Best Defense

Barno: TRADOC (IV) is the victim not the villain

This used to be the TRADOC thread but that title seems inappropriate given the views of General Scales and now General Dave Barno. Today Barno checks in from the Middle East to express his view that the Army’s intellectual problem isn’t TRADOC, it is much bigger than that. He also responds to those of you ...

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This used to be the TRADOC thread but that title seems inappropriate given the views of General Scales and now General Dave Barno. Today Barno checks in from the Middle East to express his view that the Army’s intellectual problem isn’t TRADOC, it is much bigger than that. He also responds to those of you who responded to him this is just an Army problem, not a military-wide one:

Marty Dempsey is not the problem — in fact, if the Army sorts this problem out, he will be a large part of the reason why. And TRADOC is not the right target either — the bigger issue for the Army is the growing internal conflict between what we used to call the “institutional Army” (now called the generating force) encompassing non-deployable structures like TRADOC, and the. “operational Army” of corps, divisions and brigades — the deployable line units. In Army lingo — the TDA vs the TOE Army.

In years past, TRADOC was viewed within the Army as the “architect of the future” and held a unique place in the Army’s culture an engine of intellectual change. Tensions with the field forces always existed, but were muted — and senior leaders at the top fully embraced and endorsed TRADOC’s central role in the Army constellation of tribes. But in recent years, the demands of two wars and an internal cultural drift away from an understanding and respect for the essential role performed by the Army’s institutional base has robbed TRADOC of much of its influence. “Tours downrange” have become what truly counts — and being recognized as a “gunfighter” is the highest professional compliment.

(Read on) Instead of challenging this shift, some senior leaders have shortsightedly reinforced it — with results often seen on promotion and command lists. In a war, some of this makes absolute sense — but for the Army’s future combat fitness, it cannot be a all vs. nothing equation.

I recently heard a senior Army leader describe assignments in the institutional Army as “taking a knee” — an astonishing put down reflective of this troubling shift in the Army culture. Remember — this is the part of the Army that has responsibility for the doctrine, education, training and leader development upon which the successes of recent years were built. Many talented officers now avoid these key jobs, and civilian contractors are often taking their place — to include a number of instructors at the Army’s command and staff college, for example.

Even worse — the top tier of officers are now beginning to dodge previously coveted student assignments in key developmental programs such as command and staff and war colleges. In time, this will both rob the Army of professional intellectual growth and further reinforce the disrespect accorded to service outside “the line” — an attitude that could cripple the Army’s thinking beyond the wars of today.

I would also take issue with some of the commentary suggesting that only the Army among the uniformed services has a problem with its “concept of war”. In truth, every service is wrestling with its core function in an era where nation state major conflict has become less prevalent. We are not just becoming the next generation of what we were before — there are major changes afoot that will really challenge our thinking — back to the essential need for the military writ large (and the Army in particular) to reclaim the long-held cultural regard for schooling and thinking about war – not just “war-fighting.”

TRADOC is not the problem — its woes are just symptoms of much larger challenges the whole of our military is facing. Thanks for highlighting this problem — now we just need some intellectual ferment out there in our up and coming generation of future senior leaders!

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

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. Twitter: @tomricks1

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