The entry below originally appeared on my blog, "Musings of a Factotum back in February 2009." It is one of several repostings that fit the theme of My PA blog.
I was a Truck Commander today. That’s a glorified way of saying that I sat in the passenger seat while my buddy drove the humvee from the dispatch lot to our working area.
We had been assigned a vehicle, but the only one available was a tactical humvee. With any tactical vehicle come too many rules and restrictions. You need a ground guide to move in and out of parking lots, Kevlar helmets must be worn by all vehicle occupants, and drivers need to place blocks and drip pans whenever shutting down. So even though we are only driving the truck on paved roads in a one-mile radius at no more than 18 miles per hour, we are burdened with all these inefficiencies.
I understand that the United States Army is not designed to run with ruthless drive for profits. But the mentality of thoroughness translates into other areas. It took several man-hours to get the vehicle signed over to us. Two Specialists, a Sergeant First Class, a Major, and a civilian contractor all had their hands in the transaction. What productive items of business could at least some of these soldiers been engaged in?
There is no such thing as “military efficiency.” The U.S. Army is not efficient. It is thorough. Thoroughness can serve us well, but should it be the highest priority?
How many bright, talented people are stifled in the military because they are forced to comply with endless regulations and redundancies? In the world of the Army, even these people, as smart as they may be, end up as mindless automatons, more worried about compliance and approval from their superiors than about getting a job done right.
Frustration is the call word, even among these people. Everyone in the Army loves to say express how screwed up it is. One high-ranking officer told me not too long ago, “You need to become an officer so you can fix this.”
“You’re an officer!,” I shouted in my mind! It seems everyone can see how fouled up the system is, but no one sees how screwed up it is in their own area of responsibility, and nobody wants to tell their superiors that the way we’ve been doing it sucks.
At Basic Training, when I thought twice about executing a command that sounded mistaken, my drill sergeant told me not to second guess myself. As I noted then, even when you’re right, you look like an ass if you’re the only one.
That truism holds in the everyday institutional army. It is much easier to hide behind caution smothered in ineffectiveness, then to tread into open ground of risk, where the potential of figuring out better ways to do things lurk.
The Army is effective at being a behemoth of an organization, and can run itself for the sake of running itself.