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Week of: July 29, 2001

U.S. Military Must Change Drastically

by F.R. Duplantier

The U.S. military needs fewer "all-knowing generals" and more "self-starting privates."

"It is the officer corps that has the most powerful impact on organizational climate and the culture of the military," declares Air Force Major Carl Rehberg of the Pentagon. "You may have the best weapons money can buy, but they are worthless unless you have people who can use them properly, and military leaders who are worthy of honor and trust," he asserts. "Strength of character is essential when boldness is required. . . . Officers and noncommissioned officers need to be more than cruise directors, trying to keep everyone happy and the ship afloat."

In a chapter he contributed to a new book called Spirit, Blood, and Treasure, Rehberg analyzes how the breakdown of American culture has affected the military. "Never before has there been such a chasm of values between society and what is required of good officers and NCOs," he observes. "The culture recruits come from is antithetical to military character and even simple issues of right and wrong." Rehberg foresees that "the military will continue to spend millions of dollars teaching basic values and ethics that should have been taught at home, school, and church and reinforced in communities."

Rehberg recommends establishing "policies that will reward those of strong and honorable character." He argues that military culture must change so that "truth and responsibility become the impulse, instead of damage control and protecting service or unit images." Rehberg calls for "a more comprehensive educational plan dealing with the concepts of unlawful orders and ethical dissent. Ethical dissent and development of the 'will to dissent' should be a part of all character education and training," he argues. In addition, there must be "systemic changes that reinforce our ethical ideals and senior leadership that have the moral courage to resign for just cause."

In another chapter of the book, former military tactics instructor John Poole charges that "Pentagon procurers have been slow to admit that human beings can outsmart machines. The U.S. military has also relied heavily on the promise of newer technology and the wisdom of higher rank," he adds. "When certain things are overemphasized, other things tend to suffer." Poole suggests that "overemphasis on rank, technology, and long-range warfare may have created a deficiency in individual initiative, small-unit skills, and short-range warfare in general." He worries that such a deficiency might "cause young Americans to suffer unnecessarily in the next war."

According to Poole, "Enemy capabilities change so rapidly that headquarters cannot keep everyone apprised of opposing weapons systems, much less how to defeat them. The enemy's tactical techniques -- the devious ways in which he maneuvers -- often constitute a greater threat than his weapons," he emphasizes. "For an infantry element of any size, overcontrol by its headquarters can pose as big a problem as the enemy." Poole concludes that the U.S. military "must depend less on all-knowing generals and colonels and more on self-starting privates, corporals, and sergeants. They are, after all, the ones who must do the fighting (and dying)."


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