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Donald E. Vandergriff: Army Crisis -- Form a Personnel Transformation Task Force (Part 2 of 2)
Donald E. Vandergriff: Army Crisis -- Form a Personnel Transformation Task Force (Part 2 of 2)

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.

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October 27, 2003

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“We are killing ourselves with these back-to-back rotations, with the constant changes in command and leadership, with the hidebound determination to conduct today’s new type of war with the old Cold War force structure and personnel system.” – Anonymous Army colonel, August 2003

The U.S. Army can build a force that can fight “come as you are wars” at present while preserving the force for a major conflict in the future. But we have a long way to go to replace the World War II-based force structure (with its large overhead, long train-up and deployment times an unwieldy logistics tail) that robs us of the strategic and operational initiative.

The Pentagon does not have to wait for new technology to leverage potential combat power. It does not have to ask for more manpower to meet contingency operations. It simply has to change the way it manages its units and people, and the way it structures its forces.

The strategy I foresee for reforming the U.S. military is to embrace a strategy of “parallel evolution.” By this term, I mean that the institutions that compose a military will evolve parallel to the changing face of war itself. This includes force structure, acquisition policy, warfighting doctrine and the personnel system all changing together to adapt to the evolving face of warfare itself.

For the U.S. Army, this change centers around a new Unit-based Personnel System that promotes and builds cohesion –- based on stable personnel rosters, extended terms of leadership and prolonged training time -- that allows units to reach their full military potential.

Such units in turn transfer to theater commanders for their use on manning cycles. This will not repeat the Army’s failed COHORT program of the 1980s. It will constitute the wholesale moving of units between headquarters on a grand, scheduled basis. The new concept does not apply DEROS to individual service personnel, but to entire units. Even so, a soldier will expect to be on a deployment cycle for one year out of a three-year cycle.

There are two options the Army could use in implementing the Unit-based Personnel System, either regimental (regional vs. national) system, or a division-based. Both options would home base soldiers and their families, and put units on a unit rotation schedule similar to what the Navy has long done with its aircraft carrier groups.

Another key provision is that officer accessions become a “professions-based” model. The end-state is to give more experience earlier to officers, and get away from the tradition of the lieutenant being the most inexperienced member of a unit, and the most lost. The military is the one remaining profession -- in the classical sense -- that refuses to use professional examinations for entrance. Officers could arrive at the unit, after attendance at an Army Basic School (The Army is now proposing the Basic Leader’s Course BOLC to replace the 16 branch basic courses) for all officers.

This would change the industrial-based, numbers mindset of the Army (“Better no officer than a bad officer”) with the use of a mandatory enlisted requirement for entry-level personnel who would be trained, supervised and reviewed for commissioning and promotions by tools such as a professional entrance examination, multiple evaluation tools (in addition to the standard evaluation report. This would help create an experienced leader much earlier in his or her career than under the current system. And creating a dual-track officer system would allow officers to master the art of war at the tactical and operational levels without playing career chess moving all over the place to satisfy out of date requirements to become generalized. The Army could finally jettison its ancient and inefficient “up or out” promotion system to a more flexible “up or stay” system.

This new officer management system would allow for the creation of a General Staff officer career track for exceptional officers. Freed from the “up or out” curse, they would focus on the strategic and operational levels of war over a prolonged period of their careers. Also, similarly identified officers could remain at the tactical/support/installation level without being punished as long as they continue to demonstrate mental and physical proficiency. Building such an experienced officer corps, without the promotion anxieties and careerism that come with the current personnel system, would allow the Army to learn, practice and master maneuver warfare.

Maneuver warfare means more than movement of forces. It implies cultural adjustments by changing from a “top down” culture to a culture of “bottom up” decision-making that provides more autonomy for younger leaders. Lieutenants and captains would have more time in troop-leading positions and specialized billets such as aviation. Existing specialties would be merged into new categories such as “combined arms expert” or “combat decision-maker” as *the Army redefines the core functions of its officers and NCOs under the new system.

The basic thrust would be to decentralize personnel management by stripping power from the personnel bureaucrats and placing it in the hands of unit commanders and senior NCOs.

Here is the outline of an implementation plan for revolutionizing the Army by transforming its early 20th century personnel system into a 21st century model of flexibility and efficiency:

Any effort to transform the military’s personnel and unit management systems constitutes an enormous undertaking. A good implementation plan should perform a number of specific functions: It should identify the goals of the personnel management and the unit management system. It should also identify the specific things that need to be changed.

  • It should identify what existing concepts need to be changed to.

  • It should identify how the changes should be made, in what order, and on what schedule.

  • It should identify the full range of obstacles and potential negative outcomes the changes may face or create, and devise ways to avoid them (The Army’s Unit Manning Task Force has done a good job doing this, but this has to be done for the entire personnel system).

  • Outsiders cannot change the military effectively. Military officers created the current personnel and unit management systems and they should be the catalysts for changing them. Senior officers must make implementation decisions, but more junior officers – those who live with and understand the problems, who recognize the need for change, and who will inherit the Army – should design the new system.

    To this end, the Army leadership should create a small implementation team of serving Army officers and NCOs who will be responsible for identifying the problems and devising the solutions. The team could meet periodically over a three-to-six-month time frame for, perhaps, a week at a time, to devise the proposal for the new approach.

    I recommend that the Army chief of staff direct that this implementation team should come out of the current Unit Manning Task Force and become the Army’s Personnel Transformation Task Force.

    It would not be difficult for a Personnel Transformation Task Force that gets underway in October 2003 to complete a transformation plan in one year. Then the revolution can begin at long last.

    Next: Personnel reforms are key to winning future wars.

    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.



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