The Army has a new boss, and the word is he’s a good man. Let’s hope so, because Gen. Peter Schoomaker is going to need all the strength he can muster to transform an institution whose top brass have become increasingly incompetent at their trade.
Recalling Schoomaker from the retirement ranks after three years in civvies says it all – that the Army has just about hit rock bottom in the senior-leadership department. Of the dozens of active-duty three- and four-star candidates for the chief-of-staff job, few wanted to step up to the most prestigious and sought-after position in the Army, and those who were willing were unacceptable to the SecDef.
From the middle of the Korean War to now, I’ve watched the Army shift from fighting generals to mainly Perfumed Princes. We lost in Vietnam primarily because management types finally outnumbered warriors, and since then it’s only gotten worse due to the cancerous system that consistently promotes Hollywood-handsome careerists – who in turn pick equally corrupt clones as the next generation of generals.
Although Schoomaker told congressional leaders that he’s going to look hard at force structure, missions and manning levels, he said nothing about the rotten senior leadership in an Army still filled with great soldiers, sergeants and junior officers but sinking fast. Of course, he’s right that he must quickly streamline the Army and whip it into shape to fight the wars of the 21st century. But his No. 1 priority should be to get rid of several tons of loser senior leaders.
Schoomaker did tell the senators: “Leadership is dealing with change. You can’t manage change. You have to lead it.”
Words that give me hope he’ll take a chain saw to the self-serving wood moldering in most top Army jobs, from brigade commander on up.
Except for space limitations, I could give hundreds of examples. But here are four beauts out of Iraq:
- The commanding general whose 32nd Air Defense Brigade Patriot missiles shot down a U.S. and a U.K. jet. Good shooting at the wrong targets. He was also the CG of Jessica Lynch’s 507th Maintenance Company that took the wrong road in the desert and was eaten alive by guerrillas, sustaining more casualties than any other company-size Army unit in the war. The 507th wasn’t well-trained in convoy procedures, self-defense or basic soldier skills like weapons care or use.
- The CG, 4th Infantry Division, who lives with his staff in an air-conditioned palace with running water. Many of his grunts live in boiling-hot tents without water or fans, getting the short end of the stick on chow, drinking water and even mail. When Vice President Dick Cheney’s old outfit, Halliburton, built air-conditioned sleeping containers complete with built-in latrines for the troops, the CG put out the word that the literally cool pads were on the way. The troopers couldn’t wait. I’m still hearing about how those containers were then diverted to Division Headquarters – to be used as offices for the CG’s staff.
- The CG, 3rd Division – the unit that led the magnificent record-breaking attack into Iraq and grabbed Baghdad almost before Saddam realized it was there – who allowed the Pentagon to rotate certain brigade and battalion commanding officers home almost as soon as Iraq was seized while their troops continued to rot in the desert. Shades of Vietnam: Musical chairs for the brass while the troopers stay stuck in the sand.
- The commanding officer, 3rd Brigade, 101st Division, who was more worried about dental readiness and Association of the United States Army membership than training for Iraq. In Iraq, according to witnesses, he struck a sergeant at a checkpoint and then applied heavy pressure to make the crime go away. He wouldn’t allow other sergeants to go back to the States to retire until they joined AUSA. He also ordered soldiers to move unstable, unexploded ordnance, and when his soldiers complained, the colonel allegedly killed the investigation by manipulating a key witness.
My prescription for this sort of sickness is a good old-fashioned purge followed up with consistent, two-fisted, hands-on leadership from a new chief who never forgets that consistently good leadership from the top on down is the only sure-cure protocol for an ailing Army.