BOOK REVIEWS: 1. The Path to Victory: America's Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs 2. Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism 3. The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians: Why it Has Always Failed and Why it Will Fail Again 4. A Review of Kursk Down 5. The Eyes of Orion

Author:Major Charles C. Poch
Pages:08

436 MILITARY LAW REVIEW [Vol. 176

THE PATH TO VICTORY: AMERICA'S ARMY AND THE REVOLUTION IN HUMAN AFFAIRS1

REVIEWED BY MAJOR CHARLES C. POCHÉ2

The present personnel system produces a willing servant in the bureaucracy, the wrong type of officer to be a troop leader at any echelon.3

While Army leaders strive to transform the force, Donald Vandergriff trumpets the need to transform the leaders of the force. The predictability of the Cold War has long passed, and recent history demonstrates that new national threats will come from unexpected places. The changing world demands innovative thinking and bold responses. Vandergriff claims the Army fosters the exact opposite behavior in its officers. He asserts the Army's current culture produces officers who are pre-disposed to wait for orders, do everything by the book, and rely on textbook solutions as the best solution.4 In effect, Army officers think in exactly the wrong way for today's world. Vandergriff explores why this may be and suggests how to fix it.

In The Path to Victory, Vandergriff argues the Army's current officer personnel system encourages risk-averse behavior. The system produces officers who do not exercise or encourage innovative thinking and shy away from bold action. Vandergriff states his goal is to show how "current policies based on outdated assumptions" foster this mindset and "provide a blueprint for an effective twenty-first century army."5 He succeeds in accomplishing the first part of his goal. He clearly illustrates the origin and propagation of the personnel policies at issue. Vandergriff falls short, however, of meeting his goal's second part. His blueprint for the future of the Army is insightful, but raises obvious questions he does not adequately address. Problems with the book's documentation also detract from its

overall effectiveness, especially in the chapters detailing Vandergriff's

proposed changes.

Vandergriff begins by explaining how today's personnel system evolved. He traces the Army's historical cycle of rapid mobilization in the face of crisis followed by an equally rapid demobilization. Vandergriff blames this cycle on the American idealization of the minuteman concept. Since the Revolutionary War, the American ideal has always been the citizen-soldier who swiftly takes up arms during a crisis and just as swiftly returns to civilian life when the crisis passes. Vandergriff points out that the military clauses of the Constitution enshrine this national distrust of a professional standing army.6

Vandergriff's discussion of the mobilization cycle and public distrust of a standing army does not cover new ground. All students of American military history are familiar with the Army's cyclic pattern and the historical wariness of a large standing army. Vandergriff's contribution lies in his illustration of how this citizen-soldier mobilization concept has driven and continues to drive the Army's personnel policies. For example, Vandergriff points to the officer corps' inability to mobilize large numbers of volunteers during the Spanish-American War. The lesson learned at the time was not to place less reliance on mass mobilization, but to make the officer corps more efficient at mobilization. The reforms of this era created a centralized personnel management system that could create "one size fits all" officers who could mobilize and expand the Army rapidly in time of war.7 Centralized personnel management continues today. According to Vandergriff, the massive volunteer replacements required by World War I forced the Army to adopt an individual replacement system.8 The Army still uses an individual replacement system. World War II's requirement for large numbers of relatively untrained volunteer soldiers necessitated a top-down style of control.9 The doctrine of centralized control persists. The threat of the Cold War required "generalist" officers with a wide variety of experiences who could immediately lead millions of

mobilized troops against the Soviet Union.10 The generalist approach still dominates.

Vandergriff uses numerous such examples to illustrate the origin of the Army's current personnel policies. He ties the origins to the assumption that the Army will predominately fight its wars with non-professional soldiers called to arms in a mass mobilization. In doing so, he meets his stated goal of showing how an outdated assumption forms the basis of many current personnel policies. The assumption of mass mobilization clearly no longer applies. The Gulf War, the Balkan campaigns, and operations in Afghanistan did not result in the conscription of civilians. Even during the recent war with Iraq, no one seriously proposed turning civilians into soldiers. And, as it turned out, there would not have been time to do so. The country obviously now expects its full-time armed forces, augmented by Reserve and National Guard forces when necessary, to meet all external threats. Vandergriff is correct to point out that a system based upon mass mobilization is based upon an anachronism.

A change in an underlying assumption, however, does not necessarily invalidate a system. Vandergriff argues that it does so in the case of the Army personnel system. According to Vandergriff, the results of continuing to treat officers as an interchangeable cog for placement anywhere in a giant, mobilizing war machine are problematic.11 A preference for generalists over specialists dominates.12 The system rotates personnel in a futile attempt to expose them to everything.13 The rotations are rapid to ensure everyone has their fair chance to hold the "required" jobs.14 The jack-ofall trades approach, in turn, produces a "ticket-punching" mentality and a short-term outlook.15 Centralized selection boards reinforce this mentality

when they reward those whose tickets bear the proper punches.16 Elevation of process over results is the outcome because standardized processes are easier for inexpert officers to apply.17

The current Army personnel system does display these characteristics. According to Vandergriff, the thought ingrained in most officers is, "If you follow the process, you will succeed."18 The result, says Vandergriff, is the tendency for commanders and staffs to focus more on the charts and templates posted on the walls of their tactical operations centers than on the enemy's actions.19 The outcome of training exercises has become less important than the process used to fight them.20 Clearly, this is dangerous in a profession whose outcome measurements include the loss of life. Other by-products of the system include officers who do not trust their subordinates and centralize decision-making to ensure nothing undesirable happens on their short watch.21 Centralization stifles learning and free thought. Officers cannot trust their peers because they all compete equally for the "required" jobs and "top-block" evaluations in those jobs.22

The lack of trust negatively affects unit cohesion. Additionally, frequent individual rotations further erode cohesion and prevent the development of expertise.23

After pointing out these unintended flaws in the current personnel system, Vandergriff proposes a new force structure and personnel system capable of eliminating cohesion and expertise problems. Vandergriff envisions a force based upon a unit-replacement model that rotates entire units through a four-year unit life cycle. There would be no changes to the unit's personnel for the entire four-year period.24 Vandergriff describes in paragraph format the various battalion types, numbers, and personnel he pr

poses for this new force structure.25 He, unfortunately, does not provide any type of chart or wire diagram to aid comprehension. An organizational wire diagram could have concisely illustrated his proposal. The lack of such a diagram made visualizing Vandergriff's concept more difficult than necessary. What is readily apparent, though, is that Vandergriff's structure would require significant changes to the current personnel system to stabilize officers of all different ranks in one unit for the unit's entire life cycle.

To meet the requirement for such stabilization, Vandergriff proposes a complete transformation of the officer personnel system. Central to his system is the replacement of the current "up-or-out" promotion system with an "up-or-stay" system.26 Vandergriff's up-or-stay promotion system moves the "cut line" to the very beginning of an officer's career. Vandergriff hopes to eliminate "promotion anxiety" and its associated ills by making it more difficult to become an officer, but easier to remain one. The officer's desire for promotion drives Vandergriff's system. Every few years, an officer may choose to compete for promotion if an opening is available. There is no obligation to do so. Instead, the officer may choose to remain at his current grade with prorated pay. Consequently, a captain could serve for twenty years and retire as a "successful" officer. Periodic examinations and evaluations would ensure these officers remain mentally and physically competent.27

Vandergriff's reliance on periodic evaluations and professionalism to keep the officer corps from growing old and stagnating in a grade or job,28

however, is problematic. For example, Vandergriff does not address whether these periodic exams will remain at a static level of difficulty for a given rank or job, or whether they will get progressively more difficult over time. If they remain static, an officer is unlikely to become less able to pass the exam. Once the officer meets the requirement, he will continue to do so as he becomes even more expert in the job. If the difficulty of the

exam does increase, does it not simply replace "promotion anxiety" with "retention anxiety"?

Vandergriff also proposes changing the current officer evaluation format. One of his proposed three parts of the...

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