Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sycophancy - Key to Miltary Career Survival

Lt Col Yingling’s widely read criticism of the General Officer Corps lack of creativity and integrity has been followed by a number of other criticisms of the officer corps in general and calling for better training. Another recent article derides the concept of civilian interference with military operations insisting that although the civilians set the policy, the military should be free to carry it out the right way. Each blames something wrong that can be fixed inside the services, to wit, the Pentagon, Each is wrong.

The profit motive for entrepreneurs is profit, for investors it is the value of shares held, but for everyone else, promotion is the profit motive. And the key to promotion within an organization is fundamentally to suck up and move up. Actual effectiveness is a positive factor, but often effectiveness, productivity, efficiency, or other positive feature pose a threat to other employees, and especially those on high. This is true in the private, public, and military sectors of endeavor.

Sycophancy in the military is not only politic, it is essential for survival, given the Up or Out system of promotion based primarily on the report cards written by raters and endorsers. Part of this process is the creation of the military itself by retaining the system by which those who survived the gauntlet maintain it. Part of the process is that of the Congress which has the authority to provide “for the regulation” of the Armed Forces, specifically including the confirmation of officer selections and promotions by the Senate.

Two measures are required: 1) Congress should abolish the Up or Out system as wasteful of valuable talent and supportive of insufferable sycophancy. 2) The services should adopt the enlisted promotion evaluation system for officers, which system reduces the impact of rater and endorser to a minor fraction of the promotion point system needed for promotion.

The Up or Out system is most devastating in the second decade of service in which an officer is already no longer house broke for civilian use and has a decade of service that needs to be retained to maintain combat effectiveness. The Army has been short of Captains for decades due to the diminished chances of career survival in the second decade and the prospect of unrewarding field grade staff positions. There is nothing wrong with a long service Captain, as Captains (Navy Lt) run the units in the field.

The present Army Enlisted promotion point system has had the evaluation of the rater (Commander) at around twenty percent but has just been reduced to yes/no. The rest of the evaluation system also diminishes the impact of a review board and now stresses assignments, schooling, and awards which are a more objective criterion that the damning faint praise an aggressive officer might get.

We are in the last stages of the war in Iraq, and it is now widely accepted that the problems created by over bearing civilian authority may have fatally flawed the enterprise from the beginning. The big question on people’s lips is to question why didn’t the professionals speak out? The answer is that to do so would make it difficult for the officer’s family to pay the rent, or buy groceries.

It may take a law to accomplish both objectives. As we face a potential draw down of forces in the next administration, it would be wise to try to save the combat experience learned, even if it makes the year group distribution look a little skewed. But that’s another story.

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