc.. It was/is not a clever idea to switch to this system, in my civilian opinion. These fictional units manage to keep themselves lean by off loading their non-core functions to someone else. This points to a key decision in defence policy for small nations: are we really trying to be totally independent, or are we allies first? Of course this is a touchy question, that goes right to the heart of who we are as a nation, but it has big, practical implications. If we really wanted to be independent, we would have to build a completely different kind of armed forces (and explain how these armed forces could be adequate if regional instability ran riot). If we really want to be the best allies we can be, trusting the Yanks to reciprocate should the need arise (and this is what I advocate), then the present high level of co-ordination is good, and everything inconsistent with it should be dropped as a useless charade. A theme present in a lot of military science fiction is making slender resources stretch a long way. I don't think this message really connects with the Americans at the moment, though the prospect of war with China might concentrate minds wonderfully. But it is very resonoant wherre I live and with my ex (unfortunately) military friends. If we intend to matter, if we want our friendship to have a high practical value in war, so that our friends and allies are effectively upheld and our mutual enemies hammered, I think military science fiction is a reasonable place to start looking for the required attitudes. David Blue
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Jeff from Michigan    RE: Military SF and the Army Transformation   9/11/2002 9:28:42 PM
I enjoyed the essay and the pertinent comments by Adam, Mike and David. Having been the “belly of the beast” for a short time and also part of an old style corporation you can see how the gifted politicos can climb to the top. In other words Dilbert lives. I am a little more sanguine about the quality of our generals. Having met and interacted with bunches of them it appears to me that there are many truly innovative types. Lt. General Van Riper is an example. However the concern is in the middle ranks where the rubber hits the road and where the real decisions are made that causes people to live or die. There the real candidates for the Darwin Awards live or die and unfortunately others die with them. Living in other countries and seeing their officer corps (British excepted and I can’t speak for the Aussies) I can say that the U.S. officer corps is heads and tail above the others. There is a great deal of professionalism. But professionalism doesn’t make a unit cohesive. Here I believe that the U.S. Army must rely on the NCO corps. One of the greatest lessons I learned from my CO’s was that I was to listen to my top sergeant to hear the troop’s concerns. We have to remember that the Armed Forces live in an environment. In this environment there is a lot of political control now populated with congressional non veterans who see the Armed Services as another point of societal engineering (which isn’t all bad. Consider Truman integrating the services and promotion of QUALIFIED minorities). The names Barb Boxer, Nancy Pelosi and Barney Franks come to mind. Unfortunately when accidents happen only negative things happen to the man in charge as well as those the next two levels up. This arises the zero defect management style. Thus people who follow the book get promoted because less bad things can happen. Thus bureaucrats or those types that can assume the patina of a bureaucrat get ahead. One way to check the promotion of purely political animals who have no ability other than self promotion are 360 appraisals. A 360 appraisal has evaluations from superiors, subordinates and peers. They can be real eye openers particularly at the peer level. Done wrongly they can wreck an organization but used properly they can really elevate the truly talented. The problem I see in the current Army is that there are too many rotations so that it can’t really be done reliably. One thing I remember about how German units remained so cohesive in WWII was their promotion system. Essentially for the NCO and lower officer ranks the selection was more peer selection. In other words people picked their leader which tends to bring the more charismatic leaders to the front. With clear missions and common purposes this could be an effective tool to find the best small unit leaders. Dave, your comments about Allied countries specializing in certain tasks is a good one. The New Zealand Commandos are really carving out a stellar reputation for High Mountain tracking and operations. The Aussies are acquitting themselves well. However as much as it grieves me I don’t think that the U.S. can be counted on. Some adminstrations such as the late unlamented Clinton are feckless thus leaving a country swinging in the breeze. The best example is how Carter threw over the Shah of Iran and allowed the embassy occupation. From that seed has come many bitter fruits of state sponsored terrorism. So if a country wishes to stay a regional player like Australia and the East Timor operation then they have to develop a substantial force package which diminishes the size and effectiveness of the force. Good discussion thread so far.
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Adam Selene to Mike Robel    RE: Military SF and the Army Transformation   9/12/2002 9:45:02 AM
Thank you for your remarks. Vandergriff and others have observed that the "up-or-out" and "rotate-'em-all-over" features of the present U.S. Army officer personnel system were deliberately structured by Army Chief of Staff General Marshal in the wake of World War II so as to create a cadre of active-duty officers who had a broad range of experience at various levels in command and staff posts, together with a large number of recently-discharged officers with similar experience. The objective was to provide for a more efficient and effective mass mobilization than had been possible in 1941-42. The problem with this system - and its objective - is that the armed conflicts of the recent past and the forseeable future neither require mass mobilization nor allow the time needed for such. In the words of T.R. Fehrenbach (see *THIS KIND OF WAR*), what's wanted on the frontiers are legionary types, not citizen-soldiers: "The man who will go where his colors will go, without asking, who will fight a phantom foe in a jungle and mountain range, without counting, and who will suffer and die in the midst of incredible hardship, without complaint, is still what he has always been, from Imperial Rome to sceptered Britain to Democratic America. He is the stuff of which legions are made. His pride is his colors and his regiment, his training hard and thorough and coldly realistic, to fit him for what he must face, and his obedience is to his orders. As a legionary, he held the gates of civilization for the classical world." The officer development personnel system imposed upon the U.S. Army more than 50 years ago has not been well-suited to the needs of the past half-century, and is utterly and without debate unsuited to any of the anticipated needs of the decades immediately before us. Unfortunately, it has produced the officers who currently *command* the U.S. Army, and these officers - like the politicians who have made a career of prostituting themselves for public office, and who will *never* permit reforms like term limits to end their whoring - will never allow the system that suckled them to be torn down. Their personal and (pardon the use of the word) moral survival depends on that system's perpetuation. In short, we cannot expect real Army Transformation to take place while these SJ "Organization Man" types have the ability to sabotage the process. Major Vandergriff - a very effective armor officer, from what I understand, as well as one of the rare innovative thinkers to have survived the Army officer corp's mincing machine - will go shuffling off into civilian life as a RIF'd O-4, never to ascend into the SJ-permeated and thoroughly stulified ranks of senior command, the perfect example of what's so incurably wrong about the Army of these United States today. By the bye, to those who remark on the originality, tenacity, iconoclasm, and articulate intelligence of retired Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, please observe that he's a *Marine*, and was promoted according to U.S. Navy BuPers policies, *NOT* those of the A.U.S. ... ...
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