TYR Tactical

The Baldwin Articles – Leadership and Volunteers vs Conscripts

I have a lot of Vietnam era Special Forces (SF) friends. Their generation trained and mentored me and I owe them all a great deal both professionally and personally. They all volunteered to be SF eventually but many were initially drafted into the Army. I will be at Fort Campbell later this month for a couple of days during the 5th Group reunion and I look forward to seeing a good number of them there. I likewise intend to interact with as many of the current members of the Group still in the fight as possible. I also have a Nephew who just signed up for the Ranger Regiment option who will be starting Infantry OSUT at Fort Benning next month. I immediately recommended that he read Starship Troopers. In that classic book, Heinlein was able to capture the quintessential rationale for voluntary military service and martial civic virtue. After reading the book he solicited my opinion on conscription vs volunteerism. Coincidentally, the U.S. Army in Vietnam specifically had been something that I had spent considerable time on in my most recent Military History seminar. I am not a veteran of that war but with complete respect for my friends that served there I offer this as my professional answer to my Nephew’s question.

Despite an almost unbroken string of tactical victories, the war in Vietnam obviously did not end successfully from our perspective. And today, despite a similar impressive series of tactical victories, the final outcome of GWOT is still very much in doubt. But that does not have anything to do with who did or did not serve or fight those battles. The U.S. Military has used a number of methods to fill the ranks in peace and war. A small “professional” volunteer army supplemented by mobilized volunteer militia forces and short-term recruits was the standard for most of our history. More formalized systems of conscription were established and routinely used from the Civil War onward but only during times of conflict until after WWII. But the fact is that the country has always struggled historically to get enough manpower to meet wartime needs. So conscription was inevitably used in every war in our history until quite recently. And just as inevitably that draft was hated and in as much as possible shirked by those that could. Up to and including the Vietnam War.

Hal Moore
*The picture is from the book We Were soldiers Once…and Young of then LTC Hal Moore and SGM Basil Plumley. It was taken shortly after their battalion returned to base camp after the fight in the Ia Drang Valley at LZ X-Ray, November 1965. These are the kind of men I think of when I talk with appropriate reverence about long-service volunteer Regulars.

The key to the institutional continuity and ultimately the battlefield success or failure of the Army has always traditionally been the long-service volunteer “Regular.” During the period of 1865-1898 those stalwart and unsung heroes – volunteers all – kept the professional faith during a time of not-so-benign public neglect. Again in 1920-1940 another generation did the same thing for a nation that was not as appreciative of the sacrifices involved as it perhaps should have been. WWII was a watershed and unique event for volunteerism and conscription in U.S. history. It was a “good war” and millions volunteered to serve throughout the conflict. The government generally used the selective service system as a means to meter the flow of manpower into the training bases of the individual services. The system was for once not seen as coercive or onerous and was accepted as a wartime necessity. However, the peacetime draft after WWII was only grudging accepted and was increasingly seen as unfair even long before Vietnam heated up.

American military history provides plenty of evidence that introducing untrained or poorly trained troops onto the battlefield is always ill advised. It does not matter if these inadequately prepared novices are volunteers, conscripts or mobilized militia. In most cases in WWII the recruits, regardless of how they were assessed into service, were formed into units after initial training and had the opportunity to develop at least some critical unit cohesion prior to deploying overseas. The fairly typical story of the “Band of Brothers” that Steven Ambrose wrote of is one good example. Those soldiers had been training together for two years with the same small unit leaders before they jumped into Normandy in 1944. Because of that pre-established unit cohesion they were also able to successfully integrate the individual replacements that came later and collectively endure the hardships of Bastogne.

Combat is not an individual sport! Army leadership manuals for decades have highlighted the fact that soldiers perform better and are more prepared psychologically if they have had the chance to bond with their teammates and their leaders before facing their first battle. It is safe to argue that unit cohesion and teambuilding are immensely more important than whether the soldier was originally a volunteer or conscript. Historically, Vietnam was the first and probably the last and only truly “long war” that we as a nation have fought with conscripts. But at the start of the war that was not the significant problem that it would be by the end. When Hal Moore deployed his battalion – as a unit – to Vietnam in 1965 they had been training together for months much like the units of WWII. The men trusted their leaders and the leaders knew and trusted their men. Unit cohesion had been established stateside and individually and collectively Moore’s unit displayed and maintained the highest level of professional acumen throughout their combat tour.

It is clearly evident in hindsight that the Army in particular struggled in Vietnam not just because of conscription itself but also because of a number of other inter-related and truly counter-productive personnel management policy decisions. First, the Army established a totally individual replacement model in country. Units remained in place on paper but were continuously receiving new personnel including leaders. In the course of twelve months the turnover would be close to 100%. In other words the units were continuously taking 8-10% “casualties” every month before they even encountered the enemy. These new replacements would literally join their units in the field and be in combat essentially with strangers sometimes within hours. It should be no surprise that unit cohesion began to degrade more and more over time and minimum professional standards and even basic discipline declined even more precipitously.

That methodology meant an even more dysfunctional transition for leaders. New lieutenants and captains might not even have a chance to learn their NCOs names and faces before they were expected to lead those men in a firefight. Trust and confidence between leaders and led suffered from this lack of opportunity to at least attain some level of professional familiarity ahead of time. The Army also began to rely more and more on “shake and bake” NCOs that were hastily trained and promoted but did not have the requisite experience to be truly effective small unit leaders. The traditional glue that holds units together in combat, those long-service Regulars, became more and more rare as the war dragged on. To make matters worse, the Army decided to have a 6-month rotation policy for officers. After half a year in the field the officers would be moved to a staff position on one of the relatively safer bases. This policy served to widen the distrust between the officers and the men and helped to further damage the already shaky cohesion of many American units.

The result was an Army that came out of Vietnam stigmatized with rampant drug use, alcoholism, indiscipline and racial violence. That is the battered but not beaten Army I joined in 1975. The Army’s own personnel policies in conjunction with what was perceived as a coercive and unjust draft had exacerbated rather than ameliorated all of those predictable internal cultural problems. Had the same misguided policies been applied to a volunteer army at war the outcome might not have been much different. Fortunately the Army does sometimes learn from its mistakes. The individual replacement concept for combat was completely discredited and is no longer used. Unit deployments including combat rotations have become the norm in any locations where the Army is not permanently stationed like Germany or Korea. The GWOT has likewise been a long war and it has no doubt strained and bruised the volunteer U.S. military. But because of the kinds of personnel management reforms mentioned above it has NOT had the same debilitating effect on unit cohesion and combat effectiveness that the war in Vietnam had on that Army.

Moreover, it is unlikely that we will use large scale conscription again to fill the ranks any time in the foreseeable future. For one thing the realistic requirements of the services are actually quite small as compared to the eligible cohort of the population available. We just do not need the masses of soldiers in the information age that we did in the industrial age. That means that any draft – no matter how fairly administered – would by necessity be limited and therefore inequitable in practice. From the military’s point of view – if a draft became necessary again – we would always want the “best and brightest” possible. But that too would be unfair because no matter how they were selected the draftees would be shouldering the entire burden of service and the majority of the population would be effectively exempt. As a side note, there is still some professional discussion of the possibility of a “targeted draft” for certain specialized skills that might not be inclined to enlist voluntarily – computer hackers for example.

Finally, as a practical matter a 2-year enlistment – whether draft or volunteer – is no longer viable. It takes a year or more to prepare even entry level personnel for the (relatively) lowest tech military jobs available today. The Air Force actually learned this lesson right after WWII and paid bonuses and improved quality of life specifically to keep maintainers and pilots in service as long as possible to recoup the significant initial training investment. The Strategic Air Command (SAC) would not have been able to keep their nuclear bombers ready to fly at a moment’s notice without that professional continuity. The Navy did the same with their nuclear ship programs. Short term personnel with the resulting high turnover tempo were not suitable for keeping nuclear missile subs or aircraft carriers and air wings at a constant high state of readiness and continuous deployment. Even as early as Vietnam the ground combat services were beginning to recognize the need for longer term recruits. If the draft had not ended I suspect the services would still have gone back to Congress and asked to extend the term of service for draftees from 2 to 3 and perhaps even 4 years. When I enlisted, 3 years was the shortest option offered – and that was for infantry! For more technical fields the minimum was 4 years. Bottom line, a recruitment program that relies on volunteers is more suitable to fill and sustain the military’s modern manpower needs. For now it appears that sufficient numbers of those essential long-service volunteer Regulars are choosing to stay in. And despite all the other challenges, that bodes well for the future of the Army, the other services and our Nation.


25 Responses to “The Baldwin Articles – Leadership and Volunteers vs Conscripts”

  1. Kirk says:

    The Army’s personnel policies have been completely bonkers since WWII. You look at the amount of self-inflicted turbulence we’ve institutionalized, along with the utterly mindless approach we’ve taken to unit identity and tradition, and you rapidly conclude that the people running the show have not one damn clue what the hell goes into making good soldiers and leaders, or how to actually form them up into good, solid and cohesive units.

    Throughout my enlisted career, which spanned 25 years, I can’t think of a single goddamn time I ever managed to get one of my MG crews through the entire process of fully training them. As soon as I would get them qualified on the basics, meeting the bare STRAC standards, some damn fool would decide I needed to sacrifice one or two of them up to the gods of PCS or internal unit reassignment. You can’t ever get to true excellence in skill-at-arms if you’re constantly having to repeat the basics, over and over again. Small unit training in the Army is truly a Sisyphusean endeavor, thanks to the turbulence. As soon as you get someone trained to a basic level of proficiency, away they go–Or, you do.

    As well, the utterly insensitive way we handle unit cohesion and identity…? LOL. WTF, Vanessa–The Regimental system? Explain to me again, how that actually did a damn thing to address the anomie and disconnection we’ve allowed to grow up between soldiers and their units. How can the Regimental system even address that issue, when the poor bastards are constantly switching from regiment to regiment? Or, when you look at the Combat Support elements, like the Engineers, where the Regiment is so vast and branch-encompassing that you never really feel a sense of connection to it? The average soldier only ever thinks about their “Regimental Identity” when it comes time to try to remember which insignia they need to buy down at the MCSS, and even then, they usually have to really rack their brains to remember which one they are in, at the moment.

    The Army’s problem is that it keeps trying to treat people like spare parts, interchangeable cogs in an impersonal machine, when the fact is, that’s precisely what they are not. People are not nuts and bolts, interchangeable so long as they meet the physical requirements of the job they’re assigned. We’ve been operating on that fallacy since WWII, and it’s about damn time we recognized the fact that it is fundamentally fallacious.

    We’re doing a lot of this stuff wrong, and it shows. We stood up brand-new units like 5/2 Stryker Brigade, and did it by dumping a horde of new privates on a nearly vacant base, let them take over brand-new barracks, and then watched them recreate The Lord of the Flies as their leadership cadre trickled in over a period of months.

    Who the hell thought that one up? Privates first, then leadership? I can’t think of a single damn time where we’ve ever done that, before.

    I remain convinced that a lot of the problems that brigade had in Afghanistan were directly traceable to the chaotic situation it was stood up in, and because a whole bunch of their junior NCO leadership was burnt to a crisp by prior assignments before they ever even got there. Someone like Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs would have been identified as an issue and dealt with before he ever got the chance to ruin multiple junior soldiers, had he been in a unit with a strong cadre and sense of identity.

    Given the general anomie and disconnection at all levels in 5/2, he slid through the cracks, being passed on as a “problem child” from sub-unit to sub-unit, without someone in the NCO channel taking ownership of his issues.

    You go back and look at a lot of these cases, where the bonds of soldierly discipline have slipped, and what you’ll find will be very similar situations. Gibbs, the Ronghi case in Kosovo, and just about every other situation where the rest of us are going “WTF happened…? How could that have happened..?” all share similar pathologies with regards to the unit cadre’s corporate leadership “culture”–Which stems from the fact that we aren’t answering the mail in a lot of fundamental ways, when it comes to developing and fostering the institutional “code of proper conduct” that prevents these things from ever happening.

    Somebody, somewhere along the line, failed to identify that Gibbs and Ronghi shouldn’t have been wearing stripes or running troops, and we got what we got. The problem comes from guys on their left and right flanks being afraid to say shit about what they see, to the immediate supervisors who turned blind eyes, and up to the leadership who didn’t support a culture in the ranks that would have forestalled those guys from happening. Someone knew that both Gibbs and Ronghi were bad actors, before the fact, and that information was never acted upon.

    Answering the question of “why that happened” would go a long ways towards also answering what the hell we’re doing wrong with soldier acculturation and indoctrination, that these things could happen and the junior enlisted went right along with them, thinking that they were following “leadership”.

    I’m going to state a fact that I’m afraid is irrefutable: In a lot of fundamental ways, the institution does not know what the hell it is doing. There are people within the institution who do know what they are doing, but they are all too often not the people making the decisions about these supposedly “trivial” matters, and the ones who are making the decisions have not one damn clue about what the hell the effect of their decisions will be, out in the real world.

    • Darkhorse says:

      One of the best .mil comments ever-

      You forgot grabbing guys for promotion, PLDC, Ranger School, etc etc.

      By the time you got your guys up to speed, they’d send you a dud to RFS and take one of your guys.

      • Kirk says:

        Yeah, I suspected throughout my career that there was an office somewhere up at DA that tracked deadbeat eight-ball oxygen thieves, and ensured that every squad and section everywhere in the Army had at least one at any given time.

        Literally, a couple of times? I’m dumping the latest and greatest POS at the front gate, having devoted countless hours to documenting their douchebaggery and dealing with the consequences, only to go pick up the replacement douchebag over at Battalion headquarters the same damn day. It was like some kind of demented clockwork–I’d never have my requisite low density MOS folks, but sure as the sun rises in the morning, I’d have my allocation of problem children to deal with.

        I’m still half-way convinced that such an agency exists, somewhere. Nothing else could account for the exquisite timing involved in these folks getting assigned to the unit, otherwise. And, sadly? Whoever works in that agency or office are the most efficient, dedicated bunch of people in the entire personnel branch…

    • Terry Baldwin says:

      Matt, thanks for providing your cogent perspective. I agree with you assessment that we still do not have personnel management “right” in the Army. From what I have seen, probably not in the other services either. But I’ll stick with the Army since it is the system I am most familiar with. Also I appreciate you referencing Sisyphus in your comments.

      As you say, we are still locked into a system that by default treats everyone as interchangeable parts rather than as valued individuals. And despite some noise about “talent management” I have seen no real effort to change the system yet.

      On a related tract, I thought about addressing the qualitative element in the article but it would have made it at least twice as long. Most recently this regrettable but recurring dynamic occurred in about 2005-6 when the fight in Iraq was not going well and there was a dip in enlistments.

      The knee jerk reaction was to lower standards for recruits to make quotas. The same happened in Vietnam even with the draft. Since popular deferments exempted so many, DoD authorized what became known as “McNamara’s 100,000.” The policy deliberately targeted guys of markedly lower IQ for conscription. Men below the Army’s minimum standards were waivered in by this truly reprehensible policy.

      We still refer to men of this caliber as CAT IVs (Category 4). I’m talking Forrest Gump. To connect it to your comments, over a quarter of Rusty Calley’s platoon at My Lai were from that sub-par cohort. Calley himself was a marginal performer from OCS and never should have been commissioned. And his NCOs were all of the “shake and bake” variety. In any war at any time, weak leaders paired with marginal soldiers is the perfect recipe for catastrophic failure.

      I found out recently that the policy was actually referred to as “Manpower Remediation” which almost makes it sound like a good idea. I personally experienced some of the residual effects of “McNamara’s 100,000” when I enlisted in 1975. To be clear, the men themselves were not to blame. Their nation called and they served – many with distinction.

      Quick war story. I was a cherry Staff Sergeant in a Scout Platoon in Hawaii 81-83. Our company First Sergeant was one of those men. He could have been the inspiration for Gump. He was a very nice guy and we loved him. But he was simply not competent. The Platoon Sergeants of the company took turns making out his company duty roster for him because he could never get it right.

      In fact, all of the NCOs – myself included – and the company commander and the battalion leadership gave him plenty of slack. Why you might ask? The man had 4 tours in Vietnam and had been awarded two DSCs. He was an American hero and we decided he deserved to retire with E-8 pay. In terms of valor he was a great role model, but otherwise he was simply not capable of being a competent senior NCO.

      To be blunt, many of those men had few options outside of the military and tended to keep their nose clean and stay on – even getting promoted with their peer groups. But honestly they were net deficits rather than assets to the units they were assigned to as NCOs. By the mid-80s almost all had left service and frankly the Army in particular was better for their absence.


      • Will Rodriguez says:

        Again excellent insights and a great “war story”. Both of my 1SGT’s from my first assignment in 86-89 101st were decorated Nam vets. I considered them both Gods as a young LT. Unlike your example they were very competent senior NCO’s. Our CSM was also a Nam vet reduced from serving as a Captain and company commander in Nam.

        FWIW, while pursuing a higher degree in Leadership Development I learned the about the Army’s early embrace of civilian management theory post WWII. I credit this recurring phenomenon with many of our leadership issues to include people as spare parts approach.

        The Army does a poor job of differentiating between managing and leading sometimes trying to inappropriately leverage civilian sector managing models.

        A concept that reinforces your message about cohesion and its importance in combat is an old saying I was taught as a young lieutenant. “If your unit needs you to perform at its best you haven’t trained your unit well enough or more importantly developed leaders.” We would gain much by inculcating that principle again.

        Yes, unit turbulence hurts but leaders trying to live that principle would recognize it and minimize/eliminate it vs. doing the best they can with what they have. Push-back from below appears to be the only way the system will correct itself. Senior leaders all to often just want immediate satisfaction and put a band-aid on a problem for their successor to fix.

      • Terry Baldwin says:

        I apologize Kirk. I knew who you were and was responding to your comments but for some reason typed “Matt” instead. A sign of advancing old age I suppose.


        • Kirk says:

          Not to worry… I’ve fat-fingered more than my share of such mistakes, and I figured from the context you were addressing me. I don’t think it’s age-related, either–Probably more focus being put on the actual message than the name.

          Which, in my opinion, is far more important than who said what. I’m just grateful that I’m not alone in thinking the things I do, and that other people see the same problems and issues I do.

      • Kirk says:

        I think a huge part of the problem is that the people running the whole thing and making the decisions are not actually “real soldiers”. They’re bureaucrats in uniform, and they have no real understanding or connection to what it is that makes a proper soldier, or what motivates them.

        A properly run unit is a home, a family. You don’t do the bullshit we do, like willy-nilly shut them down in the name of administrative convenience, stand them up somewhere else, and then somehow expect the corporate culture and gestalt of the original unit to somehow transmogrify the personnel they assign to that flag at the new station. It simply does not work that way.

        Likewise, you don’t change the guidon out and expect the whole thing is suddenly going to morph into the new unit type through some mystical osmosis carried along with the new MTOE or flagging. The idiocy these people have committed over just the years of my service is absolutely mind-boggling: 24th ID to 3rd ID, via FEDEXing the colors from Germany to Fort Stewart, and shipping off the old colors from 24th ID to some anonymous storage locker somewhere? WTF? Who the hell thinks that whole thing was ever a good idea?

        The bureaucratic apparatchiks making these things happen forget that the unit flags and identities are things that men need, in order to die for them. Nobody gives a flying fuck about the 2407th Mess Kit Repair Company, when it’s some anonymous identity thrown up at you by the vagaries of fate and someone’s good intentions at the Institute of Heraldry. You keep swapping those flags around, and the unit identities become essentially dead letters, along with the unit cultures and everything else.

        Go read the opening chapters of This Kind of War by T.R. Fehrenbach. He got it. The fools running our Army don’t.

        I can’t remember where I heard the anecdote for sure, but I think it was from one of the lectures that LTC Fehrenbach gave that I had the good fortune to be able to attend (one of the units I served in had the good fortune to have assigned to it MAJ Fehrenbach, who was, I believe, his son…), where he told the story of an annual message of greeting and memorial sent from a Turkish unit on the anniversary of a Korean War battle where they and a US Army unit fought long and hard against a mutual foe, suffering great losses. There’s no US Army unit there to receive that message anymore, because it was deactivated, and the Turkish message is quite puzzling to many people at the Department of the Army, because it is so alien to them that a military unit would memorialize something like that, and send such a thing to a peer unit they’d fought beside.

        The US Army has become a bureaucratized armed civil service organization, with limited to no grasp on or understanding of real military tradition and history. Some units manage to maintain a semblance of it, but they’re fighting a losing battle against the policies and procedures that want to extinguish everything that makes them what they are. The last vestiges of the old traditions are found in the Cav, and in the Ranger Regiment–Everywhere else, it’s homogenity and bland careerism. How we fix this? Dunno, but I sometimes wonder if the Roman legions didn’t go through a similar process during the period when they were being nickled and dimed to death by vexillation after vexillation, leaving the frontiers manned by local levies with limited to no real legionary tradition.

  2. MThomas says:

    Nice work. Thank you.

  3. rotorhd says:

    I have buddy who was able to enlist for an 24 month contract back in Desert Storm as a Cav Scout.
    He was at Basic-AIT when Saddam invaded and his unit in Germany deployed to Saudi. He joined them there in Saudi, rolled into Kuwait, sat in Kuwait, redeployed to Germany and then ETS’d several months later.
    What timing……

  4. Great article/comments

  5. Non-operator says:

    Great article. My dad was drafted into the Marine Corps and served as an infantryman in Vietnam; the stories of the individual rotation thing are mind blowing.

    Speaking from a recruiting and unit cohesion standpoint – other nations crack that nut differently. I worked with an officer from 4 Scots in Afghanistan and I was blown away when he told me recruits can not only choose their MOS but also what battalion they want to join! Joining the US military is basically signing carte blanche to go wherever Uncle Sam deems necessary.

    • Che Guevara's Open Chest Wound says:

      You make a good point. I spoke with a SGM in the Queens Dragoon Guards, who had spent his entire 16 year career in just that unit. Essentially, they join The Regiment, while in the US we join The Army.

    • Buckaroomedic says:

      Very good point. The Commonwealth militaries also have career NCO’s that can choose to stay at a certain rank and a stay in one unit for their entire careers. I’ve met “Career-corporals” and “career squad sergeants”. This makes A LOT of sense to me.

      If I had been able to join a specific AD unit in my state of residence and then work my way to a rank and job I liked and not had to worry about being/getting promoted, I would have definitely stayed in the Army longer. My favorite job in the Army was Squad Leader. I hated leaving that job when I was promoted.

  6. 32sbct says:

    A great article. Another big mistake made in the Vietnam era was leaving the Guard and Reserve at home. This was the first and only time the nation went to war primarily as an active duty only force. At that time, the Guard and Reserve were loaded with Korean War combat vets, particularly at the mid to high level leadership positions. These units also had high levels of cohesion and unit identity. That was diluted over time as they became a haven for those avoiding service in Vietnam and it became apparent that they would never deploy.

    Utilizing these forces early in the conflict (around 1966 or 1967) would have given them plenty of train up time before they entered the fight and given the active duty units breathing space to return home, rebuild (using draftees) and return to the fight as intact and cohesive units.

    Thankfully, the Army understood the mistakes made by civilian leadership and restructured the Army postwar so it would be impossible to go to war without the Guard and Reserve in future conflicts. The mistakes made in Vietnam had disastrous impacts to both the Active and Reserve forces which took years to correct. Thankfully, most of the issues were to a large degree corrected by the time of the first Gulph War.

    • Terry Baldwin says:


      I agree. One of the big post Vietnam changes was a deliberate decision to move the Reserve Components from a “strategic reserve” to “operational reserve” readiness status.

      The Active Component was ambivalent about the change but always wary of resources being shifted away from them. But oddly enough, that process was actually resisted by many in the Reserve and Guard side as well. They had become comfortable with the status quo I suppose.

      However, after Desert Storm the process accelerated and I think that was a positive evolution. Not just for all components of the Armed Forces but for the Nation as well. However, there are still some who are uneasy about how frequently the citizen-soldiers are called up under the new arrangement.


      • Will Rodriguez says:

        We still have far to go.

        Guard reserve units deploy three times less than regular units and when combat arms units are deployed they are typically given specific missions of a repetitive nature vs the whole spectrum active units are tasked to execute.

        What results is a false belief in the capability of our Guard units which means they never get the resources they need to fully reach their potential.

        • 32sbct says:


          I agree that the average Guard unit can’t perform all of the missions that it’s active duty counterpart can. But the Guard pulled it’s weight in Iraq & Afghanistan. By OIF III five of the 17 combat brigades in Iraq were Guard units in addition to a Guard division HQ which two active duty brigades fell under. The Guard brigades owned their own battle space and performed all the missions that their active duty counterparts performed. Also many of the high demand reserve units (M.P., CA, Psyop, medical, etc) deployed at a rate very similar to what the active duty forces did.

          Overall, I think the current force structure works pretty well. In a constrained resource environment there will always be competition for people, money, and equipment. But I think our recent and ongoing conflicts have validated the structure that was developed in the post Vietnam/volunteer Army era. One team one fight!

          • Will Rodriguez says:

            I would NEVER say the Guard doesn’t pull its weight. Having served as an advisor to an enhanced Guard BCT I came away with a tremendous amount of respect. They do more than what hey are resourced for.

            CS/CSS reserve units are often able to be employed identically as their active component units.

            That said, Guard units performing full spectrum ops was and remains an exception vs the norm. What happened up to 2005 (the peak) was not the norm for the decade after (except for s surge around 2009). Also, all battle spaces are not the same.

            While the Guard makes up half of the combat strength of the total Army they’ve never been deployed at anything near the frequency of active component units.

            Finally, is one measures casualties across the force 82% have been suffered by the active component vs. 18% for the Guard AND Reserve. The last time we were truly one team, one fight was WWII were Guard units were mobilized just like active units and served the duration. The nation’s commitment to victory supported that type of sacrifice and in that is a very profound lesson.”

            We risk papering over real issues by being satisfied with the current state. Guard units and the public believe they are interchangeable with active components and America is insulated from the costs of war when we employ a select segment to do the lion’s share of fighting and dying. If Guard units deployed as often and suffered the same casualties as regular units (a truer measure of doing the same thing as the active component) how long would America been satisfied with fighting for the status quo vs victory?

  7. kevin says:

    Probably not the first to suggest this, but the Baldwin articles as a compilation would make a great book….

  8. AbnMedOps says:

    I think going to ARFORGEN (the Force Generation model), despite it’s imperfections, is one of the most fundamentally important changes the Army has made in a century, as far as training and cohesion. And it took just about a half a century of various failed or aborted experiments before the Army established what should have been in place all along: a planned lifecycle for manning, training, and deploying units.

    The timing was perfect: a Major who had worked it out, as his last act before retirement, was able to brief it to the Chief of Staff of the Army. The Chief said “Let’s execute on this. Now.” A few months later 9-11 went down. Imagine the total nightmare we would have endured fight the past 16 years without ARFORGEN or something like it!

    Previously, every unit was in constant churn, somewhere on that godawful briefing slide entitled “The Band Of Excellence” (which I always thought was truly “The Band Of Mediocrity”).

    • Kirk says:

      They still don’t have an effing clue what they’re doing.

      An effective unit is far more than a collection of the requisite personnel and equipment which is then subjected to cookie-cutter generic training. There are whole worlds of things left out of the ARFORGEN conceptualization that simply don’t exist within it, because the people that conceived it are basically blind to the implications and impact of nine-tenths of what they do.

      If the ARFORGEN process was worth a damn, the idiots wouldn’t be doing the crap they do with regards to pulling people out of command midway through deployments and moving commanders around immediately before and after the deployment. You wouldn’t have guys levied out of their recently-returned unit, to be put back into the shit again with a mob of strangers who they’re only barely going to get a chance to know during the chaos of pre-deployment training for the next trip over with the new unit. You wouldn’t have mid-grade NCOs breaking under the strain of being sent on nearly back-to-back deployments, with no continuity of leadership so that their commanders on the third deployment see only the shell-shocked remnant of what was once a good NCO, ruined through too many TBIs and too much stress on those multiple tours working for different ungrateful commanders in different impersonal units.

      I would hazard a guess that a solid two-thirds of our PTSD and suicide problems stem from things like this. You spend a tour breaking your heart for your guys and your boss, only to have that boss leave command as soon as the aircraft door opens, and some new guy take over whose attitude is “Well, what have you done for me…?”, and who has not one damn clue of the stress that squad leader or platoon sergeant was under during that deployment, yet continues to demand more and more from him…? Yeah. Tell me again how much we know about this shit, and how good we are at it.

      All I’m going to do is think back on my time in, what’s happened to my peers and friends who I’ve kept in touch with, and the first word that comes to my mind when I hear about how good we are at this…? Well, that word begins with a “B”, ends with a “T”, and has an “ULLSHI” in the middle of it.

      The biggest part of the damn problem with all this is that we simply won’t admit we’ve got a problem. The alternative is that we’re too ‘effing stupid to recognize that we have one, and I think that there’s a good chance that it’s actually a lot of “Column A” and a lot of “Column B” intermingled.

  9. Jbar says:

    The Navy goes out of it’s way to ignore reenlisting Sailors. There are many y different programs and opportunities during reenlistment, but the “Command Counselors” are often crap. My guess is that it is cheaper to keep rotating people out and training new recruits than to keep people and pay them throughout their career and retirement. So, finance wins over tactical ability. That, and the personal identity That/PC politics that have infected our training and promotion and disheartened many. These are my observations until I retired in 2013.

  10. Kirk says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post for a bit, and while ruminating over the whole issue we’re talking about here, I’ve had a bit of an epiphany about some features of the US Army cultural gestalt.

    To lay out my thinking, let us first begin with a thesis: The US Army, as an institution, only actually initiates fundamental and substantial change under extreme circumstantial pressure. The institution is fundamentally conservative, in the sense of “Doesn’t like change, period…”. And, once the US Army has changed, it adopts the fixes forced on it by those circumstances, and holds to them with an institutional death-grip, until the next time major crisis forces change on it.

    This is why our personnel system is still working off of a fundamentally WWII-era paradigm, with regards to the vast infrastructure of a training base and mass-production of cookie-cutter soldiers with specific limited specialized training in narrowly-defined jobs. We won WWII with that paradigm, and by God, we’re gonna ride that shit into the ground until its failure nearly destroys the Army. That’s how it works–We suffer a crisis, reorganize to deal with it, and then that reorganization becomes the standard, even if the crisis it was a response to is over. That’s why we still have the massive training base that made sense as a response to WWII conditions, and the post-WWII draftee environment. As well, the mentality is still that we’re still what we were since the founding of the Republic until WWII–An expansion army, meant to provide cadre for mass mobilization, and perform limited internal and external security missions on the frontier.

    Unfortunately, we’re now in an environment where all that makes no damn sense, with no draftee manning base to concern ourselves with, and a much higher requirement for professionalism. The US Army has never been about providing long-service Regulars for overseas duties, and has fundamentally failed to adapt to the post-WWII requirement for that.

    So much of what we do is done with this mindless assumption that our most important role is to be providing cadre for a mass mobilization that we’ve warped our institution to support that to a truly incredible degree. Wonder why we treat all our units as though they were “school brigades”, meant to support the training of officers, instead of being the reason those officers are there? Mass mobilization mentality. Instead of focusing on the units, and making them the most important thing, we’ve instead focused on giving as many officers as possible a taste and experience of command, so that we have a large pool of available mediocrities to serve as mass mobilization leadership cadre. You look at how we do things, and it becomes very clear that the units themselves are not the priority; instead, it is the almighty careers of the people we slip into command for limited periods of time, and then move on to other “career development” jobs within the Army.

    This might have made sense, once. Nowadays? It’s absolutely fucking nuts. We don’t do anything with the idea of what’s best for the corporate whole of our unit organizations, like ensuring command continuity through train-up, deployment, and then return to station. Instead, we do what’s “best for the individual commander”, and rotate them nearly as fast as we can, in order to get them their “ticket punch” for their career. It’s like the careers of the individual officers are more the priority than what is best for the unit organization and continuities. And, that message is heard loud and clear by the NCO and junior enlisted members of the unit, who emulate and behave accordingly.

    This is, I believe, a wrong-headed approach to things in today’s environment. With the stresses of multiple deployments in very short periods of time by historical standards, we should be doing our best to ensure command continuity and limit turbulence in the ranks as much as possible. Instead, we’ve about doubled down on all of it, seeing each deployment as an opportunity to maximize the “experience” of command for as many officers as possible.

    Which goes a hell of a long way towards explaining why we have so many of the mediocrities we have, and why true excellence is in short supply.

    In the US Army, the priority and the focus is on the careers of the individual officers, with the idea that we need to have a mass of available leaders with at least some idea of what to do when we have to do a mass mobilization. Thing is, I don’t think we’re going to do a mass mobilization like WWII again, and if the circumstances change such that we might, we should have adequate time to implement the necessary changes. With the actual circumstances and war environment we’re facing today…? We need to be doing business a lot differently, with increased focus on the units and professionalism. When the actual focus is on creating as many minimally-qualified commanders for theoretically possible mass expansion, you’re simply not going to be able to do that.

    I’ve always said that if you want to know what the deal is with something, ignore everything they say about it, and look at what they actually do, along with the actual effect out in the field. We talk a lot of shit about being “unit-focused”, but, bubbeleh, when you’re swapping out commanders in the middle of a deployment to Iraq because the current one needs to get back to go to CGSC, you’re doing it wrong, and the actual fact is, you’re full of shit when you say that the unit is the priority. Things like that tell you more about the realities of things than all the printed doctrinal bullshit they pump out of the propaganda wing at the Pentagon.

    In a lot of ways, we still behave as though we’re going to re-fight WWII, and we’re locked into a mental paradigm where what we did to win WWII, which was in and of itself a massive series of interlocking cluster-fucks that we found necessary to make things work under the conditions of the time. Those conditions and circumstances no longer obtain, so why the hell are we still doing business that way…?

    The Army really needs to do some fundamental soul-searching, and re-examination of its basic assumptions. Once that is done, we might want to think carefully about how to move forward into the new world we’re all going to find ourselves in, ohsoveryshortly.

    • Terry Baldwin says:


      You are absolutely on track. That is exactly the reasoning behind the 6 month officer rotation policy in Vietnam. To get as many officers as possible experience in the shortest amount of time. Not so surprisingly, since no one knew how long the war in Vietnam was going to last. We see that impulse again during GWOT. Never mind that methodology was counter-productive to winning the tactical fight or building unit cohesion and effectiveness.

      Likewise, most of our training and personnel management standards are indeed still firmly based on the WWII expansion model. It has been that way so long that everyone has become convinced that must be what “right looks like.” But that is also why we cannot do anything approaching real individual “talent management” outside of SOF. And even within SOF we are fenced in by the services Title 10 responsibilities.

      I may be a little more optimistic than you on the subject because I believe that – ready or not – the 21st Century is pushing change on the systems in a positive direction and with ever increasing pressure. But clearly it would be better if we acted sooner, deliberately and of our own accord rather than reacting hastily to some future crisis outside of our control.