Friday, August 27, 2010

The Mosque Debate: Larger Ramifications

Billions of Muslims throughout the world are not blind or deaf to the “debate” over the proposed Muslim Community Center in New York City. In my opinion, it creates the most powerful recruiting poster that Al Qaieda and the Taliban have had since Abu Ghraib. Furthermore, it creates a bigger threat to US troops on the ground trying to win hearts and minds in Iraq and Afghanistan than the release of classified documents by Wiki leaks. The politicians and pundits participating in this dysfunctional behavior need to think beyond their own election or ratings.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Careerism and Army "Mentors"

Careerism, the propensity of officers to be more concerned with promotions and the perks of their position than the well being of their troops and success in combat, has been a problem since nations have had the standing, “professional” militaries. In the United States, it peaked as a problem during the Vietnam era and was studied and identified as a contributor to our failure in that war. Today, we are metastasizing the problem through the Pentagon’s senior mentors program, which allows retired three and four-star admirals and generals to act as highly paid (with taxpayer dollars) consultants to the military while simultaneously receiving their pensions and being on the payroll of defense contractors; an invitation to conflict of interest and scandal through careerism on steroids.
While the nation comes to grips with a staggering national debt and budget deficits projected far into the future, the Pentagon budget of more than $700 billion has remained largely untouchable. Recently, many analysts have said that health care benefits earned by retirees are unsustainable, and Secretary of Defense Gates has offered several spending cuts aimed at redundant weapons programs and useless stateside commands. Nevertheless, this senior mentor program allows a participant to earn up to $230,000 per year at $440 per hour while collecting a pension of up to $220,000 per year and being on the payroll of a defense contractor. To make matters even more alarming, the Pentagon refuses to reveal the names of the participants in the program or their affiliations. USA Today has identified 158 mentors and found that 80% had defense industry ties.
Most of these “mentors” are the very architects of policies and strategies that led to problems and failures on the part of the Pentagon, but are now paid by the same Pentagon to pass on and rationalize their failed approaches to a next generation. A chilling aspect of this model is that the current cohorts of active duty -- three and four stars that support the mentors program -- can reasonably expect to have the opportunity to be mentors when they retire, thus perpetuating this scandal in waiting. Finally, the program subverts the responsibility that every officer serving actively has to mentor subordinates for whom he or she serves as rater or senior rater.
Rather than having lawyers and bureaucrats modify the rules of the program for over-the-hill war profiteers around its edges, Secretary Gates should kill the senior mentors program before the scandal occurs.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Published in USA TODAY August 5th, 2010

Leaders, rules add to Army troubles

In USA today's article about the Army's suicide crisis, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army vice chief of staff, said commanders might let an arrest for drunken driving go unpunished to allow a soldier to go to war (“Leaders criticized in Army suicides,” News Friday)
Of the commanders of the 25,283 soldiers who had committed violations that could have resulted in a discharge from the Army, how many were reprimanded or relieved as a result of their choice to allow these “high-risk” soldiers to remain? Senior leaders condoned this dereliction of duty and now sanctimoniously criticize it with a wink.
The Army study about the suicide rate implies that leaders do not “know” their soldiers well enough to identify their high-risk behaviors or their propensity to commit suicide.
I find this view ironic at best and hypocritical at worst in light of the Army's “don't ask don't tell” policy. The policy specifically precludes frontline leaders from knowing something as basic as the sexual orientation of the soldiers they have the privilege of leading.
The Army has serious problems that won't be solved by poor discipline on the part of senior leaders or policies based on lies of omission.

Dennis Laich
Major General, US Army retired
Powell, Ohio