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Thread: How soldiers deal with the job of killing

  1. #101
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Or...

    It is also possible to have NCO Platoon Leaders, thus capitalizing on experience and placing the most capable leader where he -- or she -- can be most effective. A Company commanded by a Major with a Captain Executive Officer / 2iC plus two Lieutenants as Company Officers with no permanent Platoon Assignments would be a far better approach.

    The current process (and in the US, certain procedural efforts and requirements) produces too many Lieutenants. That is beneficial in producing a large pool of potential Company Commanders but it is costly way to achieve that minor advantage when better selection and initial entry training would negate that cost and the presumed advantage. When the 'requirement' to keep those excess Officers around for various reasons is considered, it is obvious that a 'requirement' for an excessive number of overly large Staff positions is a natural by product. A study to determine the number of excellent Officers driven out of the Armed Forces by this approach might be instructive.

    The Lieutenants would be assigned all the myriad peacetime additional duties and for operations, to missions as needed. This would among other things accustom them to NOT working only with people they 'know' (no matter how cursorily or briefly) but with a changing number of persons, tasks and capabilities. It would build in a requirement for and training in flexibility and trust.

    A beneficial side effect would almost certainly be insistence by all four of those officers and all their contemporaries that training be improved...

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    We cannot expect normal eighteen year olds to kill someone and contain it in a healthy way. They must be helped to sort out what will be healthy grief about taking a life because it is part of the sorrow of war.
    You see here we go in the direction of Grossman in the thinking that killing is somehow 'bad' and will inevitably lead to feelings of guilt and grief.

    Not so. Combat killing in war is not murder, it is not a homicide, it is a justifiable killing. (I'm not talking atrocities here)
    <Homicide> is a values-free descriptive term (homo- ‘human being’ + -cide ‘killing’) in most formal usages. I would assert that using the term in that way makes getting at the relevant factors much easier. Are (some) killers bothered because killing is inherently bad? Or because it has been drummed into their heads since birth that killing is inherently bad? What if someone is bothered because they were not bothered by ending a human life as they had been told their entire life that they would/should be?

    It might be interesting to compare and contrast how soldiers deal with the job of killing with how medics deal with the job of preventing death.* For example, a reverse triage situation presents a particularly difficult combination of acts of omission and commission.

    *As an aside, many career park rangers have come upon multiple mangled corpses and have unsuccessfully administered CPR multiple times over the courses of their careers. Killologists should really talk to them at length about these sorts of things.
    Last edited by ganulv; 02-15-2012 at 06:48 PM. Reason: typo fix
    If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. – Mark Twain (attributed)

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    Default Moderator at work: parallel thread

    Following Ganulv's question above I have started a new thread 'How LE & others deal with the job of killing and death':http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ad.php?t=15164

    Two posts in response have been moved to the new thread.
    davidbfpo

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    Let's assume a small platoon of 20 and 100% officer retention for 30 years. Plus: The entire army is made up of platoons and all-officers staffs, nothing else.

    5% of the platoon force would be officers, and 100% of the rest.
    With officers serving 1/10th of their career as Plt Ldr, this would mean that there are 9 times as many officers outside of the platoons than inside.
    It would be a 2/3 platoon 1/3 staff force with a ratio of enlisted/NCO : officer of 19:10.

    Reduce officer retention and the qty of needed Plts would rise, increase platoon size and the army size needed to train enough officers as preparation for worse times would rise. Add non-officers to staffs and staffs would be even more bloated.
    Additional layers of command can for the sake of simple math be considered represented by the staff pool.

    3 years Plt command for every officer is simply unacceptable. Feel free to calculate it with variables of your choice; you end up with the conclusion that there are simply not enough platoons.

    It might be debatable to send a 2nd Lt to a Coy, then promote him to 1st Lt once accustomed with the Coy's mode of operation and assign him to a Plt command for a year. The feel free to extend this for the best 1st Lts - not as an arrested career, but as a distinction and preparation for higher commands.

    3 years for all is too much.
    Sorry, don't follow your reasoning.

    First I speak only of the infantry here (as high command usually falls to those from the infantry or armour with rare exceptions of course).

    Getting to major is usually by time served. In my system it was normally nine years from commissioning to major (making it ten years with one year officer training included).

    So we start with three years as a platoon commander, followed by two years (during which the Lt to Captain promotion exams must be completed). This could be as a support platoon commander, Bn Intelligence Officer, Regimental Signals Officer, or at some training establishment.

    That brings you to acting-captain. Then follows four years to major in two two year stints. Probably one as a staff officer and one as a company 2IC (or possibly one in training) and during which the 'Company Commanders' course (or later termed the Combat Team Commanders course) would have to be completed. Then the best get command of a company in their parent regiment (don't think the US use this in the manner of the Brits?). The also rans may get posted to other regiments/battalions where there are vacancies and some may not get given command of an infantry company at all.

    So some basic math.

    12 rifle platoons = 12 subalterns. A rotation of four per year. By a simple projection 5 of the eight would likely return to command a company. The other three might have left the military, died, fired/court marshalled, failed their promotion exams, not deemed suitable to command a company or given command of a company where there is a vacancy.

    So of the company commanders only one out of five would go on to command the battalion. Of the others some will have left the service, some fired, died, failed staff course, not deemed the best of the 'vintage' available to be given the command (and get streamed into staff forever).

    And so on.

    You follow my drift?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    It is also possible to have NCO Platoon Leaders, thus capitalizing on experience and placing the most capable leader where he -- or she -- can be most effective.
    It seems obvious that you commission them rather than mix say warrant officers with officers. One would need to look at their future utilisation after say a maximum of three years as a platoon commander. Training? Admin? Logistics? How many would make it to company commander?

    I suggest if one worked the numbers carefully one would be able to calculate the minimum number of (direct entry) officers needed to fill the posts required above the rank of major... because IMHO they have had served their 'apprenticeship' as a platoon commander (preferably in a war).

    A company commanded by a Major with a Captain Executive Officer / 2iC plus two Lieutenants as Company Officers with no permanent Platoon Assignments would be a far better approach.
    This US business of having a captain command a company with less training/experience/whatever than a major seems strange when compared to the Brit (and probably others systems).

    I don't think floating officers serve any real purpose nor does the time so served provide any real experience.

    The platoon commanding phase must IMHO mean living with, fighting with and if necessary dying with the platoon. That is the required 'apprenticeship'.

    The current process (and in the US, certain procedural efforts and requirements) produces too many Lieutenants.
    Easy to fix. Make the selection more arduous.

    That is beneficial in producing a large pool of potential Company Commanders but it is costly way to achieve that minor advantage when better selection and initial entry training would negate that cost and the presumed advantage.
    Exactly!

    When the 'requirement' to keep those excess Officers around for various reasons is considered, it is obvious that a 'requirement' for an excessive number of overly large Staff positions is a natural by product. A study to determine the number of excellent Officers driven out of the Armed Forces by this approach might be instructive.
    Excellent officers would be driven out if their careers are being blacked by 'dead wood' blocking their route to command companies, battalions etc for a reasonable length of time (two years). There are also other reason why the retention of officers suffers and those are mainly not service related - wife pressure, chasing higher income etc - and the hidden one which none will admit being not wanting to be exposed to combat again (among those who had a bite of the cherry in Iraq or Afghanistan and found it sour to their taste).

    The Lieutenants would be assigned all the myriad peacetime additional duties and for operations, to missions as needed. This would among other things accustom them to NOT working only with people they 'know' (no matter how cursorily or briefly) but with a changing number of persons, tasks and capabilities. It would build in a requirement for and training in flexibility and trust.
    Ditch the surplus... don't accommodate them. *

    A beneficial side effect would almost certainly be insistence by all four of those officers and all their contemporaries that training be improved...
    Training for whom?

    * In earlier posts I stated and still believe that young men who have given the best years of their life to the service should be able to exit it with dignity if the service no longer requires there service. This would entail funded study etc etc.

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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    Following Ganulv's question above I have started a new thread 'How LE & others deal with the job of killing and death':http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ad.php?t=15164

    Two posts in response have been moved to the new thread.
    Good move.

    I suggest that some of the current discussion around here may better belong in the 'Initial Officer Selection' thread.

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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    This headline nearly put me off even reading this BBC report, it has some "gems":

    Link:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-16973421
    Its that leadership thing again.

    The Rand Study:Steeling the Mind also highlights the importance of the role of thinking, caring leaders.

    No amount of management can replace an ounce of real, from the heart, leadership.

  8. #108
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    It seems obvious that you commission them rather than mix say warrant officers with officers.
    Why? they're thoroughly mixed currently...
    One would need to look at their future utilisation after say a maximum of three years as a platoon commander. Training? Admin? Logistics? How many would make it to company commander?
    Nominally about 50%. Far better than the current 80% +.
    ...because IMHO they have had served their 'apprenticeship' as a platoon commander (preferably in a war).
    I'm not at all convinced that being a Platoon Commander is necessary or even all that beneficial. Does it work? Surely. Is it the current norm? Mostly (a very few slip through with little or no Platoon Leader time). The US norm is more nearly one year than three and I believe three would not be acceptable in the US for a number of reasons though I acknowledge it might work elsewhere.
    This US business of having a captain command a company with less training/experience/whatever than a major seems strange when compared to the Brit (and probably others systems).
    It worked well when we had people being promoted to Captain only after ten or more or more years service. Fairly well when that dropped to six or so years. It doesn't do as well with the Viet Nam and current abbreviated time of two to three years or thereabouts.
    I don't think floating officers serve any real purpose nor does the time so served provide any real experience.
    That depends entirely on how they are employed. I've seen it work well when units in combat were seriously short of LTs. That being short of them is also a concern in major high intensity conflict. Better to inculcate good practices then to have to do it ad-hoc.
    The platoon commanding phase must IMHO mean living with, fighting with and if necessary dying with the platoon. That is the required 'apprenticeship'.
    Sounds good but I disagree. It is one method, it worked for you -- has worked for many -- however, I'm unsure what Officer skill it imparts other than a slightly more all encompassing knowledge of how the Troops live and play. It's been my observation that only a few of them take that knowledge beyond Major, even fewer past LT Colonel and only a rare few past Colonel. That, in theory, is (in US usage and with which I disagree) why there are Sergeants Major, to remind those senior souls how the Enlisted Swine believe and feel...
    Easy to fix. Make the selection more arduous.
    Agree that is the fix; disagree that it is easy. Politicians can take umbrage at the slightest hint of 'unfairness' as they see it. In this politically correct era, worldwide, the slightest hint of the arduousity being 'discriminatory' would kill it.
    Excellent officers would be driven out if their careers are being blacked by 'dead wood' blocking their route to command companies, battalions etc for a reasonable length of time (two years). There are also other reason why the retention of officers suffers and those are mainly not service related - wife pressure, chasing higher income etc - and the hidden one which none will admit being not wanting to be exposed to combat again (among those who had a bite of the cherry in Iraq or Afghanistan and found it sour to their taste).
    All true, always a problem...
    Ditch the surplus... don't accommodate them. *
    You and I are in agreement. Unfortunately, the senior leadership of the US Army doesn't agree with us.
    Training for whom?
    Everyone. Our (US) 'training' succumbs to cost accountants, psychologists who are concerned with extraneous foolishness in some cases and political correctness. It will not be improved unless there is a grassroots swell of large amplitude or an existential war occurs.
    * In earlier posts I stated and still believe that young men who have given the best years of their life to the service should be able to exit it with dignity if the service no longer requires there service. This would entail funded study etc etc.
    Agree.

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    Ignoring the areas of agreement.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    Why? they're thoroughly mixed currently...Nominally about 50%. Far better than the current 80% +.
    Because that's the way it is now means that the right way?

    Ever thought why some pilots are officers and other are warrant officers? It makes sense to you?

    I'm not at all convinced that being a Platoon Commander is necessary or even all that beneficial.
    Thanks like saying a sergeant doesn't need to have served as a troopie.

    I'm totally flabbergasted at this comment of yours, to the extent, that being so far apart there is no point in proceeding with the discussion on this point.


    It worked well when we had people being promoted to Captain only after ten or more or more years service. Fairly well when that dropped to six or so years. It doesn't do as well with the Viet Nam and current abbreviated time of two to three years or thereabouts.
    It is how it is now that matters... and it is sub optimal now. It needs to be addressed.

    But can it be addressed? Probably not as with West Point taking four years there is probably a demand by those graduates to make major after six years of commissioned service. The solution lies in questioning why West Point needs four years... because that four-year time at 'school' leads to a serious drop in experience and command competence at company commander level across the military as the demand for rapid advancement leads to competence and experience being sacrificed.

    That depends entirely on how they are employed. I've seen it work well when units in combat were seriously short of LTs.
    That is not the situation at the moment though is it?

    That being short of them is also a concern in major high intensity conflict. Better to inculcate good practices then to have to do it ad-hoc.
    I can see no point in pushing officers up the line so fast that they gain no practical experience along the way. Look at the career development of a civil engineer. Where does he start and how does he advance - the engineer/foreman/worker structure is similar to the military.

    Sounds good but I disagree. It is one method, it worked for you -- has worked for many -- however, I'm unsure what Officer skill it imparts other than a slightly more all encompassing knowledge of how the Troops live and play. It's been my observation that only a few of them take that knowledge beyond Major, even fewer past LT Colonel and only a rare few past Colonel.
    That's not my understanding. Perhaps here is an area for study. To see what value general staff place in their time and experienced gained at platoon commander level (with a comparison, say, between the Brits and the yanks).

    That, in theory, is (in US usage and with which I disagree) why there are Sergeants Major, to remind those senior souls how the Enlisted Swine believe and feel...
    Beyond battalion level that ceases to be that important as it is where the troops are that the finger needs to be kept on the pulse.

    Agree that is the fix; disagree that it is easy. Politicians can take umbrage at the slightest hint of 'unfairness' as they see it. In this politically correct era, worldwide, the slightest hint of the arduousity being 'discriminatory' would kill it.
    Ok so we accept the system is 'broken' but can't be fixed. Live with it maybe but know that it reduces the efficiency of the military.

    All true, always a problem...You and I are in agreement. Unfortunately, the senior leadership of the US Army doesn't agree with us.Everyone. Our (US) 'training' succumbs to cost accountants, psychologists who are concerned with extraneous foolishness in some cases and political correctness. It will not be improved unless there is a grassroots swell of large amplitude or an existential war occurs.Agree.
    Ok then never present to anyone (especially oneself) that any other way is acceptable and know that the effect of this is a disincentive for capable people to join in the first place or maybe why capable people don't stay in the service.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ganulv View Post
    What if someone is bothered because they were not bothered by ending a human life as they had been told their entire life that they would/should be?
    Well there are (without doubt) quite a number of us out there who are not bothered. Yes, have thought about it... but on reflection am satisfied that the opinion of those who have never been in combat about how those of us who have should feel isn't worth a bucket of spit.

    From John Keegan's book 'Face of Battle':

    'Of course, killing people never bothered me,' I remember a grey haired infantry officer saying to me, by way of explaining how he had three times won the Military Cross in the Second World War. In black and white it looks a horrifying remark; but to the ear his tone implied, as it was meant to imply, not merely that the act of killing people might legitimately be expected to upset others but that it ought also to have upset him; that, through his failure to suffer immediate shock or lasting trauma, he was forced to recognised some deficiency in his own character or, if not that, then, regrettably, in human nature itself. Both were topics he was prepared to pursue, as we did then and many times afterwards.
    If you work on even the most sane, well adjusted person long enough and hard enough then they may develop self doubts. What is in fact happening now is that prior to experiencing combat young soldiers are be 'conditioned' that they will develop significant psychological issues as a result not only of experiencing combat but from just thinking about being exposed to combat. So tell me who is the sick one in all this?
    Last edited by JMA; 02-17-2012 at 04:41 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Well there are (without doubt) quite a number of us out there who are not bothered. Yes, have thought about it... but on reflection am satisfied that the opinion of those who have never been in combat about how those of us who have should feel isn't worth a bucket of spit.
    I know a fellow who had 90+ confirmed kills in Vietnam and told me he likely killed that many more. I won’t speak for him as to whether that fact ‘bothered’ him but he doesn’t hide the fact that it had everything to do with his later career as an RN. I also know a former state Supreme Court justice who helped send more than one 17–year–old boy to the gas chamber. I never associated with the old man outside of a work setting but my impression of him was that those decisions hadn‘t bothered him in the least over the years since he made them. I doubt either of them care very much at all of how I feel about them, but FWIW I’ve never spent a moment with the former that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy and I’ve never been slow to get out of the same room as the latter.
    If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. – Mark Twain (attributed)

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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Because that's the way it is now means that the right way?
    Nope -- but your suggestion just continues what we are now doing.

    It works, so will many other methods...
    Ever thought why some pilots are officers and other are warrant officers? It makes sense to you?
    Yep, it makes sense in that Aviation unit commanders should be officers, mostly but not all. I prefer NCO to the Warrant Officer usage so I'd say most Pilots should be NCOs and not Officers. Most everyone fell into Officers as pilots way back when due to the education variance. Those days are gone. As I've reminded you before, we used to ride to work on Elephants -- we quite and not just because the Parking Lot Attendants got upset...
    Thanks like saying a sergeant doesn't need to have served as a troopie.
    Not what I said and you know it -- I said it's not necessary for an Officer to serve as a Platoon Leader, not that he should not command troops on a mission basis and live with them for months at a time. We want to put them in the same environment and for some time, we just would do it slightly differently. Personally, I think all of 'em should serve as Troopies for a bit -- but that's another thread...
    I'm totally flabbergasted at this comment of yours, to the extent, that being so far apart there is no point in proceeding with the discussion on this point.
    Okay
    It is how it is now that matters... and it is sub optimal now. It needs to be addressed...But can it be addressed? Probably not...as at company commander level across the military as the demand for rapid advancement leads to competence and experience being sacrificed...That is not the situation at the moment though is it?
    Yes, yes, yes, No -- unfortunately.
    I can see no point in pushing officers up the line so fast that they gain no practical experience along the way. Look at the career development of a civil engineer. Where does he start and how does he advance - the engineer/foreman/worker structure is similar to the military.
    We agree on that, we just do not agree on how things should -- and could be -- done.
    That's not my understanding. Perhaps here is an area for study. To see what value general staff place in their time and experienced gained at platoon commander level (with a comparison, say, between the Brits and the yanks).
    I can understand your understanding - and I can agree with it from the standpoint of the Commonwealth Armies. From the standpoint of the US Army, time spent as a platoon leader is currently almost superficial, it is a way station and for many not a particularly enjoyable one (which is an absolute pity and an indictment of the way we do things here...). My comments re: the field Grades is based on the US model. I can't speak to SA or Rhodesia but I have worked with, seen and freely acknowledge the Strynes, Canadians and British do a better job -- that's mostly because they use their NCOs, particularly Sergeants Major (Co and higher...), correctly -- we too often do not.
    Beyond battalion level that ceases to be that important as it is where the troops are that the finger needs to be kept on the pulse.
    In many respects but not totally...
    Ok so we accept the system is 'broken' but can't be fixed. Live with it maybe but know that it reduces the efficiency of the military...maybe why capable people don't stay in the service.
    Sadly correct...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    Yep, it makes sense in that Aviation unit commanders should be officers, mostly but not all. I prefer NCO to the Warrant Officer usage so I'd say most Pilots should be NCOs and not Officers. Most everyone fell into Officers as pilots way back when due to the education variance. Those days are gone. As I've reminded you before, we used to ride to work on Elephants -- we quite and not just because the Parking Lot Attendants got upset...
    Most armies live with the archaic remnants of a class system as reflected in their rank structure. In many cases it has become so ingrained that it has become accepted by all. The Israelis have made an effort to produce a more egalitarian approach which works for them under their circumstances.

    In the British military the significantly reduced numbers of the in-bred upper class no longer find the military and attractive option due to the presence of significant numbers of middle-class 'usurpers' and the requirement to actually spend more time soldiering than on 'hunting, shooting and fishing' (and the pay is not good).

    Most armies need to use a flame thrower to clean out their systems and shake off these relics of a past social order.

    Not what I said and you know it -- I said it's not necessary for an Officer to serve as a Platoon Leader, not that he should not command troops on a mission basis and live with them for months at a time. We want to put them in the same environment and for some time, we just would do it slightly differently. Personally, I think all of 'em should serve as Troopies for a bit -- but that's another thread...
    This butterfly approach that the US military seem to apply to officer postings where they flit from one post to the next without spending enough time in any one to benefit significantly from the experience.

    On a 'mission basis'? How would that work? What period are we talking about here? Why this sub-optimal solution when the obvious one stares you in the face?

    I went the route of first serving in the ranks. First did my conscript training in SA, followed by full recruit training (20 weeks) followed by six months operational, followed by full 12 month officers course (then some years later was myself course officer on a 12 month officers course). I believe I understand the process differences in the training approach.

    As stated before elsewhere on SWC time in an officers career is precious. Recruit training teaches one to be a rifleman in an infantry platoon. Recruits re not taught section and platoon level tactics and platoon weapons employment. Officer cadets are and their training in this aspect is totally from the perspective of commanding. That they will during the training take part in section and platoon attacks in probably close to all the possible positions from basic rifleman to platoon commander is essential in the training of young officers. It is for this main reason (as I stated before) that one can not reduce officer training courses by the length of a recruit course where candidates have been through that mill already.

    My personal experience (of first doing a recruit course and then serving some operational time) was such that I would make it an essential route to a commission if I were so able. The minimum of a year is well spent in that. Is there a maximum? Probably three years where the entry age was 18.

    I can understand your understanding - and I can agree with it from the standpoint of the Commonwealth Armies. From the standpoint of the US Army, time spent as a platoon leader is currently almost superficial, it is a way station and for many not a particularly enjoyable one (which is an absolute pity and an indictment of the way we do things here...). My comments re: the field Grades is based on the US model. I can't speak to SA or Rhodesia but I have worked with, seen and freely acknowledge the Strynes, Canadians and British do a better job -- that's mostly because they use their NCOs, particularly Sergeants Major (Co and higher...), correctly -- we too often do not.
    First of all the South African military organisation was a complete shambles. Luckily it never had to deploy in any sizable numbers. Based on National Servicemen (all white males were conscripted for two years) with total reliance on reservists (the Citizen Force and Commandos) as commanded by bureaucratic Permanent Force (no troopies just what they called a 'leader group' most no better than your average civil servant) one can be grateful that the war in SWA/Namibia and in Angola required a relative few competent officers to prosecute. And yes there were the required number of skilled and competent officers and SNCOs to drive the war using reserve and conscript troops. Grateful too that the enemy was low grade local riff-raff with slightly better but very poor quality Cubans. Probably the best out of the South Africans were the artillery who with their G5/G6 guns were magnificent.

    Rhodesia worked pretty much according to the British system but had much more flexibility to adapt to the developing war situation as it was unencumbered by suffocating tradition and bureaucratic restraint. There were still many problems some of which were adequately addressed (some not).

    Now because the majority of young US officers have a superficial platoon commanding experience that does not mean that this experience (certainly in the war environments recently and currently available) is not without value. If nobody has it then you are in no position to miss it. To agree that it has value would imply that the US officer corps is somehow lacking which is not about to be acknowledged anytime soon.

  14. #114
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Most armies need to use a flame thrower to clean out their systems and shake off these relics of a past social order.
    Agree.
    This butterfly approach that the US military seem to apply to officer postings where they flit from one post to the next without spending enough time in any one to benefit significantly from the experience.
    Also agree...
    On a 'mission basis'? How would that work?
    The LTs are given peacetime / garrison duties that let them understand the mechanics of the system; they are given field training or exercise missions in temporary command of elements -- A Squad, section ,Platoon or parts thereof assembled for the specific task at hand. Sometimes a platoon plus MGs and /or a mortar or AT weapons, a mix of vehicles / elements for other than walking Infantry -- all sorts of combination. In training, designed for their training value and to develop flexibility and familiarize both the LT and the Troops to working with different approaches and persons. In combat of course the only focus would be to best accomplish the task at hand.
    What period are we talking about here?
    I tend to agree with your three year spans...
    Why this sub-optimal solution when the obvious one stares you in the face?
    First, because there is NO optimal solution. The issue is to impart knowledge and capability in lieu of experience, so nothing is going to do that too well. Secondly, among all less than optimal solutions IMO the one that develops trust of unknown persons with adequate experience or training level and promotes flexibility in thought and outlook is preferable to one that encourages trust of only the familiar ("I know him so I can trust him...") and which constrains flexibility due to excessive but natural adherence to organizational lines. Pursue those two lines of thought for a bit...

    Thirdly, the "obvious" solution is not obvious, it's just the way we've done it for centuries. that does NOT mean its optimal. Nor does the fact that you and many others were well served in the training and learning processes by your particular experience counter the fact that a good many -- perhaps more -- are not so well served by it.
    I went the route of first serving in the ranks. First did my conscript training in SA, followed by full recruit training (20 weeks) followed by six months operational, followed by full 12 month officers course (then some years later was myself course officer on a 12 month officers course). I believe I understand the process differences in the training approach.
    You understand what you -- to use your word from above -- flitted through as an Enlisted guy.

    I submit a year as Joe Tentpeg is not enough time to say that one has learned what it's like to be a Private Soldier or, even more important, a junior NCO.

    That said, 12 months for a new LTs course seems about right -- and serving as an instructor in such a course, which not everyone does, was / is bound to be enormously helpful in learning what makes new LTs tick.
    It is for this main reason (as I stated before) that one can not reduce officer training courses by the length of a recruit course where candidates have been through that mill already.
    Yes.
    My personal experience (of first doing a recruit course and then serving some operational time) was such that I would make it an essential route to a commission if I were so able. The minimum of a year is well spent in that. Is there a maximum? Probably three years where the entry age was 18.
    We're in near agreement. IMO the minimum should be 18 months operational or in-unit service (not counting recruit or initial entry training which I think should be about six months, perhaps more if (as is true in the US army), esoteric, non military but societal 'training' is also included. Three to four years should indeed be about the maximum and service as a junior NCO should be a 'plus' in the selection criteria. However, commissioning of longer serving persons (and not just as Lieutenants...) should be reasonably common. In the US, the Marines do that better than does the Army and the British system of commissioning senior NCOs toward the end of their service for specific and normally limited duties is good. The world is full of late bloomers...
    Rhodesia worked pretty much according to the British system but had much more flexibility to adapt to the developing war situation as it was unencumbered by suffocating tradition and bureaucratic restraint. There were still many problems some of which were adequately addressed (some not).
    Always going to be true; we humans are imperfect...

    Still, in my experience, the Commonwealth Armies do a much better job of teaching and training the basics than does the US. We could and should adapt some of their practices. In fact, we have -- we just discarded the good and picked the wrong things to keep.
    Now because the majority of young US officers have a superficial platoon commanding experience that does not mean that this experience (certainly in the war environments recently and currently available) is not without value. If nobody has it then you are in no position to miss it. To agree that it has value would imply that the US officer corps is somehow lacking which is not about to be acknowledged anytime soon.
    I agree with all that but also must note that reality is a bitch and must be dealt with. The US Army is (and others are) not likely to change. The current system has evolved over time and does work. That doesn't mean one should not try other ways. Armies are bureaucracies with closed minds. People, fortunately, are not as loth to experiment and try new idea and things...

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    Semper Fi, Ken,

    You are the essesance of a line company grunt down through all of your days.

    You are right and true. Semper Fidelis! I'am without reservation, proud of you!
    Last edited by RJ; 02-19-2012 at 03:32 AM.

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    Default I was getting worried about you, RJ...

    You've been quiet lately -- I guess you've been up to something...

    Et Tu on the Semper Fi. Guns up...

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    Dropping the areas of agreement...
    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    The LTs are given peacetime / garrison duties that let them understand the mechanics of the system; they are given field training or exercise missions in temporary command of elements -- A Squad, section ,Platoon or parts thereof assembled for the specific task at hand. Sometimes a platoon plus MGs and /or a mortar or AT weapons, a mix of vehicles / elements for other than walking Infantry -- all sorts of combination. In training, designed for their training value and to develop flexibility and familiarize both the LT and the Troops to working with different approaches and persons. In combat of course the only focus would be to best accomplish the task at hand.
    Don't worry about the 'system' get them into the 'firing line' to develop leadership skills and learn what commanding soldiers in war is all about.

    Command of a squad/section and a platoon should have taken place on officers course. If not how was the individual's knowledge/understanding and ability to apply minor tactics assessed?

    If a 2Lt needs training in squad/section level tactics then send him back to officers school.

    Perhaps here we get to the US 'problem' Von Schell identified back in 1930. Too much time on training courses and not enough time practically exercising these skills at unit level. By this I mean company, battalion and higher exercises with supporting arms in all the phases of war.

    I tend to agree with your three year spans...
    In the war it got down to two years, but I'm told that during peacetime three years was the norm.

    If one looks at your Pamphlet 600–3 under Infantry Branch one finds:

    (2) Assignments. The typical Infantry lieutenant will be assigned to a Brigade Combat Team as his first unit of assignment. The key assignment during this phase is serving as a platoon leader in an operating force unit. Early experience as a rifle platoon leader is critical, as it provides Infantry lieutenants with the opportunity to gain tactical and technical expertise in their branch while developing leadership skills.
    They seem to acknowledge that commanding a platoon is 'the key assignment' but does not state for how long though.

    Then on to captains:

    (5) Desired experience. The key assignment for an infantry captain is successful service as a company commander. There is no substitute for an operating force company command. It develops an Infantry officer’s leadership and tactical skills and prepares him for future leadership assignments at successively higher levels of responsibility. The goal is to provide each infantry captain 18 months (± 6 months) operating force company command time.
    ± 6 months ??? That could mean as little as a year. Not good enough quite frankly. Two years is good (especially at war), three years better (in peacetime).

    First, because there is NO optimal solution. The issue is to impart knowledge and capability in lieu of experience, so nothing is going to do that too well.
    War is the greatest teacher (that is why I continue to suggest that the recent and current 'wars' have provided a wonderful opportunity to blood the young officers. Was the opportunity used to the maximum or was one 'tour' (half as a platoon commander) the order of the day?

    In peacetime experience is gained through field exercises. There is no substitute for experience.

    Secondly, among all less than optimal solutions IMO the one that develops trust of unknown persons with adequate experience or training level and promotes flexibility in thought and outlook is preferable to one that encourages trust of only the familiar ("I know him so I can trust him...") and which constrains flexibility due to excessive but natural adherence to organizational lines. Pursue those two lines of thought for a bit...
    Why would one need to develop the trust of 'unknown persons'? The whole reason for having standing battalions is for them to train together to develop cohesion as a unit and maintain a state of readiness, yes?

    Officers cycling through on 2-3 years postings will establish themselves quickly and if competent gain the trust of not only their troops but also their fellow officers.

    Thirdly, the "obvious" solution is not obvious, it's just the way we've done it for centuries. that does NOT mean its optimal. Nor does the fact that you and many others were well served in the training and learning processes by your particular experience counter the fact that a good many -- perhaps more -- are not so well served by it.
    All I say is that we need to be brutally honest with ourselves as to where the problems lie and if there are solutions, to acknowledge them (even though the 'system' will never allow them to be addressed).

    You understand what you -- to use your word from above -- flitted through as an Enlisted guy.

    I submit a year as Joe Tentpeg is not enough time to say that one has learned what it's like to be a Private Soldier or, even more important, a junior NCO.
    In my case if you count my South African National Service my pre officers course military experience was 18 months. My point was that this experience should be between 1-3 years.

    My concern here is that if it were to be three years minimum and add to that the minimum three years for a degree then you have taken six years out of the productive commissioned service of an officer.

    In wartime (in my experience) the benefit of prior service before commissioning as opposed to those who had none was quickly made up for where the direct entry officer had an experienced sergeant. In peacetime I would not know.

    My opinion is therefore that the 3 years in the ranks is rather a maximum as longer would introduce the age factor which may negatively impact on the career potential of the individual.

    That said, 12 months for a new LTs course seems about right -- and serving as an instructor in such a course, which not everyone does, was / is bound to be enormously helpful in learning what makes new LTs tick.
    I only served in wartime so my observations relate accordingly.

    I served for three years as a Troop/Platoon Commander. Personally I believe I was a better officer serving the full three years as such. Looking back 30 years nothing has changed in that regard.

    Secondly I don't know what post a 2Lt can hold other than platoon commander after (your) one year? What? Staff job? No. Training? No. Have stated before that recruit training is best handled by NCos and officers (who have been commissioned when sergeant major). A (direct entry) officer knows next to nothing about what training at that level should entail and of them a 2Lt knows less than nothing. If being a staff officer is mere sticking pins in maps (a corporals job) then maybe. But I still maintain the individual officer's personal development is better served by further time with a platoon.

    I would be interested to hear where 2Lts/Lts serve if they generally serve only 6-12 months as a platoon commander?

    It is interesting to watch fellow young officers grow and develop over their three years as a platoon commander at war. Then later to be involved in such training. The first course I took was a Nation Service course (six months - so they were 180 day wonders a not of the 90 day variety). Interesting in that they were mostly graduates retuning to do their service. The regular course (1 year) were mostly school leavers of the bright eyed and bushy tailed variety.

    All that remained to connect the dots from that experience was hours of contemplation over 30 years normally with bitterly cold beer in hand watching a glorious African sunset.

    We're in near agreement. IMO the minimum should be 18 months operational or in-unit service (not counting recruit or initial entry training which I think should be about six months, perhaps more if (as is true in the US army), esoteric, non military but societal 'training' is also included. Three to four years should indeed be about the maximum and service as a junior NCO should be a 'plus' in the selection criteria. However, commissioning of longer serving persons (and not just as Lieutenants...) should be reasonably common. In the US, the Marines do that better than does the Army and the British system of commissioning senior NCOs toward the end of their service for specific and normally limited duties is good. The world is full of late bloomers...
    Effectively your 18 months is two years then. I agree with that but would add the 'give or take' condition so as not to exclude a deserving candidate. I would add the maximum condition for this 'window of opportunity' to commissioning. Remember the aim would be to look for those showing exceptional potential. I do accept that under the current mass production of officers those who have already served have had the chance to see if the army suits them (must do or they would not seek a place on an officer course) and the army has a pretty clear view of the person concerned (my concern being that at company level a captain as a company commander and a Lt as 2IC may be a bit 'light' to recognise leadership potential of an individual troopie in the company).

    There should indeed be later windows of opportunity for commissioning. Probably at the end of the platoon sergeant cycle where commissions into GD (general duties), training and Q&A should be available. For example posts such as Quartermaster, Transport Officer etc would all have been filled by those commissioned from the ranks (in my world).
    Last edited by JMA; 02-19-2012 at 08:49 AM.

  18. #118
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    Default Minor quibbles...

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Command of a squad/section and a platoon should have taken place on officers course. If not how was the individual's knowledge/understanding and ability to apply minor tactics assessed?
    'Command' in a course setting is not the same as doing it in combat or in a working unit on exercises. I know you know that, just stating the obvious so no one misses that critical point.
    If a 2Lt needs training in squad/section level tactics then send him back to officers school.
    ...
    Perhaps here we get to the US 'problem' Von Schell identified back in 1930. Too much time on training courses and not enough time practically exercising these skills at unit level.
    ??? Now you're trying to confuse me -- take it easy, I'm old...
    ...± 6 months ??? That could mean as little as a year. Not good enough quite frankly. Two years is good (especially at war), three years better (in peacetime).
    Agreed. I'd even go for less time in a full bore war as opposed to a low intensity effort such as Viet Nam, Afghanistan or Iraq.
    In peacetime experience is gained through field exercises. There is no substitute for experience.
    True, thus my comment there is no optimum solution to replace experience.
    Why would one need to develop the trust of 'unknown persons'? The whole reason for having standing battalions is for them to train together to develop cohesion as a unit and maintain a state of readiness, yes?
    Yes -- However, in a full up war ala WW II or some parts of Korea, casualties and other things, the size of the Army, will entail a personnel turnover rate sometimes reaching 15 to 30% of a unit in a month. The unit cannot quit, it will receive replacements and Officers and NCO will be moved within Bns, even Bdes to replace combat losses -- one WILL deal with 'unknown persons.'
    Officers cycling through on 2-3 years postings will establish themselves quickly and if competent gain the trust of not only their troops but also their fellow officers.
    Totally true but in heavy combat, that much time will absolutely not be afforded. In Korea, I had three Co Cdrs in a month, I cannot even recall the name of the second who was there for three or four days. In Viet Nam, we got in a new Bn Cdr, he got a DSC, wounded, evacuated and replaced three weeks later. The new guy was there for three months and then moved to be the Bde S3. Another LTC came in and I left a couple of weeks after that. The point is that rotations and personnel turbulence entail a lack of trust of persons one does not personally know if one knows that the training of one's forces are not as good as they should or could be so one needs to learn that even marginal training is, in fact, overcome by most people. Best way to learn that is by exposure to many persons in many units and sub-units.

    You mention troops trusting Officers, yes, it is important that they do that -- it is even more critical that seniors trust juniors; else those seniors will be reluctant to grant the independence of action and give mission orders instead of detailed instructions...
    In my case if you count my South African National Service my pre officers course military experience was 18 months. My point was that this experience should be between 1-3 years.
    Yes but my point was that your experience in a unit was only a year or a bit less; initial entry training is important and counts for a lot -- but it is not the same as experience IN a unit.
    My concern here is that if it were to be three years minimum and add to that the minimum three years for a degree then you have taken six years out of the productive commissioned service of an officer.
    True but there's only so much time...
    In wartime (in my experience) the benefit of prior service before commissioning as opposed to those who had none was quickly made up for where the direct entry officer had an experienced sergeant. In peacetime I would not know.
    Same effect, same solution. The problem is that in large Armies (and in peacetime) every LT will not have a decent, much less an expereienced Sergeant...
    Secondly I don't know what post a 2Lt can hold other than platoon commander after (your) one year? What? Staff job? No. Training? No.
    Not 'my' one year, that's a wartime minimum. I opted for three years (meaning peacetime and in these little wars). Agree on the Staff jobs but it's a matter of time and experience. As an aside, I don't particularly agree with the excessive number of ranks we currently have, officer or NCO. Just LT instead of 2LT and 1LT. Three years as a LT, then to the Captains course, thence to a staff job then to the Co XO / 2iC job...
    ... But I still maintain the individual officer's personal development is better served by further time with a platoon.
    Substitute 'as a Company Offcier in a line organization' for "with a Platoon" and I agree.
    I would be interested to hear where 2Lts/Lts serve if they generally serve only 6-12 months as a platoon commander?
    Heh. Right now (and during the Viet Nam fracas) we make 'em 1LTs and put them on a Staff.

    As I noted before, you and I don't differ that much...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    'Command' in a course setting is not the same as doing it in combat or in a working unit on exercises. I know you know that, just stating the obvious so no one misses that critical point.???
    No, that’s not the whole story. On officers course the cadet has no unit to exercise with … other than where a course will exercise with a trained unit (battalion/company) so as to provide the necessary command opportunities. In war time units cannot be spared from operations for this purpose. Cadet therefore need to rely on exercising with the ‘demonstration troops’ available at their school. Rhodesia could only muster/spare a company of such troops at the School of Infantry to firstly, demonstrate tactical actions up to company level to successive cadet courses and also to provide the troops to command in field exercises. In my year and in the years I was an instructor at the ‘School’ we exercised so regularly and often with these troops that we got to know most by name. (In fact one of my tasks when an instructor was to deploy the Dem Company on operations to clear gooks from one of our training areas because their presence was starting to interfere with our training schedules -bloody cheeky of them!)

    On arrival in their units the newly commissioned officers normally joined their company in the field. No time to exercise prior to operational deployment. Two options on arrival. One, where a suitably experienced platoon sergeant existed the young officer would be thrown directly in the deep end. Two, if there were any doubts the new officer would be placed as a side kick rifleman with the most experienced platoon commander until considered ‘safe’ to let him take over his own platoon.

    During (ultra boring) peacetime one imagines there would be plenty of opportunities to exercise with his unit of which he is a platoon commander.

    So to repeat my earlier point… if a commissioned officer needs to be exercised commanding squads/sections then you need to go find his course officer and administer the coup de grace.

    .Yes -- However, in a full up war ala WW II or some parts of Korea, casualties and other things, the size of the Army, will entail a personnel turnover rate sometimes reaching 15 to 30% of a unit in a month. The unit cannot quit, it will receive replacements and Officers and NCO will be moved within Bns, even Bdes to replace combat losses -- one WILL deal with 'unknown persons.'
    Korea was 1950-53 so we have not seen a ‘full up’ war for 60 years. Lets stick to the small wars then, shall we?

    Talking of ‘replacements’ not sure how it worked in Korea and even Vietnam but (if you read Ambrose and Keegan on) the post D-Day period was a real shambles as far as the US forces were concerned. Depending on who the replacements are the ‘trust thing’ works in all directions. Best to withdraw hard hit units to refit and retrain before being once again inserted into the line, yes?

    Totally true but in heavy combat, that much time will absolutely not be afforded. In Korea, I had three Co Cdrs in a month, I cannot even recall the name of the second who was there for three or four days. In Viet Nam, we got in a new Bn Cdr, he got a DSC, wounded, evacuated and replaced three weeks later. The new guy was there for three months and then moved to be the Bde S3. Another LTC came in and I left a couple of weeks after that. The point is that rotations and personnel turbulence entail a lack of trust of persons one does not personally know if one knows that the training of one's forces are not as good as they should or could be so one needs to learn that even marginal training is, in fact, overcome by most people. Best way to learn that is by exposure to many persons in many units and sub-units.
    High casualty rates are surely exceptional and should be dealt with as such? There is more to it than trusting the new officers, there is the matter of the impact of the casualties on the morale of the troops. To them the loss of the CO might have less impact than that of their best friend.

    Not sure that is a good reason to utilise ‘butterfly’ postings for officers. Better to gave them a solid grounding in their first three years so that they are able to handle such situations with maturity should they arise later?

    You mention troops trusting Officers, yes, it is important that they do that -- it is even more critical that seniors trust juniors; else those seniors will be reluctant to grant the independence of action and give mission orders instead of detailed instructions...
    Trust is earned and works in all directions.

    To your second point… if the junior commanders prove they are competent they can be allowed more latitude in this regard. Not sure how that can be earned within the 6-12 months US officers spend as platoon commanders.

    Yes but my point was that your experience in a unit was only a year or a bit less; initial entry training is important and counts for a lot -- but it is not the same as experience IN a unit.
    My personal experience may not have been optimal but I fail to see why three years in the ranks followed by 12 month officer training is required prior to commanding a platoon for 12 months or less (unless that is an admission of the demise of the ‘hairy ass’d platoon sergeant of old? – Sgt Rock in the comics I read as a kid.). My point is that it is a maximum beyond which the person will have to wait for the second window of opportunity to commissioning being one step beyond platoon sergeant.

    The problem is that in large Armies (and in peacetime) every LT will not have a decent, much less an expereienced Sergeant...
    That’s a problem with the NCO structure which should be addressed, surely?

    Not 'my' one year, that's a wartime minimum. I opted for three years (meaning peacetime and in these little wars).
    Snap.

    Agree on the Staff jobs but it's a matter of time and experience. As an aside, I don't particularly agree with the excessive number of ranks we currently have, officer or NCO. Just LT instead of 2LT and 1LT. Three years as a LT, then to the Captains course, thence to a staff job then to the Co XO / 2iC job...
    My system was 4 years to acting-captain but… but a full 9-10 before you got full command of a company. Company 2IC was also for a senior captain (7-8 years commissioned service) - most certainly not a step up for a Lt who has only the experience of 12 months as a platoon commander.

    Substitute 'as a Company Offcier in a line organization' for "with a Platoon" and I agree.
    ‘With’? Why not… ‘In command of a platoon’?

    Right now (and during the Viet Nam fracas) we make 'em 1LTs and put them on a Staff.
    In the staff doing what? Folding maps? Sticking pins in maps? Making tea?

    As I noted before, you and I don't differ that much...
    OK, lets go find a couple of hundred bright eyed and bushy tailed youngsters with woodsman’s skills and turn them into ‘steely eyed trained killers’.

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    Default Two comments only...

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    In my year and in the years I was an instructor at the ‘School’ we exercised so regularly and often with these troops that we got to know most by name...
    During (ultra boring) peacetime one imagines there would be plenty of opportunities to exercise with his unit of which he is a platoon commander.
    And to most of the rest; different strokes...
    Korea was 1950-53 so we have not seen a ‘full up’ war for 60 years. Lets stick to the small wars then, shall we?
    To this, OTH -- you can do that if you wish; the US does not have the option of being unprepared for a major war. As has ben said many times, we can afford to lose small wars -- we cannot afford to lose a big one. Hopefully there'll be no more -- but I sure wouldn't bet tghe Farm on it...
    Talking of ‘replacements’ not sure how it worked in Korea and even Vietnam but (if you read Ambrose and Keegan on) the post D-Day period was a real shambles as far as the US forces were concerned. Depending on who the replacements are the ‘trust thing’ works in all directions. Best to withdraw hard hit units to refit and retrain before being once again inserted into the line, yes?
    Yes to all. On the last item, ideally but not always possible...

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