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Improving the Army’s officer corps
Posted by: McQ on Saturday, March 17, 2007

A fascinating discussion of officer promotions in the Army over at the Weekly Standard blog which speaks to a particular problem the Army suffers.

It is fascinating to me because I've personally seen exactly what those commenting on it (Kagan, Tanji, Koehl) are talking about. Anyone who has served during war and peace know there are two systems of promotion in the Army (I can't speak for the other services). And those two systems are driven by the state in which the country is in at the time.

A personal example reflected by Kagen's point:
I've seen a lot of highly qualified Captains get passed over and forced out while functional retards (and that's not hyperbole) got the call.
When the Army was winding down from Vietnam, I was in the Infantry Officer Advanced Course at Ft. Benning. I'll never forget the commandant telling us how we were the future of the Army and hand selected to get further education which, of course, was vital to our careers. Then half way through the course, they riffed (reduction in force) half the class. While I realized at the time that the transition from war to peace was underway, I didn't realize there was also a transition underway from wartime "system" of selection to the peacetime "system". In my relative naivety of the time, I didn't understand that in reality there actually were two different systems.

Additionally - and not at all exciting to us involved at the time - for the first time the Army riffed officers with 'regular army' commissions. To understand the significance, that had never, ever been done before. An RA commission was almost a guarantee of a career in the Army (at least 20 years) at the time and were highly coveted. In a variation of the "dead girl, live boy" saying, you really had to screw up to be booted out before at least your 20th year. The Army, then, was very selective as to whom they awarded these commissions. Given that, you can imagine the impact of the Army effectively going back on its word to RA officers had on their morale. RA officers were considered the professional core of the active army. West Point grads receive RA commissions (as do ROTC DMGs of which I was one). Involuntarily terminating their service contracts was quite a blow at the time.

As it turned out, one of my best friends, a West Point grad and RA officer, got the axe. His mistake? He'd become an aviator and the Army was cutting that force drastically (only to then cut to far and end up trying to get some of these guys back). Since he'd flown helicopters instead of commanding a company (an important 'check mark'), he was let go. In all other ways he was an outstanding officer. But, in that period of transition, missing that command check mark was a bad thing in the new peacetime Army.

However, the one that got to me the most was a CPT, whose name I no longer recall, who was probably the most impressive officer I'd ever met at that grade. He'd been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (right under to the Medal of Honor) as an infantry company commander in Vietnam. What more could you ask, eh? Combat experience, successful company command of an infantry company in combat, 2nd highest award for valor in combat, etc., etc.

He had a command presence, was smart as a whip and was one of the class leaders (academically as well as otherwise). He had only two problems. First, he was an OCS grad (having come from the NCO ranks) meaning he had a reserve commission. Second, he didn't yet have a college degree.

Everyone in that class thought they were looking at a future general. The Army riffed him.

However the Army kept the goat of our class (no, it wasn't me, so there), the guy bringing up the rear who seemed to be clueless and really didn't care one way or the other if he stayed (he was getting out at the end of his obligation anyway). He'd never yet had command of anything (I'd at least commanded a company by then) and frankly was the least impressive officer I'd ever seen. Even he questioned why he was not riffed and this other guy was. There was no rhyme or reason anyone could come up with why he was retained and the DSC awardee was cut. Now it appears that different skill sets were being sought out to be retained while others were no longer as necessary as they were previously while Vietnam was raging.

The "system", however, is exactly as Koehl describes it:
In peacetime, the Army tends to promote not on merit but on a combination of "rounded career profile" and "zero defects". The result is a lot of mediocrity promoted beyond its competence, which is why, at the beginning of every war, the Army has to clean house and relieve incompetent, timid or just plain unlucky commanders. In wartime, only effectiveness counts, so the guys who climb the pole are the ones who can produce—whether in combat or in supporting roles. The ironic thing is these officers frequently are the ones passed over in peacetime, since their particular skill sets are not valued when bullets aren't flying.
And, unfortunately, the cycle starts over after each war. When Iraq eventually ends, watch what happens if you're in a position to monitor such things.

I'm much more in tune with at least one aspect of Kagen's suggestion:
If someone is a good Captain or Major, why force the Peter Principle upon them? Some people don't aspire to command a brigade and some couldn't do it no matter how much training and time you gave them. In an Army where small-unit-tactics are becoming ascendant, "Best g-d company commander in the army" is a title a lot of guys who cherish more than "Colonel."
If we did indeed invest in career CPTs who are unparalleled in command at that level or career MAJs who are the best damned staff officers around (although they couldn't command a one-man parade), I think we'd find ourselves with a better Army with an institutional knowledge and professionalism which would translate into not having to relearn certain lessons each time we transition from peace to war.

My guess is, however, we'll continue with the same flawed system we have now and have had for quite sometime. Pity. Although I'm a great admirer of my fellow officers in the Army, there is certainly room for improving the system to where the "functional retards", as Kagen characterizes them, are left behind and those deserving promotion because they have the 'skill sets' we'll need in combat, get to the fore.

That means much less emphasis on 'check marks' and much more emphasis on putting officers in assignments and situations where those possessing the combat skill sets we need in time of war are identified, groomed and promoted in a timely manner. That would go a long way toward improving what I consider to be a very good institution now.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

The “Peter Principal” has been the problem of many armies. When war starts, those in command are ready to fight the “last” war. Overtime these commanders are replaced with those who have understood the changes ,or the nation winds up like France in World War Two. Business has the same problem, but they can go bankrupt, an army can’t.

I like the idea of specialization, “the best company commander”, “the best staff officer”, however I wonder what system design would allow this while also allowing for career advancement. I doubt many would prefer to remain a “Captain” or “Major” for the rest of their service.
Written By: James E. Fish
URL: http://
I can’t remember where I read it but once upon a time I read something close to the following;

’It is entirely counter-productive when in the officer corps the inability to make a decision is not only not a punishable offense, but it is in fact rewardable. In our current zero-defect administration the cost of being a forward thinker and making a mistake is more damning than simply not making a decision in the first place. Forward thinkers who make mistakes are punished while those that refuse to make a decision are rewarded.’
Written By: civdiv
URL: http://
’It is entirely counter-productive when in the officer corps the inability to make a decision is not only not a punishable offense, but it is in fact rewardable. In our current zero-defect administration the cost of being a forward thinker and making a mistake is more damning than simply not making a decision in the first place. Forward thinkers who make mistakes are punished while those that refuse to make a decision are rewarded.’
The atmosphere in the Army changes dramatically from war to peace. Put into those two different atmospheres two basic officer types - the overly cautious officer more interested in the "check marks" and politics than the mission of the Army (and his or her specific part in it) and the aggressive officer who pushes the envelope, understands his job is to have the best prepared unit in his specialty and who does all he can (and puts all he has) into doing that.

Guess which one thrives in peacetime. Guess who comes to the fore in war. The problem is we have a tendency, especially among the young officers, to run off those in the later category during peace time. And that is precisely because career caution is the watch-word and ’zero defects’ (but all the proper check marks) is the standard. Those who take risks and chances and sometimes fail are pushed out. Yet it is usually those types who are the successful commanders during wartime.

It’s a culture and I’m not sure how to break it. The only good news is war does it for us and thus we again see the right guys and gals rise to the top. I’d love to see us find a way to break that peacetime culture and reward those who do have the combat skill sets so needed during war and quit worrying about "zero defects".

James Fish:
I like the idea of specialization, “the best company commander”, “the best staff officer”, however I wonder what system design would allow this while also allowing for career advancement. I doubt many would prefer to remain a “Captain” or “Major” for the rest of their service.
Possibly. Possibly not. But then they serve for the good of the service, so if faced with the choice of remaining a CPT or MAJ for their service or being forced "up or out" as it stands now, any guess which most would choose?

Of course one way to provide an incentive to consider such a position might be to pay a command bonus to company commanders or have a staff officer career path. A staff is a staff is a staff and a good staff officer can serve on different staffs at different levels. But some folks just aren’t commanders and we ought to quit trying to fit square pegs into round holes. But the fact that they’re not good as commanders doesn’t at all mean they wouldn’t be top notch in operations or logistics or whatever. And there are many fantastic commanders who suck as staff officers. Just not their cup of tea.

Instead of the "one size fits all" mentality that now pervades the Army as it pertains to assignments (i.e. you should be able to do all assignments equally well), why not a command track and a staff track in each MOS? A trained infantry officer, even if he’s never going to command a battalion, can be invaluable on infantry staffs because he knows the specialty and can apply it to plans, intelligence functions, orders and logistics. Why force him out because he didn’t or won’t ever command a battalion?
Written By: McQ
Of course one way to provide an incentive to consider such a position might be to pay a command bonus to company commanders or have a staff officer career path
That would certainly solve the problem. If industry can have different career paths, I see no reason the military can not do likewise. It would solve the problem.
Written By: James E. Fish
URL: http://
In my time in I noticed a trend. Despite the Army’s stated preference for West Point Grads, I was never particularly impressed with those officers. Far and away the most squared away ones who were able to lead effectively -without- getting bogged down in the "zero defects" mindset were the ex-enlisted who’d gone Green-To-Gold or OCS after making E-4 or E-5. I’m not going to suggest that it -always- produces a better officer, but I know that the best officer I ever knew (time as a CO at 2nd Ranger Bat at Fort Lewis, etc, etc) went to Texas A&M ROTC to get his commission after making it to E-4 on his first tour, and the -worst- officer I ever knew was our last platoon leader (and the one we went to Iraq with). I could tell a million stories about the guy (his running on the danger side of a live fire convoy range in Kuwait, panicking about soldiers smoking near tanks of nitrogen, placing 1/2 inch plywood inside the doors of our unarmored humvee doors for "protection" even after we explained that not only would that not stop a bullet but that it would create additional shrapnel, albeit shrapnel with little to no chance of penetrating body armor) but the most salient point is his credentials...he was a VMI grad.

Written By: Lysenko
URL: http://
I agree with a lot of the article, having seen similar instances in my 27 year Army career. The "one time only" RA RIF in the early 1970s mentioned above was followed by another a few years later.

I was stationed at Edwards AFB in the late 70s and it seems to me that the USAF had a program where, rather than automatically forcing out all CPTs who were twice non-select to MAJ, they gave some of them tenure until 20 years, allowing them to stay in and contribute rather than up-or-out. Don’t know how well the program eventually worked for the USAF but it seems an interesting option.
Written By: RM
URL: http://
Far and away the most squared away ones who were able to lead effectively -without- getting bogged down in the "zero defects" mindset were the ex-enlisted who’d gone Green-To-Gold or OCS after making E-4 or E-5.
There is no question, at least in my mind and based on my experience, that for the most part, the best company grade officers in the Army were usually prior service enlisted who either went the OCS route or got out and went the ROTC route. There is no substitute at that level for experience.

All of that begins to change, though when you get to the field grade level and at that point, it’s sort of a toss up. The experience gap has been mostly closed and all are entering into areas and levels of responsibility that they’ve not experienced before.
... but the most salient point is his credentials...he was a VMI grad.
When I was with the 82nd I was a Bn. S-1 for a while (senior LT, too senior for a platoon and not senior enough for a company). The 4 companies were commanded by CPTs from different methods of commissioning. 2 were OCS, 1 was ROTC (RA) and 1 was West Point. By far the worst of the bunch was the WP grad. But it was more his personality than the institution, believe me. He was just a paranoid type and that drove him to do stupid stuff. I’ve had WP company and battalion commanders who were top notch.

The platoon leader positions in the bn were mostly filled with WP grads and on the whole (the 82nd is a choice assignment for WP infantry officers) they were outstanding. But the most outstanding LT (in just about everyone’s opinion) in the BN was an ROTC grad. It just varies. Some get it, some don’t. Some pick it up quickly, some never do. Sounds like your VMI grad was in the latter category.
Written By: McQ
The "one time only" RA RIF in the early 1970s mentioned above was followed by another a few years later.
I remember. On a humorous note, when my friend got his notice, he knocked his West Point ring on the desk and said into it "DA, DA, this is yyyyy". He sat there for a minute in silence acting like he was listening and then said "h*ll, they’ve already turned the d*mn thing off". I guess you had to be there but we laughed our tail ends off. For him, I guess, it was either that or, well ... we laughed.
Written By: McQ
For a time there was hope. In 1997, Service Academy grads no longer received an RA commission, but instead graduated with a six-year Reserve commission. After that, thier records would be evaluated side by side with OCS and ROTC officers competing for the Active Commissions. Unfortunately, in 2004(hmm?) Congress decided to restore the practice of giving Active commissions to all Academy graduates. Not only that, but they made it retroactive (phased in) for all officers still on active duty. So this year there are officers whose performance at six years did not justify an active commission, but will now receive one because they went to West Point ten years ago.
Congress’ ’wartime’ response to the Service Academies’ Alumni Associations eliminated the solution to the ’peacetime’ problem just at the time that solution could be used best and evaluated.

I feel there are a decent number of Officers that would choose to remain a Major (maybe Captain) to do jobs they were comfortable in, if nothing else to avoid they Pentagon (well, some commanders want to do that too). But we would need the two-track system McQ proposed in order to avoid a log-jam for the good commanders coming from below.
Written By: Ted
URL: http://
Having never been a soldier, I must say that OCS is probably a decent source of officers. All my friends break things and kill people, for money, I might add. And one thing OCS grad’s have less of is "Culture Shock" at meeting the troops for the 1st time. They’ve been one. A lot of my friends say that Service Academy grads have problems transitioning because for 4 years they’ve been with motivated folks who want to be in that service, and when you get to your unit, you meet a folks who wanted a job...wanted to see the world...had a wife and didn’t have any short the REAL service! I can see why that might be shock to those grads. OCS grads have been in the unit formation and know the sort of folks that make up line units, of any stripe or service. Please, that’s not a knock on any service or unit, it just means that not everyone in a service is all that gung-ho, some are and some aren’t.

McQ I would say that one of the reasons for the Up or Out is past now, the idea that we needed "Generalist" Officers because when the Next War in Europe broke out an officer might go, rapidly, from Co. Commander to Battalion Commander and the Army wanted folks that could a lot of things, OK, because they weren’t sure what sort of holes they’d have to fill with sort of pegs in the next Big One.

Still whilst not everyone wants to be a Brigade Commander, we can’t ahve a static officer corps, either. People can’t stay Capt.’s or Majors for years, they get old, they fill up slots younger officers ought to fill. War, at the battalion and Brigade is a young man’s business. Old majors and captains won’t work. The USMC found that many of its "Old Marine" NCO’s failed at Guadalcanal, to include Lou Diamond I might add. They were just too old for the 24-7 combat strain of the campaign, uncertainty, fatigue, poor nutrition and the like "zeroed them out." The Air Force found that troops over 30 couldn’t handle the fatigue that aerial combat imposed, even in bomber crews.

So if you don’t want to be a brigade commander we can’t really let you hang around for years, though. You can’t stay company commanders, what do we do with the folks that want to stay O-4’s? I say you have to let them go? How many Majors and LTC’s do we need to accumulate?
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
with selection rates as high as 90% for full bird, the army can hardly be selective in passing over officers now.
Written By: Major Scarlet
Inside The Pentagon
by Elaine M. Grossman
March 15, 2007

[Reprinted by permission of Inside Washington Publishers. This article may not be reproduced or redistributed, in part or in whole, without express permission of the publisher. Copyright 2004, Inside Washington Publishers. For more information and exclusive news, go to: Every Tuesday and Thursday, visit the INSIDER,, free from Inside Washington Publishers.]


Retired Army Major Don Vandergriff is helping spearhead an effort to make the service’s next generation of officers more “adaptive,” an attribute Army leaders find increasingly valuable as the United States faces a diverse and complex array of adversaries abroad. Defense and international affairs experts anticipate more of the same in the years to come, as the nation continues fighting nontraditional opponents in the global war on terror.

Vandergriff’s 132-page book on a new approach to leadership development, Raising the Bar: Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War, was published late last year by the Center for Defense Information in Washington. In it, the former officer explains his concept for introducing cadets and newly commissioned lieutenants to the decision-making skills they will need to lead soldiers in challenging environments.

The author, who retired from the service in 2005, currently works for SYColeman under a contract with the Training and Doctrine Command’s Army Capabilities Integration Center. Under those auspices, his “Adaptive Leader Course” is being integrated into two- to four-year ROTC programs and into “phase II” of the Basic Officer Leader Course at battalions based at Ft. Benning, GA, and Ft. Sill, OK.

The so-called “BOLC II” course is a six-week experience following pre-commissioning via ROTC, the U.S. Military Academy or Officer Candidate School (termed BOLC I). After the BOLC II phase, newly commissioned Army personnel attend the Officer Basic Course (or BOLC III), where they develop mission specialties.

Over the next several weeks, Vandergriff is touring a number of sites where aspects of the Adaptive Leader Course are being put into practice. He says the trips will allow him a renewed opportunity to offer his observations to hundreds of instructors and students and to seek their feedback on the new approach. Instructors may include sergeants, captains or majors.

Named 2002-2003 ROTC instructor of the year while teaching at Georgetown University, Vandergriff was interviewed March 9 by Inside the Pentagon. His views do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Army or its contractor. – Elaine M. Grossman

ITP: What is your job and how long have you been doing it?

Vandergriff: I was hired in the spring of 2005 by [then-Training and Doctrine Command chief] Gen. Kevin Byrnes, through SYColeman, to be a leadership-development and soldier analyst.

I was hired to bring adaptability into pre-commissioning instruction and into the Basic Officer Leader Course for lieutenants.

I got the job based on a self-initiated study I did called “Raising the Bar” in 2004 and 2005. A lot of people at [Training and Doctrine Command] read it. And that led to the book.

ITP: You’ve focused on one idea – adaptability – in training future Army leaders. Why adaptability?

Vandergriff: Adaptability is really the long-term ability of an organization or people to change in response to the changing conditions of warfare.

It’s necessary for the leader because the entire climate that the military – particularly the Army – is operating in is constantly evolving.

We have to be adaptive and able to take in new lessons learned and integrate them into the system. A leader needs to constantly evolve, learn [and] grow by applying those lessons to new challenges.

ITP: Who among cadets and lieutenants has gone through adaptability training so far?

Vandergriff: Almost all second lieutenants, minus some medical people, go through the Basic Officer Leader Course, which is a six-week course that gives them more development focused on leadership, particularly decision-making.

Each company – there are four companies in the two battalions – puts through 190 to 210 lieutenants. The effort integrates a lot of the concepts that have been developed not only by myself, but also by some other people, to introduce adaptability to these lieutenants through experiential learning and through [a] rapid decision-making process.

If you’re going to change a culture, it’s my opinion that it must be a generational change. And that begins with the young people who are introduced to this.

All combat arms, combat support and service support lieutenants go through this BOLC II course, regardless of commissioning source.

ITP: Why aren’t Army officers and cadets, whom many describe as the best trained in the world, already adaptive?

Vandergriff: A lot of them have been forced to be adaptive by circumstances. But the question I have is: How many have not?

The leader development system we used in the Army [in the past] was established in the Industrial Age. It is very top-down, centralized and it’s based on process. That way, there’s a fixed lesson plan and a fixed language across the board, so everyone in the institution understands. And at one time, there was a place for that: In World War II, when you were trying to build a mass Army overnight and then ship it overseas.

But in today’s environment, where everyone can become a “strategic lieutenant,” you’ve got to be tougher in your selection or accession process. And young officers must learn more attributes and skills earlier than in the past in order to be successful in the operating environments [of] today and in the future.

The Army is doing a good job at recruiting good people. Now the Army is also developing a system that challenges them, nurtures them, and allows them to have the authority and the responsibility required to succeed at their missions.

The Army [is making itself] a “learning organization,” allowing officers to make mistakes – good, honest mistakes that they can explain – but also [permitting them] to grow and learn.

ITP: You mentioned the idea of a “strategic lieutenant.” How do you define that?

Vandergriff: There’s a phenomenon called the “CNN effect.” What that means is the decisions these people make, say, on the streets of Baghdad or in Afghanistan, or wherever they’re going to be, could impact the operational or strategic levels of war. If they make a mistake in mishandling a crowd or lose a lot of their people … every casualty is highlighted, so these people have to be really good [in missions] from warfighting to rebuilding.

So these people have more of an impact than they ever have had before.

The adaptive leader course model puts them in a setting where they understand the context two to three levels above them. And the reason you do that is so they understand their role and that of their unit in the context of that environment, how they operate and how they fit in the larger picture.

ITP: Our occasional “10 Questions” series relates to the global war on terror. So can you describe why adaptive leaders – and this course – are necessary in terms of preparing the Army and the nation for fighting terrorism around the world?

Vandergriff: Well, the global war on terror is actually what we call “4th generation warfare.” That’s not an Army term, but the Army would call it “asymmetric warfare.”

As the complexity of war evolves, it pushes the impact of decisions to lower and lower levels, where it’s going to require strong leaders at lower levels – I hate that word “lower.” But at that tactical level, for example, where … war is emerging more and more, the impact of their decisions is going to have more of an impact. And the responsibilities that they have … are going to require them to be good at using scarcer resources.

And the enemies that we are fighting – non-state groups like al Qaeda, drug traffickers [and] other religious fanatical groups – these groups have no loyalty to any state organization. They have the availability of off-the-shelf technology. And they are decentralizing so they can operate more rapidly at lower levels without a lot of guidance.

And this makes … our flexibility as a military more important. If we can empower people at the lowest ranks to execute missions – that were once taking a lot of approval from a hierarchical chain of command and with a lot of planning – and if they can execute these missions faster, we can stay abreast of the enemy decision cycle. So that’s why it’s important for us to move to this type of educational development.

I like to use the term ‘leader development’ because it encompasses education, which is something different than training. Training reinforces set drills and standard operating procedures and skills that you’ve talked about in the classroom.

But in the Adaptive Leader Course, education is not limited to the classroom. As a matter of fact, there’s very little lecturing. It’s experiential learning. They’re thrown into situations where, in the past, traditionalists would say, “Oh, they’ve not learned the basics.” Well, we are throwing them into a situation where lieutenants at BOLC II and cadets are doing platoon-size missions [and] they’re allowed to learn from them. They’re allowed to experiment while the [instructor] cadre facilitate or coach their decisions.

Teachers of adaptability are the main centerpiece of the Adaptive Leader Course, and they facilitate instead of lecture. And they mentor and set up the environment where the lieutenants or the cadets are forced to seek the answer and find it for themselves, without getting the answer provided to them.

So all of that builds character and adaptability when they’re in that environment. I like to call it a ‘fail-safe’ environment where they’re allowed to fail before they actually have to go out and do it in the real world. So that’s why it’s important for these people to – for example – do platoon-level missions before they actually go to an operational unit and have to lead a platoon.

ITP: U.S. Joint Forces Command and others have developed a so-called “effects-based approach to operations” where virtually any action down to the tactical level can be related to strategic-level objectives. Do you see a relation between training for adaptability and an effects-based approach?

Vandergriff: When action at the tactical level impacts everything else, that’s what I’m talking about – merging the levels of war.

In the past, a lieutenant in the Officer Basic Course learned somewhat about platoon operations. Instead, now you’re throwing these people into Adaptive Leader Courses and exposing them to three levels above them so they can start knowing how they operate in that context.

You’re not trying to make them experts in battalion operations, per se, or company operations. But they’re becoming more familiar with how they operate within those environments. And it’s good for them to be introduced to strategy and operational art, as well.

It makes them more flexible and they learn how they’re going to impact those larger arenas.

ITP: The Army is facing huge manpower strains lately as it’s been deeply involved in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is this the best time to look inward and focus on leadership training inside the Army?

Vandergriff: When is … going to be a good time to do that?

When you look at the world and how it’s evolving, with state and non-state opponents everywhere, resource constraints, overpopulation, natural disasters, there’s no time that’s going to be a good time. There’s no thing such as peace.

The instructor cadre at both the Ft. Benning and Ft. Sill BOLC II courses have started developing their own scenarios that are related to what the Army is learning now in combat. And it’s a nonstop process; they’re always updating from lessons learned.

And that gets the curriculum writers and developers upset, because people love order. They want set lesson plans that never change, such that anybody can walk in and turn on the PowerPoint presentation and teach it. Well, this is not that type of course at all.

If you want to promote long-term learning, it’s not by rote memorization … It’s through varying the conditions, introducing complex scenarios, and allowing people to find the answers for themselves in an environment where they can go find it, with some facilitation from instructors.

ITP: At the same time as the Army is supporting your work in developing more adaptive leaders, there is a parallel trend toward substituting unmanned systems and electronics, in some cases, for humans. How do you relate those two trends?

Vandergriff: An adaptive leader knows how to use the technology at hand to solve problems.

Remember “Felix the Cat,” the cartoon character who had the bag of tricks? When he had a certain problem he had to deal with, he used to open the bag and come up with the tools he needed to solve the problem.

Well, it’s the same way in developing leaders. An adaptive leader figures out how technology can enhance the ability to solve complex problems. The way we develop leaders and soldiers evolves as technology evolves.

ITP: Your work is heavily influenced by the late Air Force Col. John Boyd, a military strategist, and retired defense maverick Franklin “Chuck” Spinney. How have those two individuals affected or inspired you in developing the Adaptive Leader Course?

Vandergriff: First, I’d like to note that my current supervisors in both the Army and SYColeman have been very supportive of my work.

But I acknowledged Boyd first in Raising the Bar because of his heavy influence on me. The biggest influence on me was his strength of character. And the fact that he took on a system that was obsessed with technology, impacted by big corporate influence on weapons. And he believed in very competent, professional people.

So what I did in my second book, Path to Victory, about the personnel system, was ask: If John Boyd could design a personnel system, what would it be? How does it develop strength of character? How does it develop people who are going to do the right thing, even when they’re not being seen? True professionals who focus on their professions and not their careers?

The other thing I’m fascinated by is [Boyd’s concept of an] OODA Loop, the observe-orient-decide-act cycle, and how to develop leaders to use the OODA loop not only to … think faster than your enemy but also think better than your enemy.

Chuck is my mentor. Chuck Spinney has been a big influence on me in a lot of ways: On keeping on target, keeping in my lane, and when I was frustrated or down, to stay with it. So he’s the biggest influence outside Boyd.

Boyd is the person I never met. Chuck is the mentor from 1997 through today, whenever he comes back from his sailing trips in the Mediterranean. He’s the one that says, “You can’t change everything. Do what you can. But you’re focused on the right area, which is the next generation. So keep up your work.”


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Written By: Donald E Vandergriff
URL: http://
with selection rates as high as 90% for full bird, the army can hardly be selective in passing over officers now.
Got any proof of that assertion?
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
Mark I don’t have EXACT figures but the NYT/WaPo ran an article on the "broken Army" that said the Army is promoting TOO MANY OFFICERS! Almost anyone can get a promotion these days, becasue the Army is SO over-stretched...

It STILL takes an Act of Congress, literally, to make a General, but the Army is promoting a lot of folks into O-3 and above, far more so than peacetime numbers.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
In 1971 my superiors were trying to push me into going to OCS (I was an E-5 SF M-21 Operator with MACV), but I was anticipating the upcoming RIF and, as a 20 year old without a college degree and with a background in SF I knew it would only be a couple of years before I’d be a sergeant again. And, if I remember correctly, I’d loose my "time in grade" and have to start over as a brand new Buck Sergeant after spending a couple of years as an officer. My colonel got me an AG appointment to the Point but I flunked the medical for osteoarthritis in both knees (which didn’t affect my jump status until a major injury in 1978).
Just an example of how the criteria for RIF selection influences decisions.
Written By: RRRoark

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