Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Why JOs leave: They see mediocrity rewarded and accountability neglected

By "A Captain in Afghanistan" Best Defense guest ranter During my time as a company commander, I have lived according to a strict moral, ethical code based on principles and standards. I will now pay for my adherence to the culture, regulations, guidance, and principles upon which have been built the tenets of my ideology. ...

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By "A Captain in Afghanistan"
Best Defense guest ranter

During my time as a company commander, I have lived according to a strict moral, ethical code based on principles and standards. I will now pay for my adherence to the culture, regulations, guidance, and principles upon which have been built the tenets of my ideology. This lesson I wish to share as it encapsulates some of the ongoing junior officer dissent that has been a common feature of Best Defense articles.

The groundwork: graduated on the Commandant's List for Officer Basic Course and Captains Career Course, was the second-best platoon leader, recently rated as the best staff officer in my parent battalion, and am a finalist for a noteworthy scholarship. Not my opinion, but those on my ratings.

By "A Captain in Afghanistan"
Best Defense guest ranter

During my time as a company commander, I have lived according to a strict moral, ethical code based on principles and standards. I will now pay for my adherence to the culture, regulations, guidance, and principles upon which have been built the tenets of my ideology. This lesson I wish to share as it encapsulates some of the ongoing junior officer dissent that has been a common feature of Best Defense articles.

The groundwork: graduated on the Commandant’s List for Officer Basic Course and Captains Career Course, was the second-best platoon leader, recently rated as the best staff officer in my parent battalion, and am a finalist for a noteworthy scholarship. Not my opinion, but those on my ratings.

Over the last eight months, I have led a company in Afghanistan to conduct various engineer missions. An active-duty company deployed on its own to fall under a National Guard battalion under an active-duty engineer brigade.

I know my interpersonal skills are not mature and I do not work well with others. I grew up in Airborne and Ranger units that demand a high output from each officer. This mentality has been embedded in my psyche and I cannot extinguish its flames. The driving factor to my unraveling has been this lacking. Not an existence of toxic leadership, just hard accountability for actions, to include my own.

The idealized version of my profession of arms is that we are a highly-skilled, efficient group of individuals with thick skin that weather the stress, emotions, fear, and boredom contributing to an overall mission. However little or insignificant each part, each part only exists out of necessity.

The lesson that I learned relating to the aforementioned comments is this: We are a bureaucratic organization with rules, regulations, and doctrine that are sound and have been well researched, but we continue to flounder due to the lacking personalities and void of accountability. Understanding the art and science of warfare is enforced in schools, not in our formations.

A commander requires a multitude of support, services, and plans to achieve success in a highly amorphous environment. I have required the same in my own environment. Although I have not approached the people responsible for the lack of information, plans, etc., with the utmost dignity, I am the one who will suffer. I am the one who is suffering.

My personal battle has been with peers on battalion and brigade staffs. When I do not receive the information that I require, I demand it as it is required for success. The demanding is my unraveling. I have found myself in a pitched battle with officers junior to me calling me "bro," saying that I do not have tact, and then going to tell their respective commander that I do not play nice. I didn’t know that I had to play nice. I thought I was selected as a commander to achieve a mission within my higher commander’s intent.

I have achieved every mission with success, no loss of life or limb, no lost sensitive items, drug/alcohol problems, sexual harassment, or loss of equipment. We are more capable now that I had ever imagined achieving the effects required in the operating environment.

No one wants an angry boss, but the boss is paid to get the productivity that the occupation demands. There is a delicate balance and I have failed to achieve that balance with my peers.

Perhaps this is why the top percentage is leaving the military. Not spouse careers, salary, benefits, upward mobility, or awards. Existing with other peers who do one-third the amount of significant output may be the real factor. At least that is my factor.

The questions rolling through my thoughts at the moment are these: Why should I lead a group of soldiers when my peers fail to contribute significantly? When I hold others accountable for their actions, why am I the one who will suffer on my broadening opportunity, promotion, and selection for schools?

I view the civilian world as a group of individuals working towards their own goal of a higher paycheck, a 40-hour workweek, minimal stress after punching out for the day, and long weekends without cell phone calls, recall formations, or deployments.

Accountability is not lost within the Army today, it is misplaced. The subpar performers will continue to get promoted, attend schools, and enjoy a paycheck every 15 days.

Thanks for listening.

"A Captain in Afghanistan" is just that. This is an expression of his personal views and does not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Army, or of battalion staff officers.

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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