Keeping Integrity

By Edney, Leon A. | Joint Force Quarterly, July 2011 | Go to article overview

Keeping Integrity


Edney, Leon A., Joint Force Quarterly


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The best way to voice disagreement in policy or strategy, for an Active-duty officer, is during the formulation stage before execution. The President of the United States and Secretary of Defense are the two most senior civilians in the military chain of command. One level below that are the Service secretaries.

Officers are expected, most would say required, to support the administration's policies and budgets when testifying before Congress as well as in a dialogue with the public. However, when officers are asked their opinions by a Member of Congress, while testifying before that body, they should give their best professional military judgment. That may or may not agree with the administration's position. In my experience, it is not difficult to get key staffers to have their principal ask the type of questions needed to get a point across.

The perception that senior Active-duty officers have to give up their integrity during this process is nonsense. These occasions normally address budget, military readiness, personnel, or key procurement issues. It is also clear that the press will seek officers out, if they voice an opinion that is counter to the current strategy of the administration. In my experience, all decisions made by the Secretary of Defense that require a National Security Council or Presidential input have political and monetary considerations.

The National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and National Military Strategy are all thoroughly staffed. Each Service Chief and Combatant Commander has plenty of chances to get their views presented, as well as any disagreements. This is the proper time to influence these policies and strategies. These are broad statements and usually do not generate redline opposition. Disagreements of this nature are more likely to arise during a declining budget environment when officers are losing a procurement program that they believe is essential to them, or during the grand strategy for employment of military forces during periods of conflict, or in the personal accountability held for certain failures.

Once a disagreement is voiced in staffing, and the decision is made by civilian leaders not to address military concerns, an officer's only options are to comply, resign, or retire. Several examples from the more recent past may be helpful.

General Ronald Fogleman chose to resign/retire 1 year before his normal tour as Chief of Staff of the Air Force was completed. General Fogleman took this action because he had concluded that his advice to the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Air Force on key issues that were important to him and to the Air Force was no longer being accepted.

What were these issues? General Fogleman believed that year's Quadrennial Defense Review did not properly represent Air Force requirements for air superiority out into the future. Consequently, the number of F-22s in the budget was inadequate in his judgment. His recommendation to court-martial Lieutenant Kelly Flinn after lying about a relationship was disapproved by the Secretary of the Air Force. Major General Terryl Schwalier's promotion was denied as a result of the Khobar Towers incident. These were not light issues. When an officer gets to this position, he will have similar situations, and only he can make the choice.

During the first 4 years of the Iraq War, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly stated if the commanders in the field wanted more troops, they could have them. The public assumption was that no senior generals on Active duty, in Iraq or Afghanistan, other than General Eric Shinseki officially stated the need for or requested more forces to stabilize Iraq after Saddam was removed. General Shinseki was literally hung out to dry by Secretary Rumsfeld when his replacement was announced 18 months early. The general was transforming the Army well before that word became dramatized by Secretary Rumsfeld. …

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