“May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.”

"This report is maybe 12-years-old. Parliament buried it, and it stayed buried till River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear because there's a whole universe of folk who are gonna know it, too. They're gonna see it. Somebody has to speak for these people. You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you all come to the same place. So now I'm asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything I know this, they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, 10, they'll swing back to the belief that they can make people . . . better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running. I aim to misbehave." ~ Captain Malcom Reynolds

Friday, November 25, 2011

Power Imbalance

Interesting article here on the start of a downsizing initiative in the U.S. Navy.

Similar efforts are already underway in the other services. The drawdown of wars, and an even more relevant huge decrease in budgets means that the armed forces are going to be finding reasons to get people to leave. Whether it's overmanned specialties, weight standards, financial troubles or whatever, we are going to be back in the days of people fighting to stay in as opposed to being begged to re-enlist.

What I found interesting though was the portion discussing the current number of Flag officers - 350 Admirals - in a Navy with under 300 ships. Talk about a top-heavy organization.

Now, being experienced in such things, I also know that the Navy is not just ships. You have Flag officers for just about every field - the Fleet, Air Wings, Special Warfare, Intelligence, Supply etc. - so this isn't a case of "an Admiral for every ship."

However, it is a symptom of a bigger problem. The examples I will use are Special Warfare (SEAL teams and their support) and EOD, as I spent the most time around those.

For many years both organizations were headed by Captains at the highest levels. In fact, it was generally considered a career-killing move for an officer to stay in those specialties - they would never get promoted to higher ranks, make it into the "elite circles" of upper officers and all that. On the one hand, this hurt the specialized units in that they didn't have people in "the club" when it came time for budget & turf fights, or when it was time to push for something. On the other hand, it meant that the leadership was in the career path because they loved it, not because they were bucking for rank. But, as time went by, it became more important to ensure you had people in the right places, and more important to "reward" the right ones with promotions and advancement. I'm sure each speciality outside of the "regular" fleet went through similar growth issues.

But keep in mind that it's not just the Flag officers. Each Admiral has a certain number of Captains, who have a certain number of Commanders etc. - so the level of "chiefs over indians" trickles down.

Along with this the military has contributed to the problem with an "up or out" policy. The days of someone finding a level of competency and riding out their time are long gone - now if you don't get promoted, you are shown the door. Which means if we're going to require people to get advanced to stay, we need a position to advance them to.

And thus we end up with a top-heavy imbalance throughout the organization. Senior enlisted doing the jobs that junior enlisted used to, and upper level NCOs no longer supervising or managing (or even leading) their people but being just another worker in the machine. Junior officers no longer learning leadership but instead spending their time worrying about not screwing up their promotion. Mid-grade officers engaged in the backstab & self-promotion game to ensure they aren't forced out. And the upper level of your organization worried more about who to let in the club, and which lobbying or contracting job to line up for retirement than in leading your service.

The sad part is, after watching it happen before in the 90s, and talking with guys who dealt with it in the 70s, that I know how this will go. The services are not going to eliminate the Flag positions, or the senior officer ranks - the cuts are going to come from the mid-grade enlisted and officers; and more tragically from family programs, health care, base services & living and such. This isn't counting the catastrophic cuts we are facing in equipment, maintenance and training which are going to hit the services as a whole.

The end result in ten years I fear to see.


Nick said...

It's already happening, to an extent, in the Seabee community. I've seen First Classes that are riflemen in a fireteam, no leadership responsibilities, no additional duties, no nothing. It's a damn shame, but what can you do?

RabidAlien said...

Just found your blog, been hooked reading past-posts (thus the late comment here!) and trying not to laugh too loud at all the Firefly/Serenity references (LOVED that series!!!). Just wanted to say that I was on subs in the 90's, did a couple of SEAL drydeck shelter ops, and got out after my 6 years was up. I managed to make E5 (prayer works!), but was still doing regular maintenance on the boat...heck, as electricians, we had 1 chief, 1 1st Class, 5 E-5's, and one E-4 (he didn't study for the test, apparently). I knew several Chiefs with 15 or 16 years in who were getting out and not reenlisting to finish out their 20 because benefits were getting hacked so badly. Which meant that the entry standards for various ratings were being lowered to make up for the outflow of senior personnel. Do you really want some guy who doesn't know the difference between a standard and a Phillips screwdriver doing maintenance on your local reactor support equipment? Me either. So the quality of personnel dropped a bit. Our military was woefully unprepared for 9-11, I'm sad to say.

What to do about it...hmmm...put the politicians who put us in these situations into the trenches themselves. Things would change real quick. Never happen, but its a nice thought.