Friday, February 5, 2010
Imagine: holding commanders responsible for their failure to do their jobs! I'm absolutely stunned. We have now (re?)entered a new phase of military officer professionalism.
Now, I've not seen the reports mentioned in the article and I have no idea if the commanders mentioned were or will be punished appropriately. Without reading the reports, I'm not terribly keen on reigniting the many debates surrounding Wanat and Kamdesh. But I think it's about damn time that commanders are held accountable for their actions.
Having had some experiences with incompetent commanders in Iraq, I was always amazed at how hard it was to fire them. Thankfully, when these guys screwed up, the soldiers in my unit were lucky enough to walk away. But there were way too many close calls based on the poor leadership or tactical ignorance of a select few commanders. I hope these investigations and punishments end the command-protecting practices remaining from the old zero-defect officer corps, which protected officers from their mistakes because of the fear it would jeopardize their careers. Of course, it seems that ending those practices should have occurred eight years ago when service-members first started fighting and dying, but I'm content that it's occurring at all. It will be interesting to see what actually happens to these officers (especially when and if the reports become public) and how this new age of accountability progresses.
There is a fine edge to this that higher leadership needs to be cognizant of. Soldiers die in combat no matter how good their commanders are. Some concerns mentioned by anonymous officers in the article need to be heeded: if punishing the commanders of units that have casualties goes too far, it could cause risk-aversion among the force. The one officer who laments the possibility of too many investigations may carrying that a bit far. While I served in a different theater and an increasingly longer time ago, our command always investigated the soldiers' deaths - it was SOP. I would like to believe that all units everywhere do that, if only to inform a lessons learned process. But if command negligence or incompetence is identified in the course of those investigations, then surely those commanders should be held accountable. That seems the only fair recourse, in my mind at least, to ensure our soldiers are being best served by those officers who are entrusted to lead them.