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Where have all the decent COs gone?

What are most COs currently interested in?

  • Getting a good CR and staff position?

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Doing a professional job?

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    0
#1
At a party over the weekend, I caught up with an acquaintance currently serving at the last unit I was with a few years back. Since his current CO has been in post a lot of soldiers have signed off as well as best part of a dozen officers leaving. Morale is not good. new RMAS regimental quotas may mean the officer posts will take longer to fill. The good level the previous Co had left the Bn in is being eroded and things seem to be coming to a head.

I had been on ops with the current CO when he was a Coy comd and things only went okay due to a lot of people paddling like fcuk below the surface and patching up the lack of practicality in his plans :roll: . A CSM even had to pack his bergen for him once 8O . Yet he gets promoted and continues to command in a wishy washy way on ops. Has he been promoted because he makes all the right noises upwards? or because he has an excellent staff capability and his destined place is higher up, away from the troops, thinking permanently of the bigger picture and "synergistic combined effect"?

I served with one or two brilliant COs (the best a jock CO nicknamed warrior), most to a man non grads who only wanted to command their Bn on ops. The rest were more and more "intelligent" COs who saw Bn command as only a step to a higher staff career, but is this the future? more career orientated COs than "professional"?
 
#5
The rumination of original post was started after i had seen this quote hanging on someone's wall.

"There are plenty of small-minded men who, in time of peace, excel in detail, are inexorable in matters of equipment and drill, and perpetually interfere with the work of their subordinates. They thus acquire an unmerited reputation and render their service a burden, but they, above all, do mischief in preventing development of individuality and in retarding the advancement of independent and capable spirits. When war arises, the small minds, worn out by attention to trifles, are incapable of effort, and fail miserably. So goes the world."

Archduke Albert (sometime in 1880s)

a few years back a CSgt explained to me the difference in between a professional soldier and a career soldier. for an OR he identified the bifurcation point into either as post Junior Brecon. The career soldier was the man who said the right thing at the right time for the wrong reasons, the professional said the wrong thing at the wrong time for the right reasons. The Career soldier wanted to go on PSBC quickly and achieve rank, the professional wanted to be on exercise and be in the recce platoon- then when ready try for selection.

Maybe I'm just an old fart, looking back with rose tinted glasses at what was and seeing a similar erosion of sense of service in the army as to what i see outside in civvie strasse. The army is back on a higher tempo of ops with greater overstretch than ever before, but it just seems more thrusters and managers are given command, and are keen to get the necessary tick in the box before moving on up as soon as possible. Maybe the loss of crown immunity, more training focus at ITCs and less time to train in battalions mean that the future is a commander more adept at staff work and politics than being a leader to men.

From firestarter in the seniors forum

"Trust a man who heads for the sound of the guns and has repeated tours of combat and command duty at all unit levels; it is preferable that he have only minimal exposure to staff work."

personally I hope the trend is cyclic and we have a few more characters coming back. Mad mitch in the crater (well before my time!), Tim Collins a more modern day example perhaps(!)

(retreats to bunker, puts on flak jacket, helmet on, visor down, gumshield fitted and awaits incoming)
 
#7
Small Brown,

Not a pop at your eminently sensible question, one which is definitely worthy of debate, but rather a warning to those tiresome whingers who wish to slag off individuals in puerile posts.

No need for CBA!
 
#8
You have to factor in that we are a smaller Army nowadays - it is far more competitive to get into a command slot than it was. Before anyone opens fire with a "in my day" reply - do the maths; it just is.

Getting to command requires getting promoted first - a combination of command and staff ability is required. Then the selection for command is done on command reports - mainly how you did as an OC.

Ask yourself how you would behave as a CO if you had managed to get there? You're only halfway though a full career. You have a wife and a family, you have probably just slipped on the Boarding School Allowance handcuffs. Are you going to be just a bit careful, a bit risk averse? On operations you are pursued by worried politicians, inquisitive media and ambulance chasing lawyers. And in every battalion, however well trained and led, there is always someone who is going to let the side down.

I'm not sure that we can expect everyone to live up to some great standard that we may remember from our earlier years. I can think of 1 great CO that I have worked for and a few who were good. Some were not at all good and would struggle to get promoted in the current climate.

Still happy to cast the first stone?
 
#9
smallbrown, nail on the head- nice one!
I find it terribly sad that anyone who takes a bit of a risk, wants to get the job done for the sake of it, might think you'll bottle it but you don't.........and they get a slagging???????????
Am curentlly ceiling reached in present employment but quite frankly couldn't care less, have loads of fun, teach the sprogs some old tricks and have the guvnors scratching their heads- what the feck are we going to do with him ? Oh bollocks he gets results and he's got black on us, LEAVE ALONE!!
 
#10
Yorkie said:
Seems that a good posting to APC Glasgow makes you an ideal candidate for CO.
Not as strange as you might think. A tour at APC would certainly force you to understand how G1 works :cry:

If they're a good leader, a CO doesn't necessarily have to be a G2 guru (decent Int Sect will provide), a G3 whizzkid (a bright/hardworking Ops Offr, an experienced, steady, and devious 2ic, and a willingness to listen can get around that), or a G4 expert (a QM in the "traditional" mould can help there).

But if they don't have the career management skills, then the Bn is screwed. Maybe not right away, but two or three years down the line.

If they understand how the careers structure works, they can make a huge difference as a CO. Managing people during this tour is vital; managing people for two or three tours hence is vital too. CO can't be everywhere at once; having the right people in the right posts means they don't have to.
 
#11
I absolutely have no doubt that there are men and women who are unsuited for command but I do take issue with this sentiment:

"Trust a man who heads for the sound of the guns and has repeated tours of combat and command duty at all unit levels; it is preferable that he have only minimal exposure to staff work."

I have no issue with 'trust a man who heads for the sound of the guns', but the rest is trite.

This assumes that without having heard a shot fired in anger you are unsuitable (full stop). The post further suggests that in order to command an infantry battalion you must have been in the SAS. As for minimal exposure to staff work ... DSF is populated by who exactly other than SF staff officers? as well as the SF cells in every major command?

How exactly in the 16-20 years or so it takes to get to a command appointment do you think an officer gets there without a staff appointment? Maybe he is lucky and gets 2 shots at being a coy comd, if he's lucky he's been a rifle pl comd and sp wpns pl comd so a maximum of 8 years to get in those 'repeated tours of combat and command duty at all unit levels' - so on average four op tours in command of soldiers. Not forgetting that (for those in command now and the near future) he will have spent 4 years between staff college and a black bag staff appointment - both pretty critical in terms of assessing their suitability for future command.

My experience is clearly coloured by my operational experience (luckily two tours as a platoon commander and several as Coy 2IC, RSO and Ops Officer), and those officers who are lucky enough to have commanded men on many more operations and in many more environments are clearly going to have an advantage. Does that experience make them better leaders? potentially; can leadership only be proved on operations? not necessarily. Can trust (that which is central to the Army's ethos) be generated only on operations? it is too late then, it has to be developed in barracks - in peace!

I may have missed the point but the 'rogue officer who fights the system but is grudgingly respected by his superiors' is more hollywood fiction than truth. There are several 'rogue' officers out there with their jackets covered in tin and gold that I wouldn't follow in a queue.

In my view operational experience is critical to enhance one's leadership traits, qualities and style but without those traits, qualities and style no amount of operational experience will make you a good leader.

Naturally this rant will sound much better when I am in command and have a chestful of decorations having demonstrated my operational credentials and my gallantry, valour and leadership!

My CBA is still at Marchwood waiting to be shipped into theatre.
 
#12
Too true Barbs.

Let us all not forget, that the job of CO is now a political post. The actions of a simgle Bn are now scrutinised at the highest level when on Ops as every shot is heard throughout the world and is heard very loudly in the halls of power, it is essential that any CO knows how to play the political game. I am not on about the petty office politics in which far too many people dabble but more the understanding that the actions of a single unit can have strategic ramifications.

This puts every CO in the difficult, if not impossible position, of having to weigh up every action against the potential national effect. It is no longer simply good enough to have a commander who is all for the boys, charges into battle and leads from the front. These are still nice traits but a man in command now has to be so much more than simply a good battlefield leader.

It could be argued that this is true at every rank, not simply that of CO. A sect comd now must have greater awareness of the wider political/ operational situation that he operates in. We have seen in Iraq that the actions of a small group can be reported throughout the media leading to a backlash in other parts of the world. Every man now has a duty and responsibility to carefully consider his/ her actions in a wider sphere. This is not ideal. We all make mistakes, but the simple truth is that a mistake now can have far greater ramifications than say 20 years ago. This is why we now place such emphasis on the correct education and trg of all ranks.

There are still plenty of very good COs. The difference is now that they have to be a much more outward looking comd and cannot solely concentrate on running their unit. They will, or should, get top cover from the CoC but mission command allows then to make their own decisions and these will be put under the spot-light. They have a very difficult job and one that involves a deft balancing act. With the army undoubtable going to get smaller in time but the firepower and effect of each Bn due to increase, I believe that we will see the role of the CO becoming more difficult and delicate.
 
#13
Well said Barbs. I do understand your view.
To further understand it all one has to do is study the histories of some of the successful Officers and COs of WW2. Even during that war, officers were moved from operational roles to staff duties and back again.

Operational experience is not enough. A good Officer is well rounded, ability at staff work is a necessary part of it all and contributes to operational ability.

It was once said 'It is not enough to be proficient with the sword, an officer must also master the pen'
 
#14
Staff College Blotter Jotters will not like this, tough. Why the overheating from some parties? This just another topic of discussion like any other.

"Unobtrusive indicators of the "good" [combat] officer"

Distrust any officer with a perfect or near perfect record of efficiency reports. he is conforming to the existing value system and will have no interest in changing it.

Look carefully at a man who gets low marks on "tact" and who "deviates from accepted doctrine." He may be creative.

An officer who gets low marks on loyalty is especially valuable, for he is unwilling to acquiesce to his superior's policies without debate. He is likely to have an independent mind.

Be suspicious of any officer who has accumulated awards for valour without having sustained physical injury. Trust a Purple Heart wearer.

Distrust any officer who has had "all his tickets punched" and who sports an array of staff awards on his chest. He is likely to be a manager playing the system.

Distrust all officers who use "buzz words" and have a poor vocabulary. they tend to be managers of the most obsequious type. True leadership is likely to be foreign to them.

Trust a man who heads for the sound of the guns and has repeated tours of combat and command duty at all unit levels; it is preferable that he have only minimal exposure to staff work.

Trust an officer who was seen by his men in combat and whose command performed well and showed low rates of drug use, fragging, body counting, etc.

Search for the officer whose readiness reports indicate a high percentage of equipment which is deficient. He is a man addicted to the truth.

This comes from Crisis in Command (pub 1978)

Perhaps we should look at the Prussian system, applicable to COs as well as Generals. The Prussian 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 Prussians believed, 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.

My final word goes to Max Hastings..." Tewksbury, 4 May 1471; Lord Winlock not having advanced to the support of the first line, but remaining stationary, contrary to the expectations of Somerset, the latter, in a rage, rode up to him, reviled him, and beat his brains out with an axe."

The Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes, Ed. Max Hastings, 1985
 
#15
RCS, I concur, an inability of officers to master the minor detail of staff work and their failure to plan causes too many troops to "dig out" and run themselves ragged in order to make the plan work. Hence the combination of posts in aman's career to give him that well-rounded aspect that is required.
 
#16
Perhaps what we really need are some more Wavells?

"Let us be clear about three facts. First, all battles and all wars are won in the end by the infantryman. Secondly, the infantryman always bears the brunt. His casualties are heavier, he suffers greater extremes of discomfort and fatigue than the other arms. Thirdly, the art of the infantryman is less stereotyped and far harder to acquire in modern war than that of any other arm. The role of the average artilleryman, for instance, is largely routine; the setting of a fuse, the loading of a gun, even the laying of it are processes which, once learnt, are mechanical. The infantryman has to use initiative and intelligence in almost every step he moves, every action he takes on the battlefield. We ought therefore to put our men of best intelligence and endurance into the Infantry." - IN PRAISE OF INFANTRY, Field-Marshal Earl Wavell, "The Times", Thursday, 19th April 1945
 
#17
I work in a large organisation with a once paramilitary ethos and command structure (that is has now largely shed) and the issue of non-operational seniors "going places" is very familiar to me. I am also very good friends with an officer who is doing extremely well for himself, and is a top bloke who has proven himself operationally in all the places you'd have expected him to. He is currently at the MoD doing what you need to do there.

What surprises me, as an outsider, about postings for officers is (a) their short duration, to render some of them almost meaningless to a layman such as myself (two years? Huh?) and (b) quite how proscriptive a game of snakes and ladders your promotion/ career progression is. My friend, who is unashamedly ambitious (and gentlemen, I'd personally deal with someone like that rather than the stealthy snake-in-the-grass flier that I see all the time at my work) has had his fortune read to him quite clearly re. what he must do if he wants to be at point 'X' by time 'Y' (which is Lt.Col in command of a Bn on ops). Luckily, I suspect that the people who end up with him in charge will be happy, but at the same time there must be those who are playing the same game (which is precisely what it seems to be) who aren't as capable but know the rules and moves just as well.

The other point, which applies to many organisations, is that the naturally ambitious who want strategic management roles (and remember, not everyone does, my father-in-law "ceiling reached" as a Bn. Commander and was quite happy with his lot) only have a finite time to get where they want to go. 22 years is not a ridiculously long time, really, to pack in all the stuff you appear to need to make staff officer material is it?

My organisation is extremely bad at this; the tic-tac-toe of "ticking the box" means that fliers are sent all over the shop, causing mayhem, in a desperate sort of career orienterring exercise ("er...CID! Got it! Must hurry now and do some professional standards then I'll run a borough command unit...Got it! Now for a policy posting! Got it!). It's a self-perpetuating oligarchy of the worst sort, encouraging clones and yes-men.

Lastly, the only thing that grips my sh1t is very senior people who equate rank with correctness, especially in areas where they have no experience (and by their very nature, fliers have to be generalists) and who look down on their technical grades who simply enjoyed their jobs, wanted to be good at them, and had no interest in wading into the management cesspit to go snorkelling for the keys to the executive wash-room. We've got plenty of those, I hope you haven't.

V!
 
#18
Rifleman69 said:
Perhaps what we really need are some more Wavells?

"Let us be clear about three facts. First, all battles and all wars are won in the end by the infantryman. Secondly, the infantryman always bears the brunt. His casualties are heavier, he suffers greater extremes of discomfort and fatigue than the other arms. Thirdly, the art of the infantryman is less stereotyped and far harder to acquire in modern war than that of any other arm. The role of the average artilleryman, for instance, is largely routine; the setting of a fuse, the loading of a gun, even the laying of it are processes which, once learnt, are mechanical. The infantryman has to use initiative and intelligence in almost every step he moves, every action he takes on the battlefield. We ought therefore to put our men of best intelligence and endurance into the Infantry." - IN PRAISE OF INFANTRY, Field-Marshal Earl Wavell, "The Times", Thursday, 19th April 1945
Nice, however many times we read it!

Vegetius said:
Lastly, the only thing that grips my sh1t is very senior people who equate rank with correctness, especially in areas where they have no experience (and by their very nature, fliers have to be generalists) and who look down on their technical grades who simply enjoyed their jobs, wanted to be good at them, and had no interest in wading into the management cesspit to go snorkelling for the keys to the executive wash-room. We've got plenty of those, I hope you haven't.

V!
Unfortunately V, we seem to attract them too...
 

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#19
May I add a comment to this subject of Commanding Officers. This is a quote from 'Pontius Pilates Bodyguard' a history of The Royal Scots by Lt Col R H Patterson. He is, at this point, concerning himself with the move of the army from national service and war time establishment to the format we find so recognisable today.

"One of the major changes in battalion life compared to the pre-war Army was that officers, including junior officers, served much shorted tours with the battalion as career patterns took them to extra-regimental or staff appointments. More and more the warrant officers and sergeants, who had always played a key role in regimental life, provided the continuity and stability which had been shared much more with the officers in previous periods. The key player in this, the setter of standards for everyone, was the Regimental Sergeant Major, and it was particularly fortunate for the 1st Battalion that for thirteen years, from 1953-1966, that position was held by only two men, both outstanding individuals, RSM Neil Cameron MBE and RSM Les Skinner MBE."

My point, I think is that the army has moved to a position of 2-3 years is sufficient for anyone in any post. There is little room for continuity. It has been mentioned above that the actions of CO now can have re-actions 3 years down the line and the fall-back continuity is not as strong as it used to be.

At the time of change for career army officers, it was put onto the RSM and his mess members to bring that continuity to a battalion. Is that continuity still there? With the move to FAS this continuity will be even more fragmented therefore the COs will maybe have made their 'name' elsewhere and have only 2 years to stamp their mark, without the back-up of continuity from within the battalion itself.

In conclusion I contend that the good COs have not gone - just don't have the opportunity to settle in before moving on or out. This does not take anything away from the vast majority of professional soldiers who, whichever route they take, have made it to battalion command.

I hope you can understand this post of mine and that it comes from a great respect for the British army and its soldiers - regardless of rank.
 
#20
Gentlemen

This is a subject with an identifiable common thread, espoused by us all in similar yet different fashions. I think we would all agree that there are some very good COs out there and I am privileged to have served with a number of them. The present generation of COs have enormous pressure placed upon them from all sides, including but not limited to short tour intervals, inferior equipment, public investigations, the haemorrhaging of troops following the Yellow Brick Road to the security industry and a highly competitive system which is becoming increasingly subjective.

Sadly, some cannot contain their vaulting ambition and to them command of a battalion is a mere stepping stone to the top whereas my generation viewed command of one's battalion/the SAS as the very zenith of an Infantry career. There may be dissent over my view but it is one fashioned from experience.
 

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