Gen. Ridgway's Personnel Management Policy
Meloy, Guy S., Army
As I read the September ARMY Magazine's review of what Maj. Vandergriff considered problems with the personnel management system, and on the next page a review of a biography describing Gen. Matthew Ridgway's leadership qualities, I was reminded of an interesting historical footnote passed to me by the late Gen. James M. Gavin.
Readers may recall that when Gen. Ridgway commanded the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II, Gavin, as a 36-year old colonel, initially commanded the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment during stateside training and the airborne assaults on Sicily and Salerno. At age 37 and after being promoted to brigadier general, he was assigned as Ridgway's assistant division commander for the airborne drop on Normandy. After Ridgway was promoted to his third star, he was promoted again and assumed command of the 82nd for the remainder of the war and for the first several months after the division returned to the continental United States.
Over the years Gen. Gavin frequently visited Ft. Bragg, N.C., to attend various division functions, and as a courtesy would usually visit with the division commander. On one such visit in 1979, while I was the commander, after a few minutes of pleasantries Gavin suddenly changed the subject and started asking a series of probing questions concerning the age, professional education and professional experience of the division's chain of command: What was my background and that of the assistant division commanders? How many of the brigade commanders had attended the War College (all), how old were they, and how much service did they have? How many battalion commanders had been to Command and General Staff College (all), and what were their ages and length of service? He asked about company commanders and how many had completed their respective branch's advanced course. He wanted to know how much service our first sergeants had, and even asked about platoon sergeants and squad leaders. He seemed especially interested in officer schooling and the NCO education system and military occupational specialty qualification standards.
In short order he had a reasonably good idea of the professional experience and qualifications of the division's entire chain of command from squad leader to commanding general. As I grew more and more curious as to what prompted that line of questions, he suddenly changed the subject. "Have you ever wondered how in the world our amateur Army ever won World War II?" He then answered his own question, and while after more than 20 years the numbers that follow may not be exact, they are close. This is what he said:
"When the 82nd deployed to North Africa in 1943, Matt Ridgway and perhaps one other general were the only members of the division who had attended a war college. Only three of the colonels had attended Leavenworth, only one or two of the battalion commanders had, and as a matter of fact, many of the battalion commanders had never even attended their advanced course. The average age of the colonels was less than 40, and when we made the Normandy jump, one was still in his 20s. Most battalion commanders were in their late 20s or very early 30s. Most of the company commanders were in their early 20s, and the majority of both commissioned and noncommissioned leaders at battalion and company level had less than two years of active duty. Battalion and regimental staff officers were in their late 20s, in a few cases in their early 30s, and most of the staffs at battalion level also had less than two years service. The average age of our platoon leaders was about 20 or 21, first sergeants and platoon sergeants maybe 24 or 25, and most squad leaders were teen-agers or, at best, just out of their teens. I'd estimate that at the time we deployed overseas, between 80 and 90 percent of the division had served two years or less; more than half were still teen-- agers, and most of those in the chain of command were in their 20s. And since that was probably typical of most divisions, the 82nd was not that different from other outfits. …