Capewell

The Baldwin Files – Talent Management – Part 1 of 3

Let us talk about talent management. The Army’s Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis (OEMA) defines talent as “…the unique intersection of skills, knowledge and behaviors in every person. Talent represents far more than the training, education and experiences provided by the Army. The fullness of each person’s life experience…and a myriad number of other factors [that] better suit them to some development or employment opportunities than others.” OEMA goes on to say that talent management is the: “…systematic planning for the right number and type of people to meet the Army’s needs at all levels and at all times so that the majority of them are employed optimally. Talent management begins with entry-level employees and aligns their talents against the demand for them during their entire careers, to include positions at the very top of the Army.” More simply, I would say developing a system that enables and ensures people are being, “employed optimally” is the key to effective talent management – both from the individual’s and the Army’s perspective. That certainly articulates a worthy vision, but we are not quite there yet.

“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”

– Heraclitus

I am not claiming to be that one warrior, but I always aspired to be that guy. I did have a long, colorful, and very unusual, career in the U.S. Army. During the course of 36 years, I learned a few things about the workings of the existing Personnel Management system. For the last few years, as many of you know, that term “talent management” has come into vogue. Sadly, based on what I have seen and experienced – and despite optimistic talk – the institutional Army remains largely locked in manning mechanisms and procedures that have not changed much since WWII. Even the transition from a draft back to an all-volunteer force only changed how people come in the door. Once in, officers and NCOs are still locked in rigid career tracks that require specific “branch qualifying” duty position blocks to be checked within certain narrow time in service windows in order to be promoted. The system actively resists individuals even briefly daring to step off the prescribed path and timeline; and – in the worst case – the result of such a transgression is damaging if not career ending delay or denial of a promotion. That is not effective talent management and never will be.

I am going to be using my own career to illustrate how “the system” worked – or failed to work – for me. I thought about discussing this subject in more generic terms rather than making it about myself. Not that I am ashamed of any of the events that I am going to describe; rather, because my career was so anomalous, I worried that many of the specifics would not be applicable or of value to any readers in service today. Still, I concluded it was best to write about what I personally saw and know. Besides, I wanted to get this personal history recorded eventually; so, I convinced myself that others would find some utility in my experiences. We will see. I admit I am the hero in this story. That does not mean that there are also stereotypical villains in this tale. Many of the characters I will introduce actually helped get the system to work for me. Others may have tried to block my preferences, but most thought they were doing what the system demanded and acted in good faith – even if not in my favor. But, yes, a couple of these people were dicks and I took a certain satisfaction in besting them and the system when I could.

I have written twice before about my experiences in Germany, 1975-78. The “rehabilitative” transfer to the Divisional Pathfinder Detachment made a huge difference in my professional life. There I found a handpicked group of troopers who were all sharp and combat focused. We had the esprit that comes from having a specialized mission and I loved it. I left that team after 2+ years as a Sergeant (E-5) seriously thinking in terms of making the Army a career. Indeed, shortly after PCSing to Fort Lewis, Washington (with less than 5 months left on my original enlistment), I reenlisted for another 3 years. Up to that point, I was still blissfully ignorant about how the Army personnel management system worked.  I just got on with my professional and personal life. With 12 months on station at Fort Lewis I received orders to PCS to Hawaii. Just a couple of weeks earlier, my girlfriend of almost a year, who was a Supply Specialist in an Aviation unit, had gotten orders for Korea. Faced with almost immediate separation, we did the only thing we could think to do. We got married.

To this day, I have no idea if starting a marriage as a long distance relationship before skype, email, or cell phones were invented would have worked. Fortunately, we never had to find out. I went to my PAC before the ink had dried on the marriage license to codify our union with the Army. We were thinking that after a year in Korea, the Army would allow my new wife to join me in Hawaii. We did not think we had any other choices. After all, orders were orders – or so we neophytes thought. I told the SFC PAC NCOIC our plan as I was filling out the paperwork. He looked at me as if I had a you-know-what growing out of my forehead and said, “Wait here.” A couple of minutes later he came back and hustled me into the Battalion Commander’s office.  I told my story to the BC and he told me to sit down. His comment to me was, “we can do better than that.” It turns out before taking command he had just completed an assignment at Infantry Branch in the HQ we now call PERSCOM, in Alexandria, Virginia. He did not call some General or even another Lieutenant Colonel. He did not seek anyone’s approval or concurrence. Instead, he called one of the “little old ladies in tennis shoes” that actually run the Army’s personnel management system. He told her the problem and gave her mine and my wife’s names and social security numbers. In no time, she had arranged to rescind both our sets of orders, stabilize us at Lewis for an additional 6 months, and cut new orders so that we would both PCS together to Hawaii. The phone call took about 30 minutes.   

I strongly suspect that call saved my nascent marriage if not my career. That was 1979. All I know is that on November 30th of this year I will be celebrating my 40th Anniversary with that same woman. From that experience, I learned that the system is made up of people, orders can be changed or amended, and policies can be waived or even disregarded on a case-by-case basis. There are always options. Skip ahead 5 years and I am a promotable Staff Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division just accepted into Officer Candidate School (OCS). Even that did not happen without a minor complication. When my OCS Class date came down I was not at Fort Bragg, but was TDY at Infantry ANCOC at Fort Benning. In fact, I had to voluntarily withdraw in writing from that course because it overlapped the start of my OCS Class. ANCOC became the only school I ever started that I did not complete. The cadre at ANCOC actually asked me to finish the course and take the next OCS Class. I could not. At the time, the Army would not commission anyone with more than 10 years of service. If I took even the next class, my graduation / commissioning date would be 2 months too late. Therefore, I had no choice but to rush back to Bragg, out-process, and PCS back to Fort Benning just 2 weeks later.

I do not regret any of that, but the fact that I waited to literally the last minute to seek a commission would have a significant ripple effect throughout the rest of my career. As most SSD readers already know, the Army gets almost all of its officers through West Point, ROTC, or OCS. The first two are generally 4-year programs and the cadets in those schools earn a degree while simultaneously meeting the prerequisites for a commission. OCS is the smallest program, and at the time, was 14 weeks long (today 12 weeks). What many people do not realize – I did not before I got there – is historically, 75% of OCS Candidates are what are called “College Options.” That is, people who already have college degrees that enlist specifically to go to OCS. They complete Basic and then go straight on to an OCS training company. Less than a dozen people in my class of ~150 had more than 4 years of service. Those of us without a degree were required to attend “Degree Completion” sometime after commissioning. That administrative requirement would also have an unanticipated impact on my career 4 years later.

I graduated OCS and was commissioned in Infantry on 22 February 1985. My wife was assigned to an Aviation unit at Bragg and had remained there while I was in school. My intent was to go directly back to the 82nd. In this case, I had a better than average chance to get what I wanted since I was already Jumpmaster qualified and Senior Rated. However, after OCS I still had some more schooling to complete. First up was the Basic Infantry Course and that was almost 6 months. Normally, after the Basic Course, most – but not all – Infantry Lieutenants would go to Airborne and Ranger School. I had already checked that first block so all I had to do was Ranger School. By the time I was half way through the Basic Course, I had tentative orders assigning me to the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne, in hand. It was all coming together. However, there was another factor looming over the Schoolhouse that potentially was going to upset my plans.

The Army had just stood up the 7th Infantry Division (Light), at Fort Ord, California. It was the Army Chief of Staff’s highest priority. Almost all of my peers that summer were already on orders to go there. Likewise, they had priority to Ranger School and that meant that I would be waiting at least a couple of months after the Basic Course before I could even get into the school. To make matters worse, the rumor was that filling the 7th was considered so important that orders for anywhere else were soon going to be rescinded. I was not going to take that chance. So, the day before graduation from the Basic Course, I called up the S1 for 3rd Brigade and asked him if I could come on up and return back to Ranger School later on a Division slot? He put me on hold and asked the Brigade XO if that would be ok. The XO agreed. I suspected – and later confirmed – that the 82nd was struggling with no longer being the highest priority fill for the Army. That summer, the 82nd and 101st had serious shortfalls in company grade infantry officers because they were all being diverted to Ord. I had the answer I wanted. I waved my orders around, signed out of the schoolhouse within 48 hours, and drove faster than the law allowed north and home to Fort Bragg.

That is why I ended up going to Ranger School about 18 months later. Including that 2-month sabbatical, I spent just over three years at 2nd Battalion, 505th PIR. During that time, I was a Rifle Platoon Leader, Mortar Platoon Leader, Tow Platoon Leader, Company XO, and finally the Battalion S3 Air. In other words, I had checked all the infantry lieutenant career blocks that I needed to. However, the Army personnel management system had negatively affected my wife’s career during this period. About a year after I got back she received orders to Germany for 3 years. That was not going to work, so she refused those orders and left the service after 8 years. I also had to start looking forward to the next phase of my career. I would have to go back to Benning for 6 months at the Infantry Advanced Course (now Captain’s Career Course). In addition, because I still had to do Degree Completion, I would be spending 18 more months going to a civilian college nearby in Columbus, Georgia. Infantry Branch also had a Heavy / Light policy, so since I had been on the light side initially, I could expect a mechanized infantry assignment next. I was not enthusiastic about the likelihood of that.

Something else happened in 1987 that helped me make a fateful decision about my future. Special Forces (SF) became a separate Branch. I had been serving with SF qualified officers and NCOs for my entire career. The majority of SF had come from the infantry ranks for decades. In fact, my last Battalion Commander and XO in 2/505 were both SF qualified. I had thought about SF before and had intentions to go over as a Captain after Rifle Company command. That had been the common practice for several years since SF Warrants had replaced Lieutenants on ODAs after 1983. SF had been a school, a skill identifier, and just a temporary assignment for Officers and NCOs of other Branches prior to that timeframe. Now, Lieutenants like me had only a single window to submit a packet to be considered for accession to SF. 1987 was my year group’s one and only window. With the full encouragement and support of my BC and XO, I submitted my packet with high hopes of being selected. Several months passed before I received a response from SF Branch. They had rejected me.

When I initially outlined this subject, I quickly realized that it naturally divided into three blocks of time. My infantry career up to 1988, my SF time from then to 2001, and finally the period from 2001-11, a.k.a. my GWOT years. As I began to write, it dawned on me that my relationship with the Army’s Personnel Management System changed significantly during each block of time. In Part 1, that you have just read, I worked with and within the system. Sure, occasionally I had to nudge the system with the help of others. Still, I was generally moving in the direction that the Army and Infantry Branch wanted me to take so there was very little friction. In Part 2, as you will see, I eventually found myself at odds with what SF Branch wanted to do with me. Therefore, at times, I had to aggressively work in opposition to the system and there was a great deal of friction. In Part 3, I was obliged to operate almost exclusively outside the system and, therefore, avoided friction almost entirely.

The “take aways” from this first article is that the Army has essentially an industrial age, conveyor belt, assembly line, MANNING system vice a flexible management system. And, from what I have seen, the other Services are not appreciably better. The system has a great deal of difficulty dealing with individuals as individuals as is required for genuine talent management. Indeed, the system is easily flummoxed by anyone who is different in any way. In 1979, dual-service couples were unusual, but the problems my wife and I encountered decades ago still apparently persist, unabated, for similar couples today. Almost inevitably, one of the two must eventually sacrifice their career to keep the marriage intact – or dissolve the marriage. It is not effective talent management if we habitually advantage one soldier’s career at the direct expense of another. Moreover, some aspects of the system are counterintuitive and counterproductive to any semblance of talent management. Time in service rules for example. One might assume that more enlisted experience would be considered a valuable asset for an officer and not a liability. That would be incorrect. As I pointed out earlier, it is rare that people are commissioned with more than 4 years of enlisted service. The system does not deal well with “rare.” Spoiler alert, I was initially rejected by SF Branch because of my abnormal amount of time in service.

Nevertheless, I am not writing this because I am disgruntled. Clearly, the system was good to me and I acknowledge that up front. But, that system is not going to be good enough as we move deeper into the ever-higher tech 21st Century. We need more and more talent in a postindustrial age, not just mass numbers of warm bodies. The Services have to find that talent and retain those people once we have them. It will have to be a radical departure from what we have previously experienced. However, I will sound one cautionary note. Military service cannot ever become entirely about self-actualization of the individual. Duty, honor, and selfless service – not to mention teamwork and unit cohesion – are always going to matter and must NOT ever be sacrificed in the name of individuality. The needs of the Service must be addressed and balanced as well as the needs of the individual. There will always be a number of less desirable and even thankless jobs that need to get done. That burden simply has to be perceived to be shared equitably under any system.

The attached picture shows soldiers climbing the ruins of the Ziggurat of Ur near Nasiriya, Iraq. It is a good metaphor of our current system. It provides a solid, if crumbling, path to the top, i.e. professional success – as long as you do not deviate from that prescribed path. Moreover, the path is wide enough that – at least in some cases – a few can move faster under their own power toward the top without disadvantaging others. Most people can accept that as long as the opportunity is perceived to be fairly administered and truly talent based. However, no one appreciates looking to the left or right and seeing that an escalator has been put in place for a privileged few. We have probably all seen this individual. His boss thinks he walks on water and wants to fast track him; his peers know him as a Spotlight Ranger and do not trust him as far as they can throw him, and his subordinates consider him an unmitigated piece of crap. An effective talent management system would have to have some methodology to collect and reconcile those disparate evaluations of everyone’s performance to differentiate true talent from the posers. Finally, if anyone has more recent experiences, or has knowledge of new(er) changes to the system – that have made it better or worse – I would love to hear it.

De Oppresso Liber!

LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (Ret) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments. SSD is blessed to have him as both reader and contributor.

21 Responses to “The Baldwin Files – Talent Management – Part 1 of 3”

  1. Marcus says:

    Thank you LTC. As always these articles are very thought provoking. A few points if I may.

    First, on “employed optimally”. I truly wish more people would not just recognize that concept, but truly try to better define not just what it means to each MOS, but the team and mission as a whole. I believe largely this is done well, but as always we can do better. I worry more about the future as technology and techniques change, that we won’t recognize the skills that are needed, nor what it takes for that person to be employed “optimally”, thereby making a material contribution to the mission. I know it may sound odd, perhaps even “weak” to some, but we need people to be satisfied in the job they are doing.

    On “Aspiring to be that guy”. We should always have role models who push us to be better. Every. Damn. Day. When we can, we should also have mentors who push us in the right direction and help develop our talent in a way that contributes to the mission. I’m not kissing butt here, but if someone looks at you career and can’t be inspired to be “that guy”, maybe it’s time to do something else IMVHO. By the way, I don’t mean in your exact footprints, but in a way that inspires you to advance in your own career path.

    Anyway, I don’t want to drone on, but there is a lot here worth unpacking and understanding further.

  2. PTMcCain says:

    Well written and highly informative! And thanks for your many years of service, sir.

  3. Tired says:

    Come to the sustainment side of the house…. where the HBUC fraternity and sorority system and the Prince Hall Lodge have subsumed the promotion and assignment process.

    It’s unbelievable.

  4. Tired says:

    Come to the sustainment side of the house…. where the college fraternity and sorority system and the Masons have subsumed the Army promotion and assignment process.

    It’s unbelievable.

  5. Israel Hoffman says:

    This is the biggest reason I have seen incredible soldiers and NCO’s leave the Army in the rear-view mirror. This combined with the re-focus on the officer’s unrealistic control of all things army is the reason we will lose the next major conflict. The opinions of a fresh 24 year old college grad outweigh that of the 32 year old senior NCO with 12 deployments. Everything is ass backwards and completely upside down.

    • Terry Baldwin says:

      Israel,

      I know it can be like that, but it does not have to be. For any unit to work at its best, under any promotion / assignment management system, there has to be team work and unit cohesion. Both demand that everyone treat everyone else like a valued teammate – regardless of rank and relative experience. Everyone brings whatever they have to contribute to the team effort.

      That in turn, requires mutual respect and implies that everyone fully commits to the team and the mission. In my experience, people thrive and strive to achieve their personal best in that type of positive unit climate. Otherwise, as you mention, the best people will walk. I always advise against leaving simply on the basis of being dissatisfied with “the system.” I say, stay and fight. That is what warriors do – even if the struggle of the day is against the Army itself.

      It will never get better unless good people stay around to try.

      TLB

  6. MRC says:

    Terry,
    Great article as usual; I know we talked about it before, but if you remember we overlapped in 2/505 in ’87. Then of course later. TR

    • Terry Baldwin says:

      Travis,

      Yep, I usually remember…I just have senior moments from time to time.

      TLB

  7. Brian Harris says:

    I have never joined the military. My friends did. I went to college BLA, BLA, now in LEO. It is sadly the same in my small Civililan AO. Thank you for your service and sending this out. Cheers.

  8. Will Rodriguez says:

    Very much looking forward to this article. I also had a very unique career and decided early to pursue positions I found personally rewarding vs. punching a ticket to get promoted. (My personal gripe is defining success by rank does not serve the organization or the soldier best.)

    Sometimes I experienced the Army completely desiring to fill A SLOT when another slot also had to be filled that would have also been “career enhancing.” Guess what the Army did? LOL!

    I hope you are going to offer some solutions?

    • Terry Baldwin says:

      Will,

      Yes, at least some options if not solutions. Not many are original ideas of mine. Some of this has been “wargamed” and brainstormed for years. One of the challenges with changing a huge complicated enterprise like the Army is that – in terms of personnel management – it is a zero sum game. X number of slots and Y number of people in perpetual motion. One domino moves…and, traditionally, they all have to move.

      Slowing promotions by stretching out time in grade timelines and reducing the pressure to move people constantly would be good ideas. However, initiatives like that do tend to limit options for self-actualized career mobility. We do not want to go from perpetual motion to stagnation. The Army acknowledges that but has not made any real effort to do something about it.

      Remember the old regimental affiliation initiative that was supposed to provide stability and predictability? It did not do either. I also think lateral opportunities should be exponentially expanded. Shifting between MOSs – call it cross training – going Warrant, or seeking a commission in service – and even back again – should be made almost routine.

      Reevaluating the need for generalists vs specialists. My sense is that already today and in the future we need fewer commissioned officers (generalists) and more specialists (Warrants and NCOs). Having said that, we do not want to lock people in ridged silos based on “that’s the way we have always done it” rather than logic and military necessity.

      Generally, giving the individual more real power within the system to achieve what he or she defines as career success would be a good place to start if you want to make talent management a reality and not just a slogan.

      TLB

      • Will Rodriguez says:

        I think a better approach than stretching out timelines for officers is de-linking command and staff progression instead of putting everyone through the command pipeline to advance. Saw too many interested in getting promoted chasing command slots and doing their best to shine at the cost of the troops. Identify early, officers that are great planners or leaders and let them excel in those areas. Better job satisfaction and better results for the organization.

        Yes, I remember regimental affiliation. I selected the 502nd and was looking forward to going to the Berlin BDE. Then I learned affiliation didn’t apply to officers and was forced to go to the Armor School’s advanced course.

        Huge culture shock going from light infantry to the heavy side with side stops at the Bradley, Abrams and Maintenance officers courses. (The last one was a very sad time.) In hindsight it did provide me a very wide perspective of the application of combat power (doctrinal definition).

        Agree on the need for more specialists. The officer to enlisted ratio though isn’t to bad. It could use some trimming if some of the newer staff positions can be handed off to specialists.

        • Terry Baldwin says:

          Will,

          I concur with what you are saying with a couple of caveats. Some of this I intended to bring out in the next two parts so it is a preview of what I am thinking. First, I know full well this is not a problem that can be solved over one beer each. It is going to take some serious work to change decades of culture, habit, and entrenched “tradition.”

          I do think some of the solutions can be found in our past. I have spoken often of the post-Civil War and post-WWI periods. Times of minimum resources and slow promotions but very high professionalism. Granted, in both cases we are talking about a very small Army compared to today. Still, some of the lessons on how they did “talent management” are very applicable.

          Like making a “career” once again 30 years rather than 20. As you will see in the next two articles, after I hit 20 years time in service, the Army kept trying to marginalize me – presumably in order to get rid of me. With more time comes more opportunity to allow people to stay in positions longer – if they are doing a good job – gain real mastery of their craft at that level before advancing, and doing so without greatly disadvantaging those waiting in line for the same jobs.

          I agree whole heartedly in a staff vice command track for officers and NCOs. And that speaks to what Kirk is talking about below. Some people are perfectly capable of assuming greater responsibility as they develop – but are still not ever going to be talented leaders. However, I do not fully trust “the system” as it currently exists to make that decision. Today, senior leaders habitually pick winners and losers at the junior Captain level by reserving the key developmental jobs that lead to battalion command to the “chosen ones” and thereby shutting everyone else out. Some people are late bloomers. A good system would have to have allowances for that.

          I would disagree with you on the officer / enlisted ratio. Something I with hit on again in the 3rd article. I think having fewer commissioned officers per capita would reduce the pressures to keep shuttling people between jobs. As a result, staffs have traditionally been where officers were parked while waiting for “real” jobs to open up. It has been that way for so long it seems right. Why? Neither a college degree nor a commission are necessary to do a staff estimate or participate in the MDMP.

          I will use intel as one example. In the best intel shops I have seen, the actual work is done by a relative few intel specialists (enlisted, NCOs and Warrants) working collaboratively, supervised and led by an even smaller number of officers (generalists). From what I have observed, a higher density of intel generalists will not make the intel shop produce any better product.

          Indeed, in my experience, in all staff functional areas, flatter and leaner HQs actually perform better. That means a few high quality and talented Indians and a very few equally talented chiefs is the best combination. But talent cannot compensate for bad organization and a lack of command focus.

          Let’s try Mission Command instead. A higher staff does not have to dictate HOW a support unit will deliver goods and services. Those units know how to do that. Give those units the mission and they will figure it out. It does not take a lot of Logistics officers parked at higher HQ to make that happen.

          I watched a JTF level J5 Planning staff of 70 mostly very talented officers (no NCOs or Warrants – they were generalists all), flounder for 9 months in Afghanistan. They produced nothing of value for the CG or any subordinate elements in that time. But they planned their rear ends off every day, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without a single down day.

          Now, of course, the CG and the CofS were ultimately responsible for that nonsense. The plans shop became a joke and was eventually disbanded. That is an extreme example but I have witnessed a lot of time and a lot of good people wasted in bloated staffs. That kind of experience stifles talented people and does service to nobody.

          Good discussion!

          TLB

          • Will Rodriguez says:

            Looking forward to reading what you have to say.

            I think with intel you selected an exception where very talented NCOs and enlisted don’t require an officer to create required staff products. I think your approach could also apply to the personnel arena.

            My experience has been different in the logistics side and while support does its job well I often saw the different culture clash with the combat arms.

            While college degrees aren’t necessary I would also differ on MDMP and staff estimates at BN and higher for conventional units outside the S1, S2 functions could be handled by NCO’s. There are still some differences in the advanced schooling we give officers and NCO’s. Warrants may be able to address that though. That would require an expansion of warrant specialties on the conventional side.

            Oh and lean is awesome when one has technology to do the dissemination piece and are not involved in continuous high tempo ops.

            Great stuff. I can only pray someone in power is reading.

            • Terry L. Baldwin says:

              Will,

              Yes, I do believe there is an educational and structural component to the process. If we thin out the commissioned officers as I am suggesting. NCOs would have to get some of the staff-centric training we now give officers. The old CAS (command and staff) course POI more or less.

              And, yes, warrant opportunities would have to be expended significantly and into fields where warrants are not currently an option. I am thinking of a “staff NCO” track, with a natural progression to a warrant and even eventually a commission ala what PAs used to be able to do (not sure if that is still an option).

              It seems to me that “staff” could be a career field that all other Branches have the option to feed into. Not unlike SF. Instead of staffs being ad hoc as they are now, perhaps they would function better if we manned them more like a unit? The core of the organization would be professional / career staff NCOs, warrants and officers optimized to the staff function / mission.

              Some officers and NCOs from the other Branches would still rotate in to the staff unit but would and could return to their original fields and just as easily serve in other units. Again, not unlike SF units are built around the 18 series or Aviation units around Aviation Branch personnel.

              Aviation and SF became dedicated career fields for good reason. Maybe we could get better results from a staff career field and treating above Brigade HQ as real units as well? I would like to see someone test the concept at least.

              TLB

              • Terry L. Baldwin says:

                Will,

                PS, You will probably recognize that my last suggestion is intentionally reminiscent of the German General Staff model. The Germans recognized, I think correctly, that staff work is an important warfighting specialty and made the effort to recruit officers with the talent for that kind of work. They were hand chosen and “elite” within that function. It was prestigious to be competitively selected for the General Staff.

                We do the opposite. Going on to a staff for most is career purgatory while you wait to get a designated “key and developmental” position that actually furthers your career. Or it is where we temporarily warehouse people between jobs, those who need a rest from a line unit and / or those awaiting retirement.

                My personal priority for this kind of transformation would be the Division and Corps level staffs that fight at the operational level of war – not tactical level HQs at Brigade and lower, or higher Title 10 HQs. I am envisioning a broader version of what the SAMS program was supposed to do for the “professionalization” of planning staffs at these operational level HQs.

                TLB

                • SSD says:

                  The most dangerous thing in the military can be a field grade staff officer in the Pentagon. While they don’t make any actual decisions, they create the papers and briefs which shape the decision makers. The boss can only make a good decision if one is placed in front of him.

                  • Terry L. Baldwin says:

                    SSD,

                    Absolutely true!
                    It is an old staff trick to give the boss a couple of throw away COAs and limit his reasonable options to the single COA the staff prefers. Whether that happens to be a good COA or not, it is always bad business for a staff or individual staff officer to deny the boss multiple viable choices. A good Chief of Staff will not let that happen to the boss or – ultimately – negatively impact subordinate organizations.

                    TLB

  9. Kirk says:

    One of the things that strikes me about all this is that the whole thing involving “career management” and “career development” is really very badly done, at all levels from the individual to the administrative.

    A lot of the time, the whole thing boils down to just random chance; nobody takes the methodical approach to all this and says “Yeah, we’ve gone back and analyzed the career paths taken by successful leaders, and here’s the optimum course of action…”. Instead, it’s all subjective “advice” and wishful thinking instead of a planned and monitored process of development.

    Case in point would be the way we manage small arms training and “train-the-trainer”. I have had a fascination with small arms since early childhood, so as I went up the ranks, I kept putting myself into positions and situations where I’d learn as much as possible about them–Got into an armorer slot as a Private, did a year+, got the schools, kept on track with learning the weapons as I became an NCO, running ranges and all of that. I was a Range NCOIC for some fairly significant and challenging ranges even as a Staff Sergeant–Designed and ran a live-fire target turn-over range with live demolitions and armor cooperation between our battalion and an armor battalion as a senior squad leader, for example. Whole thing was my idea, and the company commander gave me the opportunity to run the whole thing, with my LT running interference. So, by the time I was SFC, running ranges and doing complex training was old hat, and something I could manage pretty effectively.

    Now, by way of contrast, one of my “peers” as a SFC got tasked with running an M2 .50 cal range for the Brigade, a seriously high-profile thing to do. It was his first range that he was ever the NCOIC of, in his entire career to that date. I don’t think he was ever even an RSO or a lane safety on any other ranges, given his history.

    Poor bastard ‘effed it up by the numbers. And, I do mean ‘effed it up–It was so bad that the post CG and Range Control were calling our brigade CSM for him to come out and un-f*ck the whole thing, that’s how bad he’d messed it up. If I remember right, his LT got a letter of concern, and he damn near got relieved for cause.

    Now, the way this ties in to this post is this: Dude should never have been in that position, because you shouldn’t be pinning on SFC in a combat arms MOS without having done things like run (actually run, not “been there for”) ranges and conducted training operations for things bigger than a squad.

    The fact that he was? The Army screwed up. I’ll be damned if I know how the Army could let someone get to SFC as a Combat Engineer, never having run a range, but that was his story. You’d think we’d keep track of minor details like that, but we don’t.

    Whole thing makes you question why the hell we don’t figure out what experiences you need to have gone through successfully in order to be promoted to certain levels–Event the Boy Scouts have the idea of Merit Badges that you have to complete before hitting various levels, but we’ll happily make someone a SFC based on their supposed job performance, and never bother to ask whether those jobs that they did had anything at all to do with actually performing the MOS tasks of that rank.

    If I remember the details right, the guy who fat-fingered the M2 range was someone who’d gotten promoted to SFC based mostly on being a successful recruiter, and then came back to the MOS after he’d gotten in some admin trouble out there–They put him back in his original MOS after some deal where he wasn’t the guy doing the misconduct, but because he was the supervisor that didn’t catch it going on. Poor bastard had no business at all being a senior NCO in a Combat Engineer battalion, but that’s where the Army put his ass. If I remember the story right, he went out to USAREC without ever even having had time as a squad leader, team leader time of about a year, year-and-a-half, and then made Staff Sergeant and SFC in USAREC as a 00R. Whoever the hell it was that thought it was a good idea to put him out in the Regular Army as a senior combat arms NCO needs their head examined.

    • Terry Baldwin says:

      Kirk,

      I have run into a couple of guys like that – NCOs and Officers. I had a rifle company commander once who had never been a rifle platoon leader. Obviously, that is THE foundational professional development slot for infantry officers. For whatever reason, at his first unit he was made a 4.2 Mortar Platoon leader in a mech battalion and then the battalion adjacent (S1). Tactically, he knew how to occupy a mortar firing position but not much else. The system failed him and then he went on to fail the system.

      I was his XO. The Platoon Leaders and Platoon Sergeants became so fed up with his ineptitude that they came to me eventually talking mutiny. Their plan was to simply do exactly what he told them to do and thereby the company would be so obviously f-ed up tactically that the BC would relieve him.

      At that point, I made a decision I still debate with myself to this day. I said, no, we cannot let this company and our soldiers fail. We won’t let that happen. They agreed and we drove on. I still think that was the right decision for the good of the unit. Of course, years later that company commander was a full bird Colonel – and I helped make that happen. I regret mightily that I did not find some other way to get that guy relieved.

      TLB