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Excellent summary of forward thinking Army leaders

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The Best Defense (ricks.foreignpolicy.com) May 17, 2010

A General Covers An Army War Game

By Lt. Gen. David Barno, U.S. Army (ret.), Best Defense chief Army correspondent

The annual “Unified Quest” futures war game held recently at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was pretty impressive — and also a refreshing change from my many previous forays.

Led by the human energizer Brigadier “HR” McMaster, this forum kicked off as a Very-Different-from-the-Big-Army event by enforcing a “NO POWERPOINT” rule. (OK, they showed about five slides over four-plus days.) Army insiders recognize how fundamentally heart-stopping this notion is among any audience of generals. A four-day conversation — scary for some, I know!

Although labeled a “war game” (and based on some scarily realistic scenarios), this week was more of a graduate seminar for a fistful of Army generals and senior civilians, as well as a smattering of U.S. allies and partners. 4-star TRADOC Commander Marty Dempsey chaired all four days– a huge commitment that I’ve never seen made by his predecessors in earlier years.

A “powerpoint-free” setting actually encouraged a free-wheeling conversation all around the room — light colonels and civilians challenging three-and four-star generals in surprisingly frank discussions. And on the couple of occasions they flipped up a slide, all conversation rapidly shut down — quite telling. The atmospherics were surprisingly relaxed and open — and everyone seemed feisty and ready to jump into any conversation — another good sign.

The conference “deliverable” was both to spin up an Army “Operating Concept” to round out its recent overarching “Capstone Concept” and to provide Army Chief of Staff George Casey some hard-hitting recommendations that could be used to influence the shape of the Army via the 2014-2019 budget years — decisions needed by next winter. I can’t share those recommendations, but for the flavor of the discussion, here are some highlights of the conversation, on a not-for-attribution basis:

*”We can’t see ourselves – all of us are positive illusion factories.”

*”We are approaching a strategic transition for the United States” [that is, an era of changed strategic context, when economic dominance is no longer assured, and budgetary realities will force choices]. “We are no longer going to be operating from a position of strategic superiority.”

*”Over-burdened terms” have proliferated and add confusion to our efforts — “what does C4ISR really mean? Does anyone really know?”

*”Beware Heroic Assumptions in the Next World” — not all wars will be like Iraq and Afghanistan. What’s the most demanding scenario the Army could face?

*”Tactical excellence alone does not win wars. Strategic coherence and operational excellence will be shaped by Army leaders.”

*”Mission Command — you are trying to balance a culture of competing virtues.” Can you build a commander-centric model founded upon decentralized operations as the norm?

*”How to use technology to enable decentralization while building trust and cohesion at the same time?” Can the science of command — technology and process — enable the art of command?

*”We’ve power-pointed over the problem” of the Army division and corps headquarters echelons of commands and what their roles should be. The Army is more than just a collection of brigades.

*”We need to think about blurring the distinctions between the Operating Force and the Generating Force” — it’s now gotten harmful. Gotta break down the cultural barriers between the deployed and deploying forces and the institutional Army that prepares and educates the force for the future

*”This is when we do our Interpretive Dance of Army organizational structures.” (Cue: Show Powerpoint Spaghetti Chart) How is the Army’s Force Management model — “ARFORGEN” — impacting Leader Development?

*”What has an overriding focus on Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) done to the Army’s operational and strategic leadership skills?” What are the second and third order effects of “modularity” — centering so much of the Army organization around the BCT?

*Allies: Lots of concern as well as admiration. “Is the U.S. Army of the future going to be designed and built to work with allies?” “Design us in!” “The U.S. Army goes down an amazing variety of multiple rabbit holes — we just want to see where you come up!”

*”How are we defining — and teaching — Risk?” How to inculcate a culture of initiative and risk-taking — not risk aversion? What is the message to young leaders of the recent investigations into tough combat actions?

*”Are we thinking enough about lethality? We’re four days into this and the term has not come up!” How does the Army look at its future role in delivering lethal effects?

*And finally — “What is the proper role of the Army in civil society? What’s the proper role of the Army officer in the republic?” Do we teach the meaning of a commission, explain the constitutional foundations of officership, and establish expectations for an apolitical officer corps? And do we reinforce this understanding throughout an officers’ career?

Most encouraging in the week’s efforts was the obvious commitment of this part of the Army — the TRADOC leadership — to thinking about the big issues facing the Army beyond today’s fights. First and foremost was an understanding of the critical importance of the human dimension in war. Dempsey and McMaster’s red-hot focus on leader development, decentralized mission command, and a clear recognition of the unpredictability of future conflict gave me confidence. Most importantly, they understood that Job One for Army leaders in the coming lean years is: “Don’t Lose this Generation!” Keeping the Army’s uniquely talented young leaders on board is the only reliable insurance policy against an unknown future.

This group — Dempsey and McMaster foremost — “gets it.” The challenge will be whether they can “sell it” to the rest of the Army in the midst of two grinding wars — and who may well not see it the same way quite yet.

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