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*VMBB Senior Chief Of Staff*
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April 13, 2013

Conduct at Issue as Military Officers Face a New Review


WASHINGTON — After a series of scandals involving high-ranking officers, the American military for the first time will require generals and admirals to be evaluated by their peers and the people they command on qualities including personal character.

The new effort is being led by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as part of a broad overhaul of training and development programs for generals and admirals. It will include new courses to train the security detail, executive staffs and even the spouses of senior officers.

Saying he was “disturbed about the misconduct issues,” General Dempsey said that evaluations of top officers needed to go beyond the traditional assessment of professional performance by superior officers alone. He said that he had decided the changes were necessary “to assess both competence and character in a richer way.”

“You can have someone of incredible character who can’t lead their way out of a forward operating base because they don’t have the competence to understand the application of military power, and that doesn’t do me any good,” General Dempsey said. “Conversely, you can have someone who is intensely competent, who is steeped in the skills of the profession, but doesn’t live a life of character. And that doesn’t do me any good.”

A significant number of military personnel have been investigated, penalized and fired in recent months for poor judgment, financial malfeasance and sexual improprieties or sexual violence. Others were relieved for inappropriate leadership judgment while in command.

General Dempsey said that regularly scheduled professional reviews would be transformed from top-down assessments to the kind of “360-degree performance evaluation” often seen in corporate settings. He acknowledged that the change had already drawn concern from some in the military’s senior ranks, who warned that it risked damaging a hierarchical command system based on discipline and adherence to orders from above.

General Dempsey described the results of his review of officers’ “professional character” during an interview in which he repeatedly stated his deep pride in the conduct of the vast majority of senior officers.

He said he had found that the number of senior officers investigated by the Defense Department inspector general was not at an unusually high level. But the central role in national life played by the military since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — a time in which some general officers attained the stature, and entourages, of rock stars — put them in the spotlight.

“We’ve been living with unconstrained resources for 10 years and, frankly, we’ve developed some bad habits,” General Dempsey said, vowing to combat complacency. “It’s those bad habits we are seeking to overcome.”

Richard H. Kohn, a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who specializes in military culture, said he thought the 360-degree evaluation would have a positive effect on the leadership styles of many officers. “It will reduce what the military calls ‘toxic leadership,’ elevating those who are highly competent but also fair and less brusque and peremptory,” Dr. Kohn said.

As for the new training programs, Dr. Kohn said that while it may be impossible to prevent willful infractions, “most officers need to be reminded of the rules and regulations on a routine basis.”

General Dempsey said the demands of combat deployments in the past decade had prevented officers from attending the academic programs that historically had been integrated into an officer’s career every few years, and he pledged to rebalance that.

It is likely that the review will lead to a reduction in the overall number of generals and admirals, and the size of personal staffs, communications teams and security details. The review also looked at whether administrative staff members assigned to commanders had been used to run personal errands for officers and their spouses.

Among the serious cases of misconduct in recent months, the four-star general who previously served as the top officer in Africa, William Ward, was demoted to three-star general after an investigation into misuse of government funds, including lavish travel with his wife. A one-star officer, Jeffrey A. Sinclair, is facing a court-martial on sexual misconduct charges involving a subordinate.

David H. Petraeus resigned from the C.I.A. over an affair after he had retired as a four-star general. The scandal shined an unflattering light on the high-society life at the military’s Central Command when Gen. John R. Allen was investigated, and cleared of, wrongdoing over e-mails to a Tampa socialite who also was a friend of Mr. Petraeus.

General Dempsey said that “the perception in a profession is just as important as the performance.”

The challenge, he said, will be to trim the size of staffs assigned to senior leaders to fit new budget constraints without diminishing the ability of those officers to perform their national security duties.

Under General Dempsey’s plan, teams of inspectors will observe and review the procedures of commanders and their staffs. The inspections will not be punitive, but will provide a “periodic opportunity for general officers and flag officers to understand whether, from an institutional perspective, we think they are inside or outside the white lines,” he said. In addition, new programs will be instituted to ensure that a commander’s staff, and a spouse, are fully aware of military regulations.

General Dempsey said he would be putting the new assessment procedures in effect for all generals and admirals serving on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff and in other military headquarters around the world in command of combat operations; the other chiefs will do so within their individual armed services.

The list of subordinates asked to assess a senior leader would be drawn from those who had direct interaction with the commander.

General Dempsey said that both President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had approved the measures and given him free rein to carry them out as he saw fit.

He said the issue of understanding the military as a profession, and not just an occupation, had fascinated him since his days as a junior officer; he would be subject to the same rules, regulations and assessments he now is championing.

“In my 39 years in the military, I have learned that you are not a profession just because you say you are,” he said. “You have to earn it and re-earn it and re-evaluate it from time to time.”
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