Note: LtCol Hooker's paper follows his brief career summary
Lieutenant Colonel Richard D. Hooker, Jr. is currently serving as Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Hugh Shelton.
The son of an infantry colonel, LTC Hooker was born at Fort Benning, Georgia and raised at Army posts in the United States and overseas. In 1975 he enlisted as a rifleman in the 82d Airborne Division and served for two years as an enlisted infantryman. He later received a presidential appointment to West Point, where he earned two varsity letters in 150lb football and competed on the Academy Parachute team. Graduating in 1981 with a commission in the infantry, he subsequently served in rifle and antitank units with the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82d Airborne Division. As a Captain he commanded the Armyís only airborne pathfinder company, Company C (Pathfinder/ Airborne), 509th Parachute Infantry. After a teaching tour at West Point, LTC Hooker was selected as a White House Fellow, serving with the National Security Council staff as Associate Director of Defense Policy. While at the NSC he deployed to Somalia in December 1992 as Military Assistant to the U.S. Special Envoy, Ambassador Robert Oakley.
LTC Hooker returned to troop duty in 1994 as Deputy Commander of the 3d Battalion, 325th Infantry Regiment (Airborne Battalion Combat Team) in Vicenza, Italy. After 19 months with 3/325 ABCT he was assigned as Brigade S3 (Operations Officer) with the Lion Brigade (Airborne), the European Commandís designated Rapid Reaction Force. His combat service includes deployments to Grenada for Operation URGENT FURY, to Somalia for Operation RESTORE HOPE and to Bosnia prior to the signing of the Dayton Accords for temporary duty with the French/British Rapid Reaction Force in Kiseljak.
In 1994 LTC Hooker deployed to Central Africa as Chief, Humanitarian Operations Center, Joint Task Force Alpha, in Goma, Zaire for Operation SUPPORT HOPE (the Rwandan Refugee Crisis). In December 1995 he accompanied 3/325 ABCT into Bosnia as second-in-command of the first US combat unit to enter Bosnia during Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR. In this capacity he conducted the first on-scene negotiations with local faction leaders in the Zone of Separation.
A resident graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College, LTC Hooker holds M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in International Relations from the University of Virginia and a certificate in Strategic Studies from the Naval War College. He has lectured by invitation at the Army, Naval and National War Colleges, at the U.S Naval Institute, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and at the Army Command and General Staff College. LTC Hooker has published 18 articles in professional military journals and is editor and co-author of Maneuver Warfare: An Anthology, published by Presidio Press in 1994. His book, By Their Deeds Alone, is forthcoming.
LTC Hookerís awards and decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, three awards of the Meritorious Service Medal, two awards of the Joint Service Commendation Medal, two awards of the Army Commendation Medal, and the Army and Air Force Achievement Medals. A Master Parachutist, he has completed the Ranger, Pathfinder, Air Assault and Jumpmaster Courses and has earned Canadian and Israeli Parachutist Badges.
Building Unbreakable Units
By LtCol (USA) Richard D. Hooker, Jr.
As the Army painfully draws down in the coming decade, it must think hard about creative strategies that show promise of substituting quality for quantity. While numbers always count, there may be ways to significantly increase the quality, and thus the combat power, of a smaller, "poorer" Army, and in particular its maneuver combat units which constitute the sharp end of the force. Morale, cohesion and esprit are crucial components of combat power we can exploit to compensate for loss of size and mass. Despite our many strengths, personnel turbulence prevents us from achieving our true potential as a fighting force. By implementing an effective regimental system, we can exploit human factors to build combat power even as force structure declines to record low levels.
Morale, esprit and cohesion are often used loosely and interchangeably. Though related, they have distinct meanings and important differences. Morale is a subjective end state which subsumes many different factors: leadership, support services, unit history and tradition, weather, casualty rates and exposure to combat-related stress. It can be defined as the enthusiasm and persistence with which a member of a group engages in the prescribed activities of that group.1
Esprit is commonly defined as unit pride. While not, as we shall see, grounded in the small unit, when present it can exert tremendous influence over the individual and the group. Esprit complements and reinforces morale and cohesion through the mechanism of "pride and devotion to the reputation" of the unit. It relates the soldier to the institution of the unit, where cohesion relates soldier to soldier.2 Implicit in the concept of unit pride is the acceptance of externally derived and formalized standards of behavior. These can extend to the minutia of dress, military courtesy and drill as well as insistence on prescribed modes of combat behavior or adherence to previously defined standards in battle.3
While morale, esprit and cohesion all relate to a soldier's willingness to fight at a given place and time, cohesion can be more carefully defined as the bonding together of unit members to enhance and sustain their commitment to each other, the unit, and the mission.4 Central to this concept of cohesion is the desire of the individual to submit to group norms of behavior. The soldier must feel a sense of responsibility to the group and subordinate personal concerns to the higher imperative of group welfare. In high-performing combat units, this imperative can be extreme in demanding personal self-sacrifice in the service of group survival or the achievement of group goals.5
Furthermore, cohesion has a vertical as well as horizontal dimension. In first-rate combat units, bonding occurs between soldiers and the leaders they interact with daily. This phenomenon diminishes as distance from the soldier to the leader increases. Whereas the platoon sergeant or company commander may profoundly affect individual and group behavior in combat by direct influence, the brigade command sergeant major or division commander are remote personages whose direct effect on small units is limited.
Most of the available evidence suggests that cohesion, unlike morale and esprit, is fundamentally a primary group phenomenon. That is, military cohesion in its most significant form occurs at the small-unit level, in squads, crews and platoons.6 While soldiers may draw real strength from unit pride, from hot meals and letters from home, their ability to persevere, endure and remain determined in the face of mounting combat stress is primarily a function of the solidarity of the small group.
The crucial importance of small-unit cohesion takes on meaning when one considers the nature of modern war. In contrast to earlier periods when weapons technology required dense masses of soldiery to stand in orderly formations to deliver massed fires, warfare for the last century or so has seen the progressive dispersion and decentralization of military units on the battlefield. As units and soldiers disperse to survive, they no longer fight under the eye of the commander. On more lethal and more dangerous battlefields, small unit leadership and small unit cohesion are defining characteristics for success in war.
Primary group cohesion is not, of course, the only important component of combat performance. Generalship, leadership, operational and tactical planning and execution, logistics, intelligence and a host of other factors are critical parts of the equation. But perhaps it does not go too far to suggest that, of all these factors, small unit cohesion may matter most. At the sharp end of the force, under the appalling hardships and stresses of combat, it is cohesion that keeps fighting units together and enables the other factors to come into play.
Evaluating US Cohesion
How cohesive are American combat units? At first glance, our recent performance in Panama and the Gulf War suggests that cohesion is first rate in our combat units. By every measurable standard -- AWOLs, desertion, combat indiscipline, assaults, drug and alcohol incidents, performance in battle -- cohesion seems to have been extremely high.
If we look closely, however, different lessons emerge. In Panama, virtually all the soldiers used in combat were from "elite" units such as the 75th Ranger Regiment, Special Forces, 82d Airborne Division and 7th Infantry Division (Light). That is, their soldiers and leaders were among the best in the Army and received higher-than-normal allocations of training resources. These units also deployed at more than 100% strength in troops and equipment.
In the Gulf War, most combat units underwent a lengthy pre-combat training period where units were brought up to full strength, personnel was stabilized and the distractions of garrison life were eliminated. In both cases, actual combat was of extremely short duration, our opponents did not fight well and casualties were remarkably low. In both, popular support for the military was very high.7
Without denigrating the impressive performance of Army units in both contingency operations, we can observe that real small unit cohesion was not fully tested. The true test of cohesion is how well units perform under extended combat stress. On future nonlinear battlefields, Army units must be ready to fight at the end of an extended and tenuous logistics tail, in unfamiliar terrain, against well-armed opponents, for lengthy periods. We cannot assume numerical or fire superiority in the theater. In these conditions, cohesion at the small unit level will be crucial, even decisive.
The best available scientific data suggests that unit cohesion at the small-unit level can be significantly improved.8 Numerous studies conducted in the 1980's concluded that, while morale in troop units was reasonably good (a result, presumably, of higher quality soldiers, better leaders, and more resources for training and unit amenities), strong unit cohesion was lacking due to the crippling effects of personnel turbulence.9 At the all-important squad, platoon and crew level, turbulence persists at rates as high as 150% per year.10
Simple studies which evaluate stabilized tank crews against "standard" crews reveal what common sense suggests: order-of-magnitude differences in gunnery and crew skills. Studies conducted by the Army Research Institute concluded that over a five-year period, maneuver units at the National Training Center had achieved only a 17% success rate against OPFOR units. Despite growing numbers of leaders who had participated in multiple NTC rotations, there was no measurable improvement over a seven year period (this despite ever-increasing test scores for recruits). From 1983-1987 the NTC reported that only 6.5% of training platoons "exceeded standards", while the great majority were rated "below standard" or "poor".11
Grasping the Problem
Much of the problem has to do with the way we approach personnel management. For many years, Army personnel managers have equated "personnel fill" with unit readiness. Units assigned their full complement of school-trained soldiers and leaders were rated fully combat ready from a personnel standpoint. This approach to personnel management, while extremely efficient from a systems viewpoint, is unsatisfactory from a capabilities perspective.
To reach their full potential, crews and squads need time to jell. Small units composed of transient strangers cannot be expected to bond into strong, cohesive primary groups. Good equipment, good training and good leaders are not enough. Trust, confidence and a sense of group identity are basic requirements for high performing combat units. These come only with time. All too often, personnel turnover defeats our best efforts to build effective and durable small units.12
Two related phenomena contribute to the problem. The first is a systemic inability to assess the worth of unquantifiable forms of combat power. The second is an institutional emphasis on an "occupational" view of service life which makes it difficult to nurture small-unit cohesion.
Beginning in the 1960's, the Department of Defense adopted a systems approach to organizational management based on econometric modeling and cost/benefit analysis. This system continues in full force, encouraging unit evaluations based on easily quantifiable performance indicators. "Good" units have high maintenance availability scores, gunnery scores, school attendance, and property accountability. They have low accident rates, infrequent disciplinary problems, and few dead-lined vehicles. They score well on external evaluations searching for quantifiable things.
This emphasis on the quantifiable is desirable from many points of view. It is objective and fair. It lends itself to establishing clear standards for performance. It permits senior levels of command to rapidly assess the condition of subordinate units. But it has one grave weakness: it cannot capture those intangible, hard-to-measure human factors which have always been decisive in war.
Tactical excellence, aggressiveness, inspirational leadership, and tenacity are difficult to assess numerically. Nevertheless, in combat they are even more important than the kinds of peacetime performance indicators cited above. So it is with unit cohesion. Since it cannot be readily measured or expressed numerically, it receives less emphasis than other more tangible factors.13
Transition in the early 1970's to a volunteer force and the rise of "occupationalism" also contributed to a decline in unit cohesion. Where previously soldiers lived in squad rooms under close supervision of their leaders, today they live in dormitory rooms or military or civilian housing areas. Many young soldiers are married and some hold civilian jobs after duty hours. Most soldiers own automobiles, increasing their independence from the unit environment, as do liberal provisions which permit soldiers to depart after last duty and not return until the following day.
Incentives like increased pay, gradual relaxation in the authority of first-line supervisors (who no longer, for example, grant or withhold off-duty time) and emphasis on rapid promotion, vocational training and college preparation lend a "marketplace" flavor to military service at variance with traditional norms of professionalism and subordination to group or unit goals.14 In effect, incentives offered to attract recruits into a voluntary service also serve to weaken traditional sources of group bonding.
These changes were accompanied by progressive consolidation and centralization of important leadership functions at ever higher levels of command. Organizational autonomy and the small unit leader's ability to apply positive and negative incentives eroded as supply, military justice, promotion, even messing functions were pushed up to higher levels.15 Company leaders were increasingly viewed, not as largely autonomous decisionmakers exercising real authority in their own name, but as placeholders exercising some delegated authority over some matters. Inevitably, this process, undertaken in the name of increased efficiency, degraded the linkages between soldiers and their primary leaders and weakened cohesion.
One can make a case that the Army has explicitly recognized and compensated for poor or uneven small unit cohesion in its organizational approach to war. The 20th century conflicts which defined our own corporate self-image stressed big units, massive individual replacement systems and lavish resources, not small unit excellence.16 In its preference for mass and firepower over maneuver, its emphasis on technological solutions, its methodical, linear approach to operations and its reliance on material superiority the Army may, in a sense, have built its approach to warfighting around its personnel system, instead of the other way around.17
One cannot argue with results. This system produced impressive victories in two world wars and inflicted enormous casualties on its opponents in Korea and Vietnam.
In the near future, however, it will be difficult to wage war in the traditional style. Declining budgets, reduced force structure, and an eroding military/industrial base are changing the rules of the game.
Human factors, those hard to measure but critical determinants of battlefield performance, will grow in importance as our capacity to wage "industrial" war diminishes. In short, primary group bonding and small unit excellence will gain in importance as material resources decline. Tomorrow's Army must win, not because it is bigger, but because it is better.18
A Bold Initiative
While official public assessments of Army readiness appropriately focus on the positive aspects of the force, the harmful effects of excessive personnel turbulence have been recognized for some time. In 1980, Army Chief of Staff General Edward C. Meyer announced plans to revamp the Army personnel management system in order to relieve these effects. Dubbed the "New Manning System", Meyer's initiative was a revolutionary attempt to focus personnel systems on the problem of unit cohesion.
The New Manning System (NMS) was built around two complementary programs: The Regimental System (TRS) and the Cohesion, Operational Readiness and Training, or COHORT, Program. The heart of the NMS, as expressed by Meyer himself, was a desire to "reduce unit turbulence by meeting most future unit replacement needs by unit rotation rather than by individual replacement".19 While discussion and debate focused largely on the perception that NMS, and the Regimental System in particular, aimed to build unit pride and esprit, Meyer understood clearly that the first and most important step was to build strong, cohesive primary groups and that the only way to do so was to stabilize soldiers in units for lengthy periods.20
The purpose of the Regimental System was to provide the soldier with continuous identification with a single regiment, institution or location throughout a career ... through repeated assignments to the same regimental units and locations, the soldier will experience recurring identification with a relatively small circle of peers and leaders.21
The NMS concept envisioned permanent affiliation with a numbered regiment, homebasing at a particular CONUS location and periodic overseas rotations. TRS aimed specifically to enhance the soldier's identification with the regiment, calling for permanent unit affiliation, emphasis on unit heritage, traditions, memorabilia and distinctive uniform items. Honorary Colonels and Sergeants Major of the Regiment were named, and regiments were given influence in the assignment and management of affiliated soldiers through "regimental adjutants" posted to the Military Personnel Center.
Where the Regimental System focused primarily on homebasing and affiliation, COHORT addressed the problems of stabilization and unit movement. The basic idea behind COHORT was to keep soldiers and leaders together from the initial training period through the life cycle of the unit (typically a standard three year enlistment). COHORT units could expect to rotate as a unit from the CONUS homebase overseas during the latter part of the unit life cycle.
Implementation of the New Manning System began in late 1982 with formal designation of several regiments and integration of the first COHORT units into the active force. Initially, these steps were taken on a test basis. Overnight conversion of the active Army to the new system was never seriously considered due to the massive short-term disruption that would inevitably ensue. Army leaders assumed that experience with the new initiatives would lead to more "fine tuning" as the system adapted itself to the new personnel model.
NMS went forward with the energetic and personal backing of the Chief of Staff and the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, LTG Robert M. Elton, attended by high hopes for strong gains in personnel effectiveness and unit cohesion. Professional journals were awash with articles supporting NMS concepts and implementation strategies.22 NMS cells at ODCSPERS, the Military Personnel Center, and other Army agencies proliferated. Mass redesignation ceremonies became the order of the day.
Yet within five years, both the Regimental System and COHORT would lie dormant, stripped of institutional support. The Army would return to the individual replacement system it had never really left, and the New Manning System would find itself categorized, privately if not publicly, as a "failure".
Why did the Army reject the Meyer initiative? Without going into a detailed analysis of the organizational and bureaucratic politics surrounding the issue, we can surmise that the attempt to change from an individual to a unit replacement philosophy required a fundamental shift in the Army's organizational culture. To be successful, the New Manning System required the Army to look at itself in a new and very different way. Even with the support of top Army leadership, this proved to be "too hard to do" within the tenure of a single Chief of Staff.23
Following General Meyer's retirement, successive Chiefs of Staff were absorbed with organizational challenges of their own, such as the light division initiatives, conversion to the Division '86 Army of Excellence and force modernization.24 Tactical commanders were asked to administer both COHORT and existing personnel programs concurrently by mixing both individual and unit replacement schemes.25 Veteran's groups protested Army decisions to exclude some historic regiments from the Regimental System. Traditional emphasis on "generalist" career patterns continued undisturbed as leaders migrated between light and heavy units at home and abroad.
But the most damaging blow to COHORT and the Regimental System was the opposition of the personnel bureaucracy. Local and Army-level personnel managers resisted taking the necessary steps to make the concept a reality. Little was done to implement NMS in the field beyond redesignating certain units and notionally affiliating soldiers with regiments. By 1989, a bare five years after implementation of the Regimental System, requests for return assignments to a soldier's affiliated regiment were met with laughter, and the significance of the Regimental System was reduced to the wearing of the unit crest on the uniform blouse. At bottom, the Army as an institution -- secure in its traditional routines -- did not believe that the potential for better unit cohesion was worth the asking price.
Getting What You Pay For
Why should the Army pay a stiff price, in terms of altering fundamental operating routines, in order to switch to a unit replacement system? Aside from the urgent need to find new sources of combat power for a small Army, the historical record provides disturbing evidence of the failure of the individual replacement system in the major conflicts of this century. That is, one can make a compelling argument that America prevailed, or at least averted greater failure, in these conflicts in spite of and not because of its personnel management practices.
Military psychiatry has long known that continuous exposure to the stress of front line combat makes psychological breakdown virtually inevitable.26 Excepting sociopathy or other forms of aberrant psychological behavior, the endurance in combat of the average soldier can be approximated with fair accuracy. The challenge is thus to extend the combat soldier's endurance as long as possible. Experience has shown that the individual replacement system is the least effective way to protect the soldier from the debilitating effects of combat stress.
In the Second World War and the Korean conflict, the average combat soldier knew with dreadful certainty that aside from death, serious wounds or desertion there was little chance of escape from the awesome burdens of combat in the zone of direct fire. This sense of hopelessness was not materially affected by the knowledge that the allies had turned the corner and no longer feared defeat. The enormity of this burden is revealed by the fact that in the fall of 1944, after the breakout from the Normandy beachhead, American infantry regiments were suffering 100% losses every 90 days.27 A high percentage were psychiatric casualties.
With no system of unit rotation and very high levels of personnel turbulence, soldiers could rarely count on familiar associations or small unit cohesion to defer the day of reckoning. Alone, friendless, and cut off from the therapeutic effects of comradeship and community, it is small wonder that so many combat soldiers broke mentally when they were not shot outright or evacuated from disease. While the personnel system worked mightily (and on the whole effectively) to make good these losses, it took scant notice of the terrific rate at which these combat replacements soon became casualties themselves.
In recognition of the large scale breakdown of units and soldiers who served in combat "for the duration", Army planners limited service in Vietnam to twelve months, and for most officers six months in the combat zone was the norm. But the framework of individual replacement remained. Combat platoons and companies continued to resemble holding organizations, while soldiers and leaders rotated through in a never ending cycle of arrival and departure. Death, wounds, disease, drug use, psychological problems, disciplinary action, desertion, and posting to rear areas carried off many combat soldiers before they could reach the much longed-for DEROS.28 Small group cohesion and morale eroded badly with the departure of the first iteration of "regulars" who had arrived in 1965 and 1966.
The problems of the Vietnam-era Army have been widely discussed and debated. Drug use, officer assassinations, poor leadership, sterile tactics, faulty strategy and many other failings have been ascribed and condemned.29 In the search for answers to dysfunctional performance in Vietnam, however, the way the Army personnel system managed its human resources has not emerged as a central causative agent for the Army's many problems. Put one way, it is difficult to see how anyone could expect poorly trained conscripts fighting an unpopular war in the company of relative strangers to perform well. Perhaps, given the preference for big unit operations, helicopter mobility and massive firepower that typified U.S. operations in Vietnam, no one really did.
Yet there were alternative models for those inclined to look for them. John Baynes' classic study of the Second Scottish Rifles in the Great War describes a regular British infantry battalion sent off to war in 1914. Virtually every leader and soldier was a veteran of long standing. Despite long service in the line and a series of fearful engagements (the 700 man battalion lost 469 men at Neuve Chapelle in March 1915, another 168 at Richebourg-Festubert two months later, was decimated again at the Somme and Third Ypres and lost 638 members in ten days fighting during the German Peace Offensive of 1918), the battalion continued to fight cohesively and effectively throughout the war.29
Although by the end of the war very few of the original soldiers remained, the British practice of periodic rotations out of combat, regular "drafts" of replacements from regimental training depots, use of recalled reservists with previous service in the regiment and return of wounded veterans to their old companies all helped to sustain unit pride and cohesion. The power of the regiment, with all its features of an extended family and its unique customs, traditions and codes of behavior, lent sanity and support to young men engaged in the most sanguinary conflict the world had yet seen. If, as many experts assume, the "people who really count in battle are the commanders and fighters at battalion and below",30 then the regimental systems practiced in commonwealth armies sustained the will to fight to a remarkable degree. It did so, not because its fighting soldiers transferred their primary group loyalties to the regiment, but because the regiment proved an ideal instrument for promoting, protecting and sustaining primary groups amid the harshest conditions imaginable.
In the Second World War the Wermacht managed to achieve similar levels of performance in many of its combat formations by following a sensible program of unit rotations out of the battle line. Until relatively late in the war, German divisions on the eastern front (with an average strength of 12,000) were considered "used up" and withdrawn for rest, retraining and replacements when their ration strength dropped below 10,000.31 By way of comparison, rifle companies in Patton's Third Army in 1944 averaged 55% strength despite the individual replacement system.32
Most German divisions maintained training depots for the reception and integration of replacements instead of sending them piecemeal into the front lines.33 As the war ground on, combat units were reduced in size and veterans were carefully distributed to form the nucleus for strong primary groups. Strenuous measures were taken to ensure that junior leaders possessed experience and competence; where an American infantry company might boast 150 soldiers and four or five inexperienced lieutenants, a German company might carry 50 or 70 soldiers on its rolls with a single seasoned officer in command.34 The corps of noncommissioned officers was not diluted to replace officer losses, which might largely have destroyed the basis for small unit cohesion, and lengthy NCO training courses were continued right up until the end of the war.
These practices stood in marked contrast to the American policy which kept units in combat indefinitely and replenished them with a continuous stream of new conscripts. Where the German army strove by all available means to nurture its small units, which it considered the basis of its combat power, the Americans seemed unaware of the relationship between unit cohesion and soldier performance. The virtues of American military performance in World War II, Korea and even Vietnam are many. Yet we cannot ascribe our battlefield successes to the personnel system. On the contrary, many of our battlefield failures and pathologies can be directly linked to an inability to grasp the significance and importance of the primary group and small unit cohesion.
These lessons, purchased at great cost by earlier generations of American combat soldiers, retain their force and impact today. They suggest that unit replacement systems and a true emphasis on cohesion are worth the organizational inconveniences and short-term teething problems which inevitably accompany changed operating routines and new initiatives.
Towards a Regimental System That Works
A working regimental system, tailored to American military culture, doctrine and institutions, can provide the kind of supporting environment needed to make real cohesion, esprit and morale a reality in the U.S. Army. A regimental system has one fundamental purpose: to exploit human factors so Army units will fight to their maximum potential. It does this in two ways, first by stabilizing soldiers in their units, then by providing leaders who are known, trusted and proven by long service together in the same unit.
Pride in the regiment is the glue which binds soldiers to each other, to their primary fighting units and to their leaders. This same pride binds leaders to leaders. Cohesive units are made up of comrades, not strangers. To live up to the standards of the regiment and to the expectations of one's leaders and peers is a profound source of motivation in combat. The trust and support of one's fellows is the best possible defense against combat stress. Taken together, these interrelated phenomena -- cohesion, esprit, morale -- enhance and sustain each other by creating unit environments which breed confidence, durability and the expectation of success.
In concept a regimental system is simple. Soldiers and officers join a regiment when they enter the service. Consideration should be given to the wishes of recruits and officer cadets as to initial assignment, particularly if family members have served in the regiment, but the needs of the service come first. Limited migration to other regiments can be permitted in rare cases, but in general this process must be guided by the overriding principle that cohesion in battle is most important -- not individual gratification. The long-term affiliation of soldiers who know and trust each other is more important than short-term disappointments caused by failure to "get in" to a favorite unit.
When serving subsequently with troops, soldiers return to the regiment, an organization of several operational battalions and a training battalion, manned only by officers and NCO's from the regiment, which trains all combat replacements at branch training centers. To avoid staleness, units can rotate overseas or to other duty stations periodically. Individuals will leave periodically to serve as instructors, recruiters, advisers and so on. But always, career soldiers and leaders will return to the regiment, to serve with comrades who know each other well.
Within the regiment, soldiers and leaders are stabilized for lengthy periods to build cohesion at the small unit level. Leaders stay with their units; they do not flit from job to job to "build experience". Soldiers will typically serve a complete enlistment tour of three years before achieving noncommissioned officer status. Promotion to NCO rank confers special standing and respect and is accompanied with appropriate ceremony and emphasis.
To replace departing soldiers, the regiment does not request individual replacements. Instead, it receives replacement "packages" at regular intervals from the training battalions, insuring that new soldiers arrive with ready-made friendships and firm socialization into the customs, traditions, history and standards of the regiment. Thus a foundation of esprit and primary group cohesion exists from the beginning which can be built upon in the unit to increase performance.
Regimental commanders are special personages in any army which has a true regimental system, and they should enjoy expanded powers in an American one. To be fully effective they must have "come up" in the regiment and be fully knowledgeable of its mission, history, traditions and the strengths and weaknesses of its key leaders. While the centralized promotion system which now exists need not be disturbed, regimental commanders should be permitted to choose their own field grade officers, company commanders and senior NCO's. They should have meaningful input into assignment of battalion commanders and command sergeants major once these have been selected by the appropriate boards. Regimental commanders and their regimental sergeants major know their units best and are best fitted to make these important decisions.
Honorary Colonels and Sergeants Major of the Regiment are important figures in the life of the regiment. Their primary duty is to provide a link to veterans of the regiment and serve as the custodian of regimental history and traditions. They must be heavily involved in the social life of the regiment and can participate in professional development programs, promotion and award ceremonies, mess nights, organizational days, fundraising, community relations, family support activities and a host of other useful and important functions. While the position is not compensated, travel and correspondence expenses should be defrayed, and the Army should consider offering government quarters and office space so these distinguished leaders can be fully involved in the life of the regiment.
The regiment is closely linked to personnel managers at Personnel Command and assists them in assigning affiliated soldiers. As leaders gain seniority, fewer places are available in the regiment, but members remain members for life. They remain a vital part of the organization, recruiting, supporting and participating in its ongoing story. In wartime, recently separated members and members serving away from the regiment provide a pool of individual replacements either to release trainers for combat duty or to fill combat positions themselves.
The regimental adjutant plays a key role in this process as the interface between the regiment and the personnel system. In coordination with the regimental sergeant major, he will process requisitions from the regiment, monitor soldiers serving away from the regiment and insure that members are reassigned to the regiment when due for assignments with troops.
The regimental headquarters, separate from the brigade tactical headquarters, is a small administrative activity, supervised by the adjutant and staffed by a small number of active duty and retired officers and NCO's from the regiment. It co-locates with the regimental homebase and monitors all soldiers serving away from the regiment, veterans of the regiment, retired and discharged soldiers with "hip pocket" assignments to the regiment in time of war, rear detachment operations, the regimental newsletter and social and ceremonial functions to include regimental messes and museums. In wartime this element will support families of deployed soldiers, funeral ceremonies and liaison with the civilian community.
Space for regimental messes and small museums should be provided in the brigade area, or at a minimum in private areas in post officer and NCO clubs. Active and retired members will fund furnishings and provide regimental memorabilia. All historical materials (colors, paintings, photographs, guest books, silver, and war trophies) now maintained by the Center for Military History (CMH) or otherwise retained in branch museums or elsewhere should be released to regiments selected for retention.
Choosing which units will survive the transition to a full-fledged regimental system and which will not is one of the greatest challenges facing this badly needed initiative. A CMH Order of Merit List already exists which rank orders Army regiments on the basis of seniority, battle participation and battle achievements. This method should be used as a basis for selecting those regiments which will participate on an active basis.
This may well prove to be the hardest single issue to resolve. Nevertheless, exceptions due to pressure from senior officers and veteran's groups will destroy the integrity of the process, which must remain firmly focused not on appeasing representatives of those units which do not survive the cut, but instead on building strong cohesive units which will endure and prevail in battle. To cope with the pressures which will come (regardless of which regiments are picked), while still allowing the training battalions to perform their essential socializing and unit replacement functions, some units can be used as "flag-holders". These might include branch center staff and faculty battalions, school support battalions, and basic training battalions for combat support and service support soldiers.
Although stability is the key to a functioning regimental system because of its central importance to small-unit cohesion (along with leadership, the most crucial determinant of combat performance), other features of the regimental system can play significant roles. One organizational dynamic which is often overlooked in studies of combat performance is the horizontal cohesion which is shared by leaders within a unit.
When leaders know, trust and understand each other through long association, a true synergistic effect is realized which magnifies the contribution of individual leaders and makes the whole more than the sum of its parts. Coordination is simpler, decision/action cycles are faster, task organization is smoother and battlefield friction is reduced. In a word, the prospects for effective teamwork are greatly improved.
In such an Army, regiments will become more than "units". As they once used to be, they will again take on many of the aspects of a large extended family, and like families they will foster an environment of mutual trust, confidence and protectiveness against outside threats. The epic sagas of storied units which endured, but never broke, -- like the Second Scottish Rifles in Flanders, the 1st Battalion The Rifle Brigade at Calais, the "Glorious Gloucestershires" at the Imjin River or 7th Armored Brigade on the Golan Heights, show us that it is possible to take standard units and make them special. With such units the U.S. Army may once again call on the ordinary to attempt the extraordinary, in the name of the regiment.
There are arguments against the regimental system. Some feel that leaders cannot be professionally developed without exposure to many different assignments and experiences. Others worry that in a regimental system it may not be possible to expose every leader to the jobs needed for future success (not every captain would command, for example, nor every interested major serve with troops). Many detractors believe that "efficient" personnel management would go out the window, or that the turbulence associated with transitioning from an individual to a unit replacement system would "break" the force.
These criticisms have substance but must be weighed against the potential gains in effectiveness which would undoubtedly attend implementation of a working regimental system. The success of many general officers who served exclusively in one community, such as light infantry or cavalry, demonstrates that professional schooling, self-development, combined arms training and talent are perhaps more important than a succession of tours which "expose" leaders to multiple environments while denying them real opportunities to truly master any particular one.35
Too, it is useful to bear in mind that other armies have wrestled with these problems and not found them insurmountable. Particularly in light of the capabilities of modern computerized technology, there seems little reason to doubt that the more intensive personnel management needed to support a regimental system is well within our capabilities, especially when much of the burden is borne by the users, the regiments themselves.
One suspects that the true basis of dissent is an unwillingness to move away from the Army's cherished organizational routines. Despite the warning signs -- loss of funding, loss of force structure, loss of advanced bases overseas -- which alert us to the fact that business as usual may no longer be possible, decades of institutional routine create an inertia which makes real change difficult or impossible.
To meet and overcome the challenges posed by an increasingly constrained strategic and budgetary environment, two sets of institutional norms or routines in particular should be revisited in the interest of promoting better cohesion. The first is the Army's emphasis on generalized officer development for its combat arms leaders. The second is the opposition of the personnel bureaucracy to any changes which might complicate its "efficient" management of personnel resources.
The typical officer career pattern exposes the individual officer to a diverse set of professional experiences. In the infantry, for example, an officer may serve in mechanized, light and air assault assignments, the training base, one or more staff assignments and several lengthy periods of schooling before assuming command of a maneuver battalion. In theory this system provides a well-rounded pool of officers who can competently lead in any environment. In practice, it assures that leaders often arrive in unfamiliar environments, with limited knowledge and experience of the unit's mission, organization and history.36
Light infantry units, as one example, have a distinctive ethos and operate differently. They depend heavily on infiltration tactics and not on rapid movement and firepower. When staffed with officers with no particular light infantry perspective, experience or focus, light infantry units may fail to realize their real potential. The same is true of cavalry units or Bradley units which are led by officers who are "new to the game" or who have been away for many years.
A partial explanation for the prevalence of the "generalist" approach to personnel management is its ease of operation. From the standpoint of pure "efficiency" it is easier to assign and manage generic infantry or armor officers than light and heavy infantry or cavalry and tank officers. When readiness is defined in terms of percentage of leader and personnel fill -- not how cohesive, expert or experienced soldiers, leaders and units are -- we can expect personnel managers to favor a systems approach which responds to quantifiable indicators of success or failure. The result is very high personnel readiness rates Army-wide -- and personnel turbulence at the small-unit level which by any standard is alarming.
The Army can come to grips with the problem by realizing that high levels of cohesion, esprit and morale can be achieved by implementing a personnel management system which is less efficient from a systems point of view but more efficient from a capabilities perspective. Cohesive units have fewer disciplinary problems, happier families, higher retention rates for quality soldiers, and more soldiers who complete their initial terms of enlistment.37 These factors translate directly into greater combat power by enhancing the organizational climate of combat units with soldiers who are better adapted, more smoothly integrated and ultimately more confident of their environment and themselves.
Articulating the concept is an essential first step, but by no means the most important act in fundamentally altering how complex organizations operate. Devising a strategy to implement the concept -- changing the Army's organizational culture permanently -- will be by far the greater challenge. We have seen that strong support from top leaders is not enough. What, then, can be done to induce the Army to permanently alter its culture and behavior in order to improve unit cohesion, morale and esprit?
A truly comprehensive and detailed marketing strategy for innovative personnel management would require more lengthy discussion than is possible here. The following initiating and implementing concepts, however, provide a framework for further study and analysis of this crucial process. None promise success by themselves. Together they offer some hope of effectively revising entrenched bureaucratic routines.38
In any organization, senior executives are faced with crowded agendas, complex decision settings and multiple, competing centers of power within the organization. Successful executives ruthlessly prioritize and focus most of their attention and resources on a few key projects which, if successful, will help maximize performance. Trusted lieutenants are given authority and responsibility to manage less important, but still vital programs. To have any prospect of success, a renewed regimental systems initiative needs the sustained, high level support of organizational elites.
Rarely can a senior leader, however powerful, break or fundamentally alter powerful operating routines unassisted. New routines can be imposed from above, but unless the leader possesses lengthy tenure and unusual power, these changes are unlikely to endure. It therefore becomes necessary to convince, coopt or coerce many champions to "buy in" to the concept and lend both their personal and their organizational prestige and authority to support the initiative.
Because Army leaders have limited tenure, it is important to position successors who share a similar level of commitment to the initiative and who are determined to carry it to completion. Senior decisionmakers in the Army hierarchy enjoy considerable influence in the promotion and assignment of future leaders, one way they can decisively influence Army policies and practices for many years.
Early on in the implementation phase, it is important to demonstrate impressive results which can then be used to persuade uncommitted leaders and organizations within the institution to support the initiative. This is a critical part of any marketing strategy. Without powerful evidence of the efficacy of the proposed change, leaders and middle managers of sub-communities and bureaucracies within the organization are unlikely to abandon their cherished routines.
For maximum effectiveness, the expertise of all affected parts of the organization should be included as the initiative goes through concept formulation. This insures that major problems are identified early and that the consensus-building processes that are essential for long-term success are brought into play. A note of caution, however: any significant innovation will challenge some powerful constituencies, and the temptation can be strong to water down and weaken the initiative in order to appease competing centers of power within the organization. This temptation must be avoided if the true potential of the innovation is to be realized.
Most powerful initiatives which challenge traditional operational doctrines or modes of behavior begin with mid-level leaders and managers. Without sponsors who can shield them, their lack of stature and position power make their ideas vulnerable to suppression from challenged service communities with powerful sponsors of their own.
Persuasion and Command
Leaders should be conscious of the fact that much of their power to initiate change stems from their powers of persuasion, not necessarily their line authority. Subordinates are more likely to accept and implement change when convinced that it is in their personal interest to do so. Major changes to established routines cannot normally be imposed from above except through excessive coercion which can damage the smooth functioning of the organization. In some cases such coercion may be justified. In general, however, cooption, persuasion and the judicious use of positive incentives will be more effective in inducing subordinates to entertain the idea of meaningful change.
Executive decisionmakers, convinced of the benefits of a proposed change, should consider how best to entrench their ideas and make them irreversible. Options might include revising service doctrine, regulations or standing operational guidance; revising school curricula; assigning program supporters to key positions; retraining senior leaders; seeking external support and legitimacy from defense elites through legislation, executive order, or interest group support; or reorganization.
It is possible to change the way entrenched bureaucracies function, but the difficulties should not be underestimated. Sustained commitment and a detailed implementing strategy must complement good ideas or these ideas are more likely to fail than to succeed. An American regimental system is one good idea that deserves to succeed.
Few who visit armies with genuine regimental systems come away without a feeling of wistfulness. Life in these units is altogether different. There is less careerism; the "regimental officer" who chooses to stay with the regiment occupies a special place of honor. Noncommissioned officers enjoy greater prestige and heavier responsibilities. Soldiers are better disciplined. Families are fully woven into the fabric of unit life. Most importantly, the regiment is a family whose members hold each other accountable for their performance, in training and on the battlefield.
Small-unit excellence will matter in a smaller Army. Even in aggressive offensive operations, smaller, weaker armies have often triumphed because they were better. Encouragingly, the transition to a unit replacement system modeled on the regiment need not be expensive, and it need not disturb the tactical organization and functioning of combat maneuver units. Soldiers can put down roots in local communities, build equity in their own homes, and develop professionally in the company of known and trusted comrades.
But the ultimate payoff is battle, and there we might confidently expect the greatest return. For combat soldiers, trust in each other and trust in their leaders is the fire that welds successful units together and makes them winners. A new look at an old idea, the regimental system, can show us how to build real combat power at little cost, to truly adapt to the new rules of a new budgetary and strategic game.
These changes are simple, common-sense strategies for improving combat power. They recognize human factors and soldier power as the Army's most priceless assets. While it may be difficult to measure resulting improvements in cohesion, morale and esprit quantitatively, they will be real, tangible and lasting. A revised regimental systems approach stressing unit replacement can go far to offset loss of combat power due to a smaller force structure. The costs are significant but not prohibitive -- the gains are surely worth reaching for.
1. Frederick J. Manning, "Morale, Cohesion and Esprit de Corps", Handbook of Military Psychiatry, ed. Reuven Gal and A.D. Mangelsdorf (London: John Wiley and Sons, Ltd., 1991), 455. See also Kevin R. Smith, "Understanding Morale", Defence Force Journal (No. 52, May/June 1985), 52, and John Baynes, Morale: A Study of Men and Courage (NY: Praeger, 1967), 104.
2. Manning, 458.
3. For example, the 82d Airborne Division was inordinately proud of its claim in WWII that "no ground gained was ever relinquished", an issue which caused friction when MG Ridgway was ordered to withdraw from the vicinity of St. Vith during the Battle of the Bulge. See Clay Blair, Ridgway's Paratroopers (NY: William Morrow, 1985), 394.
4. John H. Johns et al, Cohesion in the U.S. Military (Washington: National Defense University Press, 1984), 4.
5. Manning, 458.
6. In an important recent study on military cohesion, William Darryl Henderson cites Edward Shils, Morris Janowitz, Charles Moskos, Alexander George, Anthony Kellett and S.L.A. Marshall as proponents of the "primary group" theory. See William Darryl Henderson, Cohesion: The Human Element in Combat (Washington: National Defense University Press, 1985), 4-5.
7. A senior retired Army leader interviewed for this study observed: "I have a real concern that we'll draw the wrong lessons from Desert Storm. The real lesson is that six months in the desert accomplished miracles in terms of group bonding, honing combat skills and getting the force ready. The wrong lesson is that we can deploy every combat unit in the Army to austere locations on short notice and be fully ready to go. We needed those six months".
8. Interview with Colonel (Dr.) Rick Manning, Walter Reed Army Institute for Research, June 5, 1991.
9. William Darryl Henderson, former Chief, Army Research Institute, The Hollow Army (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1990), 77-90.
10. Ibid, 77.
11. See Sam Endicott and Earl Pence, "NTC Leadership Lessons Learned" (unpublished TRADOC Report, 1987); Larry E. Word, "Observations From Three years at the National Training Center (ARI Field Unit, Presidio of Monterrey, 1987); and Robert Holz, "ARI Technical Area Report on NTC Rotation 88-5" (Alexandria: ARI, 1988), cited in Henderson, Hollow Army. A senior NTC observer/controller interviewed for this study confirmed that these trends continue: "basically what we're doing is training individuals, primarily leaders. Six months after a rotation, these units don't exist anymore. There is no collective group experience to bring back the next time around. Every unit goes through here for the first time. And that's usually not good enough to win".
12. Interview with General Edward C. Meyer, June 6, 1991.
13. "A consequence of econometric analysis is to downplay the less tangible econometric factors and value-driven aspects of military organization...[this] approach tends to define issues that are amenable to existing methodologies and thus concentrates on narrowly conceived comparisons of variables to the neglect of the more difficult issues...". Charles C. Moskos et al, The Military: More Than Just a Job? (Washington: Pergammon-Brassey's, 1988), 4.
15. William J. Taylor, Jr. Leading the Army (The Washington Quarterly, Winter 1983), 42.
16. Carl Builder provides an impressive analysis of distinctive service cultures in Masks of War (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989).
17. For a provocative explication of the "Army Concept of War", see Andrew F. Krepinevich, The Army and Vietnam (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University press, 1986), 5.
18. This is not to suggest that technology or size are irrelevant on the battlefield. On the contrary, below a certain point the quality of the force becomes irrelevant in the face of overwhelming numbers. However, as Anthony Kellett argues in his classic study Combat Motivation, warfare is fundamentally about soldiers using machines, not "manned weapon systems". The well-documented emphasis on technological aspects of warfare obscures consideration of the human dimensions of combat. And these are all-important. See Anthony Kellett, Combat Motivation: The Behavior of Soldiers in Battle (Boston: Kluwer Nijhoff Publishing, 1982), xvii.
19. "Regimental Unit Plan Will Begin This Year", Army Times, January 25, 1982, 1.
20. Ibid, 17.
21. Assessment of the United States Army Regimental System, Volume 1, BDM Corp., p. II-3.
22. See for example Robert M. Elton, "Cohesion and Unit Pride Aims of New Manning System", Army (October 1984).
23. In interview after interview, this phrase recurred. If the demise of NMS carries an epitaph it is probably "too hard to do".
24. BDM study, II-8.
25. Managing unit and individual replacements concurrently at the same installation was a problem because units continued to be evaluated on the basis of personnel fill. Falling personnel levels in some units required cross-leveling, which frequently broke up leadership in COHORT units in the interest of meeting unit status reporting category one (highest readiness level) standards. Interview with Colonel Frederick Black, former SGS, 25th Infantry Division, 7 April 1992.
26. "...in the trenches a man's will power was his capital and he was always spending, so that wise and thrifty company officers watched the expenditure of every penny lest their men went bankrupt. When their capital was done, they were finished". Lord Moran, 64-65.
27. John English, On Infantry (New York: Praeger, 1984), 138.
28. Date of Return Overseas.
29. Gabriel and Savage's Crisis in Command is an apposite example of the genre of Vietnam criticism. See Richard A. Gabriel and Paul L. Savage, Crisis in Command (New York: Hill and Wang, 1978). 29. Cited in Kellett, 265. See John Baynes, Morale: A Study of Men and Courage (Garden City Park, NJ: Avery Publishing, 1988).
30 English, 146.
31. General Frido von Senger und Ettelin, Neither Fear nor Hope (London: Macdonald, 1960), 196, 223, cited in English, 146.
32. English, 138.
33. A description of this system in operation in the Panzergrenadier Division Gross Deutschland is found in Guy Sajer, The Forgotten Soldier (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967), unquestionably the outstanding personal memoir of the Second World War from the perspective of the German soldier.
34. By war's end the German officer corps was far below authorized levels, 30.8% of all German officers having been killed outright. Gabriel and Savage, 36. Sajer provides a moving and vivid illustration of the German company officer in the person of Hauptmann Wesreidau and the German institution of kameradeschaft (officer/soldier comradeship) in Forgotten Soldier.
35.Many Israeli commanders, such as Raful Eitan and Ariel Sharon, have risen to armored division command after long service in nonmechanized infantry units (the Israeli division or "ugda" is exclusively an armored formation). They are given a short course in the technical aspects of armored units, but have long since mastered combined arms tactics and operations through a combination of service schooling, unit training programs and habitual task organization. Interview with Colonel Giora Eiland, Office of the Chief of Paratroops and Infantry, Israeli Defense Forces, January 1986.
36.One former tank brigade commander interviewed for this study remarked: "I had a hell of a time with my young infantry captains. They came almost exclusively from light backgrounds and needed too much breaking in to the tank/ Bradley environment. The good ones took about a year to really get in the saddle -- long enough to see everything at least once. They were fully productive for six months before I lost them. But the average ones were always liabilities. If you believe, like I do, that small units win wars, it's a hell of a price to pay to "develop future leaders".
37.One GAO study cited in the Army Times in 1990 placed the number of male service members (from all services) who fail to complete their first term of enlistment at 44.1%, with misconduct, poor performance and abuse of drugs or alcohol the leading causes of early separation. Grant Willis, "Pregnancy a Growing Problem for Early Outs", Army Times, 3 September 1990, 10. Henderson placed the Army number in 1989 at approximately 35% for all soldiers, with the disturbing addendum that top quality soldiers actually attrited more than others. See Hollow Army, p. 30. It is likely that the true family environment of the regiment -- at once disciplined and caring -- would significantly improve these numbers.
38. The author is indebted to Captain Michael Meese for this discussion of strategies for institutional change. See Michael J. Meese, "Institutionalizing Maneuver Warfare: The Process of Organizational Change", in Maneuver Warfare: An Anthology, ed. R.D. Hooker, jr., (Novatao, CA: Presidio Press, 1993).