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)
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
“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
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
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 email@example.com