Best Defense

And General Field responds to these two comments from Mathers and Goldich

I am happy to acknowledge that the example I offered wasn't perfect. It was merely an attempt to offer a potential and partial way (via just criticism) to nudge Army culture into appreciating the full range of skills required to "win."

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By Kim Field
Best Defense guest respondent

A mentor who read the piece in advance said, “I see your main point, but most folks will miss it. They will fixate on your hook — badges on a uniform.” I thought he was wrong about that, but he wasn’t.

To compensate for the ignored advice, I accept the former chairman’s: “Ask yourself when the last time was you allowed your mind to be changed.” So, I am happy to acknowledge that the example I offered wasn’t perfect. It was merely an attempt to offer a potential and partial way (via just criticism) to nudge Army culture into appreciating the full range of skills required to “win.” As is, Army leadership will not make tradeoffs because, as Goldich rightfully says, the combat role has primacy. To be precise, U.S. Code, Title 10, Section 3062, states that the Army “shall be organized, trained and equipped primarily for prompt and sustained combat operations incident to the land.” We all get that.

But it also states, “It is the intent of Congress to provide an Army that is capable, in conjunction with the other armed forces, of:

(1) preserving the peace and security, and providing for the defense, of the United States, the Commonwealths and possessions, and any areas occupied by the United States;

(2) supporting the national policies;

(3) implementing the national objectives; and

(4) overcoming any nations responsible for aggressive acts that imperil the peace and security of the United States.”

We could take many steps that would regularize and incentivize the use of units and soldiers like Tom Wilhelm (a wonderful FAO who mentored me as a major) to fully meet the intent of the Congress and the American people. We can absolutely better integrate into broader policy goals, ask more productive questions in a foreign culture (ordering food might be a nice marginal benefit), better appreciate the perspective of Foreign Service officer colleagues, and regularly offer functional expertise to interagency efforts where the military is not in the lead. We can do this without jeopardizing our ability to meet the requirements of the most demanding war plan on the shelf. Factually, it’s possible, but we can’t get there from here. We must first be willing to take stock of our culture and its stranglehold on adaptation.

Frankly, I see little daylight between my point and Colonel Mather’s. But I would gently remind him, this issue is not about achieving a level of satisfaction in how we feel we are individually recognized. It is about how the institution makes best use of people like him and Colonel Wilhelm in support of political ends. We fail to do that and there is no excuse for it. ‎To me, it is incomprehensible that the best funded, best manned organization in the USG before, during, and after conflicts in which the USG has not prevailed, should simply point the finger at civilian agencies and policy-makers without exhausting its own lawful recourse. Rather, it should make some adjustments to its “effective prosecution of war” (again, USG.) That starts with what we demonstrably value.

BG (ret) Kim Field is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. The views reflected herein are hers alone. 

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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