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Old 07-31-2011   #1
Pete
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Default "Standards of Excellence"

One of the things that has bothered me since around 1980 has been this obsession with "standards of excellence" and being "outstanding" all the time. It's not that I don't thing we shouldn't pursue those goals, it's that we're not there yet, in most cases have not been there, but pretending that we are can lead to a kind of dangerous self-deception and an atmosphere in which even to acknowledge that things could be better can come back on you for saying it in the first place.

We all agree that training in the U.S. Army should be better. But to admit that combat skills and overall efficiency could be better within an element under one's own control can be tantamount to confessing to professional dereliction of duty. Thus you better have a solution to the problem, or better yet, not say anything at all about it to any superiors. Just fix it as best you can, even if the solution is half-a**.

Thus these "standards of excellence" and this "outstanding" phenemonena can turn into a self-winding problem within the command atmosphere that leads to deficiencies not being resolved and things being covered up.

I remember around 1980 when U.S. Army Europe put a big emphasis on individual training in battalions while they were in garrison. The problem is the higher HQs sent so many inspectors around with clipboards with evaluation checklists that our NCOs and junior officers got stage fright and were afraid be torn a new one. Thus this conceit about being excellent all the time can prevent you from being even mediocre.

Last edited by Pete; 07-31-2011 at 09:00 PM.
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Old 08-01-2011   #2
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This problem is very similar to other areas of education and assessment. Assessment by nature is tied to measurement. What you measure is usually an output of a process or a defined task. What you value though may be only tangentially tied to that process or task. When you look at "excellence" you add to the problem by now setting an external value to what has been assessed, may only be partially tied to what you value, and often is tied to inappropriate methods of measurement.

Take the word "command". If I ask you to define the word command you will make basic assumptions on what to do. You will likely pick one of a few desired paths:
1) You reach for a doctrinal publication and find the word command and report back on that as the gospel or definitive source.
2) Perhaps you do something similar and "google" or find a dictionary definition of the term.
3) Maybe you express yourself and how you perceive the word and what it means to you.

But, notice I didn't say what I was assessing and provided no rubric for that assessment. For all intents in purposes I could be assessing your thinking strategies and ability to think outside the box. I could be evaluating your adherence to certain traits I obliquely am testing in military matters. Perhaps I could care less about the word command, but I want to assess your ability to express the traits and qualities that a rubric or other method of assessment values.

The superlative of "outstanding" though can have no reasonable metric or value applied to it without having a real principle of measurement to base the resulting valuation. As a result it is meaningless regardless of what it is measuring unless the strategy of evaluation has been determined. This though can lead to the second problem which is measuring everything with no plan or strategy in place for what to do with those measurements. So you send a lot of people around measuring a bunch of things but there is no real standard to meet and no assessment mechanism for that standard. Just a bunch of metrics. Metrics are not measurement. 50 guys in the company are a size 10 boot. So what. To be valid there must be associated data (even if just a normalized curve).

So.. the principle of "outstanding" is less than an outstanding result of lazy leadership. Or, so IMHO it must be.
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Old 08-01-2011   #3
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In an army of incompetents, superlatives is all they have, really.

Take ISAF's ISAF Joint Command (IJC) (How messed up are you when your acronym has an acronym in it?)

Their psyop shop is called the "Information Dominance Center".

Too bad the only thing they "Dominate" is a never ending contest for incompetence, stupidity and bad ideas. They consistently get their butts handed to them, I/O wise, by a bunch of uneducated, functionally illiterates living in caves and mud huts.

Or "Warrior" this, or "Warrior" that. You do realize that if you told a real "Warrior" that his socks or PT footgear were improper and started to chew him out for it, he would cut off your head, rip out your guts and eat your liver, raw, don't you?

I've never met anyone who was truly seeking excellence who EVER self-promoted. Mostly, they were too busy working hard to get better at not sucking to crow about how friggin' "excellent" they were.
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Old 08-01-2011   #4
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I have a nice anecdote from the German air force that might be relevant to the thread and of (humorous) interest.

There were (are?) those exercises in which wings demonstrate their readiness to NATO. Foreign officers come to the base and observe, give grades.

Flight safety cannot be "excellent" if you have no backup radar for your tower.

Well, what do you do if u have no backup radar, never had one?

You 'organise' some obscure radar from the 60's on a trailer, set it up, plug in the cables safely and show it off.

Now what I heard about this backup radar is that it was
a) not working (and didn't for decades)
b) not legal to use because of excessive radiation
c) quite useless for the purpose (even if it worked)
d) the only one in the Luftwaffe, thus shipped to every wing that has its inspection only to be showed off as backup radar at another wing a few weeks later.


All attempts to institutionalize or fashion-ize "excellence" are stupid in my opinion.
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Old 08-01-2011   #5
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Default Climate of Command

My previous message speaks more to the climate of command rather than the evaluation standards for training.

When you load an M60 Machine Gun which side of the belt should be on top, the clean side or the one with all the links showing? What is the immediate action to clear a malfunction or jam?

If you say that many in your unit can't perform those tasks or answer those questions some of your superiors might think you're a dangerous guy to have around. After all, all of us here are "outstanding" and we have "standards of excellence," except for that guy who said his troops don't know how to load a machine gun. Therefore, shoot the messenger.

Without a doubt in Jessica Lynch's Ordnance maintenance battalion where 80 percent of the M16s jammed the field-grade officers and senior NCOs had all received MSMs when they PCSed and the junior officers and NCOs got ARCOMs. It had probably been going on for 10 years.

"We have standards of excellence around here."
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Old 08-01-2011   #6
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Default I'll trade

both 'outstanding' grades and 'excellence' for basic competence any day of the week...
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Old 08-01-2011   #7
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Brass to the grass and close the cover

Wait 5 seconds.... And,

Always assume the M60 is loaded.
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Old 08-02-2011   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete View Post
Without a doubt in Jessica Lynch's Ordnance maintenance battalion where 80 percent of the M16s jammed the field-grade officers and senior NCOs had all received MSMs when they PCSed and the junior officers and NCOs got ARCOMs. It had probably been going on for 10 years.

"We have standards of excellence around here."
Even worse, they got Bronze Stars before their deployment was up.

I've seen Active Duty O-6s relieved for incompetence at the beginning of their tours, being replaced with Reservist O-4s, and then the relived O6 is brought back in for the last month, and is then given a terrific OER, a Bronze Star and put back into the promotion que.
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Old 08-02-2011   #9
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I see little reason to believe that our military will avoid purging all of the warfighters and "warriors" once the two current theaters are closed. The trend toward a garrison mentality seems to be creeping back in already.
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Old 08-03-2011   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bumperplate View Post
I see little reason to believe that our military will avoid purging all of the warfighters and "warriors" once the two current theaters are closed. The trend toward a garrison mentality seems to be creeping back in already.
The garrison mentality never left.

The US Army never even went to war.

Individual soldiers went to war; a very very small minority of units went to war, but the institutional Army never even noticed. They just transplanted themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan, creating one self-licking ice cream cone after another.
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Old 08-03-2011   #11
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You may be right. From what I've seen, all the comments from our senior leaders have been directed at the GWOT for the past decade or so, telling us our force is the most disciplined and most capable in the history of mankind, yada yada yada. Now, all of a sudden we are lacking fitness, discipline, and a professional ethos, or so it seems, based on their most recent comments.

So, perhaps you are right...maybe that garrison mentality was simply put on hold, by those that grew up in garrison and made their way to the top in a garrison environment.
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Old 08-03-2011   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bumperplate View Post
You may be right. From what I've seen, all the comments from our senior leaders have been directed at the GWOT for the past decade or so, telling us our force is the most disciplined and most capable in the history of mankind, yada yada yada. Now, all of a sudden we are lacking fitness, discipline, and a professional ethos, or so it seems, based on their most recent comments.

So, perhaps you are right...maybe that garrison mentality was simply put on hold, by those that grew up in garrison and made their way to the top in a garrison environment.
Same thing happened during the Vietnam era. Vietnam was a distraction or interruption from the "real" business of soldiering.
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Old 08-04-2011   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 120mm View Post
The garrison mentality never left.

The US Army never even went to war.

Individual soldiers went to war; a very very small minority of units went to war, but the institutional Army never even noticed. They just transplanted themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan, creating one self-licking ice cream cone after another.
Know that situation well. Pulled off ops for a week to 'celebrate' the battalions birthday. The troopies were met on return by the real soldiers.

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Old 08-04-2011   #14
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Quote:
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... that garrison mentality...
Remembering back to 1979 I read a book War on the Mind

It had a chapter/section on Garrison Leaders which struck a cord with me to the extent I wrote a piece on it for the Rhodesian Army Quarterly Magazine.

Google Books provides the following snippets:

Quote:
"Good garrison leaders, for example, were found to be aggressive, as were combat leaders, but were also found to do better if they were sticklers for the rule book, athletic, possessed a passion for detail, had a good physical bearing and personal tact. None of these were found to be relevant for an officer to be effective as a leader in wartime."
Quick in and out six month tours also suit these garrison types as they can get the campaign medals with the least effort (and probably in a post with the least risk).
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Old 08-04-2011   #15
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I'm a two-time "go" at the Fires Center of Excellence...based on my performance on both occasions, it should be renamed the Fires Center of Mediocrity.
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Old 08-04-2011   #16
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The question is, do we want to change this? Should we be purging the 'warrior' mindset after a war? Should we go back to a garrison mentality, then transition again when war starts again? What are the consequences of having a lot of combat-hardened veterans in your formation that are good at fighting but not so much at parade field antics?

My opinion is that our military would be better off keeping those fighters in the ranks, and learning how to best deal with that, nurture it, and put things in place to ensure a good transition to civilian life once they leave the military. To me that's better than the alternative which means we will surely fill more body bags than necessary each time we go to war.
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Old 08-04-2011   #17
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It's really a relatively simple issue of forcing a bureaucracy to stay away from pursuing its natural path and interest and forcing it to focus on its mission.

The mechanics and psychology of bureaucracy are quite well-understood, all it takes to force it on a better course than its default autopilot is leadership.

Then again, in war and bureaucracy all simple things are difficult.
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Old 08-04-2011   #18
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Interesting how that leadership thing keeps coming up, or do we not do leadership any longer? Do we just do mission command? Or command & control?

We've dissected this so much I don't know the party line any longer.
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Old 08-05-2011   #19
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It's not mutually exclusive at all, in fact it's reinforcing each other.

Someone (I think he was registered here) once helped me to understand how unusual the famous 1930's Truppenführung (TF) field manual actually was when he pointed out that it's unusual for a field manual to spend 28 pages on a "leadership" chapter (as 2nd chapter, directly behind a quick overview of the macro organisation of the army).

That chapter wasn't about the kind of leadership that I meant, though. It was rather about the tasks and principles of a leader and about techniques of leadership.

I meant that leaders are responsible for steering the ship into the right direction, and must not allow that drifting becomes the primary method of movement.


A bureaucracy builds a self-licking ice cone in which the majority of personnel becomes "excellent" or "outstanding"? That is what I meant with "drifting".
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Old 08-05-2011   #20
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Inserted by Moderator taken from author's request:If I could modify my previous post in this thread I would (so please refer to Post 28 where I clarify what I meant to say.


At the ripe old age of 58 I'm coming to the conclusion that there is a fact I have to acknowledge if I'm ever going to be a mature grown-up. There are two kinds of people in the world, the self-promoting phonies with the big facades who by and large run the major institutions of our world and take most of the credit; and there are those who actually do the work. This "prancers and dancers" versus combat soldier thing has gone on from time immemorial and it always will. U.S. Grant was a notable exception to this rule.

There is only a stray and random chance that most of us will ever be put into a situation where we know exactly what to do and we earn the Medal of Honor or Victoria Cross. Chances are it won't happen. Thus this office politics stuff is what we have to live with.

Many of us are somewhere in-between those two poles of integrity and hard work. You might realize that a colleague is speaking the God's Own Truth about how a superior is a five-star horse's *ss but most of us decide to stay out of the line of fire for the purpose of self-preservation. Thus is comes down to staying in your own lane -- do your job well, keep your honor clean, but be careful about the things for which you would fall on your sword.

Last edited by davidbfpo; 08-06-2011 at 10:32 PM. Reason: Insert added
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