Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the guy who saved our nation during the Civil War, probably wouldn’t make major in today’s Army. He was mule-skinner abrasive, enjoyed his sauce and wasn’t exactly what you’d call a pretty face.
Today most generals and admirals are highly attractive smooth talkers with some sort of master’s degree and a Ph.D. in how to work the corridors of power.
But while these uniformed central-casting smoothies know how to schmooze for funds for their latest silver-bullet project, they unfortunately don’t know how to fight guerrilla wars.
The Somali debacle, and now the recent major foul-up in Afghanistan, prove in spades that our warrior class has lost out to a professional-management culture that’s virtually destroyed our armed forces, less the Marine Corps – which is slowly veering in that direction as well.
Long before the first regular American soldier headed to Vietnam, the hardened vets who’d slugged it out on hundreds of killing fields knew the post-World War II ticket-punching personnel system was on its way toward destroying the leadership needed to win America’s future wars.
Going, going, gone were the days when lieutenants like Frank Gunn stayed with a regiment from the first shot of the war until the last. Gunn led a platoon and company in Africa, was a major by ’43 in Sicily, skippered a battalion in France the next year, and by the end of the war, at the ripe old age of 24, was commanding the storied 39th Regiment fighting across Germany. General Gunn, now retired, became skilled at his trade down in the mud with the soldiers he loved and would have died for – and they, in turn, followed him to hell and back. Gunn never got caught up in the type of career management that produced the current lot of Perfumed Princes. He learned to soldier by listening to his old sergeants and being with the troops.
In Vietnam, officer leaders were churned almost as quickly as customers at Starbucks. Ticket-punching was in, and leading from the front was out. The Washington personnel chiefs’ agenda was to use the war as a training vehicle for officers so they’d have blooded leadership when the big fight with the Soviets exploded.
Post-Vietnam studies concluded ticket-punching was a major cause of our failure, and that the personnel system desperately needed surgery. But nothing was done, and over the years the cancerous system disabled our senior officer corps and is now infecting our proud NCOs. Their foremost concern always used to be for the welfare of their troops and how sharply their unit was trained, not what kind of rating they got on a report. My First Sergeant in Italy took great pride in showing us ‘cruits the chain scars from his time in a Georgia prison. But with his fifth-grade education, the old Top could still run a lean-and-mean company of soldiers.
Afghanistan was going just fine while the old-pro Special Forces sergeants, chiefs and captains were running the fight. But when Perfumed Princes like Maj. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck – with his M.S. degree in exercise physiology (but no combat experience) and Pentagon punches such as director for politico-military affairs for global and multilateral issues (I kid you not) under his shiny general’s belt – took over the fighting with the conventional, non-mountain-trained 10th Division, our Army came away with that Vietnam Heartbreak Ridge look: high body count without many bodies and too many friendly casualties.
A fine sergeant in Kuwait says it all: “My generals worry about what kind of engraved Buck knives to buy to give as gifts to the foreign generals, do we have enough potpourri-scented Pledge to make sure our mahogany desks are dust-free, color ink for our laser printers, oh and let’s not forget the staffers have to eat better than the rest of the Army, so we have to plan at least one big dinner function so the fat-cats can get fatter. I’ve seen these generals cancel a visit to troops training in the desert so they could drink coffee and have lunch with another general visiting from the War College. Where are their damn priorities?”