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Firing Officers

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
The United States Marine Corps yesterday fired - or requested resignations of - two Major-Generals found responsible for the successful attack on Bastion this time last year. Despite news outlets saying that this is especially rare, the US military (and particularly the USMC) actually has form here: Officers at field grade and above were often removed from command posts during WW2 and Vietnam if found to have under-performed operationally. In recent years, though perhaps less frequent (I haven't calculated the stats so cannot say), there have been similar removals such as that of Col. Joe Dowdy during the invasion of Iraq, and though under somewhat different circumstances, the very public removal of Gen. Stan McChrystal. Moreover, as has been discussed elsewhere on this site, the US are much more inclined to be open with their censure than we are.

Despite what is widely becoming recognised as a series of operational and military advice failings on both TELIC and HERRICK between 2004-2008, I still cannot think of an example of public censure or overt consequences being applied to any Senior officers in the British military. There is at least one very Senior officer at present whom many of his peers have openly, by name, in print, accused of serious command failings in 2006-2007. But this also extends to a lower level. I remember hearing a first-hand account of an OC on a HERRICK some years ago who consistently made command decisions that needlessly put his blokes at risk, such as would have seen a Platoon Commander fired or removed from post, combined with worryingly idiotic behaviour such as habitually firing his pistol from his vehicle in 200-300m contacts. Initially I was skeptical until I heard this story confirmed not only by another from that unit, but also by a good friend who was in the unit which took over from them. Last I heard, this OC is now a CO. Why do we find it so difficult to identify and get rid of these people?

Traditionally, I believe our arguments for not firing (particularly Senior) officers have been some mish-mash of letting people learn from mistakes; reputational protection; not wanting to damage lower ranks morale; and plain "just not how we do things, old boy!". There may be other reasons, and I may be misconstruing some of these, after all they are hardly published in doctrine or QRs which tend to hold that any soldier or officer making a serious error is held accountable. But these are the various answers I have heard around the houses when the question is occasionally raised conversationally. I would be happy to hear any corrections or additions.

These answers are also obvious bollocks. We are all aware that APC increasingly run a zero defects promotion policy, and some senior Generals have bemoaned the "institutional ordinariness of my kind" that this produces [Lt Gen Sir Grahame Lamb, an essay in British Generals in Blair's Wars]. Furthermore, any pre-2006 pretensions that we had of being more agile, intellectually sharp and capable of change than the US military have firmly been shot down, as Gen Sir Nick Parker stated in this IISS debate: collectively we do not act like an organisation which is primarily concerned about letting leaders learn from mistakes.

Reputational protection is a curious argument: in the same Lamb essay quoted above, he cites two key elements of Generalship being character - which he defines as living up to the responsibility of command - and competence which is self-explanatory. To my mind, the reputation of the USMC is better served by them collectively admitting fault, holding those who claim overall responsibility actually responsible (as opposed to firing the guard commander), holding them to a basic standard of competence expected of any junior soldier, and those people being willing to take it on the chin. The inverse, where mistakes are clearly made but nobody is ever seen to be accountable, is unfortunately where the British Army seems to be. I would suggest it does not enhance our reputation.

Accordingly, the idea that this preserves the morale of lower ranks is palpable rubbish. Junior soldiers and officers are often held to account for misdemeanors, and it is rarely anything other than public given the comparative size and rumour capacity of Battalion-sized units. They understand the concept, and consider it bastard unfair if more senior people do not get treated the same way. In a direct comparison to this case, soldiers found asleep on stag in Afghanistan can, should, and have been immediately removed from post, tried and sent to Colchester. Treating officers by the same standards does more than just satisfy the passing bloodlust of the arena spectators: it is a demonstrable commitment by the Army that our V&S of Integrity and Professionalism are more than just words. Most of all, it demonstrates that the Army tries to be fair, regardless of rank. Any officer in this Army who genuinely thinks that the majority of soldiers would suffer a morale hit by seeing senior officers held accountable for their actions should be removed from post on the grounds of mental incapability and delusion.

Finally, clearly it is "just not how we do things", but despite eternal debates such as the Up/In/Down/Out question, how we have done things before is not necessarily the best guide to how we should do things in future. If you disagree, feel free to draw a musket, red coat and rough-spun blanket the next time you deploy. So my two questions are simple:

Why don't we remove more Officers from post?

Is it about time we started?
 

Daxx

MIA
Book Reviewer
That's a lot of words.

My head hurts just thinking about reading them.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
That's probably quite an accurate answer to my first question.
 

Daxx

MIA
Book Reviewer
If you can't get your point across in 2-3 lines then it probably isn't worth reading :)
 
You are Tom Ricks and I claim my $5......
 

Trollage

Old-Salt
Hang-ups from the class distinction and institutionalised self protection, you are not allowed to say a brother officer was wrong in front of the troops so all censure is done behind closed doors and not for the likes of oiks like you to question. Now do as you're told.
 
I think in the specific case of HERRICK and TELIC, the Senior parts of the Army were sending a message that they were in a situation that was either a) all peachy, look at our beret wearing, NI experienced, non-Yank way of doing things or b) OMG, give us more money, more kit, don't ask questions, do it now else I'll go to the Daily Wail. Firing a General or two would contradict that messaging and distract from what they were trying to achieve.

Were people not selected for promotion on the back of their HERRICK/TELIC performance? Absolutely. Would we ever explicitly link the two? I very much doubt it.

Whilst I have some sympathy for Ricks' (and your) argument that every so often we need to fire people to make the others perform, we must also stop a "zero defect mentality" from coming into existence. As Ricks points out, the Generals fired in WW2 generally had another chance at Combat Leadership, thus indicating that making a mistake was not necessarily terminal. I doubt that we would be able to institute that kind of thinking in the current Armed Forces.

tl;dr - it doesn't suit the message; probably, but the Army (and RN/RAF) are incapable of the institutional change required.
 
That screed looks very like the proposal for a dissertation...

I've seen a battalion suffering under the appalling concept of leadership as practiced by a particularly self-interested officer, who should have been sacked without any hesitation whatsoever following his first week into the tour, but managed to survive at least one severe carpeting to continue his destruction of the morale of all under him and get away at the end with an OBE. Nothing I saw before or after in the Army could have made me more cynical. I was an outsider; what it did to those in the battalion I can only really guess at.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Whilst I have some sympathy for Ricks' (and your) argument that every so often we need to fire people to make the others perform, we must also stop a "zero defect mentality" from coming into existence. As Ricks points out, the Generals fired in WW2 generally had another chance at Combat Leadership, thus indicating that making a mistake was not necessarily terminal.

Agree, which is why I phrased it "remove from post" rather than specifically "fired" - although in the USMC example, if they are at 2* level then I think firing is probably warranted, given that they probably should have learned their lessons by now, and removing from post is going to be a de facto promotion ban anyway.

However, as mentioned, we already have a zero defects mentality: it is just done quietly. I would argue that if censure is more open, but still uses the US WW2 system of giving people a chance to do a regain, then you can make a system which sees less risk aversion than at present. Currently officers are afraid not just of the specific examples which they know will invite censure, but a raft of other hidden behaviours or opinions (fairly judged or otherwise) which may elicit a career foul. They have to fear what they cannot see, as well as what they can. The very fact that it is an opaque process induces people to be risk averse and so we trend towards the mediocre.

PS Not Ricks. I would have written Fiasco differently.
 
Any officer in this Army who genuinely thinks that the majority of soldiers would suffer a morale hit by seeing senior officers held accountable for their actions should be removed from post on the grounds of mental incapability and delusion.

The troops would probably have a morale boost if they saw that incompetence and wrongdoing at senior officer level was not being institutionally covered up.

How many disgraced brass genuinely worthy of exposure have we heard about in the media compared with, say, the Col Tim stitch-up?
 
Here's an interesting 2nd order effect....

We are routinely given tasks to do that we don't have the resources to do properly. If we are to hold Officers accountable, then they in turn should be able to hold their Superiors accountable. Do we need to make Sub-Unit/Unit/Bde/Whatever "Risk Registers" available to all and sundry to ensure that the light of scrutiny is available?

If I'm tasked with 'x', and say I need 'a', 'b' and 'c', but the boss only gives me 'd' and 'e', and I subsequently fail, who's fault it it and who gets removed from post?
 

wood0503

Swinger
i have applied to Sandhurst and am going through the application process as we speak (i expect the usual stick for this decision haha). but i would expect that as a junior officer being responsible for 30 odd guys that if i **** up and make a stupid decision i should be held accountable and if severe enough fired for it. the same should then theoretically apply to officers in charge of battalions. i work for a generator company at the moment and we had a guy fired for rewiring a generator wrong that resulted in severe damage, if it can happen over something like that, why should it not be enforced for people who are in charge of peoples lives.
 

sguyw

LE
i have applied to Sandhurst and am going through the application process as we speak (i expect the usual stick for this decision haha). but i would expect that as a junior officer being responsible for 30 odd guys that if i **** up and make a stupid decision i should be held accountable and if severe enough fired for it. the same should then theoretically apply to officers in charge of battalions. i work for a generator company at the moment and we had a guy fired for rewiring a generator wrong that resulted in severe damage, if it can happen over something like that, why should it not be enforced for people who are in charge of peoples lives.

----
poor deluded fool, officers mistakes are always covered by, some poor Lance Jack will be made to take the blaim for you.
 

wood0503

Swinger
----
poor deluded fool, officers mistakes are always covered by, some poor Lance Jack will be made to take the blaim for you.

if that does happen it is a real shame, i know rank has its privileges but it shouldn't cancel out accountability. Id like to think that most officers would step up to the plate if they **** up but that would be in an ideal world. id like to think in those situations that id be one of the few to hold my hands up if i **** up
 

seaweed

LE
Book Reviewer
RIP
One has to ask about those who (a) promoted and (b) appointed those 2 major-generals. Human sacrifice isn't always the answer but sometimes a smart, quiet sideways move (as otherwise an expensively trained officer who may do very well elsewhere is being thrown away) is appropriate. For instance one of my Captains sacked his next in line who was then used in less stressful employment (the Captain was a complete sh!t to his immediate Heads of Department). I only knew the man had been relieved, the fact of him being sacked I didn't know until decades later the obits started to come out. I've known junior officers shunted the very same day that they blundered. It all depends on circumstances. Any RN CO in a collision or grounding used to be pretty well automatically CM'd.

Meanwhile here's a worked British Army exx from Burma (from my uncle's WW2 memoirs):

'After the disaster at Donbaik in Arakan 1, Wavell came down to see how it had happened. Present were Cavendish the Brigadier, his gunner colonel and Irwin. Cavendish was ordered to explain the battle. When he had finished Wavell turned to Irwin and said “This is not what I ordered.” Irwin answered that it was what he had ordered, with the result that he was removed from the command of Eastern Army and was not employed at the sharp end again.'

For another story, see Oliver Leese's Wiki regarding his failed attempt to get rid of Slim.
 

sguyw

LE
if that does happen it is a real shame, i know rank has its privileges but it shouldn't cancel out accountability. Id like to think that most officers would step up to the plate if they **** up but that would be in an ideal world. id like to think in those situations that id be one of the few to hold my hands up if i **** up
-------------------
One young man in the early 90's tells his CO that he is sucidial as his wife had just left him with the stepkids.
She says he will never see that stepkids again.
CO tells him to shut up and get back on Gaurd Duty.
Young man walks into the sanger and redecorates the sanger with a hint of brain.
All blaim the young man for being upset - Officer gets grief councling.

It happens ALL the time
 
ALL the time from the "early 90's".....
 

sguyw

LE

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