Transforming Army Reserve Senior Leadership: A Matter of Cultural Change

By Jacobs, Jeffrey A. | Army, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Transforming Army Reserve Senior Leadership: A Matter of Cultural Change


Jacobs, Jeffrey A., Army


"Failure in leadership, sir, from the brigade commander on down. Lack of discipline, no training whatsoever and no supervision." These were the words of Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba to the U.S. Congress, describing the failures of the Army Reserve's 800th Military Police Brigade. What damning words they were.

Perhaps Gen. Taguba's most significant findings were that leaders failed to enforce-or even to meet-the most elementary Army standards. Soldiers failed to wear the uniform properly or to observe basic military courtesy. Field grade officers drank alcohol in theater in violation of general order number one. The brigade command sergeant major was relieved for fraternization with junior soldiers.

Gen. Taguba's investigation did not delve into the causes of these shortcomings, but this statement is telling: "Because of past associations and familiarity of soldiers within the brigade, it appears that friendship often took precedence over appropriate leader and subordinate relationships."

This article is not about the 800th Military Police Brigade. I was not there. From my vantage point after 18 years in the reserve component (RC), however, Gen. Taguba's observations about leadership apply to many other RC units.

I recently spent more than two years at one of the Army's busiest mobilization stations, and I observed hundreds of RC units and tens of thousands of RC soldiers. Like Gen. Taguba, I routinely observed RC units that had substandard leadership, training and discipline.

I regularly saw senior reserve component leaders who were more concerned with their soldiers' creature comforts than with their training, discipline and ability to accomplish their mission on the battlefield and come home alive.

For example, I observed a brigade commander whose major concern was the lack of free time on the training schedule for his soldiers; this commander flatly ignored the pointed advice of a senior active component (AC) general officer concerning techniques he should use to train his brigade for impending combat. I heard an RC general officer express concern to a mobilized commander that his enforcement of Army standards and discipline would negatively affect retention when the unit demobilized. I saw a senior commander sit in the barracks and complain with his soldiers for days while waiting to deploy, ignoring advice to use the time for training. I saw a nonmobilized RC general officer inappropriately insert himself into a disciplinary action for a mobilized soldier (who was thus not in that officer's chain of command) at the behest of the soldier, under the guise of "caring for soldiers."

Some have proposed more leadership training as the solution to RC leadership deficiencies. The problem runs deeper than that. Gen. Taguba's report describes a difference in culture between the AC and the RC. Although by no means universal, this cultural difference is more common than not.

The culture in the AC is focused on mission accomplishment. The prevailing culture in many RC units, for too long, has been focused on keeping soldiers comfortable and contented and avoiding necessary interpersonal and organizational conflict. This focus stems in part from the unmitigated pressure on RC commanders to maintain unit strength and from the misguided notion that enforcing standards and instilling discipline will cause soldiers to leave.

The current mobilization has demonstrated in stark terms that readiness is more than unit strength. Readiness means deployable, trained and disciplined soldiers. A culture of comfort and contentment and conflict avoidance creates a reluctance to impose, or even a fear of imposing, appropriate negative consequences for failing to meet standards, consequences that are essential to upholding the standards of any healthy organization. Such a culture does not facilitate readiness; it obstructs readiness. How can we change this culture? I have two proposals for the Army Reserve. …

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