Tagged: US Army

Staff Sergeant Pitts Receives Medal of Honor

Posted by Debi Teter
pitts-receives-medal-of-honor“My goal, my personal goal, was just to try and kill as many as I could before they got me.” Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts of New Hampshire made this statement to the Army in a video interview after he learned that he would be receiving the Medal of Honor. In July 2008, a fierce battle pitted 48 soldiers of 173rd Airborne Brigade against about 200 enemy fighters who attacked their small base near the village of Wanat in Afghanistan. At the time of the fight, Pitts did not expect to make it out alive. Suffering shrapnel wounds after the enemy opened up on the small base with machine gun and rocket-propelled grade fire, Pitts crawled from position to position at his observation post. He fired back with his rifle and grenades. The enemy onslaught took its fatal toll on the post, until the men around him lay dead and the insurgents got ever closer. Pitts pulled pins from his grenades and tossed them at the enemy only seconds before they exploded to make sure there was no time for the Taliban fighters to toss them back. When the shooting ended more than an hour later, nine of his fellow soldiers were dead and another 27 wounded, making the Wanat fight one of the most costly in American lives in a single battle in Afghanistan. Standing in the East Room of the White House on Monday, the men with whom he served and fought were on his mind. Pitts said the real heroes “are the nine men who made the ultimate sacrifice so that the rest of us could return home. Valor was everywhere that day.” Pitts became the ninth living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Another seven were awarded posthumously.

ARMY E-4s – Have You Done Your SSD Coursework Yet?

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

militaryauthority.com E4s must complete paperwork for sergeant promotionTime is getting tight for tens of thousands of Army E-4s hoping to get their sergeant stripes. These soldiers must complete Structured Self-Development 1, or SSD-1 – an online course – by Jan. 1, 2014 in order to be eligible to be placed on the promotion list for sergeant. This applies both to corporals and specialists. According to the Army G-1, some 41,035 specialists have yet to complete the coursework to get placed on the list. Furthermore, 3,366 more specialists already on the list will lose eligibility, effective January 1, unless they complete the coursework, the Army said.

To check on their enrollment status, soldiers can visit the Army Learning Management System (ALMS) via AKO. Soldiers graduating AIT since Oct 10, 2010 have been automatically enrolled in the ALMS. But that’s very different than actually completing the course. The AKO system is notoriously tricky and unreliable – especially for reserve component soldiers who must try to access AKO from their home computers. Soldiers with various versions of Windows or who are trying to access from Macs have long had persistent problems with AKO access. 

The system doesn’t stop at SSD-1 for E-4s looking to pin on sergeant stripes. Similar requirements also apply to Army E-5s, E-6’s and E-7s looking for promotion.

Some reserve units may offer soldiers drill pay or other forms of compensation for completing the required coursework. However, the deadline applies whether the soldier gets paid for completing the coursework or not. 

To learn more, visit the NCO Journal, here. 

Does a Common Anti-Malarial Drug Cause Psychosis and Paranoia?

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

militaryauthority.com does Mefloquine cause psychosisFollowing the case of former Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who pled guilty to murdering 16 Afghan civilians – many of them women and children – to avoid the death penalty – reports have been circulating of a possible negative side effect of the anti-malarial drug Mefloquine, or Lariam. This drug is widely given to U.S. servicemembers deploying abroad as a prophylactic measure against malaria, and has also been demonstrated to be effective as a treatment for an active malarial infection as well.

However, some studies predating even the Iraq War have found that there does appear to be a link between the drug and severe episodes of paranoid psychosis, including this Israeli study from 1999. Further anecdotal evidence of Mefloquine-related psychosis is here, here, and here. CBS News took a closer look at the possible connection between violent psychotic episodes and Mefloquine in this 2009 article. And the United Kingdom news outlet, The Guardian, published this story in 2002.

Roche, the company that manufactures the drug, has acknowledged that the drug could cause serious psychological side effects on one individual in 10,000: A negligible percentage for any individual, but perhaps high enough for a large institution such as the U.S. Army requiring tens of thousands of troops to take the drug at a time. However, one study, published in the British Medical Journal in 1996, indicated that the negative side effects could affect as many as 1 in 150.

It is very difficult from a limited sample size with few meaningful opportunities for a controlled study with placebos to demonstrate a meaningful increase in problems among those taking the drug compared to those without it. Nevertheless, there are newer drugs available that seem to have fewer side effects that could be used in place of Mefloquin.

Indeed, the Army has severely rolled back its use among deployed troops, and issued guidance saying those with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) should not be taking the drug at all. Military doctors and commanders had been forcing troops to take the drug even where it was contraindicated.  

As Drawdown Takes Hold of Army, Active and Reserve Components Spar for Budget Edge

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

reserve versus active dutyPrior to the Iraq war, which required large mobilizations of brigade-sized Guard formations and significant support capability from the Army Reserves, the “one Army” concept received little more than lip service. In 2003, when the Army wanted to mobilize extra light infantry for the Iraq invasion, they called up the 53rd Infantry Brigade, an enhanced readiness brigade out of Florida. They didn’t want the brigade, though. Separate Guard brigades come with politically connected general officers and staffs that have allegiance primarily to their governors rather than to Big Army.

The Army then broke up the brigade, and even broke up battalions, initially, committing them piecemeal, and denying deployed Guard soldiers access to promotion opportunities, cross-transfers to facilitate promotions, needed service schools and even initially denied Guard soldiers in the heart of Ramadi the enhanced Kevlar vests routinely issued to soldiers in the active component. (Disclosure: The author was a member of the 1/124th Infantry, 53rd Infantry Brigade (Separate) and was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and witnessed these events firsthand).

As the war dragged on, and the insurgency gained strength and demonstrated resiliency, it was obvious that the active Army was not going to be able to sustain the fight with the number of active brigade combat teams on hand. And so the long, hard slog began for citizen soldiers, many of whom endured multiple combat tours as members of National Guard and Reserve units. 

Unlike the Gulf War in 1991, in which some reserve component Army units were reported to have had trouble qualifying for deployment (some in the Army have long suspected that the active component doctored the predeployment training to preserve slots and career opportunities for themselves), the reserve component rose to the challenge in Iraq. The older and more experienced Guard infantry units and their counterparts in the Marine Reserves proved ideal for the counterinsurgency environment, since their advantage in age, experience and their mix of civilian job skills became combat multipliers in many areas in Iraq.

Guardsmen and reservists have also taken pride in their own accomplishments, and at being finally seen as a full partner in the fight, rather than as the forgotten stepchildren of the ringknockers (Academy graduates) and the active component.

Now that the Army is going through a cyclical drawdown, however, we are starting to see some flashpoints as the Army Reserves, the National Guard Bureau, the states themselves, and the active component jockey for positioning – and ultimately, jobs preservation for themselves.

One such flashpoint came to a head this spring: A unit from Indiana had received notice that it would be deployed later this year. Unit members then arranged their affairs accordingly: They didn’t renew leases, they didn’t apply for financial aid or enroll in school programs, they caused their civilian employers disruption while the employers prepared and crosstrained individuals in anticipation of their extended absence. And then the unit had the deployment canceled, with two of the four directly affected units just six weeks away from deployment. The mission wasn’t canceled – the Department of Defense simply took the mission away from the Guard unit and gave it to an active duty unit from the 1st Cavalry Division in a process called “offramping.”

The active component says they did it to save money. It doesn’t make much sense to the taxpayer, of course, to pay an active duty unit to sit around stateside while also paying a Guard unit to go overseas and do the mission. But Guardsmen also cried ‘foul,’ as well – pointing to the significant disruptions that their soldiers and their families went through preparing for the deployment. 

The National Guard has a lot of friends in Congress, though – and Indiana was no exception. Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana objected to what happened to his constituent soldiers, and introduced language into the Defense Authorization bill to prohibit the military from offramping reserve component deployments within 180 days of the scheduled deployment without the personal approval of the Secretary of Defense. 

Donnelly said in a statement: “My first amendment on limiting the cancellation of reserve component deployments would detail the experience of more than one thousand Indiana families affected by the off-ramping, or cancelled deployment, of four Indiana National Guard units, two of which were just six weeks away from deploying. The Army replaced these units with active duty units, and I am grateful that the Committee has included a provision to limit these short-fuse cancellations. The decision had wide-ranging impacts on over 1,000 families’ health care, financial decision, educational plans, and housing. Moreover, these units were placed at the bottom of rotation for future deployments, and have lost a year of eligibility for deployment.  This has had an incredible impact on morale, retention and training, and—simply put—it’s not the way the Army should treat its soldiers.”

In contrast, in 2008, lawmakers in Vermont unsuccessfully sought to rescind the President and Secretary of Defense’s authority to mobilize Vermont National Guard troops in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“The mission authorized in 2002 does not exist,” said State Rep. Michael Fisher (D-VT), who plans to introduce a bill backed by 30 colleagues Wednesday that calls on Gov. Jim Douglas to join the effort. “Unless Congress grants a new authorization, the Vermont Guard should revert back to state control.”

Meanwhile, National Guard supporters – backed by the powerful National Guard Association of the U.S., – is advancing the argument that keeping units, capabilities, missions and soldiers in the Guard, versus active duty, will allow the Army to keep capabilities at a fraction of the cost per soldier, saving the taxpayer billions of dollars in a time of austerity. The active component has just announced plans to slash 13 brigade combat teams. But half of the combat arms formations in the total Army are in the Guard. The National Guard and active army are battling before the Congressional appropriations committees for the bigger slice of the post-drawdown pie. 

So far, the active component has been on the chopping block.

Some Guard leaders are actually developing arguments to strengthen Guard end strength, despite the budget constraints. Major General Wesley Craig, the adjutant general of the Pennsylvania National Guard, wrote an article in National Guard Magazine, saying,

The Army chief of staff has recommended the force stabilize at a total end-

strength of 1,045,000 soldiers—490,000 in the active component and 555,000

in the reserve components. Any further reductions should be proportional, reducing all components and capabilities by the same percentage.

But why settle for a smaller Total Army when there is another way?

The recent report of the Reserve Forces Policy Board on personnel costs provides the basis for a better way forward. We can maintain the million-man Army at a lower cost by simply adjusting the AC/RC mix.

The basic arithmetic is simple. According to the report, cutting 100,000 troops from the active component would save $21.8 billion. Increasing the reserve components by 100,000 would cost $6.1 billion. The final savings would be $15.7 billion annually with no loss in Total Army end-strength.

This would be a paradigm cultural shift for Army senior leaders who have spent their adult lives in a force with a large active component.

The two competing proposals illustrate the profound difference between the two components. The current Chief of Staff of the Army, General Raymond Odierno, is a 1976 graduate of West Point, and has spent the last 33 years in the Regular Army. Craig was an ROTC graduate from Temple University in 1972, spent two years on active duty and as spent the remainder of his career in the National Guard. 

To be fair, Odierno has thus far targeted the active component for almost all the cuts so far. According to Odierno, this makes sense, because it was the active component, not the Guard and Reserve, that was expanded by over 100,000 troops since 9/11. The bulk of the cuts identified have been returning the Army to something close to that baseline. However, as Craig notes, Odierno has indicated that future cuts will likely come from active and reserve forces alike.

According to the Department of Defense, 876,653 men and women have been called to active duty to support the contingency missions since the 9/11 attacks through June 12, 2013. The bulk of these activations have come from the National Guard, which contributed 375,680 soldiers to the war effort, though many of those deployed multiple times. The U.S. Army Reserve mobilized another 211,441 individuals.

The Air National Guard also mobilized over 98,934 airmen, and the Air Force Reserve added another 66,303 men and women. The Marine Corps Reserve has mobilized 62,449 marines. The Coast Guard Reserve added another 8,350 to the war effort, while the Navy Reserve contributed 53,496 sailors.

Army Slashes 10 BCTs: O-5s and O-6s Hardest Hit

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

militaryauthority.com gen odierno on army cutsThe long-anticipated drawdown cycle for the U.S. military has begun in earnest: The Army announced plans to slash the Army’s maneuver forces by ten Brigade Combat Teams. Because if there’s one thing we learned from our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was that we had too many of those pesky BCTs.

The announcement came on Tuesday from General Ray Odierno, the current Army Chief of Staff. The BCTs designated for elimination are as follows:

  • 4th Stryker BCT, 7th Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.?
  • 3rd Armored BCT, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.?
  • 4th Infantry BCT, 1st Armored Division, Fort Riley, Kan.?
  • 4th Infantry BCT, 101st Air Assault, Fort Campbell, Ky.?
  • 3rd Infantry BCT, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Knox, Ky.?
  • 3rd Infantry BCT, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.?
  • 4th Infantry BCT (Airborne), 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.?
  • 2nd Armored BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.?
  • 4th Armored BCT, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas?
  • 3rd Infantry BCT, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas

These units are in addition to two brigade combat teams the Army has already announced would be decommissioned: the 170th and 172nd BCTs, both stationed in Germany. Odierno also said the Army planned to deactivate at least one more BCT, again overseas. Ultimately, the number of Brigade Combat Teams in the Army is slated to fall from 45 to 32. At the end of the process, the Army force mix will include 12 armored BCTs, 14 infantry BCTs, and seven Stryker BCTs.

Nevertheless, despite the large decrease in the number of BCTs, the number of maneuver battalions in the Army will remain relatively stable: The Army will fall from 98 battalions to 95, according to Odierno. The Army will accomplish this by increasing the number of maneuver battalions in the remaining brigades from two to three. The new table of organization and equipment will also plus up the artillery and engineering capability for each brigade.

Each remaining brigade will increase in authorized end strength by about 1,000 soldiers, from 3,500 to 4,500, said Army sources.

 

Field Grade Officers Hardest Hit

The planned reorganization will largely maintain the number of command slots available for combat arms captains. However, they will come at the expense of the promotion prospects for more senior officers. The most obvious personnel effect will be the reduction of brigade command opportunities for colonels and promotable lieutenant colonels. Looked at more broadly, the Army is losing a substantial number of field grade officer slots for majors and lieutenant colonels in the maneuver brigades. This means that while accession to captain will remain strong, and while strong combat arms lieutenants and captains still have an excellent shot at being selected for company command, these commanders will have to file into a sharply restricted number of opportunities for majors on brigade staffs. However, once selected, many of these majors will trickle up to positions on division staffs, where they will no doubt be a lot of help.

Odierno’s plan distributed the pain of troop reductions across ten different posts in ten congressional districts while avoiding having to actually close any military installations.

For now. 

No Battalion Command For YOU, Colonel! – The Case of LTC Matthew Dooley, Considered

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Army LTC. Matthew DooleyThe Army has removed the name of LTC Matthew Dooley from consideration for battalion command, despite excellent evaluations. The removal came at the behest of LTG Lloyd J. Austin, the vice chief of staff of the Army, overruling the recommendation of the battalion command selection board members.

Dooley was suspended from his duties as an instructor at National Defense University, where he taught an elective course called Perspectives on Islam and Radical Islamism, after a number of Muslim groups complained to the Department of Defense about the content of his courses.

At issue was a set of PowerPoint slides leaked to Wired.com that contained a number of passages designed to get students to consider a horrendous hypothetical – total war against the Muslim world. According to leaked course documents, Dooley walked his students through a series of policy decisions which American planners could be faced with in the event of a complete breakdown in Western-Muslim relations. To wit:

This model presumes Geneva Convention IV 1949 standards of armed conflict and the pursuant UN endorsements of it are now, due to the current common practices of Islamic terrorists, no longer relevant or respected globally. This would leave open the option once again of taking war to a civilian population wherever necessary (the historical precedents of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki being applicable to the Mecca and Medina destruction DP in Phase III…

…This model restates previous internationally-accepted Geneva Conventions for protections afforded to combatants captured in uniform and reiterates removal of protections for those who are caught fighting/operating out of uniform (spys [sic]. Terrorists, criminals.).

Against “non-state actors” do the Geneva conventions of 1949 now need redefinition/clarification?

Objections from numerous Muslim groups brought the course to the attention of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Patrick Dempsey, who shut the course down ordered a review of all DoD training materials on Islam and Islamism.

What has not been clear from most reporting on the subject – whether by the formidable Noah Schachtman and Spencer Ackerman at Wired.com’s Danger Room blog, which first published the objectionable course material, nor from the major networks, nor from the outlying conservative press (Washington Times), nor the liberal press and blogosphere such as the Huffington Post, and nor from the press normally assigned to cover the military, such as Military Times and Tom Rick’s excellent blog at Foreign Policy, is a serious and fair-minded look at Dooley’s actual course materials that proved his undoing.

According to the Thomas More Law Center – a conservative leaning organization that has come to Dooley’s aid, “the characterization of the slides as positions officially advocated by LTC Dooley was totally inaccurate.” According to Dooley’s defenders at the Thomas More Law Center, the Danger Room blog published his content under sensational and misleading headlines that caused the Army to take action against Dooley.

Even assuming the worst of Danger Room, though, it is still encumbent on the Army and General Dempsey to make a full and fair investigation before taking negative action against an officer’s career.  But who was right? Was Dooley out of line with his potentially inflammatory rhetoric in his course? Was he at odds with established doctrine? Was he “academically irresponsible,” as General Dempsey has claimed?

Or was Dooley unfairly maligned as a result of an hypothetical-grounded academic exercise in policy-making that would normally be well within the purview of a high-level course designed to groom senior officers for future policy-making billets, in which they may have to deal with the explosion of the Muslim world against the West?

It is, of course, the policy of the United States that we are emphatically not at war with Islam, writ large. Indeed, the U.S. depends on moderate Muslim allies all over the world to help it attain its strategic objectives. The answer to whether Dooley was behaving responsibly appears to depend on the extent to which he was dealing with hypotheticals – IF there is a general and total war between Islam and the United States, THEN these are the kinds of policy decisions that will confront us.

Alternatively, it is plausible that Dooley was not dealing with a hypothetical general war between Islam, but was advocating a total war policy based on the current state of affairs. This conclusion seems to inform Gen. Dempsey’s actions, and would run counter to U.S. policy, though there is a counterargument that Dooley, as an academic, is entitled to the long established tradition of academic liberty and freedom of inquiry.

This is the position taken by the Thomas More Law Center, and explained in detail in their long letter linked above.

To Danger Room’s credit, however, they do link to a lengthier document that Dooley produced as part of the course, which can serve to illuminate our own inquiry. And in it, Dooley seems to anticipate “politically correct” criticism, and musters his own preemptive defense: How do we define the threat if we are not allowed to talk about it?

Again, a few pages later, Dooley asserts, “Political Correctness is Killing Us: How can we properly identify the enemy, analyze his weaknesses, and defeat him, if we are NEVER permitted to examine him from the most basic doctrinal level?”

Dooley then goes on to define Islamic jihadism in terms of its Quranic and Sharia origins – which are naturally origins that are not unique to the radical forms of Islam, but which inform all of it. 

The course material does not claim to represent U.S. doctrine. Indeed, Dooley clearly puts daylight between his own counter-jihad ops model and official U.S. policy. 

“The purpose of this model is to generate dynamic discussion and thought. The concepts considered herein are not the Official Policy of the United States Government or the DoD, nor are they in any part listed within the current NSS, NDS, QDR, QDDR or any official DoD document.”

While my more conservative readers would no doubt feel more comfortable with me excoriorating Big Army for a PC crackdown on an instructor leading students on a reasonable hypothetical exercise, it is not that cut-and-dried. It turns out that there was at least some reason for Dempsey’s ire: Dooley goes on to state something that the Army no doubt found hard to swallow:

“This model asserts Islam has already declared war on the West, and the United States specifically, as is demonstrable with over 30 years of violent history. It is, therefore, illogical to continue along our current global strategy models that presume there are always possible options for common ground and detent [sic] with the Muslim Umma without waging near “total war.”

This passage skews perilously close to an advocacy of total war, or “near total war,” not based on a hypothetical future war with the Muslim world, but on one which Dooley asserts already exists.

It is therefore difficult for Dooley to take refuge in the assertion that he was merely raising hypotheticals in a thought exercise. It also places the issue clearly within the purview of the Chief of Staff to assess, as a matter of officer training, though that does not negate the Thomas More Center’s assertion of academic privilege. The freedom to explore controversial and even offensive lines of inquiry is part and parcel of that long-established tradition, and a necessary element of high-level professional military education just as much as it is in other fields, and for the same reasons.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to dismiss Gen. Dempsey’s view as wholly unreasonable. 

It is, however, unfortunate that it is General Dempsey, of all officers, who is in the position to make this decision, because Dempsey is considered in some circles the Poster Boy for political generals who are so enthralled to politically correct assumptions that they cannot accurately assess the real threat before us. One need look no further than Dempsey’s reaction to the Fort Hood massacre, in which an American military officer and psychiatrist went on a murderous and jihad-inspired rampage that killed 13 people – all because Army personnel officers and Medical Service commanders refused to act on the obvious signs of Hasan’s increasing radicalization. There was no counterintelligence effort initiated that could have uncovered Hassan’s correspondence with foreign jihadists before the fact that could have allowed authorities to intervene and arrest Hasan for conspiracy before he killed anyone.

This, by itself, is evidence of a willful institutional PC blindness that illustrates Dooley’s assertion that “political correctness is killing us.”

But it didn’t stop there. Dempsey’s own statement after the Fort Hood massacre was deeply offensive to many within the military: “Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse,” said Dempsey on CNN’s State of the Union talk show.

It was doubly offensive because a misguided commitment to tolerance of radicalized Muslims in the Army – or at least, a determined effort to look the other way – was a direct contributor to the deaths of these soldiers.

The result is potentially damaging to the military. “The result is certain.  Officers and instructors see what has happened to LTC Dooley, and will refrain from telling the truth about Islam or confronting the difficult strategic challenges facing our nation for fear of jeopardizing their professional careers,” wrote the Thomas More Institute. “The Pentagon has still apparently not learned from the politically correct policies that led to the Ft. Hood massacre.”

 

The New Army OER: Character Matters

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

General MacArthurA new Army Officer Evaluation Report form is on the way, and the short version of the upcoming changes is this: Character matters. According to reporting from the Northwest Guardian – a paper serving the Joint Base Lewis-McChord community, the new OER will require raters to be much more specific and detailed in assessing junior officers’ abilities and characteristics regarding character, presence and leadership ability.

“One of our attributes and competencies is character,” said Major General Richard Mustion, commander of Army Human Resources Command. “Our OER today doesn’t require (an) assessment of an officer’s character; it’s a yes or no box check.”

The new ratings system will also draw a brighter line between rater and senior rater responsibilities. The rater – the rated officer’s direct supervisor – will comment strictly on performance. The senior rater will address the officer’s long-term potential for advancement in the Army.

Army officers can expect mobile training teams from Human Resources Command to begin visiting units this summer to train officers on the philosophy and approaches behind the new rating system. HRC will also publish a training video.

The goal: Eliminate rating inflation, and force raters to make tough character assessments of their officers. Under the new system, raters will actually have to make a written evaluation of rated officers’ character, presence and intellect. Raters will also have to make a written evaluation of how a junior officer “leads, develops and achieves.” 

Army officers can also expect three different sets of forms to come out: One for company-grades and warrants, one for majors and lieutenant colonels, and one for colonels, brigadier and major generals. The OER for majors and lieutenant colonels will feature a “top ten percent” block, to identify the movers and the shakers. 

Raters will only be able to ‘top block’ 50 percent or less of the officers they rate.

Support forms will still be mandatory for captains and below, but optional for majors and above. This is significant because junior officers have long made a practice of gearing their own OER support forms to the criteria on the senior officer’s OER support form. For example, if a battalion commander’s OER support form indicates that he will be assessed on whether he achieves a goal of hitting a vehicle OR rating of 88 percent or better, the company commander will typically have a similar entry on his own OER support form. This is one way the priorities of senior commanders are communicated down the chain of command.

Similar changes are expected for NCOERs, though those changes are still in the works and will follow the officer-side rollout.

Additionally, battalion and brigade commanders will also soon undergo so-called 360-degree evaluations. That means that their subordinates will also weigh in on their ratings in a formal review process – a measure that Army Chief of Staff General Odierno has pushed in an effort to eliminate what he calls “toxic leaders.”

The measure comes in the wake of the Army’s disciplining a three-star general, LTG Patrick O’Reilly, the head of the Missile Defense Agency, for verbally harassing his subordinates and berating them in public for trivial offenses. Witnesses told Army investigators that on several occasions O’Reilly said he would “f***ing choke” them. The Inspector General report on Gen. O’Reilly, complete with salacious details on a number of incidents in which O’Reilly was reported to have screamed at, verbally abused or otherwise mistreated subordinates, is available here.

 

Would General Patton have survived a 360-degree rating process in the 1930s and early 1940s? Would General Douglass MacArthur? How would you change the OER system? Sound off in the comments!

Army Integrating Women into Field Artillery Units. Again.

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

field artilleryIt was just a few years ago that artillery units were being stripped of their guns and pressed into service as infantry – both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That’s not stopping the Army from integrating women officers into gun batteries, though. The Fayetteville Observer comes up with a made-to-order puff piece about at least one such officer, Lieutenant Shannon Syphus, a female artillery platoon leader currently assigned to C Battery, 3rd Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, in November.

Not to denigrate Lt. Syphus personally – she is clearly a smart, fit and capable officer. The article, which seems to have been half written by the 82nd Airborne Division PAO, certainly stated that Lt. Syphus was able to perform to the minimum standard required of male artillerymen – that is, she passed the test requiring her to lift a 100-pound 155mm shell. What was left unanswered, however, was how many shells in a row she could lift and load, say, if her unit were required to fire a desperate self-defense mission in the direct-lay mode, or an urgent final protective line mission.

Granted, as an officer, Lt. Syphus’s job does not normally require her to man the guns, personally. But the 18th Fires Brigade is also expecting the first batch of enlisted women to join the unit in May. The article does not deal with how many 100-pound shells in a row these young women can load, either, compared to their trained male counterparts.

Miraculously, the story’s author was unable to find anyone in the unit or the Army who cited on record the obvious physiological challenges of integrating women into the field artillery branch.

The article also does not mention the challenge of integrating women, as part of artillery units, into the infantry mission. While the Army has not attempted to integrate women into the infantry MOS, the early attempts by the Marine Corps to include women in the infantry officers’ course have predictably failed.

This shouldn’t exactly be a revelation: The Israeli Army experimented with integrating women into combat roles some years ago – in an environment that is generally less logistically austere than the expeditionary role frequently taken on by the United States military. They, too, abandoned the experiment as a failure.

On the other hand, there have been women graduates of the Artillery School at Fort Sill in the past. Lt. Elizabeth Tourville graduated from Fort Sill’s Artillery Officer Basic Course in the 1970s. Lance missile and Pershing missile units were open to women until 1989. General Carl Vuono closed the field artillery branch to women that year, though, because the Pershing and Lance were scheduled to be deactivated. Continuing to bring in women to man these weapons would have doomed them to dead-end careers as they could not be laterally transferred within the branch specialty to other weapons. The Lance Missile was deactivated in 1992, however, and the Lance Missile was deactivated in 1991.

Additionally, the MOS 82C, Field Artillery Surveyor, was opened to women in the mid-1990s, though the MLRS weapons system remained closed to women, as it was generally stationed well forward, close to the FLOT (forward line of own troops) in the defense, according to Women at War: Gender Issues of Americans in Combat, a 1999 book by Rosemarie Skaine.

We have some extremely promising and capable women officers and soldiers up and down the ranks. The same is true in the Marine Corps. But the continued effort to integrate women into combat arms billets without a headlong grappling with the secondary mission of artillery as infantry – already proven in Iraq and on battlefields elsewhere – and without seriously dealing with the already-demonstrated difference in injury rates, in stress fractures, in illnesses, in lost duty hours and field time due to pregnancy, in a 50 percent greater utilization rate of troop medical clinics (TMCs), in upper body strength and stamina, the fact that combat loads cannot be gender-normed, and without grappling seriously with the failed Israeli experiment with women in combat roles, is an exercise in PC-inspired stupidity and it’s going to get some of our finest young women needlessly hurt in the process. 

Pass The Bill or the Troops Get It: Army Abruptly Suspends Tuition Assistance Program

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Tuition Assistance cutsThe Army abruptly suspended its popular Tuition Assistance Program, effective Friday, March 8th, citing the combined budgetary constraints of sequestration and the looming potential expiration of the continuing resolution that funds Department of Defense operations and activities only through March 27th. Troops currently in school could finish out their terms, stated Army sources. But no new applicants would be accepted after 1700 Eastern Time on March 8th. (UPDATE: Even if you got in a registration prior to 1700 ET on the 8th, don’t expect it to be funded. An Army spokesperson informed us that funding had already been cut off. – Ed.)

The news came out with less than 24 hours to go before the deadline, and the notice and sent soldiers around the world flocking to computer terminals, trying to get in their applications. 

(UPDATE: Even if you got in a registration prior to 1700 ET on the 8th, don’t expect it to be funded. An Army spokesperson informed us that funding had already been cut off. Why the confusion over the deadline? According to the spokesperson, the Army intended to give no notice, specifically to avoid confusion. But Military Times got wind of the impending decision, forcing the Army to go public with the news sooner than they intended, and were forced to rush some of the communications. Hence you had soldiers standing in line trying to get their applications in on Friday. – JVS.)

The news affects all components of the U.S. Army, including the Reserve and National Guard.

The news only affects the federal Tuition Assistance program itself. Other popular veterans and military education programs are not affected at this time. Soldiers continue to pursue their educational goals with VA education benefits, if applicable, that include the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty, (Chapter 30), Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve (Chapter 1606, Reserve Education Assistance Program (Chapter 1607), The Post 9/11 GI Bill, federal grants and federal financial aid. National Guard soldiers may also be eligible for state Tuition Assistance benefits.

Last fiscal year, some 201,000 soldiers in the Army alone enrolled in the Tuition Assistance program. The program provided $373 million to soldiers pursuing their educational goals. Using the program, 2,831 soldiers earned associate’s degrees, 4,495 earned bachelor’s degrees, and 1,946 completed graduate degrees. On average, that equates to about $40,229 per degree earned.

The U.S. Marine Corps has also suspended its tuition assistance program, and also announced that the cuts would also interrupt benefits for those already enrolled. The Air Force and Navy have not yet decided to do so, though the Defense Department has urged the service chiefs to consider slashing their funding for the program.

Sailors and airmen interested in participating in the program should enroll now, as the other services will likely follow suit in the next few days.

While troops putting their lives on the line are having their benefits cut, the Government continues to provide for the Lifetime Learning Credit and the American Opportunity Credit – both of which provide a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for attending college to those who meet the strict income thresholds.

Enlisted Ranks Hardest Hit

Nearly all officers already have bachelors’ degrees, though some enroll in the Tuition Assistance program to pursue graduate degrees. Officers who do so incur an additional service obligation, in exchange.

The program has a flat cap of $4,500 per enrollee for all ranks. That $4,500 value is a much greater percentage of compensation for a junior enlisted soldier or NCO than it is for officers. They are less likely to be able to afford to pay out of pocket for their educational expenses than officers. Lower-ranking troops will likely feel more pain from the decision than the officer corps.

Alternative Resources

The American Opportunity Tax Credit provides up to $2,500 per student each year for up to four years of college, while the Lifetime Learning Credit provides a tax credit of up to $2,000 annually. There is no cap on the number of years a taxpayer can claim the Lifetime Learning Credit. The income threshold for the full American Opportunity tax credit is an adjusted gross income of $80,000 ($160,000 for married couples filing jointly). Your credit amount is reduced for any amount you earn over those thresholds, and disappears entirely for those with incomes of $90,000 for singles and $180,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Most troops can qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit (though if all your income is tax-free combat zone income it might not do you much good).

The Lifetime Learning credit is a credit equal to 20 percent of the first 10,000 of qualified tuition. Credit eligibility begins to go away at an income of $47,000 per year for single individuals, and phases out completely at $57,000. For married couples, the thresholds are $94,000 and $114,000, respectively.

GI Bill

Soldiers can also use the GI Bill to pay for higher education courses, rather than tap into TA. However, as the Veterans of Foreign Wars points out, though, Tuition Assistance and the GI Bill have different missions. The Tuition Assistance program was developed to make it easier for discharged servicemembers to integrate into the civilian work force. Congress intended for the GI Bill education funding to benefit troops themselves, personally. The Tuition Assistance Program, on the other hand, was developed to benefit the military – under the assumption that the military would benefit from a more educated force.

In other news, the Obama Administration has announced that it intends to give some $450 million in foreign aid to Egypt. The Department of Defense is also providing matching contributions to civilian DoD employees who make contributions to their Thrift Savings Program. And the State of Colorado is all set to grant illegal immigrants in-state tuition while denying it to out-of-state American citizens and legal residents.

In Heartwarming Display of Austerity and Restraint, Army Adds Another 4-Star Billet

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

In this new era of threatening furloughs for schoolteachers and slashing funding for the training of brigade combat teams, the Army has made a heartwarming gesture of solidarity with troops making do with less by creating an additional four-star billet – with the attendant headquarters and staff.

Lieutenant General Michael Brooks – a 1980 West Point graduate – has been tapped to take command of U.S. Army forces in the Pacific. He will receive a promotion to the four-star rank – the equivalent of a combatant command billet such as SOUTHCOM, CENTCOM and EUROCOM.

General Brooks will command about 65,000 troops – roughly the equivalent of a corps – which normally justifies three stars. U.S. Army Pacific currently includes the 25th Division in Hawaii and Alaska, U.S. Army Korea, U.S. Army Japan, and the 9th Regional Support Command.

Even more curiously, General Brooks will assume his post this summer at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, just a short distance away from Camp Smith, the home of USPACOM, or US Pacific Command, a unified combatant command currently headed by a full four-star Admiral, Samuel J. Locklear.

General Brooks would be senior to the deputy commander of the unified combatant that oversees his own troops, Marine Lt. Gen. Thomas Conant. 

Troop General ratio

The chart shows the steadily increasing ratio of general and flag officers per 10,000 troops since WWII. Source.