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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Jerkoff of the Week - A Failure of Leadership

The Secretary of the Army said Wednesday the Barracks Video of Korean War-era barracks at Fort Bragg is unacceptable.

Unacceptable? Personally, I think unacceptable is the understatement of the century.

Surprised? Personally, I'm not surprised in the least.

Over the two decades I spent in the military, I've spent a lot of time in barracks all over the world. Most were fairly decent, but a few such as the Transient Barracks at a Naval Air Station in Maine - with broken toilets and dirty sheets and human blood smeared on the walls of the shower - were every bit as bad as the conditions at Fort Bragg.

The recent press coverage of the barracks at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington DC were just as bad - with the added bonus of rats.

The conditions in the Infantry Barracks at Fort Bragg are far more than merely unacceptable, they are disgusting, revolting, and dishonorable in the extreme. The deplorable living conditions do far more than simply embarrass the Army, they speak directly and pointedly of a chronic, endemic, and pervasive failure of leadership across the board over a long, long period of time. Decades in fact.

Whose responsibility is this?

Well, a lot of folks actually - but ultimately what we're looking at here is an utter, abject failure of leadership at at all levels of the chain of command, from the Non Commission Officer to the Commander in Chief.

It's the NCO fault: No real NCO would have allowed his men to move into this shithole. Period. He'd have pitched tents on the parade ground, dug latrines in the Commanding General's front yard, and had his men raze those crackhouse quarters to the ground. A real NCO should have gathered his fellow Sergeants and taken the Company Commander, by force if necessary, through that cesspool in nitpicking detail. A real NCO would have taken a squad and kicked in the door of the base Supply Office, gotten the material necessary, organized his men and made those barracks livable - or found quarters that were up to proper standards and moved his men in there, even if they happened to be Senior Enlisted or Officer quarters. Fuck the regulations, a real NCO would have made it happen. I can not imagine a Navy Chief who would have tolerated this situation. When I was a senior NCO I would have inspected those barracks prior to allowing a single man to move in, and if I had found the conditions, or even far less, evident in the video above I would have been in front of the Commanding Officer ten minutes later demanding proper housing for my troops. And I wouldn't have taken no for an answer. Period, end of story. I would have moved my entire team into hotels off-base and billed the fucking White House if necessary. I simply cannot fathom an NCO who does not place the welfare of his troops above his own personal career. I. Cannot. Fathom. It. But, that's the difference between an initiated Chief Petty Officer and an E7, who wears the rank and collects the paycheck and little else.

It's the Company Commander and his officers' fault: Any officer who would allow this situation is completely and totally derelict in his duty, period, and should be immediately cashiered. When I was a commissioned officer, there is no way I would have allowed my troops to move into a barracks without inspecting the facility first. And I not only expected my NCO's to raise hell, I demanded it. The NCO's failure to address the situation forcefully is a personal leadership failure on the part of the Company Commander and his officers. The officers who allowed their men to move into this shithole aren't worthy of the uniforms they wear, and you can damn well bet if they were assigned to similar quarters they'd have been raising bloody hell, I guarantee it. Every single one of these self-serving assholes should be held accountable for this situation to the full extent of the Uniform Code of Military Justice under Sub-Chapter 10, Article 892 Failure to Obey an Order or Regulation (specifically US Army regulations regarding housing standards for enlisted forces outside the combat zone), Article 983 Cruelty and Maltreatment (if 3" of raw sewage on the floor, sewage in the sinks, lead paint, and etc isn't maltreatment, I don't know what is), Article 933 Conduct Unbecoming of an Officer, and Article 934 General Article for Dereliction of Duty and conduct contrary to good order and discipline and that which brings discredit upon the Armed Forces of the United States. This needs to happen loudly and publicly as a message to every other commissioned officer that such disregard for the forces under their command will not be tolerated. Any officer who fails to take care of his troops will get shitcanned, publicly and without mercy. Troops come first, period.

It is the Fort Bragg Facility Officer's fault: This shitsucking, bottom feeding non-combatant should have made damned sure those facilities were ready for occupation and up to basic military standards. I don't care how, a real officer would have made it happen. He's responsible for the upkeep of those facilities, he is responsible by his assignment and by the oath he swore, and I will bet you anything you like that he made sure the base commanding general and the colonels all had pretty new carpet in their offices and conference rooms, and that the flower gardens in front of their on-base mansions were all kept neat and tidy. This Officer is guilty of dereliction of duty for failure to maintain those barracks to minimum military standards, which is his primary responsibility. Not only are these facilities supposed to house returning combat troops, they are the property of the tax paying citizens of the United States - and if they are not condemned and scheduled for destruction, they are to be maintained as property of the United States by law and regulation. This Officer needs to be made an example of, immediately and forcefully.

It is the Commanding Officer's fault: Commanding Officers are required by law and regulation for the forces, facilities, and materials under their command. They are personally responsible. They are personably and absolutely accountable for the actions of their forces, material condition of their command, and every penny spent on their watch. All Commanding Officers are required, again by law and regulation, to periodically inspect every inch of their command. In a Navy facility, actual implementation of this responsibility is often delegated to the Executive Officer. When I was assigned to USS Valley Forge, the XO used to inspect the entire ship daily and by God if your divisional areas weren't up to standards, you could damned well expect to be standing tall in the XO's stateroom directly. Once a week every Officer and Chief (the senior NCO's) were assigned Zone Inspection duties, given a list of standards, lectured at length by the XO as to what, exactly, he expected, and sent to examine every single nook and cranny of the Command. If you returned for the debriefing without finding any 'hits,' it was very likely that the XO would accompany you on a reinspection immediately following the briefing - and if he found something that you missed, your ass would be in the ringer. Good Navy XO's are widely feared and respected, and for good reason - they are the ramrod and directly responsible to the CO for the material condition of the facility or vessel. The conditions at Fort Bragg clearly and unequivocally indicate a failure of leadership and responsibility at the highest levels. There is no excuse whatsoever for the condition of those barracks. None. Not money, manpower, time, or any other dammed excuse. It's obvious that the CO and XO never inspected those facilities in accordance with regulation and their personal responsibilities. The Commanding Officer is indisputably derelict in his duties and should face a Court Martial immediately - and the XO with him.

It is the Regional Commander's fault: Just as with the Commanding Officer, the Regional Commander, a General, is responsible by law for the forces, facilities, materials, and funds under his command. He is required to conduct unannounced surprise inspections and it's obvious that in this case the general spent more time inspecting the golf course and the Officer's Club than the housing facilities of his troops.

It is the General of the Army's fault: Conditions at Fort Bragg are not an isolated incident, they are nearly exactly the same as the Transient Barracks identified and hushed up at Walter Reed. I've done a hell of a lot of inspections in my time and I will bet you, again anything you like, that I can find similar conditions on bases across the country. It is the General of the Army's fault, because instead of conducting an immediate and thorough inspection of every living facility under his command in order to ascertain ground truth after the conditions at Walter Reed came to light, he decided it was an 'isolated incident' and didn't bother to look any further. He should have ordered an immediate and complete inspection of every facility under his command, to be conducted personally by regional commanders and each individual commanding officer. He didn't. And he didn't because he knew what he'd find - and he didn't want to deal with it. Instead he let his forces stew in sewage. If he had one shred of honor, he'd take off that fucking gold ring and resign his commission.

It is the civilian leadership's fault: The Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of Defense, Congress, and the President himself. For twenty years I've watched these pompous windbags come and go, from Reagan to Bush the Decider and their associated ass-kissing toadies. They're all the same, full of wind, shit, and excitement. They breeze onto base with their entourage, go where the CO points them, shake a few hands, make a long and boring speech full of praise for the heroic troops, smile for the cameras, have lunch at the Officer's Club and blow out of town, never to be seen again. Not once, in my experience, has any one of them said - "Hey! I'm going to take a look around, let's start over there with that barracks." Fuck them and the limo they rode in on.

Generals, Admirals, Secretaries, Congressmen, and Presidents will wax self-righteous, thump their manly chests, and speak of the heroic troops. They will gush endlessly poetic over how troops come first - and they will always, inevitably, and relentlessly divert funds and energy into golf courses, new carpet, decorative planters, flower beds, and big mahogany desks. They'll spend millions on a static display of a tank or a landing craft or a fighter jet on a stick in a flower bed in the middle of the base. They'll spend millions on hydraulic pop up barriers and super-duper electronic security countermeasures at the front gate, when a couple of cheap concrete barricades would do the exact same job. They'll spend millions on electronic vap boards and video teleconferencing equipment for their conference rooms, and shiny flat panel monitors, and the latest version of Microsoft Office Enterprise for every computer in the military and yet use, oh, about a hundredth of it's capability. They'll spend money to make sure every Staff Officer has a personalized parking spot in front of the shiny new HQ. They'll spend billions building new F-22 stealth Raptors, that have no conceivable purpose in the post-cold war world, and billions more for new hangers to put them in - because God forbid those new airplanes should have to be housed in perfectly good facilities we built for the last bunch of new airplanes. They'll spend millions on airshows and parades and speeches and photo-ops and press conferences and yellow fucking ribbons. But they won't spend money for paint, or working plumbing, or drinking fountains, or clean sheets, or... well, you get the idea. Actions always speak louder than words. It's one thing to claim people are our number one asset, that we respect the troops who keep us safe, that we honor their service and admire them for their sacrifice - it's a wholly different thing to live up to those words.

This failure is not an isolated incident, it's another sign of a deeper rot - the same putrescent failure of leadership that got us into the current mess, the same failure of leadership that sent troops to war without armor and equipment, the same failure of leadership that brought them home to peeling lead paint and raw sewage.

And ultimately it's the fault of each and every American: If you don't vote, it's your fault. If you vote for political parties instead of people with integrity and honor and a sense of duty, it's your fault. If you allow your leaders unfettered reign without accountability, it's your fault. If you keep electing the same old bastards because you think it's funny to have a 96 year Senator in Office, it's your fault. If you can name the last ten Heismen Trophy winners or Britney's bra size, but have never read the Constitution, it's your fault. And it's long past time for Americans to stand the hell up and demand an accounting from the leadership of this country.

Will it happen?

I'm not holding my breath.

11 comments:

  1. Well, I have never been in the military or lived in a situation like that, so I can't even conceive of the reality. I am appalled. Appalled is actually a mild word, but I can't think of a more appropriate one. The Husband said that he's lived in some gross Navy barracks (Ft. Meade in mid-80's, Philly in late 80's), but NOTHING like that.

    I suspect (and hope) that heads will roll, but I doubt that much of that will happen.

    That said, I must admit that this was one of the most impressive denunciations that I have ever "heard". I am tempted to email my congresscritters the link to this blog post and see your numbers go up...

    Natalie

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  2. Natalie, by all means link away.

    I'd love for one those self-serving assholes to comment here.

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  3. (to paraphrase one of the SSAs) "Well, you go to sleep in the barracks you have, not the barracks you wished you had."

    Why the stage wasn't stormed when he made the original quote, I still don't understand. Except maybe the soldiers in the audience were stunned and had to ask themselves, "Did he just say what I thought he said? I must have heard it wrong."

    But yeah, failure up the chain of command.

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  4. CW often calls the military bureaucracy "sclerotic". I can't think of a better word.

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  5. Sclerotic = scarred or hardened. Yeah, that sounds right.

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  6. Well, yes, military bureaucracy can be a major (heh) pain sometimes. But it usually works - if you use it correctly.

    However, this situation is a complete failure of responsibility at all levels - especially at the Commanding Officer level. CO's have significant latitude, and on a large base like Bragg - enormous authority should they care to exercise it. The problem here is a failure to give a shit. This CO knew he had returning troops, and knew that he had a duty and obligation to house them properly. I'm sure he asked the Facilities Officer "Hey, are we ready for these guys" and Facs said "Oh, sure, we're good. We'll put them in the old barracks." And that's where it ended. The CO should have personally inspected those barracks, with his Command Sargent Major in tow, at least a month in advance, in order to make damned sure that they were ready and up to standards for returning combat troops. He didn't. He obviously didn't. It was his duty to ensure adequate housing, especially for an infantry combat unit - and he failed that duty miserably. And this failure speaks volumes about his character and as a military leader. If he can't maintain a fucking building, he shouldn't in charge of a salad fight. He deserves nothing less than a court martial and a dishonorable discharge - his failure is inexcusable.

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  7. But Jim, it's not their fault! The unit came home too early. A month too early. There wasn't time to fix it. They only had 72 hours, the poor people.

    And they're trying to fix it. After all, Bragg spokesman, Major Tom Earnhardt acknowledged the problems in the barracks. "Fundamentally, we acknowledge these conditions are not adequate by today's standards" said he.

    The conditions are not adequate by today's standards. Gee, does that mean they would be adequate if only we would use a set of standards used in the past?

    They are working on the problem, you know. New barracks, they are a-coming. Don't you think that's good enough?

    Me neither.

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  8. Yeah, I love that bullshit.

    Nothing like excuses.

    Funny thing, how did those barracks get into that condition in the first place. 1 month early, 1 year early, what difference does it make? Unless the facility is condemned or undergoing renovation - it's to be kept up to standards.

    And I'm curious as to when sewage on the deck and open sewer pipes were the standard. When was that again? I can't seem to find it anywhere.

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  9. Oddly, we never had that kind of problem in the Marines. And being in a Reserve unit, we always got the leftover accommodations. In fact, the one time we did get fairly substandard hooches, it was on Cherry Point MCAS, and they hadn't been used in decades before we got there for our little two week summer camp. During our nights spent in the field, Seabees came in and rebuilt each and every little squad hut, and by the time we left I don't think anything was the same as when we arrived but the concrete pads they sat on.

    But Marines make a fetish of the cleanliness of their barracks. We even had Thursday afternoon inspections by the CO and 1st Sergeant while in Iraq, as though there was weekend liberty to withhold if our quarters failed inspection. And we damn sure left them cleaner and in better shape than when we found them.

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  10. David, yeah you gotta love those SeeBees. When I was in Rota, Spain a detachment showed up to build new kennels for the police dogs - they had 90 days to get it done. On the 1st day they poured the concrete pad. And then for the next 85 days they drank and partied and chased anything they could catch. If they actually showed up at the construction site, it was to lay in the sun on top of a bulldozer and sleep off the hangover. Then with 3 days left to go, they all showed up, unpacked their gear and build the entire facility, plumbing, electrical, heating, roofing, the whole freaking deal in 2 days. The last day the CO inspected it and pronounced it good. Then they got on a plane and left.

    Man, I admired those guys ;)

    And yeah, I've never seen Marines do anything but take immaculate care of their berthing facilities.

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  11. I assume it is this incompotent leadership that is also failing to take care of wounded soldiers. Many have suffered psychological wounds yet they don't recieve the treatment they require. Due to a lack of qualified personnel.

    All this makes me wonder if the US is using their sons and daughters as expendable killing machines.

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