Spectacular Failures

Those of us who served in the United States Army occasionally encountered people of dubious character, never quite sure what drove them, but most certain about what lay at their center. It was a large narcissistic, ultimately destructive ego that often led to their spectacular failure (a phrase I stole from a trusted friend). It was a self-centered approach that took advantage of cultural shifts to promote themselves and their like-thinking cronies.

Too often their approach to leading was at the expense of honorable men and women who did not stand to influence their careers one way or another – or so they thought at the time. At some point in their lives, demonstrated competence gained them promotions. At least, we like to believe that is what advanced them. At some other point, they lost focus of who they were and what they represented. Then their character flaws failed them, but not before the lives and careers of many others were harmed along the way.

In recent decades, there has been insidiousness at work that is destructive to the honor and integrity of our force. It has multiple heads, but a single focus. That focus, at least to this old retired Soldier, is the transformation of the world’s greatest fighting force into the world’s greatest social engineering laboratory. Added to that are the in-service politics driving selections for important assignments. Unscrupulous character deficient leaders are always standing by to benefit from social experiments and crony politics.

Understand one thing clearly. If our military is to remain the great force that it is, people who enter it and who are now serving must conform to the standards of the force. The force cannot continually reshape its culture and standards to accommodate individuals, groups and most frighteningly incompetence.

Writing this, I fully expect the sharp knives to come out. But, I do not care. I have had those stuck into me before, often from the same characters who at the time were smiling to my face and shaking my hand. When I was serving, I always said what I thought. Now I stand at a point in life, where it matters even less to me what people think or say about me. What is important is to speak out about what I see happening to the great institution that gave a wayward teenager a good home for most of his life. I pray that others in and out of the service will do the same. If we do not, we fail the many young Americans who dutifully and trustingly enter the United States Armed Forces.

In my book, The Three Meter Zone, in the chapter titled Build the Foundation, I wrote about Trust and Confidence. I recounted a story written in third person because I had no desire at the time to publicly embarrass the leader who owned this piece of my personal history. He was having enough issues at the time and the lesson from the story was more important than its characters. Leaders must have and keep the trust and confidence of the led.

It was not until I arrived at my new assignment at Fort Myer, Virginia that I learned the back story. My first assignment there was as the Command Sergeant Major (CSM) for what was dubbed “Headquarters Command Battalion.” Yes, it was as insignificant of an assignment as it sounded and rather disappointing to say the least. The man I replaced was headed for an assignment in Germany. One highly sought after by CSMs from the personnel field. It was not the assignment promised me in my trust and confidence story, but another. His experience level was much less than what one would expect for the assignment he was given, but he was well-connected to the Office of Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA). His selection angered senior and experienced CSMs from his field. Too make an already too long story short, after his assignment it became time for selection of a new SMA. The man selected to be the new SMA was the man who broke his handshake personal commitment to me for reasons he proclaimed “he was not at liberty to discuss.” What did the personnel CSM do? He decided that he did not want to be a CSM after all. He gave up the sought after wreath on his rank insignia and with it the privilege of leading soldiers to do what? Return to the office of the SMA and work for the newly selected one. I do not have to give any more detail about this SMA. You will recall that he flamed out rather spectacularly. Following his court martial on sexual harassment charges he was discharged forever to be remembered for the last thing.

There are some very important assignments for NCOs in our Army. They should always be filled based on merit with men and women of demonstrated competence and high character. One of the most important is the Commandant of the Army’s Drill Sergeant School. The person responsible for being the example to and training the trainers that teach young Americans how to be Soldiers. On September, 21, 2009, the New York Times ran a long complimentary article hailing the selection of CSM Teresa King, the first woman, as the school’s new commandant. Not long ago, the Army Times reported that she was suspended from her duties.

“If we outline the allegations, people will jump to conclusions that she is guilty of those allegations,” said Col. Chris Kubik, a TRADOC spokesman. “We don’t want any sort of prejudgment. There may not be any substantiation to it, so we don’t want to mar Sgt. Maj. King’s good name — she does have a distinguished record and we don’t want anybody prejudging her.” –Army News Service

It is quite interesting that none of the reporting news services will “outline the allegations” that caused CSM King’s suspension. I hope they understand that bad news does not get better with age nor does it just go away in today’s connected world. If true, the allegations are disheartening. Unchallenged rumors are of bogus college degrees in her records, a sexual relationship with an enlisted Soldier junior to her and a drinking problem. If they are true, it is another spectacular failure of Army leadership. For the sake of our Army, let us hope that CSM King is not remembered for this last thing.

The Army must take a hard look at itself. It cannot continue to select and place people of questionable character into important leadership positions. In the name of political correctness and social engineering, are we failing America’s Soldiers and ultimately America herself?

©2012