Leadership: June 30, 2001

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Company Commander Blues- Company commanders are the junior officers with the most exposure to the troops. If there are serious problems with the troops, company commanders know about it first. If the problems appear unsolvable, company commanders start abandoning their military careers in larger numbers. In the last few years, a higher and higher percentage of company commanders have left the service. They have given up a career they have already spent 5-10 years on.

Why?

Many of the departing officers write resignation letters that they pass on to the media or post on the web. The complaint most often heard is a belief that the quality of the troops is heading south and the senior officers are more interested in hiding the problem than in solving it.

During the 1970s, standards (physical, behavioral and mental) of the troops was allowed to slip. This proved to be a disaster and the trend was reversed in the 1980s. In the 1990s, a booming economy made recruiting difficult once more, even though the military was shrinking. So more women were recruited and standards were lowered. The military is now about 15 percent female. But what really got standards going south was the Clinton administration's insistence that women achieve more equal performance in the armed forces. To complicate matters further, the regulations were changed making it easy for unmarried mothers to serve (8 percent of Army troops are single parents, nearly all women). Pregnancy was to be considered a temporary disability. This caused problems, because higher physical fitness qualifications were part of the increased army troop standards. The brass quickly found out that any real or imagined injustice towards female soldiers brought forth a storm of media and political criticism. Few outside the armed forces noticed it, but throughout the 1990s, officers learned to seek protection in lower standards. Single female soldiers having lots of kids, no problem. Female soldiers cannot meet physical standards, lower them. Still not enough? Lower them again. Single parents need child care? Take the money from training and readiness and take care of it. Female soldiers having problems doing their jobs? Have the male soldiers pitch in and take up the slack. Female soldiers aren't happy with military life anyway? Let them go. But few felt like going, the military had provided a very good deal. 

The men noticed the shifting standards and responded in different ways. Some became openly disdainful of female soldiers. Others increased the degree of sexual harassment (which was always present in the macho military), or fraternization (easier now that men and women were living in the same barracks). But the worst thing that happened was the growth of "what can you do for me" attitude among the troops. The energetically solicitous attitude towards the female troops influenced the male troops as well. The lowering standards had also broken basic training. Now, basic didn't turn civilians into soldiers, but simply slightly militarized civilians. The new troops knew how to wear the uniform and salute, but related less to the military values of sacrifice and duty. As some departing officers have put it' we've gone from a warrior spirit to a welfare spirit. 

The new attitudes had a negative effect on officers and NCOs as well. The senior officers were so committed to keeping the women troops happy, and the male troops from leaving, that micromanagement from above became more prevalent. Nothing could be left to chance. Careers were ruined if CNN jumped on you. Guilty or not, you were toast if you got any unfavorable media attention. And the troops knew that a call to the local TV station could work wonders. NCOs were no longer trusted to closely supervise the troops, especially female troops. NCOs became frustrated, and disgusted at being treated like children. Junior officers were overworked doing their own jobs and those of their NCOs. Capable NCOs left and the ones promoted to take their place knew what they were getting into and were content to be officer assistants rather than real NCOs. But now the junior officers are getting out at an increasing rate to protest what they see as a hopeless situation. 

Fortunately, not all junior officers are company commanders (or their air force and navy equivalents.) There are only about 7,000 company commands in the U.S. military. But fewer captains and lieutenants are eager to take these once choice assignments anymore. It's customary for nearly every officer to do at least a year or two as a company commander. More and more junior officers are deciding that no one further up the food chain is going to fix things any time soon, so why bother with the hassle of company command. Thus we have the increasing exodus from the service. 

The latest fear is that the welfare mentality of many of the troops would cause a massive break down in order and discipline if these troops were ever fired on. This became clear when officers came across more and more troops (most of the females, and a sizable minority of the males) who felt that the military should concentrate on something other than war. This is scary to warrior type officers, and they are also leaving. Their replacements are more in tune with the more popular non-military attitudes among the troops. 

Commanders of combat units have coped by trying to keep the welfare minded troops out. This is not difficult to do in combat units, which are largely male. But increasingly women are being assigned to combat support units (headquarters, supply, maintenance), and when the new ones arrive pregnant, the commander realizes he's got more headaches. Not just making sure that the pregnant soldier does not have any complaints, but later with day care and child related issues. And if the unit has to go overseas, the single mothers are better left behind. This means the unit deploys to a combat zone short handed. 

The politicians who ordered the changes had little or no military experience. They wanted the military to change. The changes won't be fully understood until there's a war. Knowing that, many of the most capable officers and NCOs are getting out. And most of the combat minded recruits are joining the marines, or not bothering with the military at all. And when the company commanders start bailing, you know you have major problems. 


 


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