Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

A smart young JO: I am so outta here, but I know that saying so makes no difference

During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on April 25, 2013.   By “One Gone Cat“ Best Defense guest columnist I thought of offering to write an essay for you that gave my own reasons or that ...

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During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on April 25, 2013.

 

During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on April 25, 2013.

 

By “One Gone Cat

Best Defense guest columnist

I thought of offering to write an essay for you that gave my own reasons or that made my own arguments for how the officer corps can be improved to retain the best and the brightest, but thinking about it just made me angry. It made me angry because I knew it would not make any difference, just as the countless opinion pieces written by disgruntled junior officers and NCOs or concerned senior officers and NCOs won’t make any difference. The military is too inflexible, the senior officers are too comfortable with the status quo, human resources command believes too strongly in whatever crazy algorithm they have determining entry assignments, and the civilian leadership is too intimidated by a bunch of men who just lost two wars to force a change.

Writing about my experience won’t make a difference because senior leaders will look at it and say that it’s an anomaly, or that I don’t have the ability yet to see the big picture, or that I cannot reflect and see how things actually work very well, or maybe that I got the career I deserved based on my abilities. I understand that they cannot understand me, because I don’t understand them.

  • I don’t understand how the military can go on pretending that we didn’t lose the war in Iraq or that we’re not about to lose the war in Afghanistan. Withdrawing with honor can still be losing. Lee withdrew with honor at Gettysburg. He also lost. He lost because the conditions on the battlefield as he withdrew were not in his favor, but they were in the favor of his enemy. The same is true of Iraq today. They might argue that the American people did not support the resources needed to win in Iraq or that the politicians made errors that could not be overcome by military genius. I do not know if that is true, but if it is true, we still lost — we just should not blame generals.
  • I don’t understand how senior officers can avoid feeling ashamed that we seem to have no idea how to have a smaller budget without damaging training and readiness. I guess the Marines really are the best branch of service. The rest of us were simply propped up with ever-increasing budgets, and we wasted more of the taxpayers’ money during the wars than anyone will ever know (no one will ever audit the amount wasted on things like the rent-a-captain program).
  • I don’t understand how the chief of staff of the Army can have a plan for decreasing troop levels that relies almost entirely on natural attrition without any discussion of a plan to ensure that our best stay and our worst are separated from service.
  • I don’t understand how they can waste so much money on education for officers through ROTC, and then show no desire to use the skills gained through specific degree programs. They should get rid of scholarships at every private school in the country. Hell, get rid of scholarships for everything but the cheapest state school in every state. The military doesn’t care if you learn anything in college, right? They have no interest in recruiting and retaining officers with an intellectual bent. The military might be right that the elite, highly selective schools are no better than any other institution of higher learning. But I do know that the private sector and the rest of the federal government want the elite college graduates very badly, so let the kids go where they are wanted to work for employers interested in developing their passion and offering them direction.

Sorry for the rant. I had to get it out there. You seem like the right person to send it to, since my mentors wouldn’t appreciate the tone very much. It probably figures that a bunch of guys trained in an Army that didn’t want to admit it lost Vietnam are pretty schooled in the art of self-delusion. But I became an Army officer because I wanted to be among the best, not because I wanted to be part of a group so adept at making excuses and criticizing anyone who doesn’t want to stay in for the glorious pension at the end of the rainbow of mediocrity.

“One Gone Cat” is, for a bit longer, a U.S. Army officer. But guess what? The views presented here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Army or the Defense Department. 

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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