Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Military Bureaucracy

With Memorial Day still fresh in our memories, I thought it a good time to discuss a couple of stories concerning the military that I read recently.

The first deals with an order sent out by TACOM Life Cycle Management Command. TACOM stands for Tanks-automotive and Armaments Command. They are responsible for a lot of the military's weapons system research and development as well as managing the existing inventory.

In mid-April they sent out a directive concerning magazines for the M4 and M16. The directive stated that only the military issue aluminum magazines were authorized for use and that commercial polymer magazines such as the Magpul PMAGs were not authorized.
2. Issue: TACOM has become aware of units ordering 30 rd. commercial (i.e. polymer, etc.) magazines for their M4/M16 family of weapons. The M4/M16 Army authorized magazines are the following: NSN 1005-00-561-7200 (improved magazine) and NSN 1005-00-921-5004 (older magazine; use until exhaustion).

3. User Actions: TM 9-1005-319-10, the Additional Authorized List (AAL),
states that NSN 1005-00-921-5004 is authorized, as well as NSN 1005-00-561-7200. Units may use the older magazine NSN 1005-00-921-5004 with the green follower until exhausted. The improved magazine is available in stock, NSN 1005-00-561-7200, and has a tan follower. The improved magazine features an improved follower and follower spring. These new features help to reduce the risk of magazine-related stoppages. Units are only authorized to use the Army authorized magazines listed in the technical manuals. Remember; "tan-is the plan, green-start to lean, black-take it back." Magazines with the black follower are the oldest and should be turned in to your unit supply sergeant or local supply point.
While this directive attracted some attention on military-oriented forums such as Lightfighter.net, it was not until a feature story in Military.com that the issue picked up steam. What makes this directive even more puzzling is that the Magpul PMAG not only has a NSN (National Stock Number) assigned to it but millions of them have been purchased for use by troops in the field. Moreover, anecdotal evidence from the field indicates that the PMAG is more reliable.
The decision has left combat troops puzzled, since the PMAG has an Army-approved national stock number, which allows units to order them through the Army supply system.

“This just follows a long line of the Army, and military in general, not listening to the troops about equipment and weaponry,” said one Army infantryman serving in Southwest Afghanistan, who asked not to be identified.

“The PMAG is a great product … lightweight and durable. I have seen numerous special ops teams from all services pass through here, and they all use PMAGs. Also, a large amount of Marine infantry here use PMAGS, including their Force Recon elements.”

TACOM officials said the message was issued because of “numerous reports that Army units are using unauthorized magazines,” TACOM spokesman Eric Emerton said in a written response to questions from Military.com. Emerton added that only “authorized NSNs have ever been included in the technical manuals. Just because an item has an NSN, does not mean the Army is an authorized user.”

This seems to be a complete policy reversal, since PMAGs are standard issue with the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment and they have been routinely issued to infantry units before war-zone deployments.
It sounds to me like TACOM Life Cycle Management Command has a serious case of "not invented here" going on. While the thought of being able to pick up a bunch of surplus PMAGs cheap is appealing, I most certainly don't want to do it at the expense of soldiers and Marines serving in the front lines. For me to have a mag misfeed is an inconvenience; for a soldier in combat it is a matter of life and death.

I would hate to see a decade of actual combat experience with weapons and other equipment tossed as the military cuts back and begins to adopt the bureaucratic garrison mentality of yesteryear. Or as SoldierSystems.net said about this story "In case you had any doubt that the Army considers the war over and is circling its wagons to recreate the peacetime Army.."

For more extended discussions on the magazine directive, read the comments at the KitUp Blog, Lightfighter.net, the Firearm Blog, and SoldierSystems.

The second article was by Brig. General Mark Arnold in the Armed Forces Journal. Arnold is the commander of the Army Reserve's 100th Division and is the President and CEO of GSE Environmental which makes geosynthetic lining products for a variety of industries. The article by General Arnold is entitled "Don't Promote Mediocrity."

The article argues that the current system for promoting officers and NCOs is outdated. Not only is it outdated but it serves to promote mediocrity by promoting based upon the person's time in the service and not their abilities.
Largely unchanged since 1947, military human resources policies reward compliance, not performance or innovation. The HR bureaucracies are quantity-driven, not talent-focused. They are narrowly focused on assigning officers to jobs that align with their branch or specialty, with little consideration given to individual inclinations for assignments and almost none to past performance for O-2s through O-4s.

Yet the employment expectations of highly talented people changed a generation ago. The desire for lifetime employment has been replaced by a desire for lifetime employability. That means they vote with their feet when employers fail to reward performance, fail to give people a voice in their work and fail to fire bad bosses.

Indeed, a 2010 study by the Army Research Institute found that the main reason talented people leave is not the lure of a lucrative civilian career, but because mediocre people stay in and get promoted.

Year-group systems promote high talent at nearly the same pace as mediocre and below-average officers during their first 20 years of service. For instance, the active-duty Army promoted 99 percent of lieutenants to captain and 95 percent of captains to major during its 2011 boards. In 2010, selection rates for Army O-5s were 94 percent and above 85 percent in all other services. This is unheard of in the private sector. It rings loudly of institutionalizing mediocrity at best, and poisoning the pool of future senior leaders at worst.
Arnold proposes a number of changes including the elimination of the "up or out" promotion culture and the mentoring of rising talent by senior officers much like GE does with their up and coming executives. This latter proposal is much the same way that Gen. George Marshall operated throughout his career. He kept tabs on those he considered to be promising officers and he put this to use at the beginning of WWII. Marshall's list of promising officers reads like a who's who of WWII generals: Eisenhower, Bradley, Maxwell Taylor, and Matthew Ridgeway.

The military is in the process of undergoing force reductions. They have a war-tested officer corps as well as a tested mid-level group of NCOs. They know who is a leader, who performs, and who doesn't. If we are to have drastic force reductions, we need the cream of the crop running the leaner and, hopefully, meaner military at the company and battalion levels. We as a nation cannot afford to have the military run at the operational level by those who have reached the level of their own incompetence aka the Peter Principle.


  1. “This just follows a long line of the Army, and military in general, not listening to the troops about equipment and weaponry....

    If they listened, or at least cared, they wouldn't have accepted over the long term the inherently unreliable M16, adopted the SS109 derived 5.56 NATO which is even less effective on humans as the original normal 55 gr loading, or the M4 which sacrifices almost all of its effective range for the short barrel (approximately 50 yards for every inch shorter).

    The bureaucracy simply doesn't care about sending men out to die with awful equipment. And that
    s hardly a new thing, look up the history of the WWII era Mark 14 torpedo for which no uniformed bureaucrat paid a price.

  2. Can be bought here: