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Posts Tagged ‘Terry Baldwin’

The Baldwin Articles –  Leadership and the Logic of Machiavelli

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

A few days ago on this site some commenters noted that many professionals, especially leaders, do not have the inclination or opportunity to truly do any deep reflection on their craft until after retirement. For myself personally that has certainly been the case. Part of that process for me has been renewing the effort to learn more and reread and relearn some of the more challenging and ambiguous concepts I was taught earlier in my career. More on that at the end; but first please consider the synopsis below of a discussion I had recently in another forum.

Machiavelli is a fascinating and complex historical character. He was an early champion of a pragmatic and morally relativistic philosophy of realpolitik that ethicists would eventually label as consequentialism or utilitarianism; sometimes reduced to a simple statement that “the ends justify the means.” Machiavelli lived in a time of an almost constant series of conflicts between city states and Papal political machinations and territorial ambitions. Constantly shifting alliances, ‘court intrigue’ and reversal of military fortunes was the norm as ‘Princes’ maneuvered overtly and covertly for relative dominance. A real life chess match or “Game of Thrones” minus the dragons.

That was the political / military ‘game’ that Machiavelli enthusiastically participated in – albeit as a mid-level player with perhaps outsized influence – during his adult life. By the time he was in his late 40s he had developed a signature philosophy and made the effort to write it down and share it initially with his contemporaries and then with posterity. I have extracted just two quotations from Machiavelli’s The Prince that are illustrative of what he believed in and preached. “Hence it is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity.” And also, “Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them.” Ideas like that – in many cases taken out of full context – contributed to popular perceptions of Machiavelli’s views being both indefensible and amoral if not immoral. For the record I have always found Machiavelli’s thoughts to be rational and valuable if considered in their entirety.

Clausewitz tells us, “War is merely the continuation of policy by other means” and therefore “there can be no question of a purely military evaluation of a great strategic issue, nor of a purely military scheme to solve it.” Sun Tzu also highlighted “the close relationship between politics and military policy, and the high social cost of war.” But both of those men were proficient and experienced soldiers and viewed, referenced and wrote only briefly about politics from that limited perspective. Machiavelli, on the other hand, was an amateur soldier but was undeniably a professional and talented politician. He was able to describe – in terms that soldiers can relate to – what war looks like as seen through an unapologetically political lens. He innately understood what we now call power relationships and interpersonal dynamics.

Machiavelli’s ideas were controversial even in his own time. The Roman Catholic Church banned his writings. Later his philosophy became indelibly associated with acts of political extremism because it was explicitly used to rationalize genocidal policies like the NAZI “Final Solution.” Today terrorist organizations almost by definition use Machiavellian thinking to try to justify their heinous crimes (means) against innocents in furtherance of a twisted but in their minds sacrosanct goal (end). They obviously believe that their sick ends justify even the most despicable means – even if they never actually heard of Machiavelli.

But those disturbing facts should not be allowed to detract from the larger veracity and utility of Machiavelli’s astute perceptions. This may be surprising, but his philosophies are not just applicable to ruthless ‘bad guys’. “The ends justify the means” is in fact a fundamental and universal principle that is and always has been considered in all political and military decision making in democracies and dictatorships alike. Every leader applies that brutally honest standard to every consequential decision whether they acknowledge it or not. Oftentimes we say it in this more palatable way “it is for the greater good” but the underlying logic is the same.

I’ll share two examples. In the 1930s an organization called the “Tennessee Valley Authority” (TVA) was part of an initiative to bring electricity to impoverished rural areas. To do so required the displacement of thousands of people so that rivers could be dammed and valleys flooded. Many of those people did not want to go but were forced out – a good number literally at gun point. I would certainly be willing to argue that it was “for the greater good” but those people forcibly removed would not. And it represents just one of countless domestic political decisions that are clearly based on the positive ‘ends’ justifying the not-so-positive ‘means’.

Let us consider the recent deaths of civilians in a U.S. airstrike in Mosul. The accidental killing of civilians in war is not usually considered a ‘war crime’ unless there are other factors like ‘gross negligence’ involved. But a good number of people – even Americans – would likely consider any airstrike that apparently killed more than 100 innocents “an extremely wicked or cruel act” a.k.a. an ‘atrocity’. But those air missions in support of fierce house to house fighting by Iraqi forces remain our best ‘means’ of achieving the worthy ‘end’ of ISIL’s occupation of Mosul. So today and tomorrow and the next day pilots will climb back into cockpits and they will drop more bombs. The alternative is to do nothing – and that is not an acceptable option; not for us, not for the Iraqi government and ultimately not for the people of Mosul.

What is disquieting for most people is that the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’ use the same Machiavellian reasoning to justify their respective actions. But there is no avoiding reality. There are few if any truly important decisions that are black and white. A political or military leader would not be able to function if he or she cannot make hard and morally ambiguous gray decisions. The Legislative process would be impossible and even the most just war could not be prosecuted if the ends NEVER justified the means.

That is not to say that we have to therefore accept any and all ‘means’ in order to achieve our ends. No rational person would have supported massacring those people in Tennessee in order to dam a river. No leader in uniform thinks that “killing them all and let God sort them out” is an acceptable ‘means’ of liberating Mosul. It is illogical and bizarre to argue that one can somehow “save” a village (desired endstate) by destroying it (unsuitable means). There are serious and often harsh judgements to be made and scales of just and unjust, acceptable and unacceptable that leaders constantly try to balance.

In professional military education programs today Machiavelli is usually examined and earnestly debated only in terms of ethical or unethical behavior. He practiced what we now call “situational ethics” as a virtue. But is it? Soldiers are in a business that routinely involves killing and destruction. In fact, as long as we follow the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC), the controlled application of violence and the threat of violence by military forces are socially and legally sanctioned. We are empowered to use lethal force largely at our own discretion. But with power comes equal responsibility – and equal moral ambiguity. There are countless examples. Sherman’s march to the sea for instance. He essentially argued that by causing immediate suffering and burning Atlanta and other towns the war would end sooner and that was actually the most humane and militarily sensible thing he could do. I would agree. A similar argument was made in 1945 with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Again I for one would agree that Truman made the hard but ‘right’ decision.

That is what Machiavelli was able to describe so well – a realistic and pragmatic world view in which leaders have to make very difficult decisions that are invariably shades of gray and almost never black and white. When I order an air strike to support my ‘troops in contact’ I have to accept the fact that I cannot be sure that innocents will not also be killed by those bombs. Soldiers must make those kinds of tough decisions in war every day. Sometimes “situational ethics” is what one has to work with. And yes, that routinely looks a lot like the “ends justifying the means”. War is not morally or ethically neat and tidy – and neither is life – and that is why conscientious professionals still read and study Machiavelli for pertinent insight.

So why Machiavelli and why now you might ask? The answer is simple; to enhance my own education I signed up for an online Master’s Program in Military History this last December. It looks like a great learning vehicle and allows me to make good use of my remaining G.I. Bill benefits. And that is something I would recommend for anyone with educational benefits available that you have not yet used. Don’t let them go to waste. Of course the class workload has also cut into my ‘free time’ for other writing projects. I won’t lie to anyone; it hasn’t been very much fun to put my nose back against an academic grindstone. In my case it has been a very long time since I was last a student. But I firmly expect the end will justify the means.

LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (RET) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments.

Terry Baldwin – Random Gear Thoughts

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

Based on comments made recently about photos of some earnest but not necessarily squared away individuals I thought it might be an appropriate time to share some “Random Gear Thoughts”. Much of this was originally something I wrote to a friend about to take command of a conventional Combat Support Unit a few years ago. So it will likely sound very familiar to many of you who have served in the military. But I believe the core concepts are just as valid for police officers or even civilians. Especially those who may not have had the opportunity or time to acquire the same level of training or experience with their gear as an AC Soldier or Marine.

Gear or “Kit” is important. It can be your best friend in combat or in the field if used properly. Or it can literally be a pain or an impediment to your mission – if used improperly. The MOLLE Use and Care Manual has a good description of how to set up your issue gear. The following comments are not in any order of priority. But my intent is to provide some suggestions based on sound principles on why it is important to set up your personal and organizational gear a certain strictly functional way. Good soldiers and good units organize ALL of their gear. This means personally worn kit, individual packed gear (rucksack, kit bag, duffel) and gear normally carried on unit vehicles like water and fuel cans. Each “layer” of your kit should be organized to support the accomplishment of your personal and unit mission. So, it is the “right tool for the right job” and the right tool in the RIGHT PLACE for the job.

The gear you routinely wear should always include the minimum equipment necessary for the individual to: shoot, move, communicate, survive, and contribute to his or her team’s mission. The soldier’s load should be ruthlessly managed by the chain of command to ensure that the individual soldier carries ALL of the required equipment AND NOTHING ELSE. Think minimalistic – ammunition, water, Improved First Aid Kit (IFAK), body armor and not much else. Do not force soldiers to carry “nice to have” or “just in case” unit gear and do not allow them to fill their kit with personal comfort items. Again, think in terms of echelons or layering of equipment based on the units’ mission and assets available. Note: a unit can and should choose to add additional weight to training events / PT in order to build endurance, but in combat only carry the essentials. Remember, to always compensate for the weight of real ammunition (full rifle/pistol magazines, hand grenades, flares, smoke, demolition, claymores, etc) during training.

Shoot: Individual weapon (primary and secondary – rifle / carbine and pistol – if issued) plus optics (day / night) plus basic load of ammunition for all weapons. Adjust ammunition load to the mission and threat. Don’t allow – or force – soldiers to carry multiple basic loads “just in case” or because the ammunition is available. Ammunition is one of the ‘big three” when it comes to carried weight (water and armor being the other two). You have to have water to survive, and the weight of body armor is what it is. Carry additional ammunition on vehicles or with follow on gear if necessary, rather than on the soldiers back. This is not to pamper the soldier, but rather not to over burden the soldier and conserve his or her strength for the fight. The weapon(s) should be test fired and zeroed (to include optics) by the individual prior to operations. Magazines should be arranged on the load carrying system in a way that is secure but allows for smooth access for reloading. Note: practicing shooting and reloading (even if only “dry fire” without ammunition) is one of the simplest ways to determine if you have arranged your gear properly. If soldiers can’t get a good sight picture, effectively engage targets, or rapidly reload their weapons, then they need to practice and / or rearrange their gear until they can – under all weather and light conditions!

Move: the kit when fully loaded should still allow you to move over roads or cross country, fire your weapons accurately, and maneuver effectively and efficiently as a member of a team. In other words, your harness / vest should neither be loose and floppy, nor so tight that it restricts breathing or a relatively normal and unhindered range of motion during strenuous activities. Avoid having any extraneous straps or gear dangling from your kit. Those items that are improperly mounted or secured, become a snagging hazard, are likely to become lost, and endanger the soldier – even in a peacetime environment. Obviously, getting hung up by your gear as you exit a vehicle is a hazard that is best avoided. This also applies to any pack that is worn or carried on a vehicle.

Communicate: this includes having clear fields of view to allow the soldier to see and respond to hand and arm signals. That means helmets, eyewear (glasses, goggles, Night Vision Devices), cold weather gear (hoods and hats) are integrated into the soldiers ensemble in a way that doesn’t unduly block their vision or impair their hearing. Dismounted radio systems, if available, should be carried by the individual to facilitate team communications. A note book with pen / pencil is also useful if you have to resort to messengers. Of course with more modern C2 systems text messaging and other options may also be available. Leaders should carry maps (in a waterproof case of some type). Note: maps (paper or virtual) are a key communication tool for leaders to display graphics and communicate their intent.

Assault pack: Minimum environmental survival gear should be organized in this small to mid-sized pack to facilitate short duration missions away from supporting vehicles. Depending on conditions, this could include a jacket (fleece or windbreaker type), or wet weather gear (if appropriate), and minimum sleep gear (usually a poncho / tarp and poncho liner). In more extreme conditions a sleeping bag and bivy may be required. A change of socks (I recommend 2 pair) and a moisture wicking t-shirt (allows soldier to change to a dry shirt after movement to prevent hypothermia). Light (aviator type) gloves should ALWAYS be worn to protect hands, but heavier winter gloves and a fleece or wool cap are useful to conserve body heat – even in relatively mild conditions. Additional ammunition (only if mission dictates), spare batteries for mission items, the individual weapons cleaning kit along with some low volume / high energy food and perhaps additional water would also go in this layer.

Full sized Rucksack: Think longer term survival. Additional sleeping gear, hygiene gear, more clothing (socks, t-shirt, one change of uniform) and supplemental cold weather gear. Other mission enhancing items as dictated by the unit SOP and task at hand. The assault pack can be attached to the top of the main rucksack and carried there until needed as a separate item. Most everything else; comfort items and “housekeeping” items should be in a follow on kit bag or duffel. I recommend that the personal gear in the rucksack always be kept in a waterproof bag or dry sack. That will keep gear dry of course, but will also facilitate dropping or caching the contents. Then the empty rucksack can be used to recover resupply items or additional unit sustainment necessities. Items like bulk MREs, water, shelters and ammunition can then be readily transported from a vehicle drop off point if required. Note: the full sized rucksack is a valuable load carriage tool in combat. But leaders should make every effort to keep them off their soldiers’ backs and transported on vehicles as much as possible to conserve that all important fighting strength.

I’ll also mention here some very useful – but not always issued – “survival items” that are worth considering. This includes: snaplinks (aluminum), 550 cord, 100 MPH (Duct) Tape, cigarette lighter (start fires and to melt / repair frayed nylon straps and material on your gear). Mini Bic lighters work great and easy to carry. Pocket knife (clip type) and multi-tools (Leatherman@ or “Swiss Army” type) are highly recommended. Subdued bandana, i.e. “drive on rag” or shermagh type scarf takes up little space and has multiple uses. To cover mouth and nose in high dust areas and help retain body heat in colder situations for example. Blue or green Micro light (night vision friendly). Relatively cheap but durable wrist watch. I strongly prefer older style with hands and luminous markings over digital displays. A soldier can use an old style watch to tell direction and, if you use self winding versions, battery life is not an issue. Digital displays are often very bright and violate light discipline. Thereby putting the soldier and unit at risk by identifying your position. Watches need to have buzzers and alarms deactivated before tactical operations. A small “wrist compass” is also useful and can often be worn on the same watch band with watch. Caution – don’t put compass right next to watch because of possible magnetic interference.

You may be thinking…I’m a senior leader. I don’t kick in doors or routinely engage in close combat. Most of this doesn’t really apply to me. While that may usually be true, combat is extremely unpredictable and you may be called upon to defend yourself just as any other soldier. Beyond your personal survival, and perhaps much more importantly, as a senior leader the example you set determines the standards your soldiers and your unit meet. The things that are important to you (having your gear “squared away” and mission ready) must become important to your unit. Setting the proper standards, and leading by example is critical. Likewise, people need to understand the intent behind your gear policies and SOPs, i.e. to make the unit more combat effective (not to make everyone “uniform” and parade ground pretty).

Finally, some advice for those out there who aren’t issued any gear and are on limited budgets. Surplus USGI gear isn’t necessarily sexy but it is well constructed and will give good service. Moreover, real issue kit items can usually be acquired at very low cost for the quality. Cheaply constructed knock off copies of high end gear made with subpar materials will fail sooner rather than later. And I guarantee you it will come apart at the worst time. That being said, I suggest that you continue to practice and learn with whatever you have right now. In other words do the best you can with what you have. Just plan to improve / upgrade your personal kit as soon as possible with an eye to functionality first and foremost. That would be a good starting point for anyone who is serious about their gear. If you are wearing tactical gear to pick up girls, look “cool” or as a costume then feel free to disregard all above.

LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (RET) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments.

Terry Baldwin – 5th Group Reflashing Ceremony

Monday, April 4th, 2016


The 5th Group Flash in Vietnam overlaid multiple bands in the colors of the flag of South Vietnam on the existing Group flash. And the gold and red stripes also acknowledged 1st and 7th Group augmentation in the first years of the mission in country. Although in practice those non-5th Group TDY teams tended to wear their parent Group’s flashes. The primary intent was that the modification of the black with white trim Group flash showed solidarity with our South Vietnamese partners. Of course that was also during a time when we actually made a point of wearing berets in the field. In other words it was a mission specific change to the flash and was clearly meant to apply only to ongoing operations in Vietnam.

Technically the Group flash should have reverted to the pre-war design after the Group’s colors returned to Fort Bragg in 1971. However, after ten years of war, the Vietnam version of the flash WAS the 5th Group flash to members of the Group who had served there. Most had never worn the original flash. They had lost buddies and fought and bled wearing the flash with the gold and red stripes and that was their flash. And there is a strong and abiding desire from those veterans to preserve that heritage. I have always respected that. So at that point the purpose of the stripes changed…forever. It wasn’t about the mission in Vietnam anymore. The stripes had become in essence a “battle streamer” commemorating the Group’s service and sacrifice in that war. That service included 786 honored dead; many times that number wounded; thirty Medals of Honor and hundreds of other medals for valor. A proud record by every measure.

In 1985 the Group leadership decided to do what had not been done in 1971 and return the Group’s flash to the earlier configuration. There was logic to their decision. The stripes had not originally been meant to be a permanent modification. The Group’s area of orientation had changed and the country of South Vietnam no longer existed. And by that time, the majority of the Group’s members had never served in Vietnam. There was also some thought that the Group needed to close that chapter of its history and reinvent its self. Removing the stripes did not mean that the Group also discarded its storied Vietnam history. On the contrary, 5th Group has always held the heroes of that conflict in the highest esteem – but to some it certainly felt that way. So that decision remains divisive and deeply controversial to this day.

I grew up in 5th Group and spent many years there before and during GWOT. I got there after the transition back to the original flash. For me at least, and I’d say for most of us on duty at the time it seemed reasonable to retire the Vietnam flash and reclaim our original version. Frankly it wasn’t a topic of much discussion as I recall. That is not surprising. Just as most SF guys are not gun guys or gear guys, most are not history or heraldry buffs either. They’ll wear whatever flash they are authorized to wear with pride and not give it much additional thought. In that time we had plenty of work to do and there just wasn’t that much angst in the ranks about the change or the symbolism. Now after years and years of contingency operations and war most of the serving veterans today have lost buddies and fought and bled wearing the original black flash. It is indeed “my” 5th Group Flash. The one I went to war with and I suspect many of the current members of the Legion feel the same way. That sentiment is certainly deserving of respect as well.

In 1996 the Group leadership changed the background for the parachute badge worn on the dress uniform. Moving from the generic Special Forces gold and teal oval to a version that represented the Group flash of the Vietnam era; black with white border and the red and gold diagonal stripes (see photo). The intention had been to also change the flash back to the same configuration concurrently. But that was simply a political bridge too far at the time. But not anymore. The current Group leadership seized the opportunity facilitated in no small part because the current Army Chief of Staff, GEN Milley, is a former Team Leader in 5th Group. So last week (22, 23 March), I was one of many guests at the 5th Group Reflashing Ceremony held at Fort Campbell. It was a great ceremony. Joyful rather than solemn. A celebration and a rededication of the Group’s past, present and future in its entirety.

5th Group is still very busy. There is much work to be done so I doubt there will be much time for any angst in the ranks with this new change either. The ODA members that I spoke to in those two days seemed genuinely pleased with this particular transition. And why shouldn’t they be? Returning the Vietnam battle streamer to a position of prominence can only serve to enhance the historic symbolism of the Group flash. Nothing has been taken away from anyone and it disrespects no one. In my opinion it is an awesome privilege to carry all of those colors forward. An opportunity that I never had. A display of mutual and enduring respect for the contributions of all the veterans and current soldiers of the Legion. My congratulations to all the members of 5th Group past and present and best wishes to those who have the honor to still be serving. De Oppresso Liber!

Terry Baldwin – Citizenship In A Republic

Friday, February 26th, 2016


We tend to talk about our Republic in terms of our individual rights and all too often ignore or downplay the responsibilities that are the citizen’s rightful burden. A Republic is a participatory form of government. For our system of democracy to work the citizen must cherish his or her obligations to the Constitution as much if not more than their individual freedom. Adlai Stevenson once said: “Patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” For my purposes today I’m going to substitute the word “citizenship” for patriotism. Citizenship is not something that is practiced intermittently but rather it is an enduring responsibility. Citizenship demands that we are prepared to act individually and collectively in accordance with the Constitution. Citizenship is not a passive activity or spectator sport.

How many here have served on a jury? The Founders didn’t advocate juries because it was somehow perceived to be more “fair” to the defendant than trial by a judge. Rather they wanted we the people to participate and take ownership of our judicial system by putting the outcome of serious cases largely in the hands of citizens. Voting is another example. As citizens we are expected not only to show up at the polls occasionally but also to actively seek knowledge of the issues and candidates on the ballot. The Founders believed that in order for the people to be well informed there was a need for several critical enablers. Some are addressed directly in the Constitution, specifically in the 1st Amendment. The right to assemble, the right of free association and freedom of speech are particularly vital to a citizen’s full and unfettered participation in our political process.

To guarantee access to information the Founders also established or supported a number of institutions. Arguably the most important was a public funded school system. In an age where illiteracy was more common than not it was a revolutionary idea. A basic education allowed each individual to read and better reason for him or herself independently. They also moved quickly to establish the US Postal Service to carry the mail. Which was much more vital then since ALL long distance communication in those days was by what we now call snail mail. Also creating Local Libraries to provide free services to even the smallest communities. This was radical thinking in a time when books were expensive, rare and otherwise out of reach for the common man. Finally, as also enshrined in the 1st Amendment, a free press outside the control of politicians was considered absolutely essential to facilitate a well informed electorate.

I pointed out in an earlier piece that the Founders were more comfortable with a small standing or professional Army except in times of actual conflict. The Founders were not pacifists by any means but in their day Kings often raised large armies for suppression of their own populations. But that wasn’t the Founders only rationale. Their expectation was that National Defense as we now call it would be largely borne by the people in the form of mobilized Militias. That would also include the so called Unorganized Militia – basically every able bodied citizen. That by the way is the Constitutional basis for Draft Registration. That is not to say that every citizen is front line fighter material, but every one of us could and should be prepared to be called up to provide some service in time of emergency. WW II being the best and really only example of “full mobilization” of the majority of citizens in our Nation’s history.

Even in situations less dire than war, the Founders envisioned the people being routinely called to volunteer locally and even regionally if required. Not just to deal with external threats but also with natural disasters and internal dangers like criminal gangs. The concept of a sheriff forming a posse is a staple of Western movies. But it is also a real life example of we the people stepping up to assist and reinforce elected or appointed officials in resolving a crisis. And when the local sheriff needed help citizens dropped what they were doing, took up their guns and showed up. Ready to serve, ready to uphold the law and ready to fight if necessary. Not as an angry armed mob, not as vengeance seeking vigilantes but rather as staunch defenders of the rule of law. So when our Nation was formed, citizens expected to shoulder their share of the burden especially when faced with a tough or unpleasant task related to governance.

Since then our Nation has inexorably evolved from an agrarian culture, through industrialization and now into an information-centric society. We are richer, more powerful and have access to more information today than our Founders ever dared imagine possible. So it is not surprising that the relationship of the citizen to the most dangerous traditional duties has also changed over time. Not as the result of some insidious conspiracy or softening of our individual commitment to citizenship. Rather, one of the biggest factors driving this change has been “professionalization”. We have demanded increasingly more professional behavior from our soldiers and policemen specifically. That mandate and countless technological advances resulted in more complex and time consuming training requirements for even entry level candidates to those jobs. Even our Organized Militia elements like the National Guard must spend much more time training and actually performing their missions than ever before.

It hasn’t been possible in a very long time for untrained amateurs to simply “fall in” to these ranks in time of crisis and perform to an acceptable standard. Moreover, in a time of modern communications and transportation assets a sheriff can now get fully trained support from other LE faster than he can assemble an untrained citizen posse. That is not to say that the armed citizen no longer has any role in “providing for the common defense”. But rather accepts the fact that a civilian’s in extremis participation is not as central to our Local, State or National security systems as it once was. I for one believe that professionalization in our security services has been both necessary and positive. And I do not think it represents a threat of any kind to the future of our Republic. However, in my opinion, there is an area where this trend towards “professionalization” has become a serious problem. And that is in politics.

Far too many of us are consciously avoiding involvement in public sector activities. We have become comfortable with “hiring it done” by someone else. Oh, we bitch about it all the time. We hate “career politicians” and “the establishment”. We shout at the TV and complain to our spouses (at least I do). But we don’t do much else. We’re mad…but not really motivated. That is why 95% of incumbents get re-elected each and every cycle. That is why many candidates run unopposed – even at the National level. But we the people can choose to do better than that. So ignore the cynics. Don’t skip jury duty. Learn the facts of the issues and the records of the candidates. Support a campaign. Fight against a campaign. If you can’t stand anybody, run for office yourself. Do your duty. Be a real citizen and shoulder 100% of the burden and then some. Take action. Of course Vote. But don’t just cast a ballot, participate in the process! The fact is that we aren’t true Citizens and this isn’t a Republic if we don’t.

The Baldwin Articles: Packboards And Cargo Shelves

Monday, February 15th, 2016

Packboards, aka packframes, are an ancient load carrying concept. The Roman Legions utilized a clever variation on the basic idea for centuries. The Legionaries were issued a wooden T-shaped “carrying pole” which they rested on the top of the rectangular plywood and leather shield tied to their backs to carry individual and cohort equipment. By not attaching the gear directly to the shield they protected that critical piece of kit from non-battle damage. And it also allowed them to put the shield into action more quickly when necessary. In this country, Fur Traders, Mountain Men and Prospectors used versions of packboards in the earliest days of our Nation. Usually these were homemade of roughhewn wood in either rectangular or A-Frame shapes. Leather held them together and common cordage secured any load. Local versions of these simple but effective loadbearing implements can still be found in daily use in many parts of the world.

However, even before our country gained independence and through most of the 19th Century packframes were out of favor in most western militaries. It was an era where brightly colored Armies generally moved along roads and fought in set piece battles. Therefore, pack animals and wagons could and did carry much of the bulk sustainment load for an army. At least until the American Civil War and the wide spread introduction of rifled individual weapons. During WW II the US military had two packboards that saw service. The “Yukon Pack Board” which looked like a small window frame of 2”x2” pieces of lumber laced together with a canvas sheet and canvas shoulder straps. However, while it was sturdy it was also heavy at 7 pounds empty and was not popular or in service long. The other was the more prevalent and familiar curved sided plywood and canvas “Packboard, Plywood” which was a mere 4 pounds (see photo). By the end of WW II the plywood version had become the standard and remained so for the next 30 years.

Packboards were unit items and not individual issue. In some cases they were used to carry the barely man-portable radios of the day for artillery forward observers. Combat medical platoons used them to carry supplies necessary to establish aid stations close to the front. Communications soldiers would carry and rapidly deploy spools of telephone line to link front line positions. Engineers would carry demolition supplies and pioneer tools to support their mission. But in WW II the packboards were most widely used by units habitually operating in mountainous terrain where motor transport couldn’t easily move. The mountains of Italy for example where the 10th Mountain Division and the First Special Service Force (FSSF) used packboards extensively to sustain and support themselves in combat.

To be clear, Packboards were never meant to be used tactically in the same way as a rucksack. They were best employed on a fairly linear battlefield with front lines and relatively safer rear areas. You didn’t look for a fight if you had a packboard on your back. It was indeed common practice for soldiers to also strap their individual weapons on to the boards in the mountains so that they would have both hands free to pull themselves up and down the slopes. Packboards were commonly employed to bring up heavier weapons and ammunition resupply after an objective had been secured. Later a detail might go back toward the rear to bring up a few Mermites with hot rations or other sustainment gear from a vehicle drop off point.

Although it is a rule that is consistently violated, the Army has always recommended aggressive load management and the acceptance of risk to keep the fighting load as light as possible. But not when using packboards. In fact, the Army recommended that the individual load should be as heavy as the soldier could carry when a unit utilized packboards. The reason is simple and sound. If you were going to dedicate combat power to the effort it makes sense to get as much as possible moved to the line in as few trips as can be supported. Then those soldiers can more quickly return to their primary duties. A few years later Korea turned out to be precisely the kind of war that packboards were designed for. The fight was largely conventional. The battle lines moved back and forth from rugged ridgeline to ridgeline. The road network was minimal and fixed wing resupply was still restricted to large and relatively flat and open drop zones. And helicopters were not yet available in significant numbers. So the American soldiers in Korea along with their Allies had to hump all of their supplies from the valleys to the ridgetops day in and day out. The modest packboard was a critical piece of gear in those days.

Packboards didn’t get as much use in the Pacific as they had in Europe in WW II. In part that was because the thin plywood didn’t last long in high humidity tropical environments. The same was true in the jungles of Vietnam. But there were other reasons that packboard use declined during that war. The nonlinear guerrilla nature of the conflict and the fact that units routinely operated from fixed firebases made Korean War style packboard sustainment unnecessary and less tactically sound. The Firebases provided pre-established logistical and fire support without the need for the troops to carry the additional heavy weapons and materiel. Pinpoint helicopter resupply also meant that emergency supplies could be delivered directly to where they were needed to troops operating in the field. The widespread issue of rucksacks to troops in the theater took care of the remaining load carriage requirements. All of which allowed units to satellite out from bases with a relatively lighter combat load.


I had some experience with USGI plywood packboards like the one in the picture during the time I was a Pathfinder in Germany, 1976-78. As I recall we had six of them (2 per 4-man Team). They were used to carry the radios, marker panels, lights and other items necessary to set up and control helicopter landing zones and occasionally a drop zone. Our packboards would weigh in at probably 75-80lbs for a three day peacetime mission. Even back then batteries made up most of that weight. The packboards actually weren’t that uncomfortable to wear. And since we could take turns carrying them the system worked pretty well. The packboards had a good strength to load ratio, but were susceptible to damage if rough handled. The corners on all of ours were chipped and repaired with 100 mile an hour tape. A poorly executed “rucksack flop” could and often did break them. So taking them off was best done with a buddy’s assistance.

There were three basic and essential accessories that were supplied and utilized as part of the packboard system. Issue cordage, which in non-Airborne Units was usually the same small diameter hemp rope used for shelter halves. 550 Cord was not an item that was authorized for most Army units in those days (or readily available for individual purchase as it is now). But in Airborne Units, at least by the 1970s, 550 Cord was typically used because it was stronger and held up better to moisture and hard use. I remember we had to go down to the 7th Corps Rigger Company (there were no Riggers at Division level in Germany) to wheedle them out of a spool every now and then. Although we probably used it more for boot laces and other extraneous purposes than we ever did for the packboards. If issue cordage wasn’t available, then any rope that you had could do in a pinch. The packboard had 4 hooks on each side to facilitate lacing a load to the frame.

The second accessory was the Strap, Quick Release. The closed loop cotton webbing strap was approximately 50 inches long with a simple buckle and clamp attaching mechanism. The straps were issued three to a packboard and were intended to be used in conjunction with the third common accessory, the Packboard Attachment. Nowadays almost always referred to as a Cargo Shelf. The attachment(s) or shelf actually supported the weight of the load while the strap stabilized the load by cinching it tight to the packboard. The aluminum shelves were also issued three to each Packboard. In my admittedly limited experience, all the straps, cordage and the attachments were habitually carried with the packboard to allow for quick reconfiguration if you were backhauling something different than what you hauled up the first time. My research tells me this was the typical SOP for units using the boards routinely for sustainment.

Although not a standard item when the Plywood Packboard was in active service, there is another packframe accessory that is now used extensively by hunters in the U.S. that is certainly worth mentioning That is the nylon fabric / webbing “beavertail” attachment. Beavertails like Mystery Ranch’s “Load Sling” or the Kifaru “Cargo Panel” are tailored to fit those manufacturers’ proprietary packframes. But, because of their modular nature they can also be readily adapted to other frames. The Gregory SPEAR detachable Compression Panel is the only beavertail that the U.S. Military has issued with a full sized rucksack to date. (And as I have mentioned before, I am not in favor of these panels in that application since they are additive to a rucksack that is already carrying a full internal load.) The beavertail basically does what the separate straps or cordage did, i.e. cinch the load tight to the packframe effectively. A Beavertail attachment can also serve to reduce but not eliminate the need for a separate cargo support shelf.


I have a few examples of packframes and accessories on display in the group photo for demonstration purposes. Bottom left are two ALICE frames configured with two of the ALICE shelves each. One with two ammo cans and one with a “mission load” for my amateur lumberjack activities. Top left are two longer Canadian Military packframes I mated with U.S. MOLLE surplus suspensions. I’m referring to these as “Black Devil Packframes” in honor of the FSSF and the fact that these are also a U.S. / Canadian hybrid. One with cases of MREs secured with straps. The other has a soft load in a waterproof bag enclosed by the Kifaru Cargo Panel. Bottom right is a DEI 1606 frame with the smaller Gregory Compression Panel and a 40 mm can. Top right I also have a DEI 1603 frame set up in a manner similar to how the old school packboard would have been rigged with a cordage load. I have used orange 550 for better visibility. The 1603 is almost dimensionally identical to the Plywood Packboard including the curved sides. I short loaded the frame so that I could also illustrate how the cordage was usually carried wrapped around the top of the packboard when not in use. In the middle, from left to right, is the original issue Packboard Attachment. In the center is the cargo shelf that was developed for the tubular framed Lightweight Rucksack used in Vietnam. It seems to have been used mostly to carry radios rather than general supplies in country. And on the right is the even more effective ALICE Cargo Support Shelf. Note: all three of these shelves will work with the ALICE packframe.

In the course of putting this article together I have been reminded that the old plywood packboard system served a specific tactical purpose that is quite different from a general issue rucksack. That is why the ALICE system included straps and shelves to fill the packboard / packframe requirement. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, ALICE as issued performs poorly in that role. First the good news. The ALICE shelf is outstanding. Lightweight yet strong with multiple strap and cord lashing options. And it is simple to attach and detach yet is secure when mounted to the ALICE frame. The straps that come with ALICE are something of an improvement over the straps that came with the plywood packboards in that they are nylon instead of cotton webbing. But the buckle is finicky to put on and take off and is difficult to get secured tight enough on hard items. But the frame itself is the biggest shortcoming. Surface area matters when you are tasked to carry outsized and odd shaped loads. Because of its tubular and open nature and smaller overall size the ALICE frame doesn’t provide much area to work with. The smooth tubes don’t have any hooks, cleats or much in the way of built in attachment points to hold straps or cordage in place on the frame itself. Which is vital to stabilizing the load. The result is that the load gets shaken loose very easily if you use the issue straps alone. The result is that most people who ever used ALICE as a packframe lost confidence in their equipment and the concept itself. The DEI 1603 frame on the other hand has everything that ALICE doesn’t and would make an excellent packboard (the Canadian frame is even better IMO). Yet the MOLLE system only comes with Lashing Straps.

A number of manufacturers including DEI do make PALs panels or sleeves for their packframes, and even for the venerable ALICE frame. Intended primarily to support carrying breaching / rescue kit tools or “assault loads” of some kind and not for traditional packboard duties. None that I have seen even come with accessory cargo shelves. In fact, there is no modern cargo shelf available for the common modular packframes most widely used by the U.S. Military and available as surplus to civilians. The DEI 1603 and 1606 packframes. As I mentioned earlier, the shelf is actually meant to support the weight of the load rather than the tiedown device. It also serves to “lock” the load onto the packframe and prevent drooping or sagging. The cargo shelf should not be considered an optional item when carrying heavy and hard edged objects like weapon systems and metal ammo cans – or the newer technological items like robots and tactical drones.

Is a military packboard concept still relevant today? I’d say yes. There is still a lot of rugged terrain in this world we may have to someday seize and hold against determined and capable enemies. Whether we want to or not. I can certainly envision scenarios where U.S. and Allied forces could be required to face serious hybrid threats. A renewal of large scale hostilities on the Korean peninsula for example. That would likely be a semi-linear, quasi-conventional war of maneuver. Including robust enemy anti-air capabilities that would make direct aircraft resupply to the front lines too risky. In a fight like that, man packing bulk supplies and equipment may again become a necessity. Packframe systems including cargo shelves would be the right tool for that kind of job. At least commanders should have that option readily available in my professional opinion. With that in mind I contacted DEI just after Christmas and asked if they would be willing to prototype a polymer cargo shelf. Modeled after the excellent ALICE Cargo Support Shelf and designed to clip onto their packframes in the same fashion. To date I have not heard from them. I’ll keep trying. If DEI remains uninterested I will see if I can’t find someone else.

LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (RET) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments.

Next: Cargo Pockets.

Terry Baldwin – Leadership, Character and Basic Training

Friday, January 1st, 2016

I get asked about Military Service and Basic Training specifically quite frequently. The transformational impact of Army Initial Entry Training or Marine Corps Recruit Training on young people is often profound and undeniable. Yet the practical intent of the process is often misunderstood, shrouded in mystery and a source of confusion for civilians. Even those who have participated as recruits and trainers often mischaracterize what happens as “breaking down” the old and replacing it with something new. The Army’s 3rd Infantry Division even has a song that proudly declares “they are tearing me down to build me over again”. And young people who talk to me about serving often say they are most afraid of having their individuality stripped or “taken away” from them. That is simply not how the process works. Perhaps the following will better explain some of what goes on behind the curtain and help separate mystique from reality.

In the end it’s really all about character. I had a welcome spiel that I gave to Special Forces candidates when I worked at Camp MacKall years ago. In part I explained the role of the cadre and our expectations of the students by using this story. Supposedly late in his life someone asked Michelangelo how he created such life like statues from lifeless marble. The artist replied “the figure was already in the stone, I just chipped away the excess pieces”. My cadre and I were not in the business of building character. We were focused instead on revealing and assessing the students’ existing traits. To do so we would put them in stressful situations where the excess pieces – their public façade – would be naturally whittled away and their core qualities would be exposed. We weren’t going to give them anything or try to take anything away. In short, we simply wanted to see what they were really made of.

The exact same dynamic is at work in a basic training or commissioning program scenario. By 18 it is fair to say that the fundamental character and personality of a young person has formed and is largely solidified. Family, teachers, coaches, clergy and especially parents have had the prime opportunity in those earlier years to truly shape that young man or woman. The military services can and do encourage – and in some cases may accelerate – the natural maturation process. But the military cannot and will not “make a man (adult) of you” if you don’t have a solid character foundation to build on already inside of you. Of course, any program that is rigorous enough to reveal character strengths and weaknesses to an outside observer also serves to reveal those things to the individual as well. Often for the first time. Because by 18 a young person has also learned to effectively present an often false “public face” that serves to obscure, mask and protect their true nature even from themselves.

Not to get too Zen about it, but you first have to see yourself as you truly are in order to have a real opportunity to grow into a better person. Here is one well known but often misconstrued example of how it usually works in the military. By being required to adopt a common uniform appearance young people come to realize that their personality or their self-worth is not dependent on the stylishness of their cloths or the length of their hair or the cool clique they associate with. They often learn that they are stronger and more independent than they ever realized. This usually results in enhanced self-confidence and sense of purpose. In other words their existing character has been honed and strengthened by the experience. Nothing has been taken away. None of their individuality or personality has been erased or replaced or damaged in any way. That is how it is supposed to work.

That is not to take anything away from Drill Sergeants or anyone else tasked to make entry level Soldiers, Marines, Sailors or Airmen out of civilians. The art of successfully socializing these young people and introducing complex new skill sets is a daunting task under the best of circumstances. But there are also some important lessons here for the rest of us. First, as parents, teachers, etcetera, we have a duty to actively mold the foundational values of our children. That is an obligation that demands our daily attention. And that effort by responsible adults is vital to slowly but surely forge a young person’s core character. The strength of that character not only defines them as people but also shapes their individual destiny and our collective future. And even someone who has not served in the military can and should, over time, help them better understand lofty concepts like Patriotism, Duty and Selfless Service. Principally by setting a good example in our own lives of those virtues for them to emulate.

But military leaders and even parents need to be realistic when dealing with young adults. We can teach, coach, mentor, guide and lead but we can’t force change on anyone. We can be good role models and assist someone who is struggling. We might even be able to supply some helpful external motivation. And if we are lucky we may be able to inspire a positive evolution. But we also have to recognize our limitations. Because no matter how good our intentions, we cannot “fix” someone else’s character related issues. Serious personal problems like drug or alcohol abuse are not “leadership issues” that you can solve for someone else. Instead hurdles like those must be overcome and conquered by the affected individual. And likewise, none of us have the power to impose a sense of Civic Virtue, Honor or Citizenship in someone who is not predisposed to accept that responsibility. When leading others, we would all do well to remember “Oz never gave nothing to the Tinman he didn’t already have”.

Do you have a son, daughter, relative or family friend who is considering military service? Do they wonder if they can “make it” or have concerns and fears? I certainly did. I would suggest that it is best to avoid the temptation to embellish your own experiences or otherwise add to their natural anxiety. Just tell them the truth. That the experience will be a mental and physical challenge they need to prepare for realistically. But mostly it is a test of their character. Also tell them that millions have done it before them and tens of thousands do it successfully every year. Of course, if you don’t think they have what it takes tell them so and why. There are plenty of legitimate reasons why someone might not choose to serve in the military. But it should never be because they don’t have accurate information and are afraid of the unknown. Dispelling rather than perpetuating the myths of basic training is a good place to start. And we all benefit by enhancing the next generation’s propensity to serve our Nation in some worthy fashion.

LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (RET) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments.

Terry Baldwin on Civilian Control of the Military

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Recently, a post regarding a Senator’s position on a pending government procurement resulted in some rather interesting comments on civilian control of the military. I exchanged some messages with LTC Terry Baldwin (USSF, Ret) and we agreed that it needed to be addressed.  This is what he came up with. It’s a good historical reference, and well worth the reading, whether you are an informed citizen or a student of the profession of arms.

There is legitimate purpose, coherent logic and sound reasoning behind every element and mechanism associated with our Constitutional Republic. None is more fundamental to our form of government than iron clad civilian control of the military. In peace and war. In June of 1787, James Madison addressed the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on the dangers of a permanent army. “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.” Based on the European model of his day Madison declared. “The means of defense against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.” The fact that Madison, one of the most vocal proponents of a strong centralized government—an author of the Federalist papers and the architect of the Constitution—could evince such strongly negative feelings against a standing army is significant and telling(1).

The final draft of the Declaration of Independence contained numerous references to King George’s militarism (particularly his attempts to render the army independent of civilian authority). By the end of the War of Independence, distrust and even hatred of a standing army had become a powerful and near-universal article of faith among the American people. Many felt that the professional British army was nothing less than a “conspiracy against liberty.” The Quartering Act, which required colonists to provide housing and provisions for troops in their own buildings, was an especially obnoxious symbol of the corrupting power represented by the army. An issue which was later directly addressed in the 3d Amendment of the US Constitution. Many colonists held the sentiment that the redcoats stationed in the colonies existed not to protect them but to enforce the king’s unpopular policies at bayonet-point(1).

Other members of the founding generation worried that an armed, professional force represented an untenable threat to the liberty of the people generally. As Samuel Adams wrote in 1768, “Even when there is a necessity of the military power, within a land, a wise and prudent people will always have a watchful and jealous eye over it”. In our Republic that watchful oversight on behave of the people is exercised by our elected officials. Moreover, in Federalist No. 51, Madison argued that no single branch of government ought to have control over any single aspect of governing. Thus, all three branches of government must have some control over the military, and the system of checks and balances maintained among the other branches would serve to help control the military(1).

The powers of the individual Branches of government concerning the United States Military are clearly outlined in the Constitution. The separation of those powers concerning their duties and responsibilities are precise and distinct to each Branch. Article I which covers the governmental responsibilities of the Legislative Branch distinctly places the responsibility of provision for and maintenance of the military specifically in the duties of the United States House of Representatives and Senate. Article I, Section 8 – The Legislative Branch – “To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; To provide and maintain a Navy.” Article II, Section 2 – The Executive Branch – “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.”

Most military professionals, myself included, are in fact strong advocates of civilian control. Highly respected writing on War from Clausewitz to Sun-Tzu universally recognized and advocated an unbreakable link between political goals and military means. Historically where unrealistic or poorly defined political objectives became unsynchronized or decoupled from operational and tactical military actions, National mission failure is the likely result. Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan would be some recent examples. Given the broad strategic implications that a decision to declare a war, invade a country, or end a conflict, have on the citizens of the country, those deliberations are best guided by the will of the people (as expressed by their elected representatives), rather than left solely to an elite group of military experts. The military serves as a special government agency, which is supposed to implement, rather than formulate, policies that require the use of certain types of physical force. Dr. Kohn succinctly summarizes this view when he writes that: “the point of civilian control is to make security subordinate to the larger purposes of a nation, rather than the other way around. The purpose of the military is to defend society, not to define it.”(2)

It can also be argued that militaries possess capabilities that are too powerful to be placed at the discretion of just a few people. Rather, they must be at the service of all citizens and used in accordance with the democratic will of the people. So concerns about maintaining an appropriate subordinate relationship between the military and civil authorities elected or appointed over them did not end in the 18th Century. In 1961, President Eisenhower warned in his farewell address of a military-industrial complex, where the military could wield indirect power or undue influence over Congress by enlisting arms manufacturers to lobby for increased military spending to benefit themselves and incidentally the military. This very real and troubling dynamic represents a potential end run around effective civilian control. And also presents an effective argument in favor of more civilian scrutiny and oversight of the military not less.

Of course, the most important institution supporting civilian control must be the military itself. The fundamental assumption behind civilian supremacy is the abstinence by the military from intervention in government and political life. The military should advise civilians, represent the needs of the military inside the government, but not advocate military interests or perspectives publicly in such a way as to undermine or circumscribe civilian authority. While a country may have civilian control of the military without democracy, it cannot have democracy without civilian control. Democracy is a disorderly form of government, often inefficient and always frustrating. Maintaining liberty and security, governing in such a manner as to achieve desirable political outcomes and at the same time military effectiveness, is among the most difficult dilemmas of human governance.(2)

Our Founding Fathers envisioned and built a most amazing governing construct. A mechanism designed with component gears that purposely grind against one another rather than mesh. An apparatus that is maintenance intensive and that we the people have a sacred duty to constantly repair and preserve. A machine that intentionally doesn’t save time, energy or manpower. An engine of liberty that deliberately works better when more of us participate and yet will still never function smoothly. A strange and marvelous instrument indeed. Ensuring that the military always remains firmly subordinate to civilian control was and remains a critical cog in that machine. Every aspect of when, where, why, against whom and how the Nation goes to war, prosecutes a war, or prepares for war is the peoples’ business. Attempting to argue that the military should have the autonomy or discretion to somehow dodge that oversight in time of war is simply wrong and directly contradicts our history and our Constitution.

For the purposes of this article I modified and paraphrased a great deal of the work of the two gentlemen below. But I happen to firmly believe in everything that is stated above. TLB

(1)Historian Christopher Hamner teaches at George Mason University, serves as Editor-in-Chief of Papers of the War Department, 1784-1800, and is the author of Enduring Battle: American Soldiers in Three Wars, 1776-1945.

(2)Richard H. Kohn is professor of history and chairman of the Curriculum in Peace, War, and Defense at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as executive secretary, Triangle Institute for Security Studies. Further, he is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of American Diplomacy.

Terry Baldwin – Oath Speech

Monday, October 26th, 2015

In 2012 an old friend of mine, then a 2-Star, asked me if I could do a quick turn on a speech about the Oath of Office for an upcoming ROTC Graduation. This is what I came up with. I acknowledge that I liberally cribbed – without permission – most of the historical background from a well-researched article that Lt Col Kenneth Keskel, USAF did for the Air & Space Power Journal – Winter 2002. Since I did not profit from this speech in any way I can only hope that he would not be offended by this plagiarism. However, any grammatical mistakes or other errors are my responsibility. TLB

START: Thank you so much for inviting me to join you today. For those of you about to be commissioned, this moment in your life marks a significant accomplishment…and the beginning of a great adventure. For the last four years you have worked hard to earn the opportunity to lead. And as you take the Oath of Office in front of your classmates and families, I want you to reflect on the implications of the vow you are making. It is of significant importance to your future. I have been asked to speak briefly about what the Oath means to me and what it should mean to you.

You might not know that the specific wording of all government oaths – including those related to the military – is dictated by Congress but most haven’t been changed much since the 1880s. Moreover, the oath sworn by a commissioned officer is the same oath sworn by each newly elected member of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United State. But the “oath of office” that an officer takes is purposely and significantly different than the oath enlisted soldiers take. Some of you may have been previously enlisted but might not realize that there is a difference. If you haven’t looked at the two side by side you probably should.

As a legal matter, the offering and acceptance of a commission fall under a set of rules that are different from the rules governing enlistment contracts. This is one of the key reasons why officers are held to a different set of standards from enlisted soldiers – not necessarily “higher” standards, but different. Still, the oath represents more than a simple legal document or ceremonial formality; rather, it provides overarching guidance and a standard of moral and professional conduct. The Army’s core Values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage are explicitly and implicitly contained within the simple language of the Oath. The Oath represents a credo of immutable Principles that an officer LIVES every day in everything they do. I’m going to break it down now in a little more detail.

I, ________, Do Solemnly Swear (or Affirm). The oath begins with an option to swear or affirm. Recognizing that some individuals might object to “swearing” to a Supreme Being or that someone might not believe in a Supreme Being, Congress wisely provided the option to affirm. In fact, Article 2 of the Constitution itself provides the same option for the President to swear or affirm when taking his oath of office. In any case, the oath signifies a public statement of personal commitment. Officers must take personal responsibility for their own actions, the orders they issue and – to a great extent – any actions their subordinates take or fail to take.

That I Will Support and Defend the Constitution of the United States… To understand the opening pledge, one should have some knowledge of the content of the Constitution. If you haven’t already, I recommend that you take the time to read and study the document you will be swearing to support and defend. The oath deliberately requires officers to pledge loyalty to the Constitution – not the president, not the country, not the flag, and not a particular military service. Yet, at the same time, the Constitution embodies the office of president, the country, the flag, the military, and much more. It is the bedrock of our way of life, our system of government and the rule of laws by which citizens agree to be governed.

Against All Enemies, Foreign and Domestic. This phrase was added in 1862 as a direct result of the Civil War – specifically in response to the issue of U.S. Army officers joining the Confederacy. That is, there were military officers who had previously sworn allegiance to the United States who were now in open rebellion against it. Today, post-Civil War laws referred to as “Posse Comitatus” sharply limit the Military’s ability to act in a domestic capacity or against US Citizens – and rightly so. However, the oath does demand that we remain ever vigilant to any threat that may develop from other nation-states, trans-nationals or non-state actors and prepare ourselves and our units to respond appropriately or provide support when directed to act.

That I Will Bear True Faith and Allegiance to the Same. This phrase epitomizes the idea of Selfless Service. Being ready, willing and able to put the welfare of the nation – and by clear extension – the Army and your subordinates before your own. In serving as an Army Officer, you are prepared to do your duty loyally without thought of personal recognition or gain. Bearing your “true faith” not just within the military structure but in support of the larger system of democratic government embodied in the Constitution. That is also why serving officers must always strive to be apolitical…and far removed in thought and deed from partisan politics…or even the appearance of partisanship.

That I Take This Obligation Freely, without Any Mental Reservation or Purpose of Evasion. This is the first phrase that clearly differentiates the soldier’s Oath of Enlistment and an Officer’s Oath of Office. Soldiers state: “that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice”; officers do not. Why is that? Officers are certainly required to obey orders from the chain of command and are subject to the UCMJ. However, this phrase acknowledges that unlike enlisted soldiers, even junior officers are required to routinely formulate and give orders – often on their own recognizance. Therefore, Officers are expected – and must be prepared – to judge their decisions against their own principles and convictions. More senior officers, bound by the exact same oath, often are required and entrusted to act strategically within broad guidance and without direct oversight.

It is a true blessing that the United States has never required its officers to obey orders “without question” or blindly but in fact demands an Officer act in accordance with his or her conscience. But with that latitude of action comes both responsibility and accountability for one’s decisions. In other words, it requires your integrity. An Oath means nothing to someone without integrity. Integrity is a learned trait and involves doing what’s right, legally and morally…always. Integrity is a quality you develop by adhering to moral principles. Maintaining your personal integrity is implicit in the oath and must guide officers when they face conflicts of interest and hard choices.

And That I Will Well and Faithfully Discharge the Duties of the Office on Which I Am about to Enter. This clause is also unique to the Officer’s oath and epitomizes the Army’s core values of “duty” and “honor”. Officers are expected to be diligent and proactive; performing our duties to the best of our abilities, mastering our specialties while we are junior officers and then gaining depth and breadth in the science and art of war as we advance in rank. The vitality, progress and safety of the nation depends upon our doing so. In part, Army Values describe “Duty” as “fulfilling your obligations”. But doing your duty means more than simply carrying out your assigned tasks. Duty for an Officer means preparing yourself and your organization to be able to accomplish your mission as part of a larger team. And you must understand how your tactical success or failure fits into the larger operational and strategic context. As an Officer you maintain and enhance your professional reputation and “fulfill your obligation” with honor by living your Oath and the Army Values.

So Help Me God. The United States Constitution, (Article VI, section 3) provides “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”. As with the option to “swear or affirm” at the beginning of the Oath, concerns over personal religious convictions and the separation of church and state sometimes clouds this final phrase. Nevertheless, as Officers, our actions always have important moral implications, even for those who don’t believe in the religious concept of a Supreme Being. And even atheists have a clear moral obligation from a societal perspective. Of note, the Constitution does not include the phrase so help me God in the President’s Oath. George Washington added those words when he took the first oath. So help me God became part of the officer oath in 1862, but the enlisted oath did not add these words until 1962.

The Congressional Record of 1962 described the intent this way: The words, “So help me God,” are not a part of the obligation assumed upon taking the oath. They constitute rather an assertion of sincerity to undertake the duties of military service in good faith and with the aid of the highest power recognized by the enlistee. It is directed solely to his or her personal conception of the almighty, whatever that may be or whatever it may not be. There is no effort to impose on the enlistee any established religious conception, or even to require his acknowledgement of any religious conception.” But please understand this; whether you swear or affirm…or ask for the assistance of a Supreme Being or not, by taking the oath you will have dedicated your life to the concept of selfless service and always choosing the “hard right over the easy wrong”.

Conclusion: If you watch current events you know that, unfortunately, not everyone – no matter how senior or how experienced – lives up to the ideals in the Oath all the time. I’m not going to make any excuses for that. It is unacceptable. But while we must all strive to live by the ideals of the oath every day…sometimes we (or senior leaders) fail to fully achieve that ideal. It might happen to you at some point in your career. It is a reminder that we are human…and fallible…none of us are perfect. But that doesn’t tarnish or lessen the importance of always striving toward the ideal. Taking the Oath dedicates each of us to a career (at least for the length of your service obligation) of SERVICE to the country and especially to our SOLDIERS. But also explicitly and ultimately to the National ideal as described in the Constitution. The Military defends the people and the physical boundaries of the country…to ensure the survival of that ideal above all else.

Living the Oath successfully requires unwavering commitment and Personal Courage. Personal courage means always standing up for and acting upon the things that you know are honorable. Your personal commitment to this ideal will be tested daily as you perform your duties as an officer. Hopefully I have provided you some things to think about during these last few minutes – or at least reminded you of things you have already been taught. Not just about the words in the Oath but the larger concept of obligation, duty and service. But if you are anything like I was when I was first commissioned, I suspect it will be some years before you truly UNDERSTAND what an incredible burden…and awesome privilege it is to serve as an Officer in the United States Army. May you lead honorably and well. Congratulations and Good Luck! END

LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (RET) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments.