McChrystal’s Plan To Shake Up The Service Shouldn’t Stop At Senior Ranks

Community
Retired U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal speaks during a forum at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, March 11, 2013.
AP Photo/Steven Senne

The military personnel system is frequently credited with the oft-cited “brain-drain,” the Defense Department’s longtime problem with personnel retention. Many believe that the military loses its best performers to private industry due to its rigid personnel process.


Usually, these discussions are long on problems and short on solutions. Recently, though, retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, known as a man who’s been around, discussed one possible solution in an interview with the Washington Post.

McChrystal recommended that the military allow direct commissions of certain people, give them some initial training, and bring them into senior positions.

“They'd step in and it would be seamless — because they solve problems and they lead people,” McChrystal said. “Take Brad Smith from Intuit. He could be brought in as a three- or four-star general in the military, and he'd be value-added at the end of the first week.”

Bringing in a high-level leader who’s never served in the military would certainly shake things up, perhaps most notably within the power politics played by generals and admirals. There would be major challenges. The military is one of the most insular subcultures of American society. Outsiders would have a hard time fitting in with both their new peers and their subordinates, neither of whom would feel that some high-powered former CEO has endured the sacrifices and hardships one normally endures to reach such a position.o

By way of example, former Marine commandant Gen. James Amos received a lot of underground criticism for not having a Combat Action Ribbon signifying participation in ground combat, despite a distinguished 42-year military career. One can only imagine the type of reception a CEO might get if his only time deployed was in a villa in southern France, no matter how talented he may be.

It’s appropriate that McChrystal is the one proposing more lateral entry. He has an extensive background in special operations, having served in Special Forces, as a Ranger, and as head of Joint Special Operations Command. In that type of work, performance and expertise often matter more than rank. He understands that sometimes one has to put ego aside and just get the right person for the job.

Bringing individuals directly into the military at high ranks would harken back to an earlier era in American military history, but it’s something that’s no longer done. Warfare today is more technically demanding than it was up until the beginning of the 20th century, when a man who could raise a battalion could lead that battalion. For many combat arms and operational commands, bringing in someone with no direct military experience might not work well.

Nevertheless, for certain jobs and certain projects, McChrystal’s idea has a great deal of merit. The military could give a superstar the resources and authority to tackle a troubled command or a particular major project. Who wouldn’t accept his aforementioned Brad Smith to revamp the military’s information technology? Sailors and Marines who’ve dealt with the infamous tech platform Navy Marine Corps Intranet, called NMCI, or “Non-Mission Capable Internet” would certainly agree. For that matter, I’d give Amazon’s Jeff Bezos a chance to revamp military acquisitions or FedEx’s Fred Smith a shot at logistics. While obviously some of these individuals would have no interest in serving, others might decide that a new challenge and the opportunity to serve might be worth it.

Even at lower ranks, bringing in some top talent could bring new ideas and expertise into the mix. There are more people than one might think who want to serve, but who may think they’ve missed their window. These are people at the top of their games. Telling this pool of talent, “Tough luck, should’ve joined 10 years ago,” is leaving a lot on the table. The services should take a closer look at what fields can employ direct commissions, looking beyond the usual medical and engineering fields into others with civilian analogues, such as logistics, maintenance, even some flying jobs. This could be to an active duty or the reserves. Warrant officer and specialist ranks could also be targeted.

In the long run, the most productive way to shake things up will be a hybrid approach. Just as we can allow a limited number of civilians in at levels above the ground floor, we can balance that out by allowing, even encouraging, people to leave the service and come back later. Currently, “broken time” is usually a career death sentence. It happens when someone gets out and has regrets when things outside aren’t as easy as he or she planned. We need to tell our best performers that they can go out, take a break, get varied experiences, and still be welcomed back in later.

Allowing service members to take breaks from the service — going into the civilian world or the reserves and then return — will, over time, bring the best parts of the civilian world back to the military. Almost as importantly, it will bring the best of the military back to the civilian world. Whether by sabbaticals, fellowships, or exchange programs, we need to encourage varied experiences. The aforementioned civilian accessions may be impractical for military-unique fields, but these programs aren’t.

The military is one of a very small number of institutions today that still demands a full career of unbroken service. There is a place for this, but there’s also a place for a personnel model that’s more dynamic than it’s been in the past, just as the world is. With any luck, McChrystal’s idea is just the leading edge of a more sweeping change.

It has been a deadly year for Green Berets, with every active-duty Special Forces Group losing a valued soldier in Afghanistan or Syria.

A total of 12 members of the Army special operations forces community have died in 2019, according to U.S. Army Special Operations Command. All but one of those soldiers were killed in combat.

In Afghanistan, Army special operators account for 10 of the 17 U.S. troops killed so far this year. Eight of the fallen were Green Berets. Of the other two soldiers, one was attached to the 10th Special Forces Group and the other was a Ranger.

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Documents from the Pentagon show that "far more taxpayer funds" were spent by the U.S. military on overnight stays at a Trump resort in Scotland than previously known, two Democratic lawmakers said on Wednesday, as they demanded more evidence from the Defense Department as part of their investigation.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the heads of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee and one of it subcommittees said that while initial reports indicated that only one U.S. military crew had stayed at President Donald Trump's Turnberry resort southeast of Glasgow, the Pentagon had now turned over data indicating "more than three dozen separate stays" since Trump moved into the White House.

Read More Show Less
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley from 1979's 'Alien' (20th Century Fox)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

QUANTICO, Va. -- Marines who spend much of their day lifting hefty ammunition or moving pallets full of gear could soon get a helping hand.

The Marine Corps is close to signing a deal to test an exoskeleton prototype that can help a single person move as much as several leathernecks combined.

Read More Show Less
NEC Corp.'s machine with propellers hovers at the company's facility in Abiko near Tokyo, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. The Japanese electronics maker showed a "flying car," a large drone-like machine with four propellers that hovered steadily for about a minute. (Associated Press/Koji Sasahara

'Agility Prime' sounds like a revolutionary new video streaming service, or a parkour-themed workout regimen, or Transformers-inspired niche porno venture.

But no, it's the name of the Air Force's nascent effort to replace the V-22 Osprey with a militarized flying car — and it's set to take off sooner than you think.

Read More Show Less
In this March 12, 2016, file photo, Marines of the U.S., left, and South Korea, wearing blue headbands on their helmets, take positions after landing on a beach during the joint military combined amphibious exercise, called Ssangyong, part of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea. (Associated Press/Yonhap/Kim Jun-bum)

Task & Purpose is looking for a dynamic social media editor to join our team.

Our ideal candidate is an enthusiastic self-starter who can handle a variety of tasks without breaking a sweat. He or she will own our brand's social coverage while working full-time alongside our team of journalists and video producers, posting to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (feed, stories, and IGTV), YouTube, and elsewhere.

Read More Show Less