Friday, March 11, 2005

What Were The Officers Doing?

The Brit Army's recent trial of 3 junior NCOs showed brave men led by incompetents. Its leadership has now got the message, but needs to act quickly and energetically to save this essential national asset.

The Telegraph today reports on Sandhurst, the British equivalent of West Point.

Sandhurst shake-up 'to get right commanders'

The Army is reviewing the way it recruits and trains officers following the Deepcut and Iraq abuse scandals, a senior general said yesterday.

His comments came as the Army braced itself for the publication of two reports into the way it carries out its duty of care for recruits. Both are expected to be highly critical of the regime at the time of the deaths of several recruits at Deepcut barracks. There is also disquiet over the promotion of all the officers involved in the Iraqi abuse scandal while three junior NCOs were jailed.

"All of us asked the question: What were the officers doing?" the general said.

The awfulness of the situation is detailed in my posts here, here, here, here, here and here.

Three junior Lance Corporals were jailed for hazing armed looters they’d caught stealing humanitarian supplies. They said they'd been ordered by a Major to give the thieves a hard time – plausible absent any judicial system to deal with looters. However the Major denied everything and was not even charged. Also not charged were any of the other 6 men in the chain of command above the Lance Corporals.

Major
Captain
Lieutenant
2nd Lieutenant
Warrant Officer
Sergeant
Corporal

How can these seven layers of management possibly not be responsible for the actions of the men they command? The army is belatedly looking for answers.

As a result of recent problems the Army was conducting "a safety check" to answer the question: "Are the right people coming to Sandhurst and is the syllabus right?"

A good start, but they’ll need to do much more - there isn't time to train a new officer cadre. And right now I can’t see any soldier taking any action that might remotely involve harm to a civilian. And since terrorists aim to look like civilians, the army in Iraq is useless.

The US is in the much happier situation of having a world-class manager in charge of Defense, whereas General Sir Mike Jackson, the Chief of the General Staff has a political hack. So General Jackson must do it all himself. If he treads on political toes and gets fired, history will reward him.

Replace the Head of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) Legal Office with a Fighting Soldier

This will be the toughest one for General Jackson, since it involves firing a lawyer. This MoD team has for years been obsessed with compensation. Now the idiots have the bit between their teeth and are after at least 50 more scalps, including a member of the SAS. This must stop. The war in Iraq is like no other; Coalition troops there have to solve impossible problems every day, discriminating between innocent civilians, common criminals, and mass murderers. So, push the bum in charge upstairs and put in a fighting soldier with judgment.

Jail Some Officers

I suspect that a few officers will have been quietly eased out and they’ll find it hard to get jobs, so there’s some justice. But it’s not good enough. Justice must be seen to be done. When you have a decent man in charge, make sure he targets derelict officers. This will motivate officers as a whole to improve and re-assure the enlisted men that they are not fall guys.

Hands Off the SAS

Special Forces by definition do impossible things and with that territory must come the right for their CO to veto prosecutions. Otherwise we get this.

Replace the MoD Press Office

Americans are proud of their troops – returning soldiers are regularly applauded at airports – in spite of the relentless attacks of CNN, CBS and co. Yet, from my conversations, the Brits think their army the scum of the earth. There are lots of good stories – just look at the heroics of the 3 jailed L/Cpls – if they hadn’t been on trial, we wouldn’t have known of them. Easy to fix - fire the current PR crew and put someone competent in the job with a single mission: “celebrate success.”

Publicize Role Models

Any organization needs people to look up to. In the USMC, men like General Mathis and Lt. Col. Dave Bellon. The closest the Brits got was Colonel Tim Collins. After what the MoD legal folks did to him, he left the army. This is easy to fix when the MoD lawyers are boxed and you have decent PR.

Get Help From the USMC and US Army

The USMC and Army are doing a lot right - lend them your very best officers to learn from them.

Get Enlisted Men Blogging

US blogs from the front line provide their civil society with invaluable perceptions of the messy truth. And ways in which people can help the troops, with everything from sniper equipment to cards from schoolkids. Brit army blogging will help repair the damaged civilian perceptions of their army, and the troops recover their self-esteem.