Thanks to all who read the post on the Army’s Officer Retention Board and the way the ongoing Reduction In Force is being used to shape a New Model Army (sorry, Ollie) of knob-polishing yes-men (and -women, and -people-of-no-fixed-gender-identity. “Progress” is… interesting, and it’s a damned good time to be retired).
We thought we’d follow up with links to a couple stories of individuals whose careers were terminated by the same Poison Pill — long past alcohol-related incidents. One is a combat-decorated (Purple Heart) Army officer sacked by this exact ORB. The other, illustrating that this is not an Army or officer corps problem alone, is a Marine NCO with the Silver Star Medal, which is awarded for “gallantry in action, while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States.”
We have expressed concern that this ongoing, all-services RIF would, if badly managed, have results like the disastrous post-Vietnam RIF. More and more that is looking like a best case scenario. Post Vietnam, there were still places off the books for the warriors to hide (one of those was Special Forces). Nowadays those bolt-holes have also been brought under the purview of the personnel mismanagers. While the Army officer below is a case where there’s a colorable argument on both sides, the Marine NCO case is the sort of “own goal” we see more and more.
An Army Officer Tells His Tale
The first, a former Army officer’s letter published by the genially anti-military reporter Tom Ricks, tells the human story of one of these “rejects.”
I was selected for the recently convened Officer Separation Boards for the Department of the Army for a mistake over eight years ago. The mistake was a DUI in which I received a General Officer Memorandum for Record in 2006. Since this incident, I strived for excellence in every job that I performed.
I trained soldiers for deployments to Iraq as part of the surge into theater from 2006-2008. From 2008-2011, I attended and completed Ranger School, Air Assault School and earned the Expert Infantryman Badge. I commanded troops in combat in Afghanistan where I earned the Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal for Valor, and the Purple Heart for actions against a determined enemy in RC East. After the deployment, I was selected as the executive officer for the deputy commander for the Combined Arms Center of Training at Fort Leavenworth serving in the capacity as the daily assistant for a general officer. The following year I was selected among a field of majors to attend the Commanding General and Staff Officer College at Fort Leavenworth, as well as the school of advanced military studies. Both prestigious institutes serve as the educational nexus for field-grade officers. Upon graduating from SAMS in May 2014, I was notified that I would not receive an assignment due to being assessed as high risk the GOMAR in my restricted file.
The officer in question, Major Charles V. Slider, was ejected from the Army this summer.
Slider also notes:
[M]y interpretation of this entire process is that it involved no critical thinking…. the board process chose individuals for elimination that met all of the requirements, but possessed one black mark. …. This created a system in which officers were selected based on a mistake rather than their overall contribution to the Army. One lapse in judgment does not constitute a pattern of misconduct, nor a judgment of overall character.
I believe that we should be judged on our body of work, not one isolated incident.
Usually Ricks is not worth reading, but in this case he just stepped back and gave his pen to Maj. Slider. Slider is clearly very upset (enough that it’s affected his grammar). Do Read The Whole Thing™. Read the comments too, most of which tend to be along the lines of: “F him, he got a DUI, *I* never did that because I maintain laser focus on my career 24/7.” (That cheeser must be a real delight to serve under). One unwritten subtext to the moralizing is that Army officers are disproportionately members of certain abstemious sects and religions, some of which encourage them to attempt, by fair means or foul, to make their religion your religion too. It’s not the enormous problem that militant atheist Mikey Weinstein (who would like to make his lack of religion your religion, too) makes it out to be, but it’s there.
One commenter also noted that black officers (like Slider, did we mention that about him? Probably not) were more likely to be binned by OSBs than whites, and one of the organization-defenders demanded data. It’s actually in the slides: “too much” melanin doubles your chances of being bilged. This is probably, given the crude and mechanistic way the OSB was just a purging of men with a black mark, just because minority officers are more likely to have one of the Four Poison Pills. (As did Slider: the GOMOR).
An Enlisted Marine’s Experience with a Poison Pill
While dismissing Slider can be defended on several grounds, the next case seems to be the Marine Corps, which is mistakenly thought to be a smarter institution than the Army, actively rejecting an NCO who is a model to his subordinates (and to those of his superiors who are alert).
As a rule of thumb, things that are career killers in the white-glove world of the officer corps have been less so in the enlisted world: second chances are real there, and a guy can soldier his way out of a junior screwup. But just in the way that pointless, ticket-punch and content-light “schools” have seeped down into the NCO corps, the “zero defects” system of personnel-management has done so as well. Consider Frank:
Frank… selflessly exposed himself to blistering enemy fire to search for targets with his MK 11 sniper rifle in order to alleviate pressure on the Marines in the kill zone. Frank was able to positively identify an enemy fire team moving through the trench to flank the Marines in the kill zone with three RPGs, an RPK and a PK machine gun. With no regard for his personal safety, Frank ignored the fire being directed at his position, controlled his breathing, relaxed, and began engaging targets.
Frank destroyed two RPG gunners with rounds to the head and another with a round to the sternum. In return, an enemy machine gunner targeted him with long barrages of machine gun fire that impacted within a foot of his position. Frank made corrections for wind and distance and killed him with a single round to the torso. At this point the RPK gunner attempted to break contact but Frank was able to strike him down with a round from his MK 11 before he reached cover, killing him with his second round.
Still under intense enemy small arms and machine gun fire, Frank observed enemy fighters reinforcing the trench line from compounds to the north, targeting his fellow Marines who were pinned down in the trench to his east. He engaged fourteen enemy combatants with fourteen rounds, wounding two, mortally wounding another eight and killing four outright.
Frank repeatedly exposed himself to heavy enemy fire with no regard for his personal well-being during a decisive point in the battle to effectively neutralize and destroy twenty one enemy combatants. He continued to engage and destroy enemy targets as our platoon surged forward in a vicious counter attack that drove the Taliban from the battlefield after inflicting over a hundred casualties on the enemy. He was later awarded the Silver Star for the exceptional heroism he displayed in this battle.
What a great story right? Here is the punch line. While most of you are probably wondering when this exceptional Marine will become Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, you may be surprised to find out that he is being forced out of uniform. Frank has reached service limitations because he has been on active duty over ten years and the Marine Corps will not promote Frank to Staff Sergeant. Does that make any sense to anyone else? I certainly can’t make any sense of it. I forgot to mention a small detail. Frank used to have a bit of a drinking problem.
Frank racked up two alcohol incidents, was reduced from Sergeant to Corporal, and went to rehab and dried out — six years ago. Been dry ever since, got his Sergeant stripes back, but in today’s zero-defects USMC the man who fought in that engagement described above — and that’s far from his only one, you must Read The Whole Thing™ — is not what they’re looking for.
Now, imagine this: you are a Marine officer preparing an element to deploy, who has been granted, by the beneficent shade of Chesty, a boon no Marine officer gets: you can choose your gunny rather than take the one hand-receipted to you by the Corps. Your two options are, a guy who has never transgressed, and whose membership in an approved abstemious sect keeps him from being any kid of a DUI risk, or Frank.
The Marines chose the other guy.
Future Marines will suffer the consequences of that decision. But that’s the way all the services roll, these days; the Marines were merely the last bastion of warrior-hood to fall to the tea drinkers.
It means that the service, then, is more and more like a Turkish water-pipe full of opium: the more you suck, the higher you go. As a result, first-time screwups (especially officer screwups) happen at higher and higher levels. What used to be the tolerable 2LT dumbs is now the rather more consequential COL or BG dumbs. And instead of mentors and confident subordinates to keep him straight, that senior officer has, careerlong, been surrounded by superiors he has toadied to and juniors who toady to him, and who would sooner walk the plank than utter a word that might be taken as criticism of their lord and master.
There’s a lot of bullshit from the personnel managers about how they consider “the whole man” during the 3.5 seconds an officer or NCO’s file is on their desk. It’s bullshit designed to cover for a mechanistic system that produces mediocrity (at best). In a centralized system, all the incentives are for a mechanical, quantifiable, check-the-box approach, and mirabile dictu, that is what we get. In a decentralized system, which has not existed, perhaps, for a century, we get whining (from the same toadies who excel under the current system) that it’s not faiiiiir.
Once, a young naval ensign recovered from career damage after being convicted at court-martial of “hazarding his ship.” It was an open-and-shut case: the overconfident young man had run USS Decatur aground, nowadays such a career killer than some officers shrink from shiphandling. This took place, mind you, 107 years ago. You know him as Adm. Chester Nimitz; the Navy of a century past didn’t see a problem with Today’s armed services have concluded they need no Nimitzes and more numbnutses.