Wednesday, August 06, 2003


Did you know that under no circumstances can a male soldier, wearing any uniform of the United States Army, to include the black-tie, tuxedo equivalent Dress or Mess Blues, take shelter beneath an umbrella no matter how hard it is raining?

It is a fact.

That fact does not apply to female soldiers who are wearing anything better than the Class C uniform (BDUs or DCUs).

The exception for females (and I won't even go into the apparent sexist, double standard of the exception) is less than a decade old. Some General made the decision that it is OK for females to carry an umbrella. And the day they made that decision they, by default, reinforced the prohibition against males carrying umbrellas even when dressed to the nines.

Why? Because, simply put, no General wants to be remembered as the "umbrella General". No General wants to be the one to turn his back on over 200 years of tradition.

So, why discuss this here?

Because, whether you have realized it, we have seen the equivalent of the Umbrella General principle at work over the last several months.

We have the most professional military in the world. And one of the tenants that sets our military apart from many others is that we have codified civilian control of the military in the USA.

So, no matter how many stars a General has, he still works for a civilian, the Secretary of his service, who works for the Secretary of Defense who works for the President.

GEN Shinseki retired earlier this summer. He was the Chief of Staff of the Army. That's it...that is as high as you can go. The pinnacle of success in the United States Army.

And then a strange thing happened...nobody wanted his job.

Well, that may not be entirely correct...but this is: no General on active duty to whom the position was offered wanted the job.

I can't be absolutely certain, but my gut tells me this is unprecedented in this nation's history.

And so, we come to the question of why. Why did no active duty General take the position?

Read the article below, and we'll come back to the question.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday there is no need to increase U.S. armed forces for now even though the military is being stretched by commitments in Iraq and elsewhere.

“We’re absolutely open-minded about how many people we have in the armed services,” Rumsfeld said. “The way to get the right number,” he added, is not to rush to a change “the first time you feel the effects of a spike in activity, as we do right now with Iraq.”

He said continuing analyses of troop strength, conducted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicate current force levels are sufficient for engagements in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Sinai peninsula and South Korea.

“But I can assure you that if at some point the circumstances in the world are such that the president and the Congress and the country believe that we need to be doing so many things that that it appropriately calls for an increase in end-strength, we certainly would ask for an increase in end-strength,” Rumsfeld said.

Last week the nominee to be Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, told a Senate committee the Army is likely to need more troops to meet its worldwide commitments.

“Intuitively I think we need more people,” Schoomaker had said. “I mean it’s that simple.”

Rumsfeld was replying to a question about that testimony.

He said there were steps that could be taken to improve the efficiency of current troop levels, including putting civilians in jobs now being done by as many as 380,000 people in uniform.

“That’s a pile of people,” he said. “They need to be doing military functions.”...

Earlier Tuesday, the acting Army chief of staff, Gen. John Keane, said troop commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched the Army and its size might need to be increased.

“There’s no doubt” more troops are needed, Keane told reporters. “I’ve just told you we’re short of infantry, we’re short of chemical-biological soldiers, we’re short of military police.”

But he said before military leaders can come up with a number for an increase in combat troops, they have to see what military slots can be converted to civilian slots. He also said combat support services have to be improved.

“Clearly we’re stretched and we know we’re short certain skill sets we’ve got to fix,” he said. “That’s as specific as I can get until we do the rest of the analysis.”

Keane is to retire this summer. Rumsfeld tried to persuade him to take over the chief of staff slot when Gen. Eric Shinseki retired last June, but Keane declined, officials said. Rumsfeld then picked Schoomaker, who is awaiting Senate confirmation.

So here it is. General Shinseki knew the Army is understrength and said as much in his now famous "12 division strategy with a 10 division Army" comment.

But Secretary Rumsfeld doesn't see it that way. He continues to see "efficiencies" to be gained, and his bias is blatant in his comment that "380,000 folks in uniform" need to be doing "military functions".

What does he mean? He means that he believes that civilians should be cooking for our soldiers, creating potable water for the soldiers, repairing broken vehicles, handling the mail, inspecting our food and on and on and on. He means that if a soldier isn't engaged in launching bullets at the enemy, then that soldier is not performing "military functions". (See Monday's posting: "How new efficiencies screw our soldiers.")

And he testifies this to be the case even as the Army's senior logistician proclaims that our soldiers are living in substandard conditions in Iraq because civilian contractors were a no-show on the battlefield.

Lieutenant General Mahan has it right...the only recourse for this misguided displacement of Army functions is to sue the civilians after the fact.

Doesn't do CPT Patti much good at the moment, does it?

And so - where does the Umbrella General come in?

The Generals know that General Shinseki was right.

Secretary Rumsfelds much touted "transformation of the military" has at its roots the peacetime idea that non-bullet-launching functions should be handed over to civilians. Problem is, it doesn't work. We saw that in the Civil War with the spotty attendance of the "sutlers" on the battlefield, who were fair-weather merchants at best. LTG Mahan sees it in Iraq. More importantly, your soldier and my soldier see it every day in Iraq.

So well known is Secretary Rumsfeld's intent, and so heinous is it to the well being of our soldiers (and Marines, and Airmen and Seamen and Coasties) that no active duty General who was offered the job wants his legacy to be that of ripping the support out of the Army.

And so - the umbrella issue highlights that tradition weighs heavily in the Army for even light things. But today's issue goes well beyond that. It reflects that the professional experience of upwards of 35 years of service that each of these Generals have can not reconcile what they know to be true with what Secretary Rumsfeld has in mind.

Yes, we owe much to civilian control of the military. But the civilian masters could learn much from the collective message of the Professional Soldiers who have spent their lives studying the art of war.

No comments: