“General Richardson feels that combat commanders must have a compelling desire to make their units the best possible. These commanders must have a love for the operational level and a strong intuitive sense of how to fight with their unit in any conflict. These leaders must also be dedicated to the welfare of their men by providing them with the skills for success. Additionally, a combat leader must be tactically and technically proficient and have mastered the fundamental skills that they demand in their troops because technical and tactical proficiency remains the mainstay of the leader’s competence. These leaders must be willing to take risks and have the confidence that this professional competence provides. A lack of confidence will undermine their unit’s ability to accomplish the mission.” (Pg 14-15)
Firstly we should define, “…a compelling desire to make their units the best possible.” Best possible in what way? In statistics reported up the chain to the Pentagon? 99.5% medical readiness? 92.3% Fully Mission Capable aircraft? Less than 2% of aircraft ground abort rate? Do these items define the best unit? We flew 98% of all sorties. Yay! Forgot to mention that the pilots missed 76% of the targets. Could you have a great combat unit with stats that looked poor?
The answer’s yes but I probably shouldn’t chase this rabbit. In reality “the best possible” means that the unit can fight to the best of its ability with utmost efficiency and maximum destruction. Non-combat related factors shouldn’t be considered in the definition. But in today’s Air Force commanders are tracking how many volunteers work their people are doing in the community. 98% volunteer rate for Habitat for Humanity! Did you know that you get points toward promotion based on community volunteer work? And if you don’t have anything documented you will get counseled. Volunteer work in the community is between you and God. Idiots!
“These commanders must have a love for the operational level and a strong intuitive sense of how to fight with their unit in any conflict.” How many weeks a year are dedicated to practicing war skills vs non-war soft-skills? Leaders seem to have a love for the administrative level and not the operational.
“These leaders must also be dedicated to the welfare of their men by providing them with the skills for success.” Standing outside the BX writing people up for uniform violations does this how? How much technical training do you get a year vs. ancillary? You go to a tech school, do your skill level upgrade training, get a little OJT and that’s it. No more training for what would help you do your wartime job better. But you’ll get a Lautenberg Act briefing every year. BTW – the gist of this act is if you hit your civilian roommate, you can get kicked out of the military because the Act prohibits you from carrying a firearm. (Look it up)
“General S.L.A. Marshall based his list of traits a combat leader should possess on personal observation:
1. Emphasis on the care of soldiers.
2.The administration of strict discipline and justice in all matters.
3. Military bearing.
4. A basic understanding of the simple fact that soldiers wished to think of themselves as soldiers and that all military information was nourishing for their morale.
5. Courage, innovation, and physical fitness.
6. Innate respect for the dignity of the position and the work of other men.” (Pg 17)
General Marshall – we need you. The above items get flushed down the toilet with leaders who are careerists looking out for #1. Oh they are given lip service because it’s in the script but when was the last time you saw an officer helping change a tire because the flight line was short of people?
I’ll close with the following from Lt Col Hansen.
“The present-day (peacetime) leader profile conforms to the demands of the peacetime military bureaucracy. His assertive skills are not so strong as to get him into trouble with the boss, nor so weak as to suggest ineffectiveness. His moderately aggressive behaviors are encouraged because the readiness to be brash and the use of sharp words are often a sign of effectiveness…. those leaders that would survive in a doctrinal wartime environment would not survive in a bureaucratic peacetime military. In peacetime, they are frustrated by the structure, cannot speak out without fear of institutional retribution and too frequently say no when yes is expected.” (Pg 20)
Read it again. Does this describe today’s leaders?
Now for the gut punch. Are you ready? Lt Col Hansen wrote this paper in 1989. 31 years ago and nothing has changed, and if anything it has gotten worse.
What’s the fix? If you try to do it chances are you will not progress in your career. This needs to come from the top down. The Joint Chiefs all need to become Curtis LeMay type leaders and start firing careerists and yes men. Or World War III would do it too.
You can read Lt Col Hansen’s full paper here.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on August 21, 2020.
Dave holds a Master of Aeronautical Science in Aviation Management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and currently works for Code1 Maintenance helping military aircraft mechanics get their FAA A&P licenses. He is also a retired CMSgt, having served 4 years on active duty in the USAF and another 34 years in the Air National Guard. Dave has held a wide variety of technical, instructor, consultant, and leadership positions in his nearly 40 years of civilian and military aviation. experience.