Leader Prototypes and Assimilation: A Challenge to the Promise of Diversity

Published on July 30, 2014 — Available also in PDF

COL Robert Mundell

Colonel Robert M. Mundell, U.S. ArmyColonel Robert M. Mundell is a faculty instructor in the Department of Command Leadership and Management, United States Army War College, and has served in this capacity for three years. He is a 2009 graduate of the Army War College, and has three combat tours in Afghanistan, most recently as Commander, Regional Support Command North, NATO training Mission Afghanistan. His many assignments as an Infantry officer include Deputy Brigade Combat Team Commander, and Battalion Commander.

The culture that we are embedded in inevitably influences our views about leadership. —Hofstede, 19931

The Army’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion is important in maintaining a future competitive advantage in today’s global security environment; understanding differences is central to the effective employment of landpower (soldiers and equipment) in and amongst different cultures. However, individual assimilation to cultural norms and embedded leader prototypes undermine the promise of diversity by suppressing individual identity. This paper examines this premise by analyzing the value and challenge of diversity, assessing the influence of leader prototypes and assimilation on individual identity, and by analyzing current educational approaches towards diversity and culture education. The paper concludes with recommendations for senior Army leaders to consider as they seek to fulfill the promise of diversity.

As a preface to this paper, it is important to define the term prototype and to distinguish diversity management from diversity leadership. In its purest form, a prototype is an original model on which something is patterned; an individual that exhibits essential features, or a standard or typical example.2 Prototypes are decisive in forming organizational and individual identities. They enhance the salience of a group and make it appear to be a distinct and well-structured entity with clear boundaries, and with members that share a common fate.3

Diversity leadership and management are closely related. The difference is, diversity management refers to the development of policies and plans designed to drive and or affect the impact of diversity on key outcomes, while diversity leadership involves direct leadership practices that allow leaders to influence how people and groups relate to differences.4 Management practices are central in regulating behavior, but leadership influences behavior.

The Promise of Diversity

The promise of diversity does not infer entitlement; instead, it is an idealistic concept that when realized, enables greater innovation and creativity in diverse and inclusive organizations. This is in comparison to cognitively homogeneous organizations that are constrained by similarity and habitual thought patterns pertaining to individuals and ideas that are valued. This idealistic concept results in all members feeling valued and allows them to demonstrate greater commitment to organizational outcomes. Well led and well managed diverse organizations increase the variety of perspectives brought to a problem, because individual diversity in organizations creates relationships between people with different life experiences, thereby enabling greater access to an array of information sources and perspectives. Diversity can also create conflict, lead to strained communication between people that are different, intensify social divisions, and result in an overall lack of trust.5 The common thread between these two viewpoints is individual identity because identity dictates how individuals respond, either favorably or unfavorably, to differences. Army Doctrine Reference Publication (ADRP) 6-22 explains the relationship between identity and leadership by noting that identity influences how leaders behave and learn, and how others perceive them, and notes that effective leadership begins with developing and maintaining a leader identity. 6

The Influence of Prototypes and Assimilation on Individual Identity

Several leader attributes and competencies espoused in doctrine and enacted in leader practices characterize prototypical Army leaders. ADRP 6-22 provides a comprehensive framework that articulates what the Army desires in leaders by describing the types of attributes a leader must possess to apply competencies that allow them to lead and develop individuals and organizations and achieve results. The publication emphasizes an adherence to Army values, being empathetic, disciplined, physically fit, mentally agile, and possessing expertise as important attributes that enable leaders to apply competencies such as building trust, fostering esprit de corps, and creating effective unit climates.7 Army doctrine provides a foundational base for leadership, but enacted leader behavior is paramount in conveying desirable prototypes.

Organizationally endorsed credentialing and certification, and institutional feedback assist in influencing perceptions of the ideal and prototypical leader. These factors imbue desirable qualities on an individual and mark them with enhanced ability, distort perceptions, and affect predictions of performance and potential. This circumstance is consistent with the concept of embedding mechanisms outlined by Edgar Schein in his research on organizational culture. Schein notes that organizational culture formation begins with leaders imposing assumptions and expectation on followers, which in turn influences beliefs pertaining to prototypes.8 Prototypes create a self-perpetuating cycle, particularly as junior leaders use them to construct their own leader identity. These prototypes constitute a social reality grounded in consensual views and are continuously reinforced.9

In salient organizations, leader prototypes bestow greater influence on the most prototypical leaders.10 The appearance of the legitimacy of the prototype becomes a reality through a depersonalization process that compels followers to comply with norms that are valued.11 This cognitive process results in individual members suppressing their uniqueness and transforming their identity in three ways. First, they place value judgments on themselves based on defining characteristics of the group prototype. Next, they cognitively and behaviorally assimilate with these characteristics by developing normative perceptions and attitudes. Finally, they view others through the lens of features that characterize organizationally sanctioned prototypes.12

Depersonalization is influenced by similarity attraction and self-categorization. Similarity attraction suggests that similarities in characteristics and attitudes facilitate positive relationships. Individuals that perceive others as similar are more likely to assess those individuals as being intelligent, and well adjusted.13 Conversely, individuals perceived as different are trusted less, difficult to communicate with, and less adjusted.14 Similarity attraction shapes perceptions of what a leader is, and must do, and can influence evaluation and promotion selection processes because it creates an unconscious bias in senior leaders. This bias results in discrimination against organizational members that are different.15 This is natural in meritocratic-based organization, because meritocracies promote and award members based on achievement and potential consistent with organizational norms and prototypes.

Similarity attraction may have some influence on the current profile of Army General Officers. Of the 15 current General Officers, 12 are West Point graduates, and only three are not Maneuver, Fires and Effects (MFE) officers.16 Highlighting this fact does not devalue the worth of these senior leaders rather it questions the prototype. Are the common qualifications of these senior leaders central to success at the highest levels of senior leadership, or are there other characteristics and different career experiences that make others just as capable? The profile of Army Generals represents a belief system in the Army that is influenced by legitimized prototypes.

Being different from others impedes career advancement, and similarities between subordinates and superiors are positive factors in selection decisions.17 Similarity attraction leads to raters developing self-based schemas pertaining to performance and potential that reinforce their own favorable image, and positively bias their evaluation of subordinates perceived as similar.18 The consequence of similarity attraction in the context of promotion and advancement is consistent with Schein’s fifth embedding mechanism, how leaders recruit, select, and promote members.

Self-categorization is a process by which individuals define themselves in terms of membership in a given group, and causes individuals to develop self-concepts and provoke behaviors consistent with group membership.19 Two effects of self-concept stem from self-categorization. Individuals begin to view their membership in a certain group as a significant dimension of their self-identity, and the perceived and actual interests of the larger group take precedence over their views. These effects strongly influence the development of in and out-groups, and further stimulate depersonalization.

Similarity attraction and self-categorization are consistent with the leader member exchange (LMX) theory, which centers on the concept of senior Army leaders establishing a special exchange relationship with subordinates that share perceived or actual similarities, and results in the formation of in-groups and out-groups.20 Out-group members are less likely to commit to an organization or share minority viewpoints because they believe their perspective will not be valued. Conversely, in-group members are given favorable tasks, and the senior leader will often influence assignment processes in an effort to enhance the careers of these favored subordinates. LMX influences the suppression of individual identity and compels members to assimilate into group norms.

Assimilation is a process whereby individuals gradually adopt the practices of a dominant group, while simultaneously struggling to retain their unique individual identity. However, in the Army there is little incentive for members to retain portions of their individual identity that are not consistent with organizational norms. As a result, the Army is less likely to embrace differences deeply embedded in individual identity. Conversely, conformity emerges as an important and idealistic goal, and a reward and punishment system is codified that is initially transactional in nature. Individuals that assimilate well benefit from rewards in exchange for compliance to norms, and those that struggle to do so are marginalized. This socialization process is aligned with Schein’s fourth embedding mechanism—the allocation of rewards and status.


Overcoming the effects of leader prototypes and assimilation requires leaders to effectively lead and manage diversity to create unit climates, and an organizational culture that allow the Army to transition from simply tolerating diversity to realizing the promise of diversity. Tolerating diversity is not a sufficient approach for the Army because by definition tolerance simply means “the willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own.”21

Dr. Milton J. Bennett in his article titled Becoming Interculturally Competent suggests that individuals experience a major change in their interaction with different individuals by moving from a state of ethnocentrism to ethno-relativism. Ethno relative world views enable individuals to seek differences by accepting and adapting their own perspectives and then integrating differences to create a more holistic and comprehensive understanding of reality.22 This mindset change begins when senior Army leaders view their own perspective, and similar perspectives, as simply one among a number of complex world views. Creating a more holistic and comprehensive understanding of reality creates tremendous opportunities for individual and organizational growth, and will require senior Army leaders to strike a balance between adhering to long standing organizational norms, and integrating divergent perspectives to foster innovation and creativity. Achieving this elusive degree of equilibrium requires leaders to alter their mental models of exacting prototypes, enhance the influence of the minority perspective, and place greater emphasis on diversity and culture education. By focusing on these factors as catalyst for change, senior Army leaders will become “entrepreneurs of prototypicality,” and alter institutional views of what is normative.23

Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions and generalizations that influence how individuals respond to differences.24 Senior Army leaders must broaden their mental models of prototypical leaders, adjust self-based schemas of effective subordinates, and challenge their notion of the ideal leader. This is important in establishing mutual trust, and building cohesive organizations. For many senior Army leaders this will cause discomfort and uncertainty, because the Army is heavily reliant on bureaucratic policies and regulations designed to avoid uncertainty. An aversion to uncertainty can result in a degree of cognitive dissonance for an organization that espouses the importance of adaptable leaders. However, discomfort and uncertainty often serve as necessary and effective means of change. An important idea to consider, is the Army is adopting more inclusive personnel assignment policies that enable female Soldiers to serve in combat specialty branches. However, it is important to ensure the integration of females in these branches serves a functional purpose as opposed to providing females with greater opportunities to align with existing prototypes associated with the institution’s most senior leaders.

In further adjusting mental models, the Army must alter some organizational protocols associated with key selection board processes. Doing so will serve as a reinforcing mechanism and aid in changing organizational culture.25 The Army should sterilize board records during key selection processes by removing all unit identification, commissioning sources, names of raters and senior raters, and official photographs. These specific means of identification engender biases, stereotypical beliefs, and stigmas that influence board members.

Adjusting senior Army leader beliefs and behavior will also require leaders to enhance the influence of minority and divergent perspectives, which are dismissed often in organizations heavily dependent on assimilation and conformity. Creative and innovative thoughts often emerge from ideas and concepts not aligned with prevailing norms or majority influenced ideas. The reluctance to embrace counter-insurgency doctrine early on during Operation Iraqi Freedom serves as a salient example.26 Therefore, one of the most important roles a leader has, given the command and leader centric nature of the Army, is establishing a unit climate that embraces and fosters divergent thought. On the surface, this idea may seem blatantly obvious, but in practice, it is quite challenging because leaders often become overly wedded to their own beliefs and are influenced by confirmation bias. This thought highlights the importance of educating current and emerging junior leaders early on in their developmental process on the importance of critical and creative thinking skills, and the continued emphasis on these cognitive skills at the intermediate and senior service college level.

The Army Leader Development Strategy (ALDS) highlights education as one of the three pillars of leader development and is a testament to the Army’s commitment to and reliance on education. The strategy’s emphasis on critical and innovative thinking skills, emotional intelligence, and broadening experiences highlight its relevance, however, the ALDS does not place enough emphasis on the importance of diversity and culture education. These two words appear once in the entire document but not in the context of education.27 Placing greater emphasis on diversity and culture education will greatly improve existing leader development strategies; therefore, the Army should consider the following recommendations.

The Army must integrate diversity education at all levels of leader development. At the junior leader level, diversity education should include education on the different types of diversity, the benefits and challenges of diversity in organizations, and provide basic knowledge on identity formation. At the intermediate and senior service college level, diversity education should emphasize the difference between diversity leadership and management, the value of embracing minority and divergent perspectives, and emphasize how LMX, self-categorization, similarity attraction, and social representation influence behavior and decision making. Furthermore, diversity education at these levels should include instruction on leader prototypes, and unconscious and confirmation bias. Finally, culture education should emphasize how culture influences behavior, beliefs and decision making, educate leaders on cultural frameworks that assist in understanding how cultures are organized and function, and identify the types of skills and attributes required to operate and lead effectively in multi-cultural environments.


Conformity to organizationally sanctioned norms and behaviors is not simply a matter of superficial compliance; rather it represents internal cognitive change, and the legitimacy of a prototype in a salient organization like the Army becomes crystallized and embodied in personal belief and value systems. Therefore, senior Army leaders, as entrepreneurs of prototypicality, must model the type of behavior that values individuality, enables trust and the development of cohesive teams, and ultimately allows the Army to realize the promise of diversity. By implementing the recommendations outlined in this paper, senior Army leaders will demonstrate astute diversity leadership and management practices and exemplify the type of leader current and emerging junior leaders must emulate. Ultimately, this will allow the Army to “develop adaptive leaders for a complex world, remain globally responsive and regionally engaged, facilitate commitment to the Army profession, and remain the world’s premier volunteer Army.”28


  1. quote is attributed to Gerard (Geert) Hendrik Hofstede and is derived from The Book Leadership in a Diverse and Multicultural Environment, by Mary Connerley and Paul Pedersen, Published by Sage Publications, 2005.
  2. Webster dictionary.
  3. Michael A. Hogg and Scott A. Reid, Social Identity, Self Categorization, and the Communication of Group Norms, Communication Theory ISSN 1050-3293, International Communication Association, 2006, page 10.
  4. Military Leadership Diversity Commission, Decision paper # 6: Diversity Leadership, February 2011, page 4-5.
  5. Ibid, 33.
  6. Headquarters Department of the Army , ADRP 6-22, August 2012, page 1-5.
  7. Ibid, see leadership requirements model, page 1-5.
  8. Schein’s five embedding mechanisms include; what leaders pay attention to, measure and control on a regular basis; how leaders react to critical incidents and organizational crises; how leaders allocate resources, rewards and status; deliberate role modeling, teaching and coaching; and how leaders recruit, select, promote and excommunicate group members.
  1. Hogg and Reid, page 11.
  2. Hogg, A Social Identity of Leadership, Personality and Social Psychology Review, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001, page 184.
  3. Ibid, 184.
  4. Ibid, 184.
  5. Mannix, page 39.
  6. Ibid, 40.
  7. Ross Howard, Exploring Unconscious Bias, CDO Insights, Diversity Best Practices, Volume 2, Issue 5, August 2008, page 2.
  8. General Officer Public Roster, General Officer Management Division, Senior Leader Division, United States Army, as of October 2013.
  9. Schaubroeck, John and Lam, Simon S.K. How Similarity to Peers and the Supervisor Influences Organizational Advancement in Different Cultures, Academy of Management Journal, 2002, page 3.
  10. Ibid, page 7.
  11. Mannix, 40.
  12. Gerras, 2004 Division Commander’s Survey, Department of Command Leadership and Management, selected readings, United States Army War College, Fall 2013.
  13. Mariam Webster definition of tolerance.
  14. Milton J. Bennett, Becoming Interculturally Competent, Towards multiculturalism: A reader in multicultural education, 2nd edition, page 68.
  15. Hogg and Reid, Social Identity, Self Categorization, and the Communication of Group Norms, page 15.
  16. Senge, Peter, The Fifth Discipline, page 8.
  17. In addition to the five embedding mechanisms described by Schein, he also presents the following six secondary articulation and reinforcing mechanisms; Organizational design and structure; Organizational systems and procedures; Rites and rituals; Design of physical space and buildings; Stories about important events and people; and Formal statements of organizational philosophy, creeds and charters.
  18. Gerras and Wong, Changing Minds in the Army: Why it’s So Difficult and What to do about it, United States Army War College, June 2013.
  19. In the current version of the ALDS, dated 13 June 2013, the word diversity appears on page 4 as a descriptor of emerging threats in the context of the current and anticipated future operating environment. The word culture also appears once in the document, and is used to within the context of conveying the importance of broadening assignments.
  20. In October of 2013, CSA General Odierno promulgated his strategic priorities to the force. These priorities include: Adaptive Army Leaders for a Complex World; A Globally Responsive and Regionally Engaged Army; a Ready and Modern Army; Soldiers Committed to Our Army Profession; The Premier All Volunteer Army.
  21. A longer version of this article that was published in the Profiles in Diversity Journal in their January/ February 2014 issue—http://www.diversityjournal.com/12591-challenge-promise-diversity/.

Military Operations in Kosovo and the Danger of ‘Mission Creep’

Published on May 28, 2014 — Available also in PDF

Captain Michael A. Robinson, U.S. Army

Captain Michael A. Robinson, U.S. ArmyCPT Michael A. Robinson is a company commander in the 319th Military Intelligence BTN at Fort Bragg, NC. He holds a B.S. in International Relations from the United States Military academy at West Point. He served a Brigade Chief of Plans for Multi-National Battle Group – East, Kosovo Forces -17. His assignments include tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans.

As the Army enters into a time of self-reflection, doctrinal re-assessment, and fiscal re-prioritization, the most pressing existential questions that operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have created, are the implications of long-term military operations and their relationship with the political goals articulated by civilian leadership. There is no need to explain that a disparity between these two envisioned end-states, the military and the civilian, can force catastrophic deviations from the original mission. To this end, the Army and its civilian leadership have long sought to avoid mission creep (a term popularized during the 1990s as an operational scarecrow for policy-makers to evade long-term entanglements in the domestic issues of other nations).1 While the political dimension of fourth-generation warfare has been a predominant field of study in light of the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, this seemingly novel fear of uncontrolled mission development predates these operations significantly.

In this regard, as one of the few remaining large-scale contingency operations whose origins are in the pre-9/11 world, the continued US presence in the Kosovo Forces (KFOR) mission affords a unique case study in the effects of ‘mission creep’. When analyzed carefully, the KFOR mission is an operational time capsule. Kosovo is a mission that exists in our Army’s pre-9/11 past, its uncertain present, and likely in its future, the conservative politico-military concerns of the 1990s fossilized into very roots of the mission. As our Army moves inexorably towards a reduced force structure similar to that of the Army of 1999 when the mission first began, the ramifications of political and military incongruity in Kosovo provide a timely collection of lessons learned that we could apply to the future of Army operations.

Kosovo Force troops react to a Molotov cocktail.

Kosovo Force troops react to a Molotov cocktail thrown during the Silver Saber training exercise at Camp Vrelo Oct. 16. KFOR soldiers also had to breach obstacles, evacuate casualties and perform crowd and riot control operations throughout the three-day exercise. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Randy Ready, 4th Public Affairs Detachment)

This work will first lay out the idea of mission creep as a political and military landmine to successful operations, whether largely combative or peacekeeping in nature. Next, it will provide a concise overview of KFOR’s operational trajectory, marking its steady failure to synchronize political realities with military tasks. Last, it will focus on the specific missteps made by both military and civilian leadership and the contributions of those mistakes towards mission creep in Kosovo.

‘Mission Creep’: A Conceptual Understanding

In order to understand the descent of the KFOR mission into deviated mission creep, it is first necessary to establish a suitable framework wherein to characterize this prolific, yet highly misunderstood idea. In a prophetic July 1998 study from the Center for Naval Analyses, Adam Siegel attempted to provide a specific articulation of the parameters of actual mission creep, feeling that the term was a hollow platitude utilized only to stymie the use of military force in operations that military leadership deemed inappropriate. While the military and its civilian leadership at the time were already highly conservative about the employment of American forces abroad, the recent and generally negative experiences of the Army in achieving political goals in Haiti and Somalia simply compounded the fear that mission creep would entangle American forces in yet more developing-world quagmires.

However, the term did not have a formal definition in the Department of Defense and was, as Ambassador Richard Holbrooke stated, “[…] never clearly defined, only invoked, and always in a negative sense, used only to kill someone else’s proposal.” 2 The term was captured in FM 3-16 The Army in Multinational Operations as “tangential efforts to assist in areas of concern unrelated to assigned duties that cripple efficient mission accomplishment.” However, it does not specifically prescribe the root causes of this idea, nor does it define the basis by which tasks are considered ‘unrelated’.3 Thus, Siegel’s attempt to define the term when the military itself offered no definition is a highly useful conceptualization of uncontrolled mission evolution.

Police Officer Guzmend Jakupi

Police Officer Guzmend Jakupi, a member of the Kosovo Border Patrol, shows U.S. Army Capt. Anthony Wilkins and Chief Warrant Officer Two Andre Harris, members of the KFOR 17 Joint Law Enforcement Liaison Team, a distant route used by smugglers during a dismounted patrol along the Administrative Boundary Line, May 29. The ABL serves as a dividing line between Kosovo and Serbia, and both sides patrol the ABL to stop smugglers from crossing the boundary illegally. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Cody Harding, 4th Public Affairs Detachment)

Siegel argued because the military was asked to perform tasks for which it had not originally planned and trained for, or considered nation building in nature, this did not constitute mission creep per se, in the derogatory sense it was being used.4 Instead, flexibility among military commanders to adapt to changing situations was a trait to be expected by civilian leadership. The tasks required to accomplish the mission as originally formulated, will evolve over time. Siegel reframed the idea of mission change over time into four categories: task accretion, mission shift, mission transition, and mission leap. While these terms collectively captured the relatively narrow definition that remained of mission creep, each carried with it specific applicability to the idea of incongruent mission understanding by political and military elements over time. Most succinctly, Siegel argued that true harmony and avoidance of unwanted deviation in mission focus comes from the ability to “tie policy goals, policy guidance, force planning, and tasks together.”5 When military action becomes detached from the political mandate for that action, policy goals concurrently cease to correspond with the nature of military operations.

Mission leap encompassed the idea that the very nature of the mission changed beyond the point of recognition to the original objective and that the military role in that new mission’s completion brought with it new tasks. Similarly, task accretion captured those changes pursuant to accomplishing the mission, as originally planned without a change in the end-state as initially formulated. Collectively, Siegel argued that task accretion and mission leap were “conscious decisions made either on the scene or at higher headquarters to modify or drastically change the mission’s parameters.”6 Because of the intentional nature of these types of changes in the mission, they could not be accurately described as mission creep. Instead, Siegel argued the greatest risk came from mission shift and mission transition, wherein forces adopt new tasks that expand the mission itself or when the mission, explicitly or otherwise, moves to a new set of goals. Collectively labeled as “mission split”, he argued, these two ideas accurately captured what the policymakers and military leadership ultimately feared: a fundamental divergence between stated political objectives and military action.7 It is through this lens that we will evaluate the KFOR mission as a case study in civil-military incongruence.

U.S.  and Ukrainian soldiers push away a simulated rioter.

U.S. soldiers with the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade (BfSB) and Ukrainian soldiers push away a simulated rioter during the Kosovo Force (KFOR) 17 Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRE) at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, May 3, 2013. The KFOR 17 MRE was designed to prepare the 525th BfSB for operations in support of NATO in Kosovo. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Bryan Rankin)

KFOR: Descent into Mission Split

The events leading to the creation of the KFOR mission reached their boiling point in early 1999, following the sustained NATO bombing to end the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s (FRY) forces campaign against ethnic Albanians from the semi-autonomous Serbian province of Kosovo. Hostility between Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian forces and the ethnic Albanian paramilitary organization known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), had reached their peak. Western political leaders were unable to force concessions from Belgrade to “resolve the grave humanitarian situation” in the breakaway province.8 The 77-day bombing campaign was soon followed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, calling for the intervention of an international security presence to provide a stable environment and safe return for the massive Albanian refugee population that fled. Its mandate, according to the resolution, was the disarmament of the KLA, in addition to decidedly broader tasks such as preventing further aggression in Kosovo, and to support, secure and provide freedom of movement for the international civil presence. The NATO-led security force, known as KFOR, would provide the necessary umbrella of security while the international civil presence tended to the development of human rights enforcement, local law and order, Kosovar self-government, and infrastructure development.

NATO’s own political guidance came out of this tense time, with the establishment of the Military Technical Agreement (MTA) between KFOR and Serbia in June 1999, articulating the means by which KFOR was able to enforce its mandate under UNSCR 1244. In addition to ordering the rapid withdrawal of FRY forces from Kosovo, the agreement granted the KFOR commander the ability to utilize force, if necessary, to provide a secure environment for the international civil presence that would follow. Curiously, the agreement designated the commander of KFOR as the “final authority regarding interpretation” of the MTA.9 The mission now had two shaping forces: UNSCR 1244, the overarching set of political objectives governed by the United Nations, and the MTA, a military agreement overseen by the KFOR commander. From the outset, military and political tasks and guidelines were catalogued in separate documents under different authorities.

Slovenian soldiers form a defensive line.

Slovenian soldiers form a defensive line while conducting riot control operations during a Kosovo Force (KFOR) mission rehearsal exercise (MRE) at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, May 12, 2013. The KFOR 17 MRE was designed to prepare the U.S. Army’s 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade for operations in support of NATO in Kosovo. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Bryan Rankin)

Despite violent outbreaks between ethnic Albanian and Serbian enclaves within Kosovo during the initial years of the operation, KFOR witnessed a steady decline of active threats to the stability of their operational environment. With the refugee crisis resolved, the KLA effectively disarmed, and the international civil presence assuming the lion’s share of substantive tasks pursuant to development of Kosovar institutions, seemingly little specific directives remained from UNSCR 1244 and the MTA. By 2007, the political discourse in Serbia and across Europe trended inexorably towards an independent Kosovo, leaving the military arm of the operation clinging desperately to its vague guideline to provide a ‘safe and secure environment’. After eight years of presence, violence reached record lows. The Kosovo Police which was non-existent in 1999, had reached over 7,000 personnel, both Albanians and Serbs.10 The international civil presence was heavily reinforced with the creation of the European Union Rule of Law force (EULEX). Its mandate in support of the United Nations mission was to develop the legal institutions of Kosovo.11 KFOR, on the other hand, saw a steady decrease in troop force and minor geographical re-alignment with little assessment of their role in this drastically different Kosovo, continuing low-intensity presence patrols and passively monitoring the environment.

The Kosovo Republic declared its independence from the Serbian state in 2008. This act demanded a re-assessment of the on-the-ground reality, versus the originally-stated mission for the presence of the still thousands-strong military force.12 Instead of synchronizing the evolving political situation with a strongly diminished military role, KFOR instead assumed a variety of tasks it deemed necessary to continue operations in support of a ‘safe and secure environment’. The most prominent of these expanded tasks, was KFOR’s role in the establishment of the Kosovo Security Forces (KSF). The KSF was aimed at providing the government in Pristina a mechanism to achieve its own control of the environment.13 KFOR would spend the next five years developing the KSF as the security situation, with minor exceptions, maintained its stable and nearly quiet status.

Finally, in 2013, the political earth shifted again under KFOR’s feet as the Brussels Agreement was signed between Serbia and the Kosovar authorities. In exchange for future EU accession talks, Serbia agreed to remove the relics of its Belgrade-sponsored political and security institutions from the northern (and largely Serbian) provinces in Kosovo.14

The motivation for Serbian compliance in its normalization of relations with Kosovo, had effectively shifted from its fear of military reprisal by NATO, in hopes of membership in the European Union. Shortly after the agreement, the now 2,500-strong Kosovo Security Forces were declared ‘fully operational and capable’ to support civil authorities in disaster relief and civil emergencies.15 Domestic capability to ensure a “safe and secure environment,” seemed primed for a long-overdue shift from KFOR to these new institutions; the Kosovo Police along with the EULEX mission in Kosovo.

Missed Opportunities to Achieve Synchronization

Over the course of its operation, KFOR has seen a steady decline in ethnic violence and a drastic increase in the international civil presence and Kosovo security institutions; put simply, the NATO-led force’s primary justification for existence has eroded without proper assessment of how its daily tasks support a clearly-articulated political end-state. As Siegel’s mission evolution framework posits, the most dangerous examples of unfocused mission conceptualization come from the cases of mission shift and mission transition, specifically where policy goals and force structure become increasingly divergent. To this end, there are two primary opportunities wherein KFOR, its civilian leadership in NATO, and the UN failed to re-assess the nature of the military operation in light of drastic political changes.

The first opportunity for KFOR to re-assess its role in accordance with both political objectives and the reality of the security situation, arose with the declaration of independence by the Kosovo Republic and the establishment of the EULEX mission, both in 2008. KFOR’s mandate as the international security presence, according to UNSCR 1244 and the MTA, was to facilitate both the return of refugees and the withdrawal of FRY forces from Kosovo, not to establish military or paramilitary elements representative of a Kosovar state. The UNSCR 1244 and the MTA were the political keystones of KFOR’s mission. These foundational documents upheld the ‘territorial integrity’ of Serbia. They only supported Kosovar institutional development as they existed ‘within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’, now Serbia.16 With a Kosovar declaration of independence largely recognized by most of Europe, KFOR and its civilian leaders in NATO and the UN missed a critical opportunity to re-assess the purpose of the military force, or the opportunity to terminate the mission. With the establishment of the EULEX mission in support of the international civil presence, the military’s role in the country should have seemed even more in need of re-assessment. Instead, the NATO-led force was content to create tasks to justify its presence, rather than assess the purpose of its continued presence in light of the changing situation.

Utilizing Siegel’s framework of mission divergence, KFOR’s decision to accept additional tasks in the form of the development of the KSF constitutes a dangerous form of mission shift, and drastic deviation from its political objectives articulated by 1244 and the MTA. Even using FM 3-16’s narrowly-defined articulation of mission creep, this effort was by all accounts ‘tangential’ to the original effort of establishing a safe environment for the civilian presence in Kosovo, and prevent renewed hostilities.17 This action cannot be accurately described as task accretion. The end-state was no longer envisioned as it had been in 1999, with Kosovar statehood entering into the agenda. If policy goals and force structure being synchronized is essential to avoiding mission creep, the inability of NATO forces and its respective political leadership to scale down the military’s role in light of increased civilian presence and a normalized security environment was a regrettable failure. Even if the overarching political goals regarding Kosovo had changed from a modest humanitarian mission to one of dedicated ‘nation-building’, the civilian documents providing the military its mission focus should have been assessed and revised. The lack of end-state articulation “discouraged long-term solutions” and would leave KFOR a merely reactive force.18 In either instance, both the military and civilian arms of the mission failed to avoid stumbling into mission shift and adopting new tasks not envisioned in the original end-state.

Even if the political situation was not ripe for re-assessment of the KFOR mission in 2008 following these drastic developments, it was certainly so in early 2013 with the Brussels Agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, followed shortly after by the declaration of Kosovo Security Forces as being ‘fully-operational and capable’. For the second time in five years, the political environment, the security situation, and the Kosovar government’s capabilities had shifted so drastically since the initial intervention in 1999 that KFOR, NATO, and the UN mission were no longer operating on solid ground about providing clear mission focus. Without an equally clear re-assessment of its overarching political objectives, KFOR and the civilian leadership of the UN mission were now largely divorced from each other’s understanding of the environment. Brussels had essentially removed NATO as the bulwark against Serbian aggression and replaced military reprisal with economic incentive as a condition for Serbian compliance. There had been, as Siegel articulates in his definition of mission transition, an “unstated transition to a new set of objectives.” 19 For Kosovo to declare its independence, establish domestic police and security forces, oversee the removal of old Serbian structures in the north, and enjoy the lowest levels of violence since the intervention were astounding changes. Even more astounding was to accomplish all of these tasks without updating, revising, or terminating NATO’s continued military presence.

With the collective focus of the international civilian presence effectively shifting towards the support and development of Kosovar political and security institutions, the guiding hand of NATO’s operations had similarly shifted to a newly envisioned but unspoken end-state. Seigel’s definition of mission transition is particularly useful in this context, charting the further descent of KFOR into ‘mission creep’ through its movement towards a revised set of political objectives without revising the relevancy of military tasks that were allegedly in support of them. As a result, the lack of a modified political end-state in accordance with the new reality of Kosovo left KFOR without clearly defined objectives, bound only to respond as events narrowly permitted.


With our increased study of politico-military affairs and the idea of the ‘whole-of-government’ approach to future military operations, no case study can prove too insignificant to extract at least some useful lessons about the importance of clarity and achieving a unified understanding of the mission and its end-state. Many if not most of our formation would be surprised to know that we still have forces stationed in Kosovo, performing a mission set whose shifting priorities and ill-defined end-states have left American forces precariously trapped in a seemingly-stable area of operations. As the Army and its civilian leaders move inescapably towards the smaller military, fiscal restraint, and political wariness over troop commitments that punctuated the pre-9/11 era, a 1990s formulation of ‘mission creep’ proves especially interesting when combined with the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan. Just as those operations were frequently the victim of an unclear political end-state and a correspondingly unfocused set of military tasks, KFOR was also stymied by a similar incongruity.

From the outset, the KFOR mission’s political and military tasks were devised separately and catalogued in documents managed by different elements. Although KFOR, as the military mission, was able to achieve its initially stated objectives; uncertain political objectives led it to developing additional tasks in order to justify its continued presence. The failure of the KFOR mission to achieve a common understanding of its military tasks in support of a political end-state is merely one more example of the danger that unfocused operations and mission creep can wreak upon achieving national priorities. By understanding when the political situation that governs military operations has changed dramatically, commanders can re-assess their own role in the greater scheme of these operations, and prevent such ‘creep’ from hijacking both civil and military control of the environment.


  1. B. Siegel,”Mission Creep”: An examination of an overused and misunderstood term (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analyses, July 1998), 5.
  2. 7.
  3. Army Field Manual (FM) 3-16, The Army in Multinational Operations (Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office [GPO], 20 May 2010), 4-2.
  4. 12.
  5. 4.
  6. 24.
  7. 26.
  8. Nations Security Council, 10 June 1999. Resolution S/RES/1244, On the situation relating Kosovo. In United Nations Security Council Resolutions – 1999, http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N99/172/89/PDF/N9917289.pdf?OpenElement (accessed December 30, 2013).
  9. Atlantic Treaty Organization, Military Technical Agreement between the International Security Force (“KFOR”) and the Governments of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Serbia, 9 June 1999, http://www.nato.int/kosovo/docu/a990609a.htm (accessed December 30, 2013).
  10. Judah, Kosovo: What Everyone Needs To Know (Oxford University Press, 2008), 95.
  11. 134.
  12. 145.
  13. Role in Kosovo”, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, accessed December 30, 2013, http://www.aco.nato.int/kfor/about-us/natos-role-in-kosovo.aspx.
  14. Vasovic and Justyna Pawlak, “EU brokers historic Kosovo deal, door opens to Serbia accession,” Reuters, April 19, 2013, accessed January 2, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/19/us-serbia-kosovo-eu-idUSBRE93I0IB20130419.
  15. Vandiver, “Kosovo security force recognized as fully operational by NATO,” Stars and Stripes, July 9, 2013, accessed January 1, 2014, http://www.stripes.com/news/europe/kosovo-security-force-recognized-as-fully-operational-by-nato-1.229553.
  16. RES 1244.
  17. 3-16, 4-2.
  18. Cody Phillips, Operation Joint Guardian: The U.S. Army in Kosovo (Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office [GPO], U.S. Army Center for Military History, 2007), Pub. 70-109-1, 55.
  19. 24.

Lessons From The Long War: A Soldier-Focused, Data Driven Analysis of Retention

Published on May 7, 2014 — Available also in PDF

Thomas M. Zubik, COL, US Army; Samantha M. Hack, PhD, MSW;

Leah Cleeland, MSW; Paul C. Hastings, COL (Ret), US Army

Zubik, Hack, Cleeland and Hastings standing together.

Col. Thomas Zubik is currently a branch chief with the 75th Training Command. Zubik has deployed to Kosovo, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. He holds a B.A. from Eastern Illinois Univ., a Master of Social Work from the Univ. of Illinois and a Masters in Strategic Studies, Air War College. Zubik is also a Forensic Social Worker with the State of Illinois.

Ms. Samantha Hack is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Veterans Affairs Capitol Health Care Network (VISN 5) Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center. Hack received her Ph.D. from the School of Social Work at the Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Ms. Leah Cleeland is a doctoral student at the Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s School of Social Work with a focus on military families and veteran’s issues. Cleeland holds a B.S.W. from Valparaiso Univ. and an M.S.W. from the Univ. of Denver with a concentration in Children, Youth and Family Services. Cleeland has over 15 years of experience as a therapist, direct practitioner, and researcher.

Col. Paul Hastings retired from the Illinois Army National Guard in 2013 with his capstone assignment as Commander of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Hastings’ 30-year career included deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Hastings holds a B.A. from Texas A&M Univ., and is a Senior Large Financial Institution Specialist for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in Chicago, Illinois.

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(Figure 1) 33 IBCT - Top Loss Categories

Political debate continues over how the United States can maintain military readiness and win its next war, in light of sequestration, declining budgets, and personnel cutbacks. The National Guard (NG) and the Army Reserve (AR) as part of the total force must also adapt to the realities of fiscal constraint while bearing the weight of being an operational force. The standard of being an operational force for the NG/AR was difficult to achieve before sequestration. It is much tougher now, for there is no money to buy readiness.

Given this strategic backdrop, the NG/AR has a complex problem on their hands. How does the NG/AR retain their soldiers with combat experience to maintain readiness given the demands of being an operational reserve? The 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (33rd IBCT), like all NG brigades, is confronting this problem. In 2012, the 33rd IBCT lost 556 soldiers for a number of reasons, but primarily expired term of service (ETS). The brigade’s experienced soldiers had completed their initial term of service and decided to opt out of the NG. See Figure 1.

The 33rd IBCT was losing the retention battle, and by extension, critical combat readiness. Commanders have always struggled with retention; today the problem is much more significant because it is not easy to replace experienced soldiers. The necessary skills needed in new recruits go well beyond basic rifle marksmanship, including aptitudes for information technology, linguistics, and so forth. The time needed to qualify a soldier can be upwards of one year depending on the military occupational specialties. However, even with this advanced training, they do not have combat experience. Furthermore, there are fewer combat experienced soldiers repopulating the ranks of the NG/AR due to the fewer deployments. Therefore, retaining soldiers who served in OEF/OIF operations is a significant readiness concern.

In response, the 33rd IBCT command team took an unusual tack by drilling down into this wicked problem by creating their own survey; a data driven and soldier focused analysis to explore the reasons why it was losing soldiers. Instead of speculating on what our soldiers wanted, the brigade surveyed almost 2,000 soldiers about readiness, retention and their lives.

The soldiers of the 33rd IBCT completed a one-page survey consisting of seven demographic items, seven Likert scale questions, and one open-ended written response. In the demographic section soldiers, were asked to provide their military occupational skill (MOS), years of service, unit, rank by range, employment status, and if they were married or had children.

In the survey body, soldiers were asked to rate their response to the following seven questions on a scale of one to five with one being the most significant negative impact, 3 being no impact/ neutral and five being the most significant positive impact. The questions are as follows:

1. Will your experience at annual training 2012 at Camp Ripley (xCTC) have an impact on your decision to re-enlist or remain in the National Guard?

2. Do the requirements for mandatory online classes, additional training, and other National Guard events affect your decision to re-enlist or remain in the National Guard?

3. Does the current command climate of your unit effect your decision to re-enlist?

4. Will the availability of medical coverage (TriCare), dental coverage, family assistance agencies, legal counsel, and bonuses effect your decision to re-enlist or remain in the National Guard?

5. Do extended IDT periods (MUTA 6, 7, or 8) affect your decision to re-enlist or remain in the National Guard?

6. Will the possibility of mobilization and deployment effect your decision to re-enlist or remain in the National Guard?

7. Does your family support your reenlistment or remaining in the National Guard?

Finally, the soldiers were asked one qualitative question, “If you could tell the brigade commander one thing, good or bad, in regard to the effect the National Guard has on your life, what would it be?”

Analysis of the Qualitative Results

Initially 1,938 surveys were returned for analysis. Surveys where respondents left at least one of the seven survey body questions blank were removed leaving 1,922 responses. While soldiers were clearly generally comfortable answering the survey questions, they were more likely to avoid providing demographic information. Soldiers who did not provide their years of service, rank, employment status, marital status, or parenting status were also removed from the sample resulting in 1,747 completed surveys. A description of the sample is provided in Table 1.

Responses to the seven Likert scale survey questions were analyzed and compared across several demographic variables: rank, employment/school time commitment, marital status, and parental status. Results are presented in Table 2. Higher scores indicate a more positive impact on soldiers’ self-evaluation of likelihood to re-enlist or remain in the NG. For each variable comparison group the highest and lowest ranked responses are marked in bold. Asterisks next to the question name indicate statistically significant differences between comparison group responses. Regardless of the demographic variable being examined, all soldiers reported that benefits such as TriCare, dental coverage and bonuses had the most positive impact on their decision to re-enlist or remain in the NG. Similarly, extended Inactive Duty Training (IDT) periods of Multiple Unit Training Assembly (MUTA) 6, 7, or 8 and additional training and classes were consistently ranked most negatively by all respondent subgroups.

The roles of employee, student, spouse, and parent are all commitments that exist in parallel to respondents’ commitment to the NG. It appears when the military/work/life balance shifts due to increased training demands on the part of the NG, soldiers with more outside military commitments react more negatively to the perceived intrusion. For example, respondents who had full-time work or school roles rated extended IDTs and additional training requirements more negatively than respondents who were unemployed or worked part-time. Soldiers with spouses and children were more likely than soldiers without to view extended IDTs and deployment negatively.

Analysis of Qualitative Component

In our survey we also included an open-ended question, “If you could tell the brigade commander one thing, good or bad, in regards to the effect the National Guard has had on your life, what would it be?. “ This question was answered by 41.5 percent (803) of the total sample. For this analysis 364 surveys, the entire number submitted from the officer ranks of 2nd lieutenant-to-lieutenant colonel, and the enlisted ranks of sergeant to first/master sergeant were analyzed. These particular ranks were chosen, for they were the ones more likely to have deployed and they also bear a more burdensome time commitment.

To increase validity of the qualitative responses three University of Illinois coders were used to identify themes and define codes and two soldiers from the National Guard were consulted on the appropriateness of the codes. Attention was paid to the initial rationale for the survey - reenlistment and retention, and its relationship to high operation tempo (OPTEMPO) training as defined as extended weekend training assemblies (known as MUTA 6, 7, or 8s), and three week Annual Training (AT) periods. The impact of the prolonged high OPTEMPO was seen in several ways.

Time Commitment

An overarching theme to the open-ended question related to the increase in the time commitment that was required by the new heightened operational tempo. This theme revealed itself in a variety of ways: change in the demands over the years, the impact on outside life, especially work and family, and the continued high OPTEMPO despite a scaling down in deployments.

“This job has changed drastically over the years. The commitment of our soldiers and leaders is overwhelming. These citizen soldiers are citizens about 28 days a month. …Some do not have the time or resources to complete many of the tasks we ask them to do. Then we ask them to not only do one weekend a month but take off work multiple months in a row on Thursday and Fridays as well.”

Another soldier talked about the difficulty maintaining balance and the impact this has on reenlistment:

“It has been difficult to balance professional and civilian life with the obligations of the Guard. This has a major effect on my decision to reenlist. It’s a full time job without the full time pay or benefits.”

Especially problematic is additional training that does not receive compensation:

“One negative aspect regarding the National Guard in the past few years is the current additional demands placed on the individual soldier. Between the online training, for which the soldier does not receive any compensation, and the extended drill weekend, the National Guard is no longer “One weekend a month, two weeks a year.”

Impact on Outside Life

The responses showed an impact on the personal lives of the Guardsmen in two primary ways: Family and Employment or Career. One soldier discussed in detail the difficulty with increased MUTA drills:

“Many soldiers already lose time from work due to a normal MUTA 4 drill, extending multiple drills to MUTA 6 and 8 pushes that percentage of soldiers adversely affected to almost 100 percent. Is the trade off, of what is accomplished by having a MUTA 6 or 8 drill worth those adverse financial and family effects? I would strongly suggest that without very strong justification no MUTA 8 drills be approved and that MUTA 6 drills be severely limited.”

Additionally, another Guardsman questioned if the heightened level can be maintained:

“Many families have sacrificed time away from kids, spouses, and significant others for deployments, schools, and extended IDT weekends. A runner cannot sustain a spring pace forever. At some point, he/she will realize the cost/benefit ratio and just walk away. …we are losing our greatest assets. Those sergeants and staff sergeants with 10-14 years of service that are walking away.”

One Soldier discussed the tension between their dual commitment to the Guard and family:

“Soldiers love to serve and love the National Guard. But what they love more are their families. Their families will always win over the Guard. In our time of dwindling numbers, we should take this more into consideration.”


Since many National Guardsmen also have civilian careers, the higher level of training directly affects their ability to hold and maintain these jobs. There are indications that employers’ initial levels of support and tolerance for time away for training time are waning:

“Deployments or AT are not an issue. Anything beyond a MUTA 4 seriously inhibits my ability to find and hold a full-time job... Extending beyond a two-week period of AT also negatively impacts my employability. As the war stretches on, my potential employers become less tolerant of time away.”

Some soldiers stated the additional time for education and training inhibits their civilian career:

“Longer training affects my personal life as well as my employment in many ways. School is a big part of it and because of these longer stretches of training, I have had to put it on hold for a while. Also, my work suffers because of having to be away sometimes when I have important things going on and are time sensitive.”

IDT Periods

One of the most frequently mentioned mitigating factors is the perception that troops are no longer training for deployments:

“The extended drill weekends without a deployment on the way are bad for retention. When you think about the fact that most people have to take off work for three longer weekends without any pay from work. In addition, their guard pay is not equal to the lost wages. It is a tolerable sacrifice if you going to deploy but not when you are no longer deploying.”

Another soldier states the motivation changed once they learned of their canceled deployment.

“What is our goal? My fellow soldiers and I were highly motivated for the upcoming deployment that ended up getting canceled but the high speed training tempo hasn’t slowed, (e.g. long drill days and 5,6,7,8 MUTAs). It seems like we are training for the road to war but now we aren’t going anywhere.”

Positive Impact Despite High OPTEMPO

Regardless of the impact of the heightened operational tempo, it would be inaccurate to state that the responses entirely negative. Many responses were positive and several expressed the dichotomy of the challenges of an increased level of training with a pride and dedication to the National Guard.

One Guardsman succinctly stated:

“Proud to SERVE, getting TIRED!”

Furthermore, one officer showed the complexity of both the positive and negative impact the Guard has made on their life and the lives of their troops, especially as the heightened level continues:

“While the National Guard has been one of the best decisions of my life and I have benefited from it in some any ways, as of late, I feel that it requires too much from us… I genuinely feel that this has a great negative impact on retention for those who are employed outside of the military. As a company commander, this is a huge reason in my opinion why many good soldiers do not stay in. At a minimum, I hope the OPTEMPO at least slows down for the lower enlisted.”

Also, several soldiers responded that their families were supportive, but were unsure how long that support could continue:

“I have enjoyed my time in the guard. I do not do it for money or fame. I have been a squad leader and it has been the best job I have had. My family and friends understand the sacrifices made, and are willing to continue to sacrifice any time and resources to support me. However after 11 years of continuous support the stress is beginning to take a toll.”

Themes and Initial Implications

Several themes rose to the surface with this survey: 1) Soldiers are extremely proud of their service and will suffer hardship to serve their country, 2) Soldiers in the NG like their life compartmentalized; intrusions into the normal work week are not seen as beneficial, except when they are preparing for a deployment, and 3) Benefits matter to a great extent, but they may not overcome a burdensome OPTEMPO effecting one’s civilian career and family.

Furthermore, several suggestions and solutions were repeated or inferred multiple times. First, at the unit level, unless the unit is going to deploy, limit high OPTEMPO training. Second, upgrade soldier technology capability by ensuring ready computer access at the Armories. Thirdly, have a “one-portal access” for all online training, then an automatic accumulation of retirement points on completion of annual computer-based training. Finally, the last suggestion was not specifically articulated in the survey, but rather an analysis of all the results; careful examination and caution should be given to any reduction in NG/Reserve benefits. Reducing benefits will likely lead to a lower retention rate.

Commander’s Perspective

Commanders face risk and the Army’s method to manage risk is Composite Risk Management (CRM). From the Army’s 2009 Posture Statement “The primary premise of CRM is that it does not matter where or how the loss of a Soldier or Civilian occurs. The result is the same—decreased combat power or mission effectiveness.” What this paper suggests is that the same kind of thinking should be used when it comes to implementing high OPTEMPO training; for a soldier who opts out of the NG/AR because of high OPTEMPO training is a decrease of combat power. This survey indicates high OPTEMPO training is an independent variable which given different circumstances, a future deployment or not, may lead to different dependent variable, a high or low retention rate. Commanders must be deliberate and judicious when implementing high OPTEMPO training and it should coincide with a pending deployment or the unit’s position within the ARFORGEN cycle. Therefore, commanders should use the principles of CRM when designing their training plan to balance high OPTEMPO training, the year the unit is in the ARFORGEN cycle, and the potential for deployment with retention.

Some postulate that a unit should take every opportunity to engage in high OPTEMPO training, because soldiers like training “hard.” However, that line of reasoning is not supported by this survey and when taken to the extreme, it would potentially lead to everyone wearing body armor all the time. Likewise, the survey does not indicate that soldiers want low OPTEMPO training that is not meaningful, for many of the quotes by the Soldier indicate willingness to sacrifice their and time with their families to support the nation. Therefore, there is a medium between these two ideas and depending on if the unit will be deployed or not.

Recommendation for Future Research

As noted in the findings, collecting responses for the main survey questions was not an issue but soldiers were more likely to decline to provide demographic data. This is an understandable issue when viewed in regards to concerns about confidentiality and anonymity. The higher a participant’s rank or the more unique their MOS, the more identifiable they would have been to the command structure reviewing the surveys. In addition, while those individual details might not have been sufficient to identify a participant, there may have been justifiable concern that the combination of demographics would make identity apparent.

Future survey research with military populations should consider three issues when designing demographic sections: What data is actually needed? What level of data detail is needed, and what combination of data is being collected? For this research, it was necessary to collect information about rank. However, it might have been more desirable to only ask if soldiers were enlisted or officers, or, since identification among high-ranking officers is easier and the large majority of the sample was enlisted, to only collect ranges of ranks among enlisted soldiers. Similarly, soldiers might not have been concerned about providing their MOS or Unit, but requesting the information together may have made them less comfortable.

Although the partnership between the 33rd IBCT and the UIUC was viewed by both parties as a complete success, it was more by sincere effort by both entities, than a well thought out plan. Unit and other researchers in this area are also encouraged these helpful hints:

  • conduct a project like this, the military personnel and the researchers must realize that they need each other. The military needs the expertise of the researchers and their objective viewpoint. The researchers need the military for access and interpretations of the military lexicon.
  • entities will not make it soldier proof, therefore be prepare to create rules to interpret the data.
  • prepared to interpret slogans and symbols, such as “Centurions Forward!”
  • stamina: It will be a long process with the National Guard; senior leaders have two professions and researchers have other obligations too.


For the NG/AR, retaining combat experienced soldiers and leaders is critical to maintaining the hard-earned designation of an operational force. We must train to deploy, but likewise we must ensure how we train does not induce our most critical assets away from our organizations. This survey indicates that being mindfully of three-week AT periods, extended drill weekends and making it easier to accomplish additional training outside of a MUTA status actually preserves our combat power, not decreases it. The leadership of the National Guard and the Reserves has strong allies in the endeavor to sustain our “War Dividend.” Soldiers and their families fully support their service to their country and are willing to sacrifice their time for a deployment. Keeping these ideas in planning our training will help the NG/Reserves be fully prepared and combat ready.MR

NG and UIUC Partnership

Change in Order to Stay “Army Strong”

Published on April 18, 2014 — Available also in PDF

LTG Thomas Spoehr

Lieutenant General Thomas SpoehrLTG Thomas Spoehr, U.S. Army is the Director, Business Transformation, Headquarters Department of the Army, responsible for recommending ways for the Army to be more efficient in its business practices. Prior assignments include: Director Program Analysis and Evaluation, HQDA; Deputy Commanding General U.S. Forces Iraq (Support); and Director Force Development, HQDA. He holds an M.A. in Public Administration from Webster University and a B.S. from the College of William and Mary.

“The Army must change; this is a strategic and fiscal reality.” —Secretary of the Army Top Priorities, 15 Oct 2013

The Army has entered a financial crisis, no less severe than the major recession that engulfed the United States from 2007-2010. Sequestration, as imposed by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, and modified by the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) of 2013 is anticipated to dramatically reduce our fiscal year (FY)14 expected funding down to $122 billion, down $7 billion dollars from our projections of only 18 months ago. While this may look like a modest drop, when you consider how much of the Army’s budget is truly discretionary, (i.e. not part of military and civilian pay, utilities, and mandatory programs such as unemployment compensation), this 6 percent loss is much more significant. The future looks far bleaker, with projected reductions of up to $15 billion in FY16 and out from earlier projections. These cuts are amplified and exacerbated by the dramatic reduction in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding, shrinking from $67 billion in FY12 to $47.5 billion in FY14, and likely to very low levels in FY15 and beyond. Although much of OCO funding goes directly to the war effort, the Army received considerable collateral benefits from this funding. But let’s be clear, even without sequestration and the loss of OCO, the Army was already on a downward fiscal slope, being squeezed by the rising costs of compensation, health care, and procurement. Fiscal predictions are risky, but the prospect of any of this significantly changing is unlikely. It is becoming increasingly clear that if we are to continue to field a ready and strong Army, change must come from within. We can reduce our spending through some targeted or even across-the-board cuts, but we cannot completely “cut our way out of this situation…” we must instead fundamentally change the way we operate, following the words of the Secretary of the Army: “…the broad outlines of the next few years are clear: we must adapt.”1

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In December 2008, media reported the lack of buying customers for automobiles resulted in the lowest sales rate in 26 years.

The U.S. private sector found themselves in a similar situation in the 2007-2010 when faced with the deepest recession since World War II. Plummeting revenue pushed many corporations to the brink of, and in some cases into insolvency. Automobile production was cut nearly in half: GM/Ford/Chrysler laid off 144,600 workers from 2006-2009.

Housing starts dropped 73% in new construction from 2005-2009. The top three banks took a total “write down” or credit loss of $61.5 billion from 2007-2009. 10 of the 15 largest bankruptcies in history have taken place since 2001. Most of the companies that went through this experience were forced to change or they went under. These corporations reacted by ruthlessly cutting overhead costs, de-layering their headquarters, consolidating like functions, spinning off separate business units, and by paying great attention to cost-based performance metrics. The companies that took tough steps tended to survive, those that did not, have since gone by the wayside. The Department of Defense, and in particular the Army, was shielded from the effects of the recession because it was engaged in two wars, but those are now ending. While some of what takes place in the corporate world doesn’t easily translate to the Army, there are lessons and best practices nonetheless that we must quickly draw from the commercial world in order to ensure our Army remains the preeminent army in the world and builds and maintains readiness at best value.

Many would argue that the Army is not a business, that we do not focus on profit or bottom line, and that we cannot go “bankrupt.” And viewed from a narrow perspective they would be right; the Army’s ultimate success is not measured in profit or loss, but rather in its forces’ ability to dominate opponents in armed conflict on land. But no one can argue that in order to deliver the necessary ready land forces to combatant commanders inside a fixed or diminishing budget, the Army must employ sound business practices. The Army is a $122 billion per year operation, and would rank 14th on the Fortune 500 list if that funding was revenue. The overwhelming predominance of these resources are spent in accomplishing the eleven key Army business functions specified in Title 10 U.S. Code including: recruiting, organizing, training, mobilizing and supplying. For these key functions, the Army must ensure we get the best value and effectiveness from the dollars we are provided. Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is, it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” This opportunity is now upon us. To be sure, there are pockets of the Army, including elements in the Army Materiel Command, Medical Treatment Facilities in the Army Medical Command, and construction activities in the Corps of Engineers, whose operations are based largely on business-like models and by necessity, have adapted and become more efficient and in tune with their costs and performance, but the challenge is that the majority of the Army has not.

Army Medical Officer talks with patient.

Army medical treatment facilities operate using business-like models. Army depots and the Corps of Engineers also operate in this manner and are able to achieve related efficiencies.

In embarking on this effort, the Army possesses some inherent advantages over private industry. These include a core of well-trained and dedicated civilian and military leaders; an ingrained ethos of integrity and honesty; and an attitude that values the surmounting of all obstacles. But with these advantages, the Army faces some serious disadvantages as well. Some of these disadvantages are the fact that we lack full control of our destiny. We are constrained by a myriad of laws and policies which have only thickened over time, and we receive our money in a “line-item” budget from Congress which severely restricts flexibility. With our 238 years of proud history, we have developed a great institutional set of ethics but also a healthy institutional resistance to organizational change. Finally, because we are such a large and complex organization, we lack agility and change is hard. But we can’t allow ourselves to be deterred by these challenges—the stakes are too high. If we are unable to change the way we operate, then we fundamentally risk our soldiers lives by sending them to conflict unprepared due to a lack of basic resources to properly train and equip them.

To successfully adapt we must create and employ a new operating framework…a framework that will succeed only with the sustained and complete support of our leaders. First, we must deliberately change our Army culture, which undervalues the management of resources. Second, we must better understand our processes and the associated costs—how and where do we spend the money we are provided, and fix responsibility for the efficient operation of all Title 10 operations. Once these costs and processes are defined, we must set clear goals in our strategic plans and establish financially-based performance objectives that pull us to our goals and relentlessly and honestly measure ourselves against them. Finally we must continuously adjust our organizational structures to ensure we are optimized and weighting our main efforts.

Army Office discussing plan with unit.

Army culture has naturally traditionally valued effectiveness over efficiency; the key is to successfully manage both.

First and foremost, among the changes needed is within our culture. It has been stated that culture is the hardest thing to change, but change it must. In the Army we have a culture that doesn’t place great value on wisely managing resources. The function is often treated as beneath the attention and dignity of our leaders… a job best left to resource managers, or “bean counters” as we often disdainfully refer to them. Imagine if a senior Army leader disembarked from his aircraft at Fort Bragg, went to shake the XVIII Airborne Corps Commander’s hand, and one of his first questions was “Hey, I sent you $140 million last year to train your Corps, but unfortunately this year is shaping up to be much worse. What have you done and what can you do to be more efficient, and train the same number of units with less?” That this would be a surprising exchange, hints at the cultural problem we have. Money, and how we spend it, is perhaps the key enabler of how many squads and platoons we can make ready, but we normally don’t consider money “commander’s business.” Army leaders often advise their subordinates “let me worry about getting you the resources, you just focus on training your brigade/battalion/ company/platoon.” On its surface, this may seem supportive guidance, but when issued, that guidance disenfranchises our brightest and best positioned leaders from the imperative to help the Army become more efficient. Can you imagine a (successful) corporation taking the junior and middle managers out of the mix to find ways to conserve resources? In their acclaimed “Kaizen process,” Toyota passionately embraces the need for all employees to participate in devising new ways to become more efficient. Similarly we need Army leaders at all levels to be thinking about how to make the best use of resources and finding savings, and our culture must vigorously embrace this mindset. This function is just too important to leave solely in our resource manager’s hands. And when our junior leaders and soldiers find new ways to save money, our culture must quickly and dynamically reward their work. To change our culture will take time and be difficult, but by constantly demonstrating the importance of managing resources, and by recognizing those that do it well, over time, it will happen. How do we get started? Perhaps the first target should be the “use it or use it” mentality. Pressured by the knowledge that our operating funds are only useable for one year, around the midyear point every year, the mantra begins that commanders and units “must spend your budget.” The pressure increases with every passing week, until the start of September, when higher headquarters wants daily status reports, and that pressure is communicated downward to the lowest levels. Junior leaders who to that point in the year had been good stewards of funds, are now pressured to spend, often on items that fall into the “nice to have” category. This phenomena has a tremendous effect on our culture, and our junior NCOs and officers are watching how our actions don’t match our words. Senior leaders must capitalize on every opportunity to reward those who do a good job of saving the Army resources and extol the importance of stewardship. Is there a danger that the pendulum will swing too far and we will sacrifice effectiveness in favor of efficiency? Absolutely, and we must guard against that trend.

Next, we must better define and cost our key processes. With some exceptions, we don’t completely understand our own processes nor our fully burdened costs. For example, the U.S. Army Recruiting Command knows how much money they are given each year. But the Department of the Army does not routinely track the total burdened cost to recruit a soldier into the Army, including such items as the pay for the military recruiters, or the rent and utilities for the recruiting stations, or the Army-level incentive packages. In industry, companies strive to completely understand their “core process” and the associated costs. It could be the design and production of the Apple iPhone 5s, or the assembly of the Five Guys Hamburger, but everyone in successful companies aligns towards their base product and understands the processes that deliver them. In the Army, most would agree that our core process is the preparation of combat-ready units. Yet as an Army, we are hard-pressed to describe the complete process involved in producing readiness, nor able to express the total burdened cost. This is particularly topical as our leaders attempt to secure additional funding in order to increase readiness. Over 10 years ago, Mutual Benefit Life Insurance, a major life insurance carrier reengineered its insurance application process. Their previous typical processing time was 5-25 days, with most of the time spent transmitting information from department to department. The president demanded a 60 percent increase in productivity and by carefully analyzing their internal processes and using IT wisely; they were able to reduce the application time to four hours.2 Similarly, Army Medical Command has applied this process to the system of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), the process that seeks to evaluate and appropriately handle Soldier disability and has made great progress in understanding where the bottlenecks occur and in accelerating the overall process. This success can be seen at Irwin Army Community Hospital at Fort Riley, KS. The hospital was not meeting the DoD timeliness standards (100 days for active forces and 140 days for the Army National Guard and Army Reserve) to complete Medical Evaluation Boards and transmit it to the Physical Evaluation Board. Utilizing process improvements techniques the hospital reduced the process cycle time by at least 10% and increased the percentage of cases meeting timeliness standards from 2 percent to 30 percent which supports increased efficiency and readiness. Once the process is understood, leaders can use a variety of techniques, the Army’s accepted solution being Lean Six Sigma, in order to optimize it. In many cases, responsibility for the complete operation for a process is spread across commands. Readiness for example is a shared responsibility among many. But for each of our processes, there must be a single empowered advocate who understands the entirety of the function and can see and influence all the associated costs. Only once we have that responsibility affixed, can we drive efficiencies.

We have all heard the saying “units do those things well that the commander checks.” Unfortunately we generally do a poor job on measuring our performance in relation to our desired outcomes and the money we are provided. Measuring performance starts with a good strategy, which describes where the organization wants to go, in tangible, executable terms. Often Army strategies seem to direct the perpetuation of the status quo or opt instead to discuss the global strategic situation, and omit any discussion of how the Army will improve its ability to execute its core process such as providing ready units and hence are not useful in driving institutional change. Once developed, should be strategies are translated into supporting objectives and metrics. Successful corporations establish performance management systems to measure progress towards their objectives.

Chart showing how to measure key performance.

There are many ways to set goals and measure performance. Key is senior leader involvement and participation.

However in the Army, when we do measure performance, it is often in the form of outputs, with often little or no discernible link to our major objectives—examples of outputs being soldiers graduated from training, CTC rotations completed, soldiers recruited or retained, security clearances completed. But, there is a huge difference between an output which in many cases, is just a piece count, and an outcome, which conveys whether or not you are making progress towards your strategic goals. The Nature Conservancy, a major charity, for the longest time measured themselves on how many of acres of land they acquired for preservation purposes. And by this measure they were very successful. Unfortunately, their strategic goal was not the acquisition of land; it was the preservation of biodiversity, which by that measure they were failing. Species were disappearing at an unchecked rate. Because their objectives and metrics were wrong, they had no way of knowing.3 An Army example of an output would be a count of how many brigades passed through our training centers. A much more informative outcome however, would be the cost per brigade to bring them through a force generation cycle and to a “fully ready” status. Now something important is being measured that can give us insight into how to become more efficient. Successful companies place paramount emphasis on performance assessments that include measurements of expected outcomes based on money. Ford Motor Company, the only large automobile manufacturer that did not take a government bailout, gathers their top executives every two weeks to review metrics, forms task forces to spin off and explore problem areas that come out of those reviews, and share information across the company on things they are trying to solve. Ford will tell you that using these metrics drove them to take tough actions and make many decisions related to downsizing helping them avoid going bankrupt.

Make no mistake; there are some strong performance assessment systems in parts of the Army today. In the Army, the Installation Management Command (IMCOM) Atlantic Region conducts periodic in-depth Performance Management Reviews (PMRs) which compare funding provided to levels of service delivered and ask tough questions when they do not favorably relate. The Army Medical Command compares medical care outcomes to the resources provided to each Medical Treatment Facility and holds commanders accountable when they are lagging. These are best practices, which must be propagated across the Army. As an Army, we must improve the design and use of our metrics—when appropriate linking them to our money and then ensuring they contribute to informed decision-making. The Army’s four powerful new Enterprise Resourcing Programs or ERPs: General Fund Enterprise Business System (GFEBS), Global Combat Support System – Army (GCSS-A), Logistics Management Program (LMP), and the Integrated Personnel and Pay System- Army (IPPS-A) will give Army leaders an unprecedented capability to have situational awareness on the expenditure of our resources, of which we must take full advantage. Finally, the results of this performance data must be presented in an easily digestible format to our senior leaders in sessions where they can receive a comprehensive assessment of progress towards our objectives and that allows them the opportunity to make timely decisions. In some instances we have allowed performance information to be conveyed one statistic, one trend per meeting, and when this occurs we sub-optimize our leader’s time. In addition, when we do not achieve our desired performance, just like in industry or especially in professional sports, we must hold our leaders accountable, and similarly reward those who get great results.

We also must change the way we view our organizations and continuously take action to re-shape them into high performing structures. This can be called “organizational acuity.” Over time, we often become blind to our own organizations. Organizations exist solely to produce outcomes. We cannot consider our organizations as preordained, destined to live on in perpetuity. Newly assigned Army leaders, with all the best of intentions, quickly fall into the trap of protecting organization’s status quo. In the commercial sector, organizational change is the norm; stability is the exception. Product lines come and go, opportunities arise or innovations fail, and organizations adjust accordingly. Corporations, when confronted with tough fiscal situations, consider downsizing and reducing management. The Army has rigorous processes for analyzing the design of engineer or signal battalions, but no similar process exists for the institutional army. Over time, many of our institutional Army organizations, especially our headquarters, have become excessively layered, i.e. too many levels in the hierarchy, with branches, divisions, deputies, directorates, all contributing crushing oversight and adding time to our processes. Simultaneously, spans of control have shrunk, with senior leaders routinely only supervising three to four people, while the current corporate experience suggests managers can capably supervise eight or more high performing direct reports.4 Recent analysis of the Department of the Army headquarters staff reveals that the average span of control is four. Past DoD downsizing efforts have usually focused on lower grade personnel which contribute to a rank heavy organization. When information technology allowed cuts of clerks and accountants at the Defense Finance and Accounting System (DFAS) the lower grade personnel were cut, leaving excessive numbers of leaders to supervise an ever decreasing number of workers. Admittedly, government personnel rules constrain—but they do not stop—the reshaping of organizations and those systems which we cannot change, we must work within, in order to do what is necessary.

Army Strong Logo

Part of this “acuity” is considering whether a function in the Army can be outsourced to another organization so that we can more narrowly focus on our core competencies. The Army currently operates railroads, prisons, entertainment shows, museums, recreation centers at resort destinations, major data centers, water purification plants and sports teams, to name just a few of our in-house operations. As money comes down, should we maintain all these functions? Lest you think the Army is incapable of hard change, recently the Army Financial Management community developed a concept for a complete re-organization of the Financial Management enterprise, which is envisioned to save over $400 million a year and significantly alter current organization structures and processes; it can be done.

Private industry practices are not the panacea for all the Army’s challenges. A single-minded focus on efficiency and costs will not produce the proud, trained, and resilient forces that our Nation needs. But, there are some techniques we can borrow and there are changes we can make that will allow us to better accomplish our critical missions.

One possible manifesto for those necessary changes includes:

  • our culture to better value the efficient use of resources…
  • and understand our key title 10 processes and fix responsibility for their operation…
  • relevant strategic planning and then ruthlessly measure our performance towards our goals, using a relatively small number of useful financially linked metrics…
  • evaluate our organizations to ensure they best meet our needs…

We have the best Army in the world, but continued success is not assured. We must transform the way we operate in order to remain Army Strong.MR


  1. of the Army Top Priorities, October 15, 2013.
  2. Hammer, Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate, Harvard Business Review, July 1990
  3. Sawhill and David Williamson, “Measuring What Matters in Nonprofits,” The McKinsey Quarterly 2001, Number 2.
  4. Boston Consulting Group, 5 Sep 2013, LTG Spoehr and Mr. Nichol.

The Case for Warrior Business Executives in the Army

Published on April 4, 2014 — Available also in PDF

Lieutenant Colonel Jason Roncoroni, U.S. Army

Lieutenant Colonel Jason Roncoroni, U.S. ArmyLTC Jason Roncoroni, U.S. Army, is the commander of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Brigade. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical engineering from West Point, an M.S. in Organizational Psychology from Capella, and is currently an MBA student at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina MBA@UNC program. His assignments include tours at Fort Bragg, Fort Drum, Fort Campbell, and the Pentagon, and he has served on three combat deployments to Afghanistan.

Across the Army, resources are shrinking, but strategic responsibilities are not. The last thirteen years of reset, train/ready, and deploy groomed our junior and mid-grade officers to become effective tactical leaders and managers for combat. Unfortunately, many of these learned qualities and behaviors will not help the Army adapt to a cost-centric culture of increased monetary accountability and process efficiency. Given the reality of diminishing resources, this article sets the framework for the strategic challenge our junior leaders face. Furthermore, this discussion illustrates how our current processes for budget management and readiness inhibit our ability to find creative ways to stretch our resources. Future readiness will increasingly rely on process innovations from junior leaders to optimize funding and resources. A smaller, post-war force will require the Army to routinely apply the best practices from business management to control expenditures and improve process efficiency. By modifying institutional education programs, building partnerships, offering business management internships, or encouraging civilian education opportunities, we can arm our junior leaders with the knowledge and capability to apply best practices in business management. Today’s leaders must be as adaptive in business operations as they are lethal in combat operations to maintain readiness in the future.

The Army’s Strategic Dilemma

Over the past decade, our military validated our reputation with enemies and allies alike through responsive, adaptive, and superior operational performance. Unlike the conclusion of previous wars, the imminent threat underpinning the current conflict remains pervasive globally, and the geopolitical, strategic environment grows increasingly uncertain. As our nation and our allies seek to curb all aspects of spending, the world grows ever more reliant upon the capabilities of our armed forces. Our security depends on sustaining proven levels of performance and readiness. Therefore, if the financial resources sustaining those levels of readiness must necessarily contract, then we must become increasingly more efficient to optimize those resources.

At the highest levels within our defense establishment, senior leaders are reshaping the business environment to gain greater efficiency. Secretary of the Army, the Honorable John M. McHugh, stated: “Though our financial resources are declining, we must continue to provide a highly capable force that can preserve the President’s strategic options.”1 Dr. Mary Matiella, the Financial Manager and Comptroller for the Army, wants to advance a culture of accountability in business operations by “implementing efficient and adaptive processes . . . [to make] the Army a more agile and cost-effective organization.”2 Department of the Army leadership recognizes that we need to improve our business operations to meet our strategic requirements, but at the brigade level and below, what does that mean? We are unmatched in our ability to prepare leaders for tactical decision-making and strategic planning, but we must add business management to our program of leader development if we want to build a cost-efficient culture consistent with the intent of senior leaders.

A Culture of Increased Accountability and Cost Efficiency

Our new culture will require a holistic review of how we manage our business systems - those activities that impact cost, efficiency, and utilization. We must examine how we measure success and provide incentives to motivate behaviors for increased accountability. Unfortunately, our systems and processes currently discourage the frugality the Department of the Army needs. For example, leaders can make daily decisions to reduce costs locally, but on a quarterly basis, the Army may place pressure on these same units to “spend or lose” funds. Furthermore, on an annual basis, commanders strive to execute their entire budget lest the Army reallocate Operations and Maintenance (O&M) funds from their unit in the current year or program fewer dollars for them in the following year. This bipolar approach to budget management creates inconsistencies in decision-making (save, save, save … now spend! spend! spend!) and promotes both inefficiencies and higher expenditures when aggregated across all units in the Army.

Because we have operated in an environment of seemingly unconstrained resources, commanders focus on operational readiness rates and less on spending. We have reinforced these behaviors and this mindset over the past thirteen years. Understandably, higher levels of readiness come at a higher cost for parts and support. Typically, units forward deployed include a robust contingent of expensive engineers, contract maintenance support teams, and an extensive inventory of parts on hand to sustain combat readiness. If the experience of our leaders correlates readiness with high cost, how do we expect these officers to adapt and succeed in an environment defined by sequestration and aggressive budget controls? One of our greatest challenges in the coming decade will be how we encourage leaders to find new, innovative ways to sustain readiness at substantially lower costs.

To further illustrate our challenge, consider a common situation of a commander faced with a choice to replace a high value component in about three days versus the option to evacuate that component and repair the part over three weeks. In absolute dollars, replacing the part has a much higher impact to the budget than repairing the part – sometimes on magnitude of 10 to 20 times greater cost, but replacing the component immediately improves status reporting. The incentive of positive reporting suggests leaders will buy the part. In fact, he or she may even explore options to buy spares to cut down on the time lost for order processing and delivery! Arguably, some situations require the equipment immediately, and the cost might be unavoidable. However, if the three weeks doesn’t substantially increase risk to mission accomplishment, can we change our mindset and repair the part while exploring opportunities to improve our process efficiency? This could help motivate leaders to look at new ways of improving maintenance responsiveness through better business management - capacity utilization, improved supply chain management, or creative preventative maintenance procedures.

Better business management practices could help align decision-making behavior with the overall objectives of better fiscal responsibility and accountability across Army. Unfortunately, our small-unit leaders typically lack the knowledge to build and apply those efficiencies sought by our senior leadership. Furthermore, the organizational climate groomed them to operate with little or no constraints. Therefore, we need education and training to build the knowledge necessary to infuse a bottom-up culture of accountability and cost-efficiency. To capitalize on proven efficiencies of decentralized budget management and improve fiscal accountability at the brigade level and below, the Army needs a program to educate leaders on best practices in business management. The challenges of the future fiscal environment require combat warriors to become the most agile, lethal business leaders in the world.

Building Lethal Business Leaders

The Army program for professional military education for officers focuses on topics such as tactical decision-making, leadership, military strategy, and joint operations. Given the primacy of cost reduction and improved efficiency, military education should expand to include business management. Several approaches for business education might include:

1. Institutional Program: Include business management as part of the program of field grade officer instruction at the Command and General Staff College during Intermediate Level Education (ILE). Many reputable, nationally ranked universities offer exportable training packages for graduate and executive training that could be tailored into the curriculum of ILE. This option educates organizational leaders at the mid-point in their careers with knowledge necessary to make more efficient business decisions at the brigade level and below.

2. Partnership Program: Increase partnership relationships with business in a shared business-consulting role. Through these partnerships, the military can provide some valuable leadership coaching and development, and businesses can reciprocate with mentorship in business process innovation and cost center management. This mentorship allows units to leverage proven lessons in business management in their organizations and solve practical problems.

3. Internship Program: Create internship opportunities similar to political and strategy planning congressional and Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) internships that partner post company-command leaders with corporations after attaining a Masters in Business Administration. After a yearlong internship, these leaders return to the active force equipped with both knowledge and experience to transform and improve business systems at the tactical levels in our organization.

4. Self-Learning Program: Encourage leaders to attend MBA programs at civilian institutions while serving in tactical units. Top business programs currently offer challenging distance and online programs for working students. These new and emerging opportunities reduce on-campus requirements without compromising the quality of the education. One example, the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina offers a top-20 MBA through their online, distance program known as MBA@UNC.3 The combination of a world-class education with the professional interaction between students provides an invaluable learning experience for our Army.

To determine the value of any of these options, consider first the opportunity costs in creating a culture of accountability and cost efficiency in small-unit organizations that is consistent with the objectives of senior Army officials at the strategic level. In other words, what is the next best alternative to our strategic posture and readiness given the current model of budget control, shrinking resources, and less than optimal processes for efficiency? If we require the Army to evolve with the changing dynamics of cost efficiency and budget control, we need to better prepare our junior and mid-grade officers to lead in this environment.

The Need for Warrior Business Executives in our Army

By nature, bureaucracies lack the flexibility to evolve at the pace of their environment. Unfortunately, the uncertainty of our strategic environment coupled with the pervasive threat of another terrorist attack requires innovative solutions to sustain the proven capabilities upon which our nation relies. There is no second place, no other alternative for our military but to succeed and win across any environment – regardless of our resource constraints financial or otherwise. We must stretch every training dollar, encourage cost-efficient decisions, and celebrate creative solutions that optimize our operational and readiness budgets at the tactical level. A combination of institutional development, partnership programs, internships, and/or self-learning will improve business processes and operations at brigade levels and below to build the culture of cost efficiency.

Considering the primacy of mission command and leader development, we need junior and mid-grade leaders with MBA level knowledge to transform our Army into an organization more resilient to resource constraints. As these leaders mature, we inundate the Army with organizational leaders who are capable of implementing best business practices to stretch our operational dollars across the breadth of the Army – not just at the most senior levels. In conclusion, our future force requires leaders as tenacious in business operations as they are lethal in military operations if we are to achieve a culture of fiscal accountability and improved efficiency. To accomplish this, we need to better align our education programs and leader development to build warrior business executives in the Army.MR


  1. of the Army, Building a Foundation on Strength: Fiscal Year 2012 United States Army Annual Financial Report (Washington D.C.: Department of the Army, 2012) iii.
  2. v.
  3. business publications including U.S. News and World Reports, Forbes Magazine, and Bloomberg Business Week each rank the MBA program at Kenan-Flagler as among the top 20 in the nation. The University of North Carolina lists these national rankings on the following website: http://www.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/programs/mba/rankings. For the purpose of this article, the website was accessed on 13 January, 2014.

US Marshals Service: A Model for Interagency Cooperation

Published on March 7, 2014 — Available also in PDF

Matthew W. Graham MAJ, IN (FA59 Strategist)

1st Lt. Iain CruickshankMAJ Matthew Graham is a U.S. Army Strategist (FA59). He has served as an Interagency Fellow within the US Marshals Service’s Training Division and has completed tours of duty to both Iraq and Afghanistan. He holds a BS from the USAF Academy and a MPA from The George Washington University.

Each year, the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) arrests a stunning number of fugitives. With just under 4,000 deputies, the entire nationwide agency is approximately the size of a typical U.S. Army Brigade Combat Team (BCT).1 Yet despite this manpower limitation, the USMS located and arrested over 120,000 fugitives in fiscal year 2012, clearing over 153,000 warrants.2 To put this statistic in context, an Army BCT which detained one percent of that volume of terrorists in a yearlong deployment could declare this achievement a major success. At the tactical level, the USMS sustains an operations tempo (including planning, pre-combat checks, mission execution, recovery, detainee processing, and after action reviews) that results in 337 fugitive arrests a day. The fact that apprehending fugitives is not the only (or even primary) mission of the USMS underscores the impressiveness of this accomplishment. How is this feat managed? What can the Department of Defense (DOD) learn from the USMS to become more effective in its missions? The answers lie in the way the USMS conducts interagency cooperation. By emphasizing this cooperation, the USMS capitalizes on the strengths of its partners and maximizes efficiency in executing its fugitive mission. Three activities characterize the USMS system of interagency cooperation: establishing persistent task forces, building task force capacity, and strengthening relationships through mutual respect. The DOD might obtain similar success by emulating the practices of the USMS.

Establish Persistent Systems

The USMS built a persistent system of task forces, involving all players with a stake in the mission, which enables it to excel in fugitive apprehension. The USMS manages seven congressionally funded regional fugitive task forces, incorporating the efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement. Furthermore, the USMS participates in 60 additional task forces with the same fugitive hunting mission.3 These task forces serve as a focal point for information sharing and coordination, and the persistent nature of these task forces maximizes their potential. By routinely meeting and collaborating, all the law enforcement agencies in a region familiarize themselves with each other’s personalities, strengths, and limitations. This familiarization occurs before a crisis arises (e.g. a large jail break or a particularly violent fugitive), expediting action when time is crucial. As the agency with federal funding and broad authority, the USMS often takes the lead in establishing these task forces.

The U.S. Marshals Service and the San Antonio Police Department announce the completion of Operation Triple Beam-Target Orejon.

SAN ANTONIO - The U.S. Marshals Service and the San Antonio Police Department announce the completion of Operation Triple Beam-Target Orejon. The goal of the 17-week anti-gang and violent crime reduction operation in the San Antonio metro area was to combat crime associated with gang activity. A total of 212 confirmed gang members arrested and numerous seizures to include: 38 weapons, $82,000 cash and drugs with a combined street value of approximately $300,000. (Photo by: Shane T. McCoy / US Marshals)

Coincidentally, the DOD has already begun to mirror the USMS task force construct described above. In recent years, many large DOD commands established Joint Interagency Task Forces (JIATFs). A good example of this is the Joint Task Force-North (JTF-North) set up by U.S. Northern Command’s (USNORTHCOM). The fact that JTF-North was not hastily constructed during a crisis reflects the forward thinking of its founding commanders. Specifically, JTF-North supports law enforcement agencies and interagency efforts to protect the U.S. homeland from transnational threats.4 This cooperation enables USNORTHCOM and its partners to synergistically attack their common transnational problems, reducing unnecessary duplication of effort and capitalizing on the strengths of each partner. By creating more of these task forces, DOD can leverage the full capabilities of other agencies.

The current JIATFs must also evolve and grow to involve all stakeholders, not just other agencies of the U.S. government. Industry, academia, and state/local governments also bring useful capabilities, perspectives, and authorities. International partners also hold a stake in our success and should contribute their talents and efforts to common missions as well. When foreign partners are included, JIATFs evolve into ‘combined’ organizations, or CJIATFs. In a room of state and local police, the USMS represents the better-funded federal government and consequently provides much of the material support. Similarly, the DOD, which typically brings more resources to the fight, will likely fund much of the cooperative effort. This burden should not be avoided; whether a DOD member of the task force or a non-DOD member of the task force accomplishes the mission, the mission is accomplished. The DOD’s mission is therefore accomplished.

Build Task Force Capacity

The USMS increases the capacity and the coherence of their task forces by building the capacity of their partners. Rarely will the USMS hire a Deputy U.S. Marshal (DUSM) without several years of previous experience in either the military, law enforcement or both. As such, even junior DUSMs represent a highly trained and experienced category of law enforcement official. However, the USMS realizes it cannot accomplish its mission being the only expert in the task force. In 2012-2013, during phase one of a major training initiative to improve fugitive operations, the USMS trained over 1,100 DUSMs on high-risk fugitive apprehension. In exit surveys, DUSM attendees championed the need for similar training for non-USMS task force members. Appropriately, phase two of that training expands the program to include those members. The acknowledgment of the need to train task force members is not isolated to the individual DUSM level. The agency recognizes this need at the organizational level and established streamlined systems to facilitate non-USMS personnel training. For example, with only three one-page forms, a non-USMS employee might travel to training and submit a travel voucher to be paid by the USMS. The attitudes of its DUSMs and the hassle-free training offered to task force members builds the overall capacity of the task force, and facilitates accord among members.

U.S. Deputy Marshals from the Southeast Regional Fugitive Task-force work with Atlanta Police Department making routine traffic stops in a high-risk gang area during a gang reduction operation.

Atlanta - U.S. Deputy Marshals from the Southeast Regional Fugitive Task-force work with Atlanta Police Department making routine traffic stops in a high-risk gang area during a gang reduction operation. Approximately 30 targeted arrests were made, and large amounts of guns, drugs and money were seized. (Photo by: Shane T. McCoy / US Marshals)

In streamlining its procedures for cooperation, DOD might achieve the same result. The DOD maintains a tremendous training apparatus through the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command, and others. These organizations produce the most capable warriors in the world, and our partners strive to achieve comparable levels of human capital within their ranks. However, similar training is often unavailable to many of our partners in other agencies and foreign militaries. By including interagency and international partners in more training – specifically those tailored to CJIATF missions – the DOD will enhance their partners’ capacity and the utility of the training. Furthermore, the value of the training will encourage interagency/international task force participation and entice high-quality members of partnered organizations to pursue assignments to CJIATFs. Similar to the USMS task forces, DOD should build expertise within the ranks of our partners and thereby raise the competence level of the entire team.

Strengthen Relationships

One of the salient characteristics of USMS task forces is the mutual respect afforded by the USMS to smaller agencies, both at the individual and the organizational levels. This mutual respect is difficult to quantify, but has significant impact on the levels of cohesiveness within a multi-faceted organization. At the individual level, there is a distinct lack of arrogance within the USMS. Secure in their own quality, DUSMs do not perceive other task force members’ plans as a threat to their ego. Despite their nationwide jurisdiction, DUSMs are coached to avoid haughty or arrogant behavior in working with smaller agencies. Considering all solutions without stifling non-USMS generated ones, task forces leverage the expertise of all members. Additionally, the USMS mind-set of acceptance avoids marginalizing task force members from smaller agencies and builds the task force’s internal harmony. At the organizational level, USMS policy supports this “mission over ego” mind-set. For example, it is agency policy for the emergency lights on USMS vehicles to conform to local jurisdictional guidelines. If police in one county use blue and white lights on their vehicles, so do the DUSMs in that county. If troopers in another state use red and blue lights, USMS vehicles will comply. Though anecdotal, this policy represents a mind-set of atypical amenability from a federal agency and is indicative of the emphasis the USMS places on developing relationships with its state and local partners. These relationships yield the incredible number of fugitives netted each year.

The DOD is the largest, best funded, and most powerful military force in history. Its members are aware of this fact, as are its partners. For this reason alone, DOD members must strive to suppress the tendency to dominate a collective effort or risk marginalizing the other participants and their contributions. It is not enough to build task force capacity; the DOD must incorporate that capacity into all aspects of the task force effort. This challenge is particularly difficult when considering the manpower imbalance between the DOD and its partners. Often times, the DOD can dedicate multiple planners or action officers to a project that other agencies must assign as a collateral duty to a single agency representative. Well-meaning DOD planners will develop a multitude of products and plans, but inadvertently stifle other agencies’ participation in planning. This happens when partners are included in the execution stage only after DOD has drafted the plans; this demeans the partners’ effort. Such practices will result in decreased enthusiasm and disenchantment with the cooperative ideals of the CJIATF. Partners must be included and their input considered during every phase of planning and operation: from receipt of mission through the after action review. Additionally, when DOD planners represent the majority of manpower in an effort, meeting dynamics tend to lean heavily toward the military. The lead DOD officer should limit U.S. military attendance at collaborative meetings to guard against fostering DOD group think which overpowers partner agencies’ participants. In doing so, the DOD will leverage its partners’ newly built expertise and strengthen the relationships upon which the CJIATF is built.

Operation Triple Beam II was a two-week U.S. Marshals led campaign against Tulsa area gangs.

Tulsa, Okla. - Operation Triple Beam II was a two-week U.S. Marshals led campaign against Tulsa area gangs. Deputies from the U.S. Marshals, along with officers from the Tulsa Police Department and several other agencies, targeted gang members with outstanding warrants and stepped up the number of pedestrian checks and vehicle stops. These increased efforts resulted in 129 arrests, 24 guns taken off Tulsa streets, $19,759 seized and the seizure of $11,896 in illegal drugs. (Photo by: Shane T. McCoy / US Marshals)

Conclusions and Recommendations

By establishing, building, and strengthening fugitive task forces, the USMS achieves terrific results which the DOD might emulate with similar success. Understanding the truism that “nothing can replace a habitual relationship,” the USMS establishes persistent task forces to pool the resources, expertise, and efforts of law enforcement. The USMS builds the capabilities of those task forces by delivering and funding training for non-USMS task force members. Finally, the agency capitalizes on the capability it helped assemble and build by humbly accepting and considering all task force participants’ contributions. The DOD should develop its interagency efforts using similar principles.

Recommendation 1: Establish persistent CJIATFs in pre-crisis areas where high risk threats fail to conform to a single agency’s expertise. It is too late to begin cooperating after a crisis occurs. During a crisis, there is little time for planning and executing. Consequently, there is no time for learning the capabilities and shortcomings of partners during crises; that familiarization must be accomplished beforehand. Several areas of the world might be considered in pre-crisis stages. For example, a terrorist hunting task force might be well-placed in Yemen or a cartel reduction task force might be welcomed by the Mexican government.

Recommendation 2: Build partner capability. Partners do not have the DOD budget and cannot devote their limited resources to training. To secure quality partners, the DOD will have to help build them. DOD procedures for sending partners (specifically those already assigned to a CJIATF) to training should be streamlined and expanded. Beyond raising their capabilities and exposing them to DOD procedures, establishing a reputation for training allies will attract the desired organizational and individual partners.

Recommendation 3: Make a conscious effort against dominating the CJIATF. With the most people and funding, it is far easier for the DOD to deliver a complete plan to its partners for execution than to consider the myriad viewpoints of the collective CJIATF members. However, those diverse viewpoints represent the strength of the CJIATF and may yield a more elegant, efficient solution than DOD planners could devise independently. Discounting their viewpoints insults DOD partners, discourages their participation, and will result in attrition.

At first glance, the domestically-focused USMS and the internationally-focused DOD might not appear to share common missions. However, when considering the fugitive apprehension mission of the USMS and the terrorist hunting aspect of counterinsurgency warfare, the areas for cooperation become clear, particularly as terrorists flaunt international and jurisdictional boundaries. Certainly, the tactical tasks of entering, clearing, and searching buildings represent a nexus for cooperation between the USMS and the DOD; as does the investigative steps of locating elusive persons. More significantly, the ability of the USMS to capitalize on interagency cooperation represents one of the more important lessons the DOD should acquire from the USMS.MR


“About US Northern Command.” U.S. Northern Command. Accessed May 20, 2013. http://www.northcom.mil/About/index.html#JTFN.

“Fact Sheet: Facts and Figures.” US Marshals Service Office of Public Affairs. Last modified January 10, 2013. http://www.usmarshals.gov/duties/factsheets/facts-2013.pdf.

“Fact Sheet: Fugitive Operations.” US Marshals Service Office of Public Affairs. Last modified May 15, 2013. http://www.usmarshals.gov/duties/factsheets/fugitive_ops-2013.pdf.


  1. Sheet: Facts and Figures,” US Marshals Service Office of Public Affairs, Last modified January 10, 2013, http://www.usmarshals.gov/duties/factsheets/facts-2013.pdf.
  2. Sheet: Fugitive Operations,” US Marshals Service Office of Public Affairs, Last modified May 15, 2013, http://www.usmarshals.gov/duties/factsheets/fugitive_ops-2013.pdf.
  3. US Northern Command,” U.S. Northern Command, Accessed May 20, 2013, http://www.northcom.mil/About/index.html#JTFN.

Lessons from Advising in Afghanistan

Published on February 12, 2014 — Available also in PDF

1st Lt. Iain J. Cruickshank, U.S. Army

1st Lt. Iain Cruickshank1st Lt. Iain Cruickshank is currently deployed to Afghanistan as an Adviser for 1-506th Infantry Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. He holds a B.S. from the United States Military Academy and an MSc in Operational Research from the University of Edinburgh, obtained as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar.

Since the first major combat operations in Afghanistan, the question of how and when the war will end has loomed in the minds of conscientious Americans. Now, as the conflict begins its end stages, the moment has arrived. How will coalition forces transfer the security of Afghanistan to its own security forces as effectively as possible? A critical shift is occurring from responsibility for Afghan security being an International Security Assistance Force mission, to a national Afghan mission. Security Force Advisers become a crucial component for the movement from partnered operations with Afghan defense forces to Afghans running their own operations. While U.S. forces generally understand, advising as a key part of the transition in Afghanistan, the implementation of advising in theater still has difficulties to overcome.

As an infantry first lieutenant currently serving as an intelligence adviser to an Afghan National Army (ANA) Infantry Kandak (Battalion) in Regional Command-East, I had the opportunity to develop some observations on the current implementation of Security Force Advise and Assist Teams (SFAATs) that I will share in this paper.

Prior to this deployment, I attended the SFAAT Academy at Fort Polk, working as an Operations Adviser for an Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP) district. Following the SFAAT Academy, I stayed at Fort Polk and did a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center, and took charge of a team for an AUP district. Based on these experiences and my observations while deployed to Afghanistan, I learned both general and specific lessons concerning the advising policy in Afghanistan. These insights, summarized in six broad areas, are: selecting qualified people, selecting amiable people, proper preparation, understanding context while deployed, providing the right environment to improve, and keeping the big picture at the forefront.

Qualified people: The concept of advising requires an experienced individual mentoring a less experienced or knowledgeable mentee toward competence, expertise, or even wisdom. The goal is to have the mentee near the same level of skill and knowledge as the mentor, which requires a wise advisor. Wisdom is not simply rote memorization of doctrine or a high degree of competence in a particular task or field. The security advisers on SFAATs must have a thorough understanding of and experience with our respective war fighting functions. They must also understand their role in the bigger picture, as they cannot help their counterparts to think systemically if they themselves do not. The adviser must be more than knowledgeable, but also talented, intelligent and thoughtful.1 The ability to communicate knowledge well and patiently is more essential than subject matter expertise. The ideal adviser is culturally attuned, and able to explain what he knows to different kinds of people with different thought processes or values. This presents challenges.   

Commanders are likely to see a personnel conflict preparing for a deployment when they need to keep their most talented leaders and soldiers in their direct combat power. Adviser teams formed for a brigade deployment must include individuals from that brigade. A commander may feel this requires giving away his finest and most experienced soldiers. This perceived conflict often leads to assigning less senior, less experienced, or less “essential” individuals to adviser teams leading to teams composed of junior officers and non-commissioned officers, who now must advise at levels potentially far above their current skill and experience. SFAATs may be composed of selected individuals considered non-essential rather than for traits that would guarantee success. In a worst case, malcontents or those considered incompetent are placed on teams to marginalize them. Ultimately, the determination of team composition is likely to prioritize preservation of combat power over an individual's particular talents or capacity to be an effective adviser.

When this personnel issue presents a conflict, the consequences have a detrimental and counterproductive effect on our relationships with Afghan advisees, and harm their confidence in us. This is especially true in Afghan culture where rank and status are extremely important. Having to listen to lower ranking and sometimes far younger advisers from another nation is a cultural affront difficult for some of our counterparts to overcome. In my own advising experience, my SFAAT faced great difficulty advising one of the ANA company commanders for this very reason. The ANA commander was a Major in the Afghan Army, and had been a major for the better part of 22 years. Therefore, he considered it an insult to have to listen to first lieutenant or captain advisers who had barely been alive as long as he had been a major. Trying to advise such an officer with a great deal of experience is difficult for even a senior officer; imagine the challenge for junior officers, who could potentially make up a large proportion of SFAATs for reasons mentioned above.

When a team diverts resources away from combat power, or is composed of expendable figures, that team is more likely to be marginalized in theater. An SFAAT that is marginalized by their battalion and brigade (Battle Space Integrators or BSI), will find it very difficult to work effectively because we by design, rely on a parent unit. Until battalion and brigade commanders fully 'buy into' the advisory role and the concept of security forces advising, the SFAAT mission will continue to operate ineffectively in Afghanistan. However, much of this tension can be diffused when commanders differentiate expertise from a talent and passion for teaching. Needs are met all around if they assign candidates who may not be the most expert, but are highly competent and very effective communicators and mentors. Therefore, a commander can still preserve many of his top people as part of his direct combat power, if he properly understands the advising mission and what types of people are best suited for the role.

Personal qualifications: One of the key components of advising, highlighted during Fort Polk's Adviser Academy, is to build rapport with your counterparts. Rapport is critical. It increases the likelihood advisees will take guidance. It also assists advisers in understanding where they can be most effective. A solid, respectful working relationship also  helps reduce resentment that leads to certain types of green-on-blue incidents (term used for insider attacks when members of the Afghan security forces turn on coalition forces). Army doctrine publications on advising, such as FM 3-07.10, state that an adviser should be agreeable, reflective, and empathetic. These traits all serve the purpose of building rapport, and are not taught in a short time, but often inherent in a person's nature. Certain traits are not trained, take years to develop, and should be considered when assigning personnel to adviser teams. The adviser to look for is easygoing but disciplined, assertive but not aggressive or condescending, respected by his peers, and respectful even when stressed or frustrated. The ideal adviser is also open minded, welcomes discussion, and works collaboratively rather than autocratically.

As mentioned previously, rapport is arguably the single most important resource an adviser team has. Two critical aspects of rapport are cultural sensitivity and professional courtesy. Effective advisers understand their advisees' culture, language, and values. An adviser who does not see advisees as professionals and show them respect as such, will accomplish very little, it anything at all. An adviser needs to be an exceptional people person in his home unit if he expects to build trust with people from another culture that is inherently distrustful of outsiders. A difficult, insensitive, or pushy individual breeds contempt toward himself and his fellow advisers, which increases the risk of incidents. An example of this occurred when an ANA kandak was pressured, repeatedly and sternly, into supporting an operation that was not in line with their stated objectives and interfered with their planned missions. The resentment developed during this encounter made it difficult for weeks following the mission to get the ANA to meet with, listen to, or even return phone calls from their advisers. For this reason alone, selection of advisors with character and people skills is paramount. Understanding why people skills are such a high priority may increase adherence to this guidance for assembling adviser teams. Failure to do so will also lead to lapses in the professional respect necessary for successful advising.

Training priorities: Imparting the right job-specific knowledge and skills to advisers is essential to mission success. This seems obvious, but there are serious consequences when training does not keep pace with the reality of the SFAAT mission, which can be a cause for concern. While schools like the Adviser Academy offer good preliminary training for this unconventional assignment, only so much can be accomplished within a time-restricted classroom setting. From my experience, the limited time could be better prioritized. The advise and assist role has been rapidly evolving since its implementation2 and the academy is a very powerful tool if it keeps pace with the evolution.

The Adviser Academy would be significantly more effective if instructors were constantly fine-tuning their curriculum based on feedback from their currently deployed classes. It would maximize the limited training time to use recent real life scenarios that current advisers consider essential, or most importantly, wish we had been taught. For example, the ANSF units that I interacted with were all familiar with U.S. doctrine and processes such as the Military Decision Making Process. However, many of these same ANSF units struggle with organizational problems, such as insistence on commanders not issuing guidance to subordinates. This requires changes in organizational culture to fix. Drawing from suggestions by recent classes, a trend might appear that places less value on ability to teach American processes in detail and more emphasis on organizational attitudes. It would be more beneficial to learn the basics of changing an unhealthy organizational ethos or positively influencing the culture of an organization.

Many of the essential skills for advisers are not allocated adequate time nor have they been properly identified for training. The essential skill of rapport building is difficult to teach and takes practice to master. There is simply not enough time during the course of the Adviser Academy to hone rapport building. Time limitations are also a concern at JRTC, as the only extended interaction time between SFAATs and their counterparts is during the force-on-force exercise. This valuable role-playing experience lasts only 8-10 days. Additionally, unlike the Special Forces teams the SFAATs are loosely modeled on, we are not organic and self-sustaining; most teams receive support and security from their parent unit. Therefore, additional time for more pressing priorities could be made by reducing time spent on training like team convoy standards or team react to contact drills. Close-quarters reactionary shooting, Guardian angel plans, or simple conversation practice in Dari, which are all things uniquely important to the SFAATs, would be far more beneficial.

Instruction on American doctrine is another potential area for time optimization. While learning the finer points of our doctrine enables us to explore the underlying principles of why we do what we do, it is only marginally useful for advising as such. Much of American doctrine, especially counter-insurgency doctrine, has only been codified recently and is still undergoing major changes.3 More importantly, Afghans do not possess the full array of personnel, training, and technology that our doctrine relies upon for successful implementation. A focus on learning the why of our doctrine empowers advisers to teach our counterparts how to think for themselves. Our goal cannot be to teach them to mimic or replicate our systems, without understanding why (or more critically if) they work in a given context.

Afghans seem good at figuring out a how, as long as they understand the why. For example, the unit my SFAAT advised had no organic bomb disposal capability but found that it could remove command wire detonated improvised explosive devices by hooking the command wires to a truck battery. While this is not the safest approach to reducing the threat, it is an effective means of removing it with the resources they do have, and helps them to accomplish the goal of securing a route. Additionally, advisers would benefit greatly from more time learning Afghan doctrine (which can differ significantly from our own) and further training on the hardware and weapons systems Afghans use that we do not. Understanding how they think and why they do what they do enables us to engage them on a deeper level. We can then either persuasively overcome resistance to our guidance or collaborate to combine the best of both American and Afghan doctrine in a sustainable way.

Context is key: After over a decade, this war has been the daily reality year in and year out for most units and individuals in the ANA, the AUP, and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, while American forces rotate through. They have seen multiple American units—and even more advisers. They are more accustomed to advisement than we are to advising, and generally understand our systems and the assistance we provide. We must remember that a newly arriving SFAAT is not starting with a blank slate. In most instances, it is no longer the mission to build a staff from the ground up, but to refine or fix processes that Afghans worked on over the course of years with advisers. The core of our work is contributing fresh insights and challenging organizational dysfunction, while respecting the work they have done. An example is getting the operations staff of the Kandak to draw information from the intelligence staff for planning purposes. The kandak showed a preference for direct reports from informants rather than relying on their own intelligence staff. Because of this, their operations sometimes missed the larger picture or failed to anticipate the enemy's likely reaction properly. The intelligence staff was actually quite adept at collecting and processing intelligence, but there was an organizational bias against using them properly. The solution to the problem did not come in the form of teaching the intelligence section proper intelligence processing or simply telling operational planners to get intelligence from the intelligence section, but a nuanced and time intensive process of building trust between the two sections. In fact, this entrenched problem was not addressed by better intelligence or operational processes, or teaching U.S. doctrine, but by understanding the organizational dynamics and learning the kandak's recent history. This led to insight which could be shared, and when integrated, improved the kandak's abilities.

Earlier on, advising often meant hovering over the shoulder of uneducated individuals learning to perform staff functions. That is still what pre-deployment training emphasizes. While this may happen some places down range, it has certainly not been characteristic of this my experience or of any other team within my area of operations. Because scenarios at the Adviser Academy and JRTC have not kept pace with the evolving SFAAT mission, advisers may become discouraged when their advisees do not benefit immensely from quick fixes. At this point in the conflict, most of the easy, overnight changes to the ANSF are complete. The target now is marginal changes that raise them above mere competency to sustainability and excellence. This requires significant effort and produces less dramatic results. Furthermore, the problems of ANSF units advised for many years are rooted in deep cultural norms or serious chronic issues, like corruption or lack of education. There are no easy fixes to these problems and they will require exhausting, delicate, and innovative solutions. Training at JRTC and the Adviser Academy must reflect both the more advanced abilities of advisees and the more nuanced challenges of advising competent counterparts to improve above sufficiency to mastery.

    The Army must adapt and update conventional measures of success for the advise and assist mission, because it is doubtful even exceptional mentorship will have a dramatic impact. At this point, it is highly unlikely the number of missions conducted or targets neutralized will greatly increase. Even the standard ANSF evaluations are metrics-heavy and presume quick, easy fixes. The metrics used no longer accurately evaluate progress with Afghan units that are in advanced stages of development. These benchmarks cannot accurately measure the amount of important work finished and its value to the advised unit. The perception of failure is demoralizing for advisers despite their consistent hard work. Failure only appears so because the increments of success are out of touch with the evolving mission. Therefore, like many other elements of the advising mission, metrics of success must continue to evolve. Developing metrics designed to measure accurately the kinds of success SFAATs are currently working toward is possible, reasonable, and important to the future of the ISAF mission.

Learning to pick yourself back up: The advising mission is responsible for developing the capacity in Afghan forces to move from partnered operations to Afghan only operations. As part of this process, coalition forces' enablers, soldiers, and other direct support will continue to decrease until the Afghans themselves run everything. Unfortunately, as part of this process of removing support, the ANSF will, at points, stumble. This is a painful, but inevitable part of diminishing support. It is invaluable, though, because failures and setbacks confront the ANSF with hard lessons they must learn and changes they must make.

Afghan forces will best learn how to conduct operations and support themselves, by dealing with the positive and negative consequences without involvement from us. For example, if every time an ANA unit gets into a firefight with enemy forces, the U.S. unit in the area sends air support; the ANA will rely on that air support and not learn to call higher or parallel ANSF units for support. Consequently, while the air support does prevent casualties in the near term, it is not sustainable. That ANA unit—which learned to operate dependent on a temporary condition of American air support—will undoubtedly suffer greater casualties and setbacks than were prevented by our intervention. While an adviser team can strive to instill in our Afghan counterparts the need to do things without Coalition Forces' support, they must gain real-life experience operating independently or they will not be adequately prepared.

Imagine for a moment, removing a new bicycle rider's training wheels after a period of supervised practice sessions, then sending them out alone onto the street. This is obviously unsafe, and potentially disastrous. The reasonable thing to do is remove the training wheels while guidance and some support is still being offered, so they can practice without the training wheels before going it truly alone. It is equally unsafe to withdraw support from the Afghans too early in their development, which can also cause irreparable damage. Our job as advisers is to help coordinate a graduated transition of American support backing off as Afghan capabilities increase. At times, it is also necessary, despite the risks, to push them beyond their current abilities to promote continued growth.

Advisers and BSI units must accept stumbling and setbacks as a necessary part of growth so we can walk the fine line of providing support without artificially propping up Afghan forces. To provide appropriate levels of support, advisers and BSI's need to be attuned to the capabilities of our Afghan counterparts, yet gently pushing them to use fewer and fewer coalition forces and enablers. Since advisers are most in touch with their counterparts' capabilities, it is also key for BSI commanders to trust their SFAAT's recommendations.

Afghan sustainability: The overarching ISAF mission is to transfer control to a stable and effective government and security forces, which are capable of sustaining themselves against insurgents and subversive elements. While American systems and tactics are optimal in many ways, if they are not sustainable or intuitive for our Afghan counterparts, they will fail. The only way to create a sustainable, stable, safe society that does not require outside assistance is to encourage Afghans to take the best of our knowledge, apply it within their own cultural context, and understand their own unique needs and limitations. Too often Adviser and American units lose sight of the big picture by judging Afghan systems only by the standards used to judge American systems. Especially as success is currently measured, advisers can get bogged down in implementing the finer details of American systems. Instead, the focus must be helping the Afghans design their own systems that accomplish our joint goals in ways that make sense with their capabilities, needs, and limitations. While some Afghan systems may not work as well as a fully-operational American system, if the American way is impractical, unsustainable, or culturally incongruent for them, it will crumble when we withdraw. That, ultimately, is a waste of our efforts and resources, because it does not accomplish the mission objectives in the big picture. 'Afghan-sustainable' is not an excuse for laziness, compromising adviser goals, or lowering appropriate standards. Advisers acknowledge that Afghans will require their own unique solutions, which may not necessarily conform to U.S. doctrine.

The means are truly as important as the ends. We must advise our Afghan counterparts so they thoroughly understand the process and rationale, so they do not focus solely on achieving desired ends. We must make space for them to develop their own mutually agreed upon ends. We must also not let our desire to avoid certain ends (such as battle losses by ANSF) to interfere with their learning the proper means. It is a delicate balance, but one we must achieve to complete this mission.

The SFAAT concept has been pivotal, and to optimize success, the processes of selecting and training advisers, and understanding the nature of this mission demands reevaluation as the mission evolves. Individuals with experience, competence, and wisdom must also have teaching skills and relate well to others. To function optimally we need 1) additional training in rapport-building and organizational psychology, 2) awareness of Afghan culture, doctrine, equipment, and 3) practice dealing with the most prevalent kind of security risk we face, namely, insiders. We need to arrive with realistic expectations about our counterparts and the systems already in place. We need measures of success that accurately reflect the unconventional nature of the mission's objectives. Finally, we need to focus on the key objective which is sustainability, rather than getting lost in the minutia of exactly replicating American systems.

Advising fulfills that critical step in transitioning from combat missions to completed reconstruction and the host nation resuming complete responsibility for security. Success at this step is essential for the future security of the U.S. and the world. While there are problems in training for and executing the advising mission, there are many young officers dedicated to mission success who are learning lessons and trying to fix the problems within their sphere. However, until we recognize this at the operational and tactical levels, the advising mission will continue to suffer setbacks, and the U.S. and ISAF goal of Afghan self-sufficiency will continue to be delayed. Key improvements are within reach and must be implemented as soon as possible.MR


1. Nicholas J. Armstrong, “Afghanistan 2014-2024: Advising for Sustainability,” Small Wars Journal (May 4, 2012), http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/afghanistan-2014-2024-advising-for-sustainability (accessed October 8, 2013).

2. Wesley Moerbe, “Early Mistakes with Security Forces Advisory Teams in Afghanistan,” Military Review Journal (May-June, 2013): 24.

3. Department of the Army, Field Manual 3-24.2: Tactics in Counterinsurgency (Washington DC, April 21, 2009), Introduction.