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
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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org