Leadership: Colonel Bligh Gets Busted

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March 11, 2009: The U.S. Army has removed the commander, and senior NCO (Sergeant Major) of the Houston Recruiting Battalion. This came about after four U.S. Army recruiters, based in Houston, Texas, committed suicide, two of them within weeks of each other. The army conducted an investigation late last year. It was discovered that the commander of the Houston Recruiting Battalion was particularly aggressive, demanding and lacking in what one could call "people skills."

A recruiting battalion is a small unit (usually less than 200 military and civilian personnel), so the commander gets to know everyone, for better or worse. In this case, for much worse. Interviews with members of the battalion found that the commander was tough on everyone, without exception. His Sergeant Major was often used to deliver orders for the battalion commander, and she did this particularly effectively. Recruiters can be punished with demotions, or poor evaluations (which can make promotion difficult). The major problem is that recruiters can find themselves in an area where not enough people, who can meet the high army standards, wants to join.

Recruiting has always been an unpopular duty, and NCOs have the worst of it. Recruiting sergeants serve for three years, performing an unfamiliar and high stress task (persuading young civilians to join the army). Getting recruits for combat jobs was not that hard, as patriotism and seeking some adventure, brings in many candidates. The really hard work is getting recruits for the other 85 percent of the jobs. For this, the recruiters are competing with the civilian economy. Until the recent recession kicked in, and the unemployment rate shot up, the recruiters had a hard time. The army lowered standards (allowing more high school drop-outs and prospects with a low level criminal record) and provided higher bonuses for key jobs. But the recruiters still found it difficult to make their quotas (usually two recruits a month). The pressure came from the top, as the battalion commanders were under a lot of pressure to "make their numbers." While the recruiting sergeants saw the three year tour as a necessary evil, the battalion commanders could enhance their promotion prospects by doing well. The army was always aware of the risk of a too ambitious and ruthless officer getting command of one of these battalions. But as much as you screen candidates, you never know exactly how a battalion commander will act until they are actually in the job. In this case, it was the wrong man for the job, and people died as a result.

 


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