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Firing Officers

"two Major-Generals found responsible for the successful attack on Bastion" is as far as I got, as it was the Taliban and not the USMC who attacked Bastion!

See me after school.
 

seaweed

LE
Book Reviewer
RIP
Can we have a thread merge on this please?
 

Daxx

MIA
Book Reviewer
What would you want to merge this with? It's somewhat tripe.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
I'm pretty certain that EU employment law prevents public sackings... The MoD are not exempt from it either IIRC.

Really? Seems to me to be one of those things which sounds quite sensible, but in reality doesn't exist. Would be interested to see something to back it up.

For example, how you define "public" sacking. Clearly EU employment law doesn't prevent people being either removed from post or fired from their job. Clearly it also doesn't prevent inquiries or investigations into failings. Both of these things happen in various sectors already. So if you have an investigation in which individuals are found responsible, and those individuals are subsequently shown the door...

You don't have to issue a press release for it to be public.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
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?

Jumpinjarhead posted something similar in the other thread about this, in the Intelligence Cell, citing the case of the USS Cole. It didn't turn out well for the commander in question, despite the hierarchy admitting that he didn't have the requisite resources, training or J2 to prevent the attack.

But as a general principle, I agree there is a huge amount of information we could open up to the light of scrutiny but don't for fear of, well, fear most often. The benefits to the organisation of transparency in some areas are classically ignored to cries of: "the chain of command!". However, I have no faith that the [current] Army hierarchy will ever consciously choose openness / scrutiny as a way to learn lessons, increase accountability and improve performance. The defensive politiking around any changes to the military justice system is a topical example: outside scrutiny will inevitably happen over the next decade or so, but ECAB are still going to expend a huge amount of effort fighting it. If change does happen, it will have to be forced by circumstance, social change, political will or from outsiders as has historically been the case.
 

Subsunk

War Hero
Book Reviewer
In today's US-influenced 'zero-defects' military culture, a firing would imply that the whole system is at fault and would be a gutsy call to make.
 

seaweed

LE
Book Reviewer
RIP
As to the USS Cole, she should never have been sent into Aden in the first place. Everything followed from that.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
As to the USS Cole, she should never have been sent into Aden in the first place. Everything followed from that.

That was the article's point: commander of USS Cole subsequently barred from promotion; 2* who sent USS Cole to Aden under 'force protection of the Yemeni government' escapes unscathed.
 

Subsunk

War Hero
Book Reviewer
Senior officers dumping on more junior officers like this is one of the most toxic elements of toxic organisations. It makes the more ruthless, selfish and venal junior officers even more determined to clamber over their comrades in arms to get to the top.
This sends out all the wrong messages, one of the most insidious being that core values are things that you only need to apply in Phase 1 training. I saw this a lot at BRNC, often, most depressingly, from those who had a relative serving at high levels. It was hard to escape the conclusion that they had had a briefing on the realities of being a c### in order to get ahead.
 

seaweed

LE
Book Reviewer
RIP
The Air Marshals dumping THAT Chinook crash on two dead pilots was a sad example of management triumphing over leadership.
 
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.

The German General Staff, the story goes, used to divide army officers into four categories: the clever and lazy, the clever and hard-working, the stupid and lazy, and the stupid and hard- working. The best Generals, the Germans found, came from the clever and lazy; the best staff officers emerged from the clever and hard-working; the stupid and lazy could be made useful as regimental officers; but the stupid and hard-working were a menace, to be disposed of as soon as possible.
"I divide officers into four classes -- the clever, the lazy, the stupid and the industrious. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the high staff appointments. Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy is fit for the very highest commands. He has the temperament and the requisite nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious must be removed immediately." - Attributed, circa 1933; General Baron Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord (1878-1943); German Chief of Army Command (1930-33)


Rodney2q
 

seaweed

LE
Book Reviewer
RIP
I suspect the Germans may have pinched this from Napoleon.
 

Glad_its_all_over

ADC
Book Reviewer
I think there'll be a temptation to quote anecdotal experience ranging from, say, my time - late 70s to 2000, if anyone cares, through Blair's wars and as far back as the 40s and 50s, without actually stopping to read what the OP wrote.

I've read Ricks and he is very keen on relieving general officers, almost to the extent that one wonders whether the Admiral Byng approach would meet his approval. US context, US issues, which I think are related, but not identical, to ours.

We've been round and round this particular buoy a number of times, but for my own clarity of mind, my guess is that the exam question here is: "is the selection and training of senior officers in the British Army producing leaders worthy to command the troops they lead?". I think that wraps the moral, ethical, professional and organisational issues into the question.

Now, I'll confess a prejudice - as many here know, I never troubled the Officers' Mess except waiting-on in the early days of my career and at Christmas time every year - and I left a long time ago, so my experience and direct personal insight are limited. That said, I interact daily, on a professional basis, with serving and retired senior officers, so I do feel entitled to some sort of opinion.

My sense is that there are a number of areas where we need to look at our officers, in terms of who they are, what they do, how they're trained and how they're selected for higher rank.

Who they are is the first issue - there is a discrete officers' culture, which manifests itself in a sometimes unusual dress sense and a sort of Edwardian longeur, with highly professional types striving to give the impression of being gifted amateurs, in order to fit in with the actual gifted amateurs and the imbeciles (of whom we do still have a few - less than most armies, but a number greater than zero). This is an old tradition and is probably harmless, but my sense is that it does discourage active intellectual engagement in the profession and makes introduction - and enforcement - of doctrine difficult. Tribal allegiances are probably unhelpful on the macro level here, as well, as they allow silly tensions and sulky arguments to occur, particularly when the combat arm/CS/CSS or G3 snob/everybody else interface comes into play. There is an assumed class aspect to this and, despite the very welcome flattening of accents in the products of Sandhurst, there is still evidence of the old "officers and their ladies, sergeants and their wives, soldiers and their women attitude".

There is probably mileage in looking at a longer, harder process for recruiting and selecting officers and living with the fact that we'd have fewer. Having everyone join as a private soldier and selecting for aptitude from Phase I and/or Phase II plus from the Field Army might throw up late developers and if they're educationally challenged, that's fixable.

What officers do is another aspect. Fundamentally, officers command soldiers - but the way we are structured, we have huge staffs and lots of staff jobs. No doubt many of these are vital, but do they actually require a staff-trained, expensive, commissioned officer, necessarily, to do them? Perhaps there are jobs which could be done by LE officers (of which more below), or officers of a certain age on extended contracts, or even, gasp, civil servants.

What officers do is also conditioned by the need to comply with the Officer Career - which, from conversation and observation, is a widely understood system which needs to be gamed in order to make sure that the right ticks are collected in the right jobs at the right time. Game the game successfully and, if you don't leave before conversion to IRC or at the 16-year point, you're almost certain to reach Lt Col and perhaps higher. Fail the game and Major is your lot. Are we putting too much emphasis on the holy structure and ideal career trajectory, or does a smaller Army in the future allow us to look again at how we do this stuff and perhaps reduce some of the process and introduce a touch more judgement, perhaps even move away from the sacred OJAR and look at some civilian tools, including 360 degree appraisals for leaders by those they lead, as well as their superiors? Should we necessarily carry an overhead of passed-over Majors, or might we consider, "well, Captain X is a superb Captain, has done a number of jobs at that level really well, but would be a diabolical Major, let's let him stay at Captain and give him more jobs at that level to do". This might extend to jobs, so that suitable individuals who had a gift for, say, command at the sub-unit level might have three, four or more tours as sub-unit commanders.

How officers are trained is probably worth looking at, as well. AOSB and Sandhurst work extremely well at spotting likely Sandhurst success from a fairly narrow pool of applicants and then putting them through a pretty good course which will tend to produce a subaltern ready to go on with his career after STA training to suit his preferred cap badge. Not much wrong with that, although in an ideal world, perhaps we'd be looking to pull more folk at the Pte to Cpl level into the machine, put them in front of AOSB and then off to Sandhurst, perhaps after some educational remediation, just to pull some late developers into the system.

Where it seems to go Pete Tong in terms of officer training is from senior captain onwards. It's from sub-unit command and upwards that the dangerous ones actually get the chance to be properly dangerous; there's only so much harm a lieutenant can do to an organisation and generally there are checks and balances on him or her; it's sub-unit and unit commanders who get the chance to display truly toxic leadership and the British tradition of hands-off leadership can both encourage and even protect the toxic leader. To be fair, lot of the time, the officers responsible for toxic leadership would be devastated if they were told that their style was counter-productive and dangerous and I'm not sure that a mechanism exists for this to happen. It is the case, though, that there are and have been commanding officers who saw their units and the soldiers in them as aids to advancement and I don't recall ever seeing one pulled up on bad behaviour (and the Mess would have known).

How officers are selected for higher rank appears to be through a self-selecting oligarchy. Folk will naturally tend to look for folk like themselves and there is undoubtedly a tendency for the 'good chap' - whether he is or not - to be picked up for 1* and higher rank. I don't know whether this is the right approach or not, but am struck by the number of thoroughly good guys who seem to leave at Lt Col or Col nowadays and can't help wondering why this is - are they disenchanted and don't want to play any more, or are they dubious whether they'd be selected.

Last but not least, in this rather formless rant, LE officers. All my contemporaries who took LE commissions are now out, many of them as LE Lt Cols and some did rather sporty jobs very well indeed. Great for them and an indication of their real talents - I am wondering why those talents weren't recognised rather earlier and opportunity given to exercise them at an appropriate level before they'd done 18 or more years in the ranks.

Back to the OPs original question - why don't we relieve more officers? I suspect because we don't have an objective means of identifying those who need relief or the confidence in the institution of the Army which would allow us to recognise that firing a unit or formation commander for cause, as our US cousins would say, can actually be a positive signal to send the organisation, rather than a negative.
 
Last but not least, in this rather formless rant, LE officers. All my contemporaries who took LE commissions are now out, many of them as LE Lt Cols and some did rather sporty jobs very well indeed. Great for them and an indication of their real talents - I am wondering why those talents weren't recognised rather earlier and opportunity given to exercise them at an appropriate level before they'd done 18 or more years in the ranks.

Would this not weaken your senior NCO/WO corps? Although perhaps an alternative would be as in the German army scale some platoon commander positions for SNCOs.
 
Really? Seems to me to be one of those things which sounds quite sensible, but in reality doesn't exist. Would be interested to see something to back it up.

For example, how you define "public" sacking. Clearly EU employment law doesn't prevent people being either removed from post or fired from their job. Clearly it also doesn't prevent inquiries or investigations into failings. Both of these things happen in various sectors already. So if you have an investigation in which individuals are found responsible, and those individuals are subsequently shown the door...

You don't have to issue a press release for it to be public.

Unless an individual's conduct is criminal in nature, then no adverse publicity can be attached to their leaving an organisations employment. In fact, employers are neither meant to confirm nor deny if such an individual has, in fact, left their employment. They cannot even be given a bad reference, merely something along the lines of 'they worked here from/to... ' All ROs are now warned that if they write any subjective/disparaging comments about those upon whom they report, then they could be held to account in an employment tribunal and the MoD will not bail them out.
 
After hearing about promotion hurdles and the challenges a less than stratospheric career path presented, I asked an SO3 a few weeks ago when an officer could make his first mistake.

He paused for a bit and then answered:

"One Star"

Further delving identified that hothousing starts at RMAS, where cadets are planning postings and careers.

We are fooked. If we can't put pre-accidentified leaders into our management structure at a level that has chances of growth/development, what hope do we have in the future?
 
As mentioned earlier on this thread, during the Second World War it was not uncommon for senior British commanders to dismiss subordinates lacking in courage or competence, these included brigade and division commanders. FM Montgomery, however for all of his gaffes escaped this penalty as it was thought the Special Relationship could not weather a calamity of a such a magnitude. This has been well reported in military histories. I personally know of officers from two headquarters sent home from operational service on Operation AGRICOLA (Kosovo) during 1999. I cannot believe that this practice has been discontinued as it gives the commander an ultimate sanction against his staff and officers.
 

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