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The Millennium Army

Or

It's Not my Daddy's Army Anymore General Kennedy

J. D. Pendry

Hell, my Dad was in the Navy anyway. His adventure (It's not a job it's an adventure!) took him to the Pacific to shoot at Japanese pilots trying to meet the divine wind by crashing their manned bombs into the decks of U.S. Navy ships. The Japanese, you see, had the first smart bombs - on board brain, guidance system and sight recognition of targets. But, there's evidence that it's not Dad's Navy anymore either. I'm just curious about how a mixed gender crew on a combat ship ducking Kamikazes would have worked for Dad's Navy.

In The Three Meter Zone: Common Sense Leadership for NCOs, (and by the report I just got from the publisher most of you haven't read it - or bought it) I asked at the end of the chapter Leader's Priorities what would be the legacy of the leaders of the Army of the 90's. I asked that, after talking about the 70's and what good leadership accomplished to give us a great Army of the 80's. As I wrote that chapter, we were unquestionably on top of the world. Let's recap and see what the leadership of the 90's faced and what the leadership of the Millennium Army needs to do.

In 1989, the Berlin wall crumbled ending the Soviet Union and the cold war. Almost immediately we heard about drawing down the force because there was no longer a major opposing threat. (Forget the Chinese right?) The Army's strength then was around 760,000. 1960's anti-military hippies turned 80's politicians began planning how to spend the peace dividend. In the middle of making out their shopping lists Sadam Hussein (one prone to use chemical weapons against his own citizens) thought he'd remind us that there are still dangerous people in the world. In a matter of a few months we assembled, along with the coalition forces, the most potent force ever put together. When the time came this force rolled over and through Iraq's so-called elite as if it was a Brownie Scout Troop.

America watching the play-by-play on CNN saw cruise missiles flying though Baghdad and smart bombs zipping down smoke stacks. War became clean and sterile. It truly appeared pushbutton and re-enforced in the minds of many that probably we didn't need a big Army to fight such battles - just more hi-tech gizmos and video game-like battles that appeared less violent than what the kids played everyday on Nintendo. Some argued that future combat would be so hi-tech and stand offish that gender would no longer be an issue to combat jobs. There was even talk of changing the culture to match the times - ending that culture driven by the often too macho man-warrior. Using the hi-tech battlefield argument and the fact that women served and were casualties in the Gulf War the move was on to get them into combat jobs.

When we came out of the desert, we said goodbye to VII Corps and drawing down became the mission for much of the Army. We also started to say goodbye to a warrior's Army. That warrior (or hooah mentality as it's often called by those who don't have it, will never get it, and damn sure don't want to understand it) ethic permeated the force. Combat Arms, Combat Supporters, and Service Supporters, men and women alike all knew they had war missions to train for. All went about their days trying to get better at their craft of collectively making and winning wars when necessary - that's what warriors do. Our Army and its spirit, however, were starting to suffer. We became smaller and good people left while the operations tempo for our deployable units doubled, tripled, quadrupled and finally ran off the scale so far that no one felt it mattered to keep track anymore. The politics of the time changed the world's most sophisticated and powerful war fighting force into the world's peacekeeping force. Over time, the Army became an adjunct Peace Corps. Combat unit's training started to focus on operations other than war just to be prepared for more contingency missions - missions often paid for with hard to come by training dollars. We were wearing down the warrior's spirit and his effectiveness.

While we were darting about the world and making it safe we were tailhooked by some trainers of soldiers at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Sexual harassment and sexual escapades between trainer and trainee filled headline news. Aberdeen fired the sexual harassment shot heard around the Army. Subsequently, a panel investigated sexual harassment in the Army. Its senior enlisted member encountered some difficulty however, when one of his former subordinates leveled charges at him. In the meantime, the panel did its work. We installed 1-800 lines for anyone who felt harassed - past or present - to call in. The top of our Army appeared consumed with righting a perceived wrong that "crossed all rank levels." Command chain teaching briefings came out and talked about things like "undressing a female with your eyes." At the end of the day we restated our values, put a values card in every wallet and a tag around every neck. Added to our peace keeping training and deployments now was intensified training and awareness of values and sexual harassment. Topics that began to show up in combat unit's battle focused quarterly training briefings.

Since it was the day of (or maybe decade) of panels it only followed that the entire initial entry training environment be studied to determine the causes of things like Aberdeen. Although a panel recommended separating the sexes for basic combat training, we got instead another week of human relations training added to basic combat training. This happened as new soldiers were telling us with their words and their performance that basic training was not hard enough. War Story: 1998 - Fort Myer, VA. During a unit hail and farewell a brand new private fresh from training at Fort Jackson walked up to my buddy CSM Sam Goodwin and me (attired in our CSM suits) hands in pockets and asked, "What do I call y'all?"

As we roll into the new millennium where are we?

  • We are an Army at nearly half the strength with which we started the decade of the 90's.
  • Units are stretched thin, under strength and over deployed and we are still expected to fight two major regional conflicts at the same time.
  • Some commanders have displayed the courage to rate their units not combat ready.
  • The recruiters are not making accession goals - at last count by nearly a division's worth.
  • Political correctness has joined hands with zero defects to make leaders cautious and the warrior ethic subdued at best.
  • Company grade officers and middle grade NCOs are leaving the force. (Dejavu Viet nam - I just read today about more promotions to backfill those missing middle grades - could shake-and-bake school be just around the corner?)
  • Soldiers, who would mostly prefer to be learning their trade, are trading in motor pool and range time for Consideration of Others (COO) and other such sensitivity training.
  • Publicly the Army supports political decisions on topics that are privately very divisive - gender-integrated basic training, women in combat, and don't ask, don't tell.

The leadership of the 90's inherited a great force, but faced many new problems. Problems not faced by any other decade of leaders. Just coming through the 90's intact is an admirable leadership accomplishment. How much longer can it stay intact and effective? As I look back to the 70's, I remember a force severely weakened by a number of problems, not the least of which was political meddling. There were also issues of effective training, or lack thereof; run down equipment for lack of funding and parts, low morale... dejavu again. Good leadership put that force back on track, shook off the political influence and got about the business of being soldiers and fixing stuff. You are right General Kennedy it's not my Daddy's Army. That Army or generation made it possible for me to sit here and write this and for you to wear stars. They didn't do it with COO training - they did it with warriors. OK millennium Army you got your mission - can the I'm Ok your OK stuff, lighten up on the sensitivity training, be the leaders you're capable of being and start producing warriors not politically correct, career oriented managers.

© 2000 J. D. Pendry