Twenty-five years ago Saigon fell. South Vietnam changed management
pseudo-democratic corruption to full-on communist corruption, and
… finally our nation began the slow healing process from a war that
it to its core.
As an institution, the U.S. Army came out of the war seriously
shell shocked. Its senior leadership was under attack by its own: the
officers who had fought, led and bled in Vietnam.
These officers felt used, and they charged that the brass had blown
by not standing tall and telling the politicians the truth — that the
could not be won because of the way it was fought. Many said the men
led had been betrayed and that their dead brothers had died in vain.
Most vocal among the angry officers were the students at Fort
Kansas, those attending the Army’s Command and General Staff College. A
thousand strong, mainly captains and majors, average age 30, they were
Army’s best and brightest, the future generals, the real studs.
In the early 1970s, at the home of the staff college, there was open
defiance. At conferences, the students — many with two or three combat
tours in Vietnam — verbally attacked senior officers by calling them
“ticket punchers.” They blamed them for not employing the right tactics
strategy and for the insanity of the “body count” that was destroying
honor and the very soul of the Army.
These Young Turks accused the senior Army officers of putting their
individual careers over their duty and their oath to country. The
charged that self-serving careerism had oozed down from the top of the
and was infecting the complete institution. They demanded change.
The Army leadership ordered a blue-ribbon study group composed of its
talented officers to come up with solutions to the problems cited by the
Leavenworth students and also by students at the prestigious Army War
College, who’d said pretty much the same thing, although far more
Headed up by “The Gunfighter,” Gen. Hank Emerson, one of the Army’s
savvy young stars, the study group concluded that the students were
target: The central problem was bad senior leadership.
The Army implemented most of the study’s recommendations, and the
slowly got well.
The proof of the pudding, you ask? Try Desert Storm. The Leavenworth
students back in the ’70s were the Gary Lucks and Barry McCaffreys who
the generals that commanded the corps and the divisions that kicked
butt, cinching a magnificent victory in 100 hours.
Now, long after the Lucks and McCaffreys have retired, 760 students
Leavenworth are again on the warpath. In a survey recently requested by
Army chief of staff, they roasted the senior Army brass for bad conduct,
saying the careerism that brought down the Army in Vietnam is back as
as ever and that they want “a clean sweep of the leadership.” They say
generals are selfish egoists only interested in their next promotion and
denial concerning the Army’s many problems.
Like the ’70s-era dissenters, they’re unsparing of the current crop
generals — whom they’re now on record as not trusting. They’ve accused
brass of being disloyal, lying, micromanaging and “throwing subordinates
under the bus to protect or advance their career.”
The survey underscores that the generals are totally ignoring the
principles they learned as young lieutenants. Nor are they in touch with
folks at the bottom.
“Our senior leaders are incapable of listening because the system has
them how good they are so many times that they really believe they are
kind of special animal. They need to wake up to their shortcomings and
the rest of the Army to contribute.”
For more than five years, many of these officers — and battalions of
soldiers — have given me this same message. I’ve passed it on
eyeball-to-eyeball to more than 60 Army active-duty generals — and to
I hope there’s at least one Gen. Emerson still in the saddle with the
to tell the Army chief of staff — who did have the wisdom to appoint
another study group — that these young heroes have got it as right as
fathers’ generation did.