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General Officers operational experience and lack thereof

untallguy

Old-Salt
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#1
Just been flicking through an old copy of The Officer magazine and found this interesting little nugget:

"There are currently 58 General Officers serving in the Regular Army, of whom 12 have never had any Operational responsibilities in a conflict zone".

Ministerial Answer, 14 Nov 05.

Now, I have no idea of the context of the question, no knowledge of the responsibilities that the 12 have had/currently have nor any knowledge of what operational experience the other 46 have had (nor when it was).

Starting from this limited position, I find it a bit worrying that these chaps have made the rank that they have without having experienced operational responsibilities. These individuals may be absolute geniuses in doctrine, defence logistics, HR policy, the working of the MOD, procurement etc and I appreciate that they are not idiots or else they would not have got to where they are.

I know that the dark days of the 80s saw limited opportunities for deployment but since GRANBY started and Blair's election in 97, all everybody has been able to talk about is going on ops.

Given this, I find it worrying that 20% of our Generals have not deployed. Aside from it being a bit embarassing on parade, they've never passed the ops experience test. These individuals will advise ministers, approve doctrine, make policy and sit on promotion boards, courts-martial, procurement executives and the like where their rank and uniform gives the impression of having "being there, done that" when they haven't.

Any thoughts?
 
#2
I'd be more concerned about the lower levels who haven't deployed - they are the ones in a position to do real damage! I know I sometimes feel my service has little experience that is pertinent - knowing people with 20 yrs service and no deployments under their belts!
 
#3
Perhaps the more searching question might be 'Why do we still have 58 General Officers?' It's right up there with 'Why do we still have an independent Air Force?' and its supplementary question: 'And why are we still letting them buy the Euro-farce Typhoon?'

But really: 'the dark days of the 80s?' You really are on Zanussi aren't you? Many of the posters on this infantile yet occasionally diverting website will be able to inform you that the dark days of the Cold War were, in retrospect, the happiest days of their lives. The graduates of Camberley and the Frunze Academy planning to drown each other in blood and slaughter. Professional people dealing with opposite ends of a shared professional problem. Happy days.

Would you have told 'Ginge' Bagnall to eff off because he never commanded an armoured division on operations? I think not...
 
#4
potato - If you believe that the Air Force discussion would be more searching, then you have had little to do with military aviation. I would suggest that you keep it that way and ensure your blinkered and parochial views are kept to a low mumble. Procurement is also something all 3 have trouble with, so I guess you don't do that for a living either.
 
#6
Only 12 have had ops experience in a war zone? What do you want to do then? Give them all a month each? Perhaps start a few small wars so they could all get a gong? If you'd joined in the late 70's/early 80's would you have been one of the few who'd deployed on Corporate or Granby? Probably not, going with the percentages, and you'd be sitting there with your GSM NI and red tabs wishing you were younger too.
Besides having 58 of them means that if any turn out to be biffers, there are other choices..
 

untallguy

Old-Salt
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#7
Nato_Potato said:
Perhaps the more searching question might be 'Why do we still have 58 General Officers?' It's right up there with 'Why do we still have an independent Air Force?' and its supplementary question: 'And why are we still letting them buy the Euro-farce Typhoon?'

But really: 'the dark days of the 80s?' You really are on Zanussi aren't you? Many of the posters on this infantile yet occasionally diverting website will be able to inform you that the dark days of the Cold War were, in retrospect, the happiest days of their lives. The graduates of Camberley and the Frunze Academy planning to drown each other in blood and slaughter. Professional people dealing with opposite ends of a shared professional problem. Happy days.

Would you have told 'Ginge' Bagnall to eff off because he never commanded an armoured division on operations? I think not...
'Dark days of the '80s', yes, I suppose so - limited opportunity to gain operational experience outside Northern Ireland, planning for a war that you hoped and prayed would never happen, stagging on in Germany etc etc. Some people may well have enjoyed it - be it professionally, socially whatever and I hold no grudge against them for that at all.

However, my personal preference has been my experience - increased opprtunity to deploy on ops, planning for a war that I hope and pray will never happen, stagging on in the UK etc etc.

I just feel that Generals without ops behind them is a little bit worrying.

Would you have told 'Ginge' Bagnall to eff off because he never commanded an armoured division on operations? No, of course I wouldn't - couple of reasons:

1. I've never commanded an armoured div on ops (and never going to).
2. Some of the people I respect most in this Army have never commanded an armoured div on ops (and are never going to).
3. Bagnall had op experience in Palestine, Malaya, Suez, Cyprus and Borneo (as far as I'm aware) - I think he passes the ops test.
4. The worry was not that these Generals have never deployed in their current rank/post but they had never deployed at all.
5. Bagnall was probably bigger than me.
 
#8
OK, I'll unbend a little. Perhaps it is a little worrying. But what's to be done about it? Clear them out for younger men with ops experience? Make an ops tour a qualifier? The fact of being sent with your battalion/regiment to a war zone doesn't mean you're any good. An idiot with crowns and pips is still an idiot, whether you meet him on Salisbury Plain or an MND SE.
 
#9
OK, I'll unbend a little. Perhaps it is a little worrying in that some people are perhaps unproven.

But what's to be done about it? Clear them out for younger men with ops experience? Make an ops tour a qualifier? The fact of being sent with your battalion/regiment to a war zone doesn't mean you're any good. An idiot with crowns and pips is still an idiot, whether you meet him on Salisbury Plain or an MND SE. I've got ops experience, but does my Iraq medal signify that I've got a tick for high command? No, it just shows I've spent 6 months stagging on at the palace and elsewhere, getting irritated, bored, and stagnating.
 
#10
untallguy said:
Now, I have no idea of the context of the question, no knowledge of the responsibilities that the 12 have had/currently have nor any knowledge of what operational experience the other 46 have had (nor when it was).
[url=http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm051114/text/51114w14.htm#51114w14.html_wqn4]Hansard[/url] (House of Commons Hansard - Written Answers for 14 Nov 2005) said:
Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many serving generals have never had operational responsibilities in a conflict zone; and how many have had no such responsibilities since 1995. [26825]

Mr. Ingram: There are currently 56 General officers serving in the Regular Army, of whom 12 have never had any operational responsibilities in a conflict zone. All except one of the remaining 44 have had such responsibilities since 1995. The definition of a conflict zone excludes peace-keeping operations with the United Nations in Cyprus and service in support of the civil police in Northern Ireland.
 
#11
untallguy said:
"There are currently 58 General Officers serving in the Regular Army, of whom 12 have never had any Operational responsibilities in a conflict zone". Any thoughts?
I reckon by "operational responsibility" they mean "unit or sub-unit command".

Presumably, those twelve will be the General Officers who are not currently in operational roles - for instance, General Bloke i/c logistics, medical services, intelligence, communications, etc, etc. - I can see how it's kind of difficult for a Medic to have an "operational responsibility in a conflict zone" unless they're CO of a Hospital, for instance, or that a Int type might have spent his operational responsibility time in NI (doesn't count, according to the response) and his "conflict" time as an SO3/2/1 at Div HQ.

Better questions might have been "how many General Officers have never served in a conflict zone", or "how many formation commanders have never had operational responsibilities in a conflict zone" - the answer to both would probably be "zero".
 
#12
Danger! Tilt! The US Army of the sixties and seventies fell into this punji pit. Combat experience was a "tick the box" requirement for promotion to O4 and upwards, along with combat command for promotion to O5/O6 and upward. As a result officers were rouled through units and the reputation of these some good, some tripe, suffered. As did morale, military focus, perspective, operational command...so don't assume operational experience is the be-all. Look at Eisenhower for example. I think he passed his trade test for five-star? Capability beats experience every time.
 

cpunk

LE
Moderator
#13
When I was first commissioned, the Director of the Int Corps was Brigadier **** 'GNM' (for 'Got No Medals'), which simply reflected the fact that he had, like most of his contemporaries, spent the great majority of his career in BAOR. In the mid 1980s, I would suspect that as many as a third of the army were medal-less.

I posted a picture in the gallery a couple of years back of HQ 1 Bde circa 1988-89 in which I think the maximum number of ribbons anyone is wearing was 3, and nobody has more than 2 operational medals (GSM and UN Cyprus). Discounting NI and Cyprus as 'operational experience', as we are in this discussion, none of us actually had any! Having said that, within five years, at least one of the officers in the picture had acquired, as CO of his battalion in NI and Bosnia, somewhat more operational experience than most of us could shake a large stick at, and been awarded the DSO and the OBE in the process as well because of the quality of the job he did.

What I would suggest this means is that while, to do a good job, operational experience is clearly a very desirable quality, it is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for being an effective commander. What is necessary is to have a sound grasp of doctrine, and the concepts which underly it; to have practiced applying that doctrine in the field, either on realistic exercises or for real; and to have the flexibility to apply doctrine effectively on operations. The original PQ seems to be written to the Tim Collins agenda: 'who are these people to judge me when they haven't been in the same situation?'

So what? In reality, between 1953 and 1991 we conducted no 'heavy' operations: the only thing we did was 'peace support', COIN, MACP and 'light' infantry operations like Malaya, Borneo and the Falklands, but it was actually the officers who were serving then who shaped us so that we were in a position to do Gulf Wars 1 and 2 and the Balkans, and I don't think we did too badly there. As an aside, I think I'm right in saying that Eisenhower never heard a shot fired in anger before WW2, and I doubt he got particularly close to any 'angry shooting' then either. Of course operational experience isn't immaterial, but it isn't the be all and end all either.
 
#14
Just because a bloke was a sh*t hot company commander in NI does not mean he would have made a competent CO on Op GRANBY. cpunk has put it very eloquently. Operational experience is fine but there are so many different types. Are we able to draw sensible conclusions about anyone's fitness to command, at any level in a given operational environment, until they have been tested at that level and in that environment? It is just not a realisitic aspiration. The only thing we can hope for is that the training that we do continues to be demanding, realisitc and competently assessed.

Some of our training is extremely demanding. A 21 day exercise at BATUS taught me more about operations AT THAT LEVEL at the high end of the scale than 6 months commanding a company in Kosovo. I'm not saying Kosovo was not a useful experience but it wouldn't of helped that much on Op TELIC 1 had I gone there. The problem is you only find out that someone has been promoted beyond their level when they fcuk up. Given realistic training it's better to do this when no one's lives are at risk.
 
#16
I don't know if he was still serving, but I suspect he was at the time (Nov 05) but the last AG fell into this category, but he had been a pl comd, coy comd, CO, Bde Comd and GOC on ops in NI. Clearly no operational responsibility in a conflict zone, but very qualified to be GOC NI!

I think this is a ridiculous subject to question their suitability based on something ot of their control. Incompetence in command? Inefficiency?

Get yourself wound around the axle around operational experience and you will muck it up: there are at least 2 VC winners who went on to make a great balls up of things when stretched beyond their capabilities. If you want to question the logic of commanders who fail to learn lessons from history then you should look at what is going on on current operational deployments. In NI there were a large number of small bases which soaked up a large amount of operational manpower to guard, supply and maintain leaving a small contingent to actually patrol and dominate the ground. If PIRA wanted to mount a concerted op they didn't need to go far because we had fixed ourselves and they could, if they had the bottle, make a concerted attack (look at PVCP attack in 1980s and tower demonstrations/Forkhill incursion in 2001)... cue platoon houses in Bosnia, cue CIMIC house in Iraq, cue platoon houses in Afghanistan.

The tower demonstrations and Forkhill incursion was a classic of the genre: Attack Romeo/Golf tower and we reinforce it with a multiple plus, do this to two or three more towers and a large proportion of the Bessbrook battalion was committed to reinforcing/defending isolated towers - we were limited to a small amount of SH lift capability. When they attacked Forkhill there were only a couple of cooks and a clerk stagging on and only two lynxes in the air with tps were able to be deployed, resulting in a baton round in the face of the first bloke through the fence. Stretched so thin we were lucky not to lose someone.

So what? You can have as much experience as you want but if you don't learn from it you are stuffed. The only thing better than learning from your mistakes is learning from someone else's mistakes.
 
#17
Maybe it is just possible they got to where they are today because they are rather good at what they do, operational experience not withstanding. I imagine numerous of their peers had a chestful and never got past SO2.
 
#18
Not having served in Cyprus or NI, I'm not well qualified to comment, but that never stopped me before..........

One of the reasons the British Army is supposed to be so good at COIN/ PSO etc is the 30 years of experience NI gave it.

I don't see how anyone can discount experience in NI as being "non operational" apart from the purely political grounds of not wanting to admit there was ever a problem.

Isn't patrolling, reacting to IEDs and supporting the Polis a substantial part of what the British Army is currently doing in Iraq?
 
#19
More worrying for me than lack of operational experience would be lack of leadership experience. Whilst this isn't a problem so much for the army, we blue jobs have some officer career paths which depend solely on practical ability and have minimal command responsibility during the formative years of an officer's career; Air Traffic Control, Fighter Control and *shock* aircrew to name three!

Unfortunatey the latter makes up the entire higher echelons of our Service (non-aircrew are not promoted above 2*) and not one of them will have led non-commissioned personnel (air loadmasters and the like excepted, they are not generally representative of the average airman) until they were a Wing Commander! And we're left wondering why we have such uninspirational chaps leading us.

Count yourselves lucky, the vast majority of senior army officers (Lt Col and up) I have worked with are highly capable, knowledgable chaps who outperform equivalent blue-jobs in almost all respects (except perhaps flying!). I would love to have officers of Gen Jackson's calibre (par example) on the Air Force Board, then we might start to see a stop to the 'civvies in uniform' attitude which prevails amongst so many of our number. Worst of all are the uninspirational visits by senior officers we get at units. These visits leave our lads under no illusions that said officers have no idea what they do or what they go through to get it done and are usually spent promoting the benefits of the latest all singing and dancing aircraft, missile, computer system etc in an attempt to justify the vast quantities of cash we have spent on them.
 
#20
Looking at the photo cpunk has posted I would suggest that we are looking at a certain Brigade HQ (perhaps in Aldershot) in about 1990, hence the scope for any medals other than NI or Cyprus would have been rather limited. I recognise a couple of faces and hence my view on place and date.

To put things in perspective, we are talking of about 20% of the Generals here and hence not a significant proportion. All those in the key posts have certainly got operational experience - I can think of two deployments CGS has had at 2 and 3 Star level!
 

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