Dear Gen. Schoomaker,
Maj. Donald E. Vandergriff – who just happens to be one of your officers – is a guy cut from the same bolt of visionary cloth as Billy Mitchell and John Paul Vann.
Remember how in the 1920s Mitchell tried to wake up the brass concerning the importance of air power? And how in the early 1960s Vann predicted that the World War II strategy of “blowing the communists back to the Stone Age” would fail in Vietnam?
We learned with 20-20 hindsight that both Mitchell and Vann were dead right. But because previous Army chiefs turned a deaf ear to their prescient warnings, the troops had to pay too high a price.
Remember when you, as a young Special Forces officer, sounded off with your mates after the botched Iran rescue attempt? For sure, some folks up at the top heard you – just look at your Special Forces today.
Now that Vandergriff’s sounding the alarm that the Army personnel system is broken, Gen. Schoomaker, perhaps it’s payback time, your turn to listen up. The way things stand, it certainly appears that you could save a lot of soldiers serious grief if you meet with Vandergriff and hear him out.
According to the major: “Ticket-punching, rampant careerism and civilian corporate management policies have virtually destroyed a vibrant Army that was once only concerned with people, cohesion, teamwork and winning. Not self.”
“The Army must change,” he says. “We have the finest soldiers in the world and our leaders aren’t corrupt, but times have changed, and war has evolved from static fronts to global terrorism. To ensure we uphold our oath to defend America, the Army must transform itself.”
Since early in the Vietnam War, I’ve repeatedly stated that the Army personnel system is playing a killer game of musical chairs by embracing the Individual Replacement System used in World Wars I and II.
Your antiquated personnel system produces self-serving officers and senior noncoms obsessed with micromanagement and risk-avoidance. And why not? One dent on a fender in today’s Army zeroes out a promising career. Let’s face it: Patton, Ridgway, Gavin, Emerson, Hollingsworth and Hal Moore of “We Were Soldiers” would all have a hard time making major today.
Vandergriff has been sounding off since 1999 about getting a bloated, officer-heavy Army off its centralized butt. In fact, he’s briefed more than 30 of your serving generals, as well as an Army vice chief of staff, the secretary of the Army, students at the Naval War College and a platoon of influential congressional representatives concerning what needs to be done. While training future officers at Georgetown University – where he was named the top ROTC instructor of the year – he also somehow managed to write an important book, “The Path to Victory.”
His ideas sizzle with common sense. They’re so good that a battalion of self-promoting “graybeards” – Vandergriff’s label for the phalanx of retired generals who hang around the Pentagon selling their knowledge to the highest bidders and stuffing their pockets with green – are shamelessly claiming a bunch of his reform ideas as theirs. Even some of the briefings you’ve been presented on how to fix your broken personnel system include complete, uncited paragraphs lifted from his work.
Because his former Army boss at Georgetown provided no support, Maj. Vandergriff did what he felt had to be done all on his own in his spare time. He used vacation days to brief the Pentagon and Congress, and he was so committed that his wife drove him when his foot was in a cast. After all the personal sacrifice, his reward for trying to wake up a sleeping Army: a mediocre efficiency report.
When I was a corporal, my captain promoted his sergeants and my general promoted his lieutenants. Back then, everything was decentralized and based on trust. Soldiers stayed together for years, and we got better – together – with every passing day. No musical chairs. No career tickets to punch. Just hard soldiering that was all about asking not what you could do for your career, but what you could do for your outfit.
So talk to Vandergriff. Then spot-promote him to lieutenant colonel and give him a tank battalion in the hottest zone in Iraq where he can implement his ideas – and get out of his way.