Defense & National Security

Survey of Army leaders: Military not headed in right direction

Survey of Army leaders: Military not headed in right direction

Three in four (74 percent) active duty U.S. Army leaders perceive their service is not headed in the right direction, according to an independent Army-wide survey. That result is partially due to the Army’s “political correctness” and President Barack Obama’s new, but questionable national security strategy.

America’s battle-proven Army leaders either disagree (38 percent) or neither agree or disagree (36 percent) with the survey statement that their service is “headed in the right direction to prepare for the challenges of the next 10 years.” Leader hesitancy to agree with the statement was undoubtedly influenced by challenges beyond the Army’s control.

Specifically, the survey took place in the midst of ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in late 2011, a very public budget battle to shrink the Army, and a shift in the nation’s security strategy that emphasizes naval and air forces at the expense of ground forces.

The Annual Survey of Army Leadership randomly sampled 16,800 commissioned and non-commissioned officers with a sampling error of +/-0.7 percent, which means there is a high degree of confidence in the results. The pollster was ICF International of Fairfax, Va.

Survey respondents identified the following reasons for not agreeing with the “right direction” statement.

First, 58 percent of those who did not agree with the “right direction” question cited as a reason the “Army is unable to retain quality leaders.” “Quality leaders” leave the Army for a variety of reasons which may be beyond the service’s control such as the economy.

Our all-volunteer Army relies on the good will of soldiers and their families to cope with today’s tough challenges. Some people are not suited for the wrenching difficulties associated with combat and back-to-back deployments. Further, even though Army leaders report high morale (59 percent) the service is struggling with morale-busting social problems: between 2006 and 2010 sex crimes increased 64 percent, domestic violence rose 33 percent and child abuse rose 43 percent.

Further, morale is lowest among junior noncommissioned officers and junior officers and stress is a problem for one-fifth of active duty leaders, according to the survey. Those factors possibly contribute to the Army’s highest ever suicide rates, which suggest a deeper problem related to retention as well. Last month was the worst since the Army began tracking suicide rates: 38 soldiers took their own lives, according to figures released by the Army.

Second, 53 percent of those who did not agree about the Army’s “right direction” statement complained about “ineffective leaders at senior levels.” The survey found only 20 percent of Army leaders believe the system identifies ineffective leaders and “places them in positions where leadership skills are not as important as in other positions.” Senior Army leaders should put in place mechanisms to correct this problem to include ushering “ineffective” leaders out of the service at the earliest opportunity.

Third, the “Army is too soft” (57 percent) and junior leaders are promoted “too soon” (46 percent) are two more reasons cited for not agreeing with the “right direction” statement. Both problems will likely go away with the Army’s anticipated transition to peace time operations which will inevitably slow promotions and tighten-up discipline.

Fourth and more problematic, 24 percent of Army leaders complained “political correctness or the influence of politics” was a reason they did not agree with the “right direction” statement. The survey concludes “senior Army leaders themselves felt the need to bow to ‘politically correct solutions’ to appease policy makers or to ‘play politics.’” This institutional problem requires serious introspection by senior Army leaders and Congressional oversight.

There were a number of obvious examples of “political correctness” in the Army over the past few years. The case of Major Nidal Hasan, the accused 2009 mass murderer at Fort Hood, Texas is cited as a “politically correct” case by Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) who publicly accused the White House of covering up Hasan’s terrorist attack.

Further, President Obama made repealing the military’s homosexual exclusion law a priority which compelled Army leaders to politically cower in spite of significant military readiness reasons to oppose. And political correctness apparently froze the lips of Army leaders who knew better when the administration recently ignored combat exclusions for women to assign them to frontline units and launched a “study” regarding the admission of women into Ranger School, a physically demanding small unit combat course.

Finally, 39 percent of respondents complained “resources/funding are insufficient” and 24 percent said downsizing the force “would significantly impact the Army’s ability to protect national interests abroad.” The Army faces tough fiscal and “downsizing” challenges because of budget cuts and the president’s strategic pivot.

Resources are tight because the administration chopped $487 billion out of the defense budget over the next 10 years reportedly to avoid cutting social programs. Further, there is angst among Army leaders who watch with trepidation the coming sequestration crisis created by the 2011 Budget Control Act that is poised to cut another $492 billion from the Pentagon beginning in 2013.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, warns further sequestration-driven defense cuts could “essentially freeze the Pentagon.” The Army is already scheduled to shrink from 570,000 troops to about 480,000 in the coming years and additional draconian troop reductions could occur if sequestration goes ahead.

Further, the Army is watching the emergence of President Obama’s air-sea strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. The service rightly fears it will become the bill payer for the pivot even though Army conventional and special operations forces are uniquely suited to shape that environment.

Trashing our ground forces in a budget crisis to pay for air-sea assets is historically naïve. Inevitably the ground force becomes the primary antagonist in every war and that will continue to be true in the foreseeable future in spite of rosy promises from air and naval advocates.

Army Chief of Staff General Raymond T. Odierno said the Army leader survey results are taken seriously. The general clearly has some housecleaning to do in order to reverse the widespread perception the Army “is not headed in the right direction” and Congress must do its part to vaccinate the Army from “political correctness” and to protect the world’s best ground force from becoming the bill payer for the president’s unproven Asia-Pacific pivot.

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