Who becomes a general - and why - tells us a lot about whether our military is on the right or wrong track. The annual spring list of Army colonels promoted to brigadier general will be released soon. Rumors suggest that this year, unlike in the recent past, a number of maverick officers who have distinguished themselves fighting - and usually defeating - insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq will be chosen.- but the Navy, IMAO, is still lost at sea.
For example, scholar-soldier Col. H.R. McMaster, Special Forces Col. Ken Tovo and Col. Sean MacFarland - all of whom helped turn Sunni insurgents into allies - could, and should, make the cut.
This war is longer than WWII now, yet we cannot seem to get ourselves out of the peacetime mindset in either acquisition or personnel policies. Many have heard the lament, "America is not at war. The military is at war, American is at the mall." I would take that a bit further that large parts of the military, especially the Navy, is not at war. Instead, they are stuck on "war after next" fantasy opponents, Diversity Fetish like diversions, and pet projects of questionable use and affordability (LCS, DDG-1000) that spend a lot of money, but result in few ships pier-side.
Now we will see whether the former mavericks can become incorporated into the military establishment. Will this wartime change in Pentagon thinking be enough - and in time? It depends on how many of the forward-thinking colonels get promoted and how much influence they wield.Because of Goldwater-Nichols distortions, archaic established promotion habits, and poor leadership, we hold up 1-stars promotions so we can cram them through the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk so they can get their required JPME-2. Why the rush? - this check in the block is required because ---- it is require. Don't mind what is going on in reality, after all - these guys have been fighting wars, that's all.
The successful invasion of Normandy and subsequent race to the Rhine would have been unimaginable without Gens. Bradley, Eisenhower and Patton - all unknown colonels as late as 1940. So far, a few largely unheralded colonels in Iraq have salvaged the American cause.
The significance in the promotions of an H.R. McMaster or a Sean McFarland to general is not that they represent the nature of all future American wars. In fact, it is easy to conceive how a blow-up in North Korea or Iran would require a return to conventional military assets of heavy armor, firepower and high-tech close air-ground support.
Instead, the issue is whether the military still remains flexible enough to find the right commanders for the right type of fighting at the right time - and is preparing for all sorts of diverse scenarios in an increasingly competitive and unpredictable world.
What will some time in Norfolk give them they don't already have? Books. Nothing else really. Books. Don't get me wrong, I love books - but should they be allowed to put artificial constraints on promoting out best? Did Sherman have to take 1862-1863 off to go to War College because his community manager told him he had to in order to get promoted?
For the Navy, we have out best and brightest pulled off the front lines because they "have" to get War College and JPME-1 done prior to CDR Command - or they won't get CDR Command - operational expertise and excellence be damned. Want Major Command at Sea? Unless you are very "special," don't spend too much time deployed or earning tax-free post CDR Command, I'll tell you that. Huh - is that the right message?
Besides the starved and still ill-equipped RIVRON and NECC related forces, the Navy is still stuck in FY00 and bold-faced career advice to the Junior Officer has not changed. That should give us all pause.
Are we encouraging and rewarding thinkers, risk takers, and those looking over the horizon and taking those non-traditional career tasks? On a macro-scale? How do we?