On War #299: Another Vandergriff Book

by William S. Lind
April 6, 2009

Don Vandergriff has published another book, which is good news for all who care about the future of the U.S. Army. Titled Manning the Future Legions of the United States: Finding and Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders, Don’s new book brings together many strands of Army reform to create a comprehensive and intelligent reform program.

The book begins by describing the Four Generations of Modern War, which together establish the context in which we can see both where the Army is (in the Second Generation) and what it needs to prepare to fight (Fourth Generation war). Unlike many other descriptions of the Four Generations, Vandergriff’s is generally correct, although I would quibble here and there. Most importantly, he does not fall into the common error of saying the U.S. Army is now a Third Generation military. On the contrary, much of what the book prescribes is intended to move the Army from the Second Generation into the Third, as a necessary step forward facing the Fourth. Cultural change is central to that transformation, and quite properly it is the purpose of much of what Vandergriff proposes.

After a look at the history of manning the U.S. Army, which explains how and why it adopted the Taylorist “industrial age” model, the book makes an important call for “parallel evolution.” Parallel evolution, in which many things change at the same time, is essential for bringing the Army’s culture from the inward-focused, process-driven Second Generation to the outward-focused, result-driven Third Generation. In its absence, all you get is specific, unrelated alterations such as the recent move to brigades (while keeping the fifth-wheel division headquarters) that leave the culture untouched. Instead of reforming, the Army merely reorganizes. Vandergriff rightly points to the reforms of the Prussian Army under Scharnhorst as a model of parallel evolution the U.S. Army might profitably follow (see Charles Edward White’s superb book, The Enlightened Soldier).

When he discusses the key subject of developing leaders, Vandergriff draws on his earlier work at Georgetown (described in his book Raising the Bar), which the Army now calls Adaptive Leader Methodology (ALM). ALM is of central importance to cultural change, because it teaches outward focus. Thanks largely to Don’s missionary work, ALM is spreading in the Army, including to important places such as West Point and the Basic Officer Leader Courses at Ft. Benning and Ft. Sill.

Manning the Future Legions is optimistic about the future of the U.S. Army, but it also raises the question of how optimistic dare we realistically be? As Vandergriff writes, “Proposed reforms to Army culture still avoid changing the system’s legacies, which also serve as the four pillars holding up the (current) cultural structure.” He rightly identifies the “four legacy pillars” as:

  1. The up-or-out promotion system
  2. Quantity-based vs. quality-based officer accessions
  3. Centralized control of the evaluation and promotion system, and
  4. A top-heavy officers corps and too many headquarters.”

As Vandergriff states, “As long as these legacies of today’s Army culture remain invulnerable, the service will evolve only slowly, or not at all, and therefore will have trouble in recruiting, developing, and retaining adaptive leaders and soldiers.”

My own view of the Army is that, to borrow from an old European bon mot, while the United States Marine Corps’s situation is serious but not hopeless, the U.S. Army’s condition is hopeless but not serious. I participated as an “outside expert” in one of the Army’s “transformation” exercises, and all I saw were the usual games, despite explicit guidance to the contrary from the Army Chief of Staff.

One thing could change that. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Army units from battalion downward have had to develop an outward-focused, Third Generation culture in order to succeed in their missions. Officers and soldiers who experienced an outward-focused culture are coming home, where they find still an inward-focused, Second Generation Army. Many are responding by getting out. But some will stay, and they will work for reform. They know there is a better way.

Don Vandergriff’s pioneering intellectual work, readily available in his books, will give Army combat veterans the ammunition they need to make reform real. Here’s hoping they read the books, including this one.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact (no e-mail available):

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
1423 Powhatan Street, # 2
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Direct line: 703 837-0483

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