join military

Donald E. Vandergriff: A Year of Army Reform
Donald E. Vandergriff: A Year of Army Reform


About the Author

Major Donald E. Vandergriff, USA, an armor officer, teaches military science at Georgetown University Army ROTC. Vandergriff began his military career with the United States Marine Corps, and has had extensive experience in the field with the Army. After he transferred from the Marine Corps to the Army National Guard, he initially served as a cavalry platoon leader in the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment (TNARNG). Upon entering active duty, he served in the Republic of Korea as a tank platoon, tank company executive officer and scout platoon leader for almost two years; at the National Training Center (serving both as an observer controller and in the OPFOR); and in the Middle East and Germany.

He has his undergraduate degree in education from the University of Tennessee, a graduate degree in military history from American Military University, and began his PhD studies in military history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Major Vandergriff has lectured extensively on military effectiveness and cultural impacts in the United States and Europe. He has also been the subject of several articles that deal with military effectiveness and military transformation, including features in the Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker Magazine, The National Journal, Government Executive Magazine, The Washington Monthly, Army Times, Stars and Stripes, Norfolk News-Gazette and Pittsburg Star.

He currently lives in Woodbridge, Virginia with his wife Lorraine, and their three dogs and one cat. Vandergriff has always been athletically competitive, playing Rugby at the University of Tennessee 1982-1984, at Fort Irwin 1987-1990, in Germany 1993-4, and in Northern Virginia 1996-97. Vandergriff also participated in Iron Man competitions from 1987-1990, and was an avid snow skier. His current hobbies include Tennessee college football, military wargaming, mountain biking, hiking and his dogs.

Donald Vandergriff: Archive

Discussion Forum
Have an opinion on this commentary? Sound off.

Get Breaking Military News Alerts

Related Links

Global Hotspot: Iraq

Global Hotspot: Afghanistan

January 5, 2004

[Have an opinion about the views expressed in this commentary? Sound off in the Discussion Forum.]

Locked in a global war against terrorists and Iraqi insurgents, the U.S. Army is trying to transform itself under bold new leadership. As one proponent of change, I would like to review events of the past year and the Army’s ongoing effort to prepare itself for the newest face of warfare.

Warfare is ever evolving. It has moved from the 1st Generation (close-quarters combat) through the 2nd and 3rd Generations (industrial/attrition-linear and tactical and operational maneuver-based, respectively), to the newest variant, 4th Generation warfare, which we are currently experiencing in the ongoing Global war on Terrorism (GWOT). Fourth Generation warfare knows no depths and its adherents attack both military and non-military targets, attempting to avoid an enemy’s strengths while attacking its weaknesses. Fourth Generation warfare involves both state and non-state opponents.

As a result, the Army must evolve as war evolves. Its leaders can no longer afford to fight the last war.

“There is room for improvement,” Jack Welch told his senior managers when he proposed radical changes to the General Electric Co. after being named its CEO. The Army, as good as its senior leaders claim, needs changes too. We have the finest soldiers in the world, and their leaders are not corrupt, but times have changed and war has evolved. To ensure that it will prevail in future conflicts, the Army has to transform itself now.

This reality is what defines recommendations for change.

Why, I have asked throughout this year, is our Army still organized, structured and indoctrinated for 2nd Generation (attrition) warfare? Why do we insist, especially now that it is evident we will be continually at war for years to come, that we espouse an antiquated personnel system that promotes self over service that dates back to the Progressive Era a hundred years ago? Why do we still have a personnel system that practices an individual replacement that Army postwar studies after every conflict since World War I found undermines unit effectiveness?

I have been honored by the high volume of e-mails I have received over the last year in response to my articles published in DefenseWatch and Military.com, as well as my books, Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs (Presidio 2002) and Spirit, Blood and Treasure: The American Cost of Battle in the 21st Century (Presidio 2001). They are generating thought, and hopefully this will help in the effort to make needed changes.

Almost all the writers of these e-mails understand that my efforts are meant to better the Army and prepare leaders and soldiers for the future against potential competent opponents practicing a different form of warfare than we do now.

The bottom line is that it is not my intention to undermine our current efforts in the GWOT. I am very proud of our soldiers for their efforts to adapt to the current 4th Generation conflict they are engaged in globally. The soldiers’ constantly having to adapt peacetime policies and practices to war, ironically, provides the foundation to my work.

For more on the details of my work, please see my in-depth briefing, “The Revolution in Human Affairs,” posted at the Defense and the National Interest website. This is a detailed briefing covered in four parts, including an executive summary: a history of the Army’s own personnel system (explaining why to many of the practices, policies and laws we use today); a summary of other nations’ personnel systems, and finally details of recommendations to transform the Army. I have had the honor of presenting the briefing to a broad spectrum of Army leaders, DoD officials, congressional staffers and think-tanks over 30 times in the last four years.

A large number of my columns discussed problems associated with a military leadership addicted to micromanagement and techno-magic, a bloated officer corps, and a multi-layered organizational bureaucracy that puts a greater value on staff assignments and PowerPoint proficiency than on command in the field.

I also focused on the danger from a replacement system that favors selfish over selfless service and undermines unit cohesion. Left unfixed, these factors will likely spark an exodus of many of our best officers and non-commissioned officers, leaving the Army clinging to a stagnant, 2nd Generation warfighting doctrine in a 4th Generation world of war.

Fortunately, the Army is listening. Feedback from the field, evidence from the work of many Army task forces dealing with various transformation issues (such as the Stabilization Task Force dealing with unit manning), and countless e-mails from readers, demonstrate continuing progress as the Army attempts what I term, “parallel evolution” – an adaptation of all institutions, including personnel, doctrine, equipment, training and leader training – to the changes in warfare.

A good example occurred with the U.S. Army after the Vietnam War where leaders prepared it for possible combat with the Soviets in Europe. There is evidence parallel evolution is beginning again in the U.S. Army.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker is boldly leading the way with 16 initiatives that include personnel reform, force structure changes and educational reform. Soon after assuming command of the Army, Schoomaker quickly stopped the foolish Vietnam-era practice of changing out unit commanders in the middle of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, they now deploy and return with their units.

These changes pick up the pace started by former Army Secretary Tom White and Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Jack Keane during 2001-2003.

While many colleagues and friends – soldiers of all ranks, retired colonels, general officers, and journalists – have said Path to Victory has provided the Army with the blueprint for these ideas, I respectfully disagree. While proud to have been involved in this great effort, I count myself part of a great team of Americans concerned about the future of their Army.

There are many others who been pushing well-thought reform ideas for years in the forms of books, articles or within the system. There are also countless people working behind the scenes, wrestling with the details to make the ideas work. Without these efforts, the Army could easily suffer from poorly-implemented ideas, or ideas that have been implemented with incomplete planning and thought.

The Army’s transformation from the Cold War legacy of industrial war to 4th Generation warfare often seems maddeningly slow – but it is continuing. And it remains a team effort with highly-motivated, loyal soldiers and civilians.

As we prepare to enter 2004, much work remains to be done.

Major Donald E. Vandergriff, an armor officer, is author of Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs. He can be reached at vandergriffdonald@usa.net

© 2003 Major Donald E. Vandergriff. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.



Member Center

FREE Newsletter

Military Report

Equipment Guides

Installation Guides

Military History

© 2017 Military Advantage
A Monster Company.