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Firing Officers

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?

I agree, shame you couldn't swear more often, get rid of the FLUB,s
 
But compared to the 50/60/70's, officers are now a quantum leap better.
 
Slim who was the "Best" Brit General of WW II IMHO was sacked/fired, Twice, as a General Officer, while as has been mentioned Montgomery got away with so much.

john
Not part of the club, I will suggest.
 

Subsunk

War Hero
Book Reviewer
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?

'Hothousing' - that's the first time I've heard the word in this context and it fits in precisely. What angers me about this is that people inside of this process rarely think about their mission and their people, except insofar as it boosts their career.
 

Subsunk

War Hero
Book Reviewer
Ricks is keen on having senior officers removed from post if they don't shape up, but this is not automatically meant as a punitive measure - many generals in his history get a second shot in which they redeem themselves.

There is a fine line between relief and firing which has been lost, and as a result this measure is never applied.
 
Perhaps our reluctance to sack them/remove them from post is a partial recognition that often the orders they have been given are unclear, contradictory and conflicting, or that the officers are working within constraints imposed from higher up that when on the ground prove inoperable.

Blaming the officers would provide far too easy a scapegoat for the politicians, MOD and command to resist rather than tackling systemic failures - one only needs to look at the Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash for that...
 
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

An interesting point; I'm not sure that the services "do" risk identification, quantification, ownership and management in a way that would be familiar to anyone working in say project management. Maybe, if they did, there would be more accountability.

On a separate note, Admiral Byng is the obvious fall guy, given wholly inadequate resources which he protected and got shot for the privilege.
 
What depths have the military sunk to if this is the prevailing wisdom?

If there is one thing I have learned in the 8 years since I left the Army, it is the value of effective and open risk identification, assessment and management. Risk management has nothing to do with arse covering and the blame game and everything to do with achieving the aim in the most efficient way. With hindsight, I realise that I have watched military commanders up to 2* push ahead with flawed plans with very little idea of what might go wrong, what the consequences might be and what to do if the risk is realised. In my view, the estimate process would be significantly enhanced by the addition of proper risk analysis.
 
If there is one thing I have learned in the 8 years since I left the Army, it is the value of effective and open risk identification, assessment and management. Risk management has nothing to do with arse covering and the blame game and everything to do with achieving the aim in the most efficient way. With hindsight, I realise that I have watched military commanders up to 2* push ahead with flawed plans with very little idea of what might go wrong, what the consequences might be and what to do if the risk is realised. In my view, the estimate process would be significantly enhanced by the addition of proper risk analysis.

However, what the Armed Forces do is take a perfectly decent process and then pervert it by either a) not understanding it or b) using it for agendas. C'est-la vie.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
What depths have the military sunk to if this is the prevailing wisdom?

Not clear on your point. Do you mean:

a) Depths = that the military has got to the point where individuals feel public scrutiny is the only way to ensure errors are fixed.

b) Depths = that the military has individuals who would suggest public scrutiny.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
In my view, the estimate process would be significantly enhanced by the addition of proper risk analysis.

This is a whole other thread, but:

1. Proper risk analysis (in Bde and below estimates) is there, as the preserve largely of J2 & Q1 but also J3/5 in Q2. The problem is that it doesn't get done very well. I would blame 75% of this, at least over the past decade, on poor performance (based on inadequate doctrine) among operational J2 staffs. We are very good at tactical intelligence (i.e. individual capabilities and their ability to provide reliable information), we are staggeringly poor at linking it all together, seeing the big picture, and giving valuable, honest advice to commanders.

2. The other major reasons that risk analysis doesn't get done very well is the use of "assumptions" in the estimate process. In every estimate process at any level I have seen (Pl to Army HQ) the start point is always a number of assumptions that cannot be challenged. Mostly these assumptions are at best a subjective guess at the most likely among a number of options, at worst clearly unlikely but represent what the current direction / status quo says. However, the estimate direction is always that you need to start from somewhere, and therefore these are the assumptions handed down from above and the staff are not permitted to challenge them. For example: the assumptions handed down to A2020 that it will include a significant Reserve element, and regimental capbadges will be saved, are not necessarily in line with the objective: design the most effective fighting force for 2020. Other assumptions are less linked to conscious direction, but equally questionable and equally capable of screwing up planning: e.g. we assume the economy will start to grow by ~2% p.a. from 2011.

The problem is that even a minor change or alteration in many of these assumptions will completely invalidate the rest of the plan. For example: we assume that we will be able to recruit 30,000 reservists. But if we do not, the rest of the planning process about how to employ your 30,000 reservists, which units to link them to, how to alter training plans, how to form Adaptive brigades, etc is bunk. No matter how much time and effort is spent on the detail of the estimate subsequently, all of that detail will be subject to change if one assumption is wrong. Generally, the higher the level of planning, the more assumptions and, at least from what I've seen, the more questionable they are.

There is a way around this, which you should recognise from project management, and which economists use for predictive models. Instead of making one detailed plan based on assumptions, you make a general plan for each set of assumptions. Where there are common factors across one or more assumptions (e.g. whether we have 100,000 regular soldiers, or 80,000 regular soldiers and 30,000 reserve soldiers, we will still need =<100,000 SA80A2 rifles), then you can conduct detailed planning for them as appropriate. Equally, if there are some decisions which must be made now, then you take the most likely option accounting for all of your assumptions, instead of just one.

I'm told a version of this is taught at HCSC. Given our recent performance, and that clearly SO2+ level staff officers need to understand this model to contribute in their work, I'd argue that's a little late.
 
the estimate process would be significantly enhanced by the addition of proper risk analysis.

Depends what you mean by 'proper' - getting bogged down in PRINCE 2-type crap would hinder, not enhance, the estimate.

Bottom line is that risk analysis is a means to an end, not the end in itself, and wrapping oneself around the risk axle, to the detriment of more useful activity, perhaps imposes greater risk. As he previous poster states, if the assumptions are incorrect then all the risk analysis in the world isn't going to make a jot of difference.
 

Daxx

MIA
Book Reviewer
I think this thread is being used as the basis for a thesis, which has significantly digressed from the OP...
 
Its funny - the light blue have always been taught that removing offrs from post (particularly in theatre) is an Army thing, that thrusting RAF Regt and aircrew types are increasingly doing to be seen as punchy (ie army-like) - again in the operational theatre. I have only personally encountered at Wg level - an SO1 removing an SO3 who couldn't keep up.

I guess the reason it isn't more prevalent is 2 reasons - the higher ranked the failure, the more it shows the system has failed by getting them to that rank in the first place. Second, the appraisal process (not just OJAR the whole thing) requires constnat interaction and mentoring/feedback. The upshot is is that if a senior has not identified a failing in a subordinate, they can't be got rid of without the subordinate stating 'you didn't mentor me properly - if I had the feedback before then I would have improved to the desired standards waah service complaint etc'.
 

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