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Beltwayitis

J. D. Pendry

Beltwayitis is a disease that can become epidemic in organizations. It's a much more sophisticated and advanced disease than its weaker form, The Good Old Boy Network. Not unlike many killer viruses, it continually mutates in order to defeat cures tossed at it. Problem is, it's winning in too many places and because of it the Army, soldiers, and the NCO corps are losing.

I've seen its symptoms crop up in many different places besides the place from where it gets its name. The metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. It's called the Beltway because of the major commuter routes (The Beltway) that go through and around the city in various loops and off shoots of Interstate 95. I named it Beltwayitis because that's just where I happened to be while writing this. It could just as easily be called Fort Braggitis or Fort Hooditis or any other kind of itis. The fact is it's a dangerous and infectious disease. A disease that can virtually destroy units - and an Army.

When you get to an organization suffering from Beltwayitis, you'll notice the major symptoms right away. The first noticeable symptom is that things common to the rest of the Army will be treated as new and strange ideas. The simple reason for this symptom is that the NCO leadership has spent their lives there. They don't know what's going on in the rest of the Army because they ain't been out there in it. Another symptom is NCOs who work full time on part time jobs and part time for the Army. Their soldiers also show symptoms of that part time attention from the NCO corps in their performance and problems. Most NCOs suffering from this disease will have advanced college degrees. That's not a bad thing in itself. The bad thing is how they got the degree - at the expense of the Army and soldiers.

Beltwayitis has other symptoms too. Squad leader level problems rapidly become Colonel level problems, because that's where soldiers take them when infected NCOs fail to act. You'll also notice increased IG activity because first line leaders can't solve soldier problems on a part time basis so soldiers look for help from the IG.

NCOs with Beltwayitis call senior soldiers by their names. Old Johnny So and So said. It's called name-dropping. They'll use old Johnny's backbone too, because they don't have one of their own - another symptom.

Beltwayitis suffering NCOs use every angle some bordering on illegal, and some outright illegal, to get deleted from overseas assignment instructions. When cornered, with no other possibility of being deleted from assignment they'll take a reluctant trip on the Orient Express. That's a one year trip to Korea, the land of the morning calm, complete with a mid-tour leave and a home base advanced assignment back to - you guessed it - the Beltway.

NCOs suffering from Beltwayitis often get career enhancing assignments because of whom they know instead of what they know. They get them at the expense of more qualified and better performing, but not politically well connected, NCOs. The result of course is that the Army and soldiers do not get the best product or the best leadership - another symptom.

NCOs with Beltwayitis interview potential bosses for jobs instead of the opposite. They interview with statements like, "I'm working on my Masters and I have a very lucrative part time job. I'm hoping this job won't interfere with that too much. I want to be able to look for other positions that will enhance my career. There is a real good possibility that old Johnny So and So will want me to come work for him."

In a unit where Beltwayitis is epidemic or has moved into its final stages, like emphysema does, the Beltway Mafia emerges. If you are a member of the Mafia you can easily move from job to job within the Beltway. With three years here and a couple of years there members of the Mafia spend 15 or 20 years in the Beltway - an entire career. All of this is at the expense of others making multiple trips to Germany, Korea and other places - when it probably ain't their turn to go. The Beltway Mafia helps non-members get assignments too. They have to do it in order to create openings for charter members of the Mafia coming back home after their trip on the Orient Express.

Beltwayitis is a very destructive disease. It has many more symptoms than those listed here. If it's left unchecked many good soldiers and potentially good units will suffer. I assure you Beltwayitis is not just found in the Beltway. There are serious pockets of it all around the Army. Read this again. Wherever you see the word Beltway, insert your unit's name. If any of this sounds familiar...

Copyright 1996, J.D. Pendry, All Rights Reserved