Case Study: "Oral Filter"

Marauder06

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Over the last couple of years, there have been several instances of military members being punished for things they have said to reporters or things they have posted to the 'Web. Consider this situation, taken from current events: you're part of GEN Petraeus's staff in Afghanistan (doesn't matter in what capacity), and one of your employees makes the below statement to an Army Times reporter. You find out through a third party that the article is going to be in the next edition of the Army Times and attributed your employee who wrote it. You have checked and you know that the employee did not clear the article through the public affairs office (as required by ISAF rules).

After you calm down, what actions if any do you take?


Throughout my career I have been known to walk that fine line between good taste and unemployment. I see no reason to change that now.

Consider the following therapeutic.

I have been assigned as a staff officer to a headquarters in Afghanistan for about two months. During that time, I have not done anything productive. Fortunately little of substance is really done here, but that is a task we do well.

We are part of the operational arm of the International Security Assistance Force commanded by U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus. It is composed of military representatives from all the NATO countries, several of which I cannot pronounce.

Officially, IJC was founded in late 2009 to coordinate operations among all the regional commands in Afghanistan. More likely it was founded to provide some general a three-star command. Starting with a small group of dedicated and intelligent officers, IJC has successfully grown into a stove-piped and bloated organization, top-heavy in rank. Around here you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a colonel.

For headquarters staff, war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information. Even one tiny flaw in a slide can halt a general's thought processes as abruptly as a computer system's blue screen of death.

The ability to brief well is, therefore, a critical skill. It is important to note that skill in briefing resides in how you say it. It doesn't matter so much what you say or even if you are speaking Klingon.

Random motion, ad hoc processes and an in-depth knowledge of Army minutia and acronyms are also key characteristics of a successful staff officer. Harried movement together with furrowed brows and appropriate expressions of concern a la Clint Eastwood will please the generals. Progress in the war is optional.

Each day is guided by the "battle rhythm," which is a series of PowerPoint briefings and meetings with PowerPoint presentations. It doesn't matter how inane or useless the briefing or meeting might be. Once it is part of the battle rhythm, it has the persistence of carbon 14.

And you can't skip these events because they take roll -- just like gym class.

The start and culmination of each day is the commander's update assessment. Please ignore the fact that "update assessment" is redundant. Simply saying commander's update doesn't provide the possibility of creating a three-letter acronym. It also doesn't matter that the commander never attends the CUA.

The CUA consists of a series of PowerPoint slides describing the events of the previous 12 hours. Briefers explain each slide by reading from a written statement in a tone not unlike that of a congressman caught in a tryst with an escort. The CUA slides only change when a new commander arrives or the war ends.

The commander's immediate subordinates, usually one- and two-star generals, listen to the CUA in a semi-comatose state. Each briefer has approximately 1 or 2 minutes to impart either information or misinformation. Usually they don't do either. Fortunately, none of the information provided makes an indelible impact on any of the generals.

One important task of the IJC is to share information to the ISAF commander, his staff and to all the regional commands. This information is delivered as PowerPoint slides in e-mail at the flow rate of a fire hose. Standard operating procedure is to send everything that you have. Volume is considered the equivalent of quality.

Next month IJC will attempt a giant leap for mankind. In a first-of-its-kind effort, IJC will embed a new stovepipe into an already existing stovepipe. The rationale for this bold move resides in the fact that an officer, who is currently without one, needs a staff of 35 people to create a big splash before his promotion board.

Like most military organizations, structure always trumps function.

The ultimate consequences of this reorganization won't be determined until after that officer rotates out of theater.

Nevertheless, the results will be presented by PowerPoint.
 

Mac_NZ

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More likely it was founded to provide some general a three-star command. Starting with a small group of dedicated and intelligent officers, IJC has successfully grown into a stove-piped and bloated organization, top-heavy in rank. Around here you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a colonel

Fuck me, you just described 2 different organisations in the NZDF. For those that don't we have the Officers to staff the British Army give or take a few. This is no mean feat considering they have 3 Divisions and we have an understrength Rifle Brigade with a call up.
 

Diamondback 2/2

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I can see how whoever wrote this is frustrated and probably, rightfully so. But what I can’t understand is why any “officer or NCO for that matter” would put his/her dick out on the chopping block for such a small and incredibly unimportant issue. Being tired of PPP briefs has nothing to do with how the war is or is not being fought. It’s like complaining about having to use a cell phone over a land line, yeah it might suck b/c you can never get away from your phone, but it still makes things easier.

The issue of feeling insignificant or like he/she is not accomplishing something is a personal problem and not one of a TF/Command. We all have job’s to do, sometimes it’s a job we like and get fulfillment in and sometimes it is not. However the arrogance in whoever wrote this is unbecoming and a insult to every soldier who has performed these unappreciative jobs in the past without complaint.

As for what I would do about it, I would obviously address this soldier’s lack of regards for policy and chain of command. It would more than likely come down to bad marks on this soldiers performance evaluations. Being that it’s not an issue of slandering anyone directly and more of a generalization of discontent; I would keep it in house and deal with it as “you fucked up and this will follow you” type matter. Not so much as a “you are fired, kiss your career goodbye” matter.

I would however assign some corrective training, I would have this soldier brief every damn report by way of flip chart, sand table and chalk board for a few weeks. Show this soldier that the very thing he/she is complaining about (Power Point) is what allows for what free time he/she might have had. An hour or two spent on making or adjusting some slides vs a few all nighters building flip charts, sand tables, hand outs and figuring out what you’re going to write on that chalk board. They would never bitch about PPP again…
 

RustyShackleford

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I would fire him and replace him with a staff officer who who follow me around with a full pot of coffee in case I desired a cup, all the while keeping his mouth shut. That is what military commanders really want anyway...isn't it?
 

Dame

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I guess the first thing you'd have to do would be to call Freefalling into the office and ask him what he has against PowerPoint.
*ducking for cover and S-ingTFU now*
 

0699

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I just never talked to reporters or anyone associated with the media. After the time a reporter (not hot...) tried to sit on my lap and the time a cameraman got a hearty "get that fucking camera out of my face" after he just walked right up and starting recording me without my permission, I stay as far away from them as I can. They may have a "right to know", but I don't have a "duty to tell".
 

SpitfireV

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We had a specific clause in our Code of Conduct that meant we couldn't talk to the media, which technically we broke every time we processed them at the immigration booth lol. I wouldn't (and won't) talk to them anyway- after seeing stories that I know are patently false (from being involved in said story) there's no point being misquoted and having your words twisted.

Stories is a good description for what they produce anyway.
 

Marauder06

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I could tell it was going to piss me off the second I read the first paragraph.

I made up my mind after the third paragraph that if he wasn't doing "anything productive," he could be doing that somewhere else- if he was working for me, I would have shitcanned him immediately. This was nothing more than a sarcastic temper tantrum by a guy who thinks he's smarter than everyone else.

In the situation outlined by the case study, I would have called the individual in, asked him if he wrote it and why, and if I determined he had written it, I would tell him to pack his bags pending a decision from the commander whether he works elsewhere in the unit or goes home.

Here's what really happened. Note the rank of the author.

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/08/anti-powerpoint-rant-gets-colonel-kicked-out-of-afghanistan/

dude should have had his oral filter on before he started running his suck.
 

DA SWO

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He was wrong for not getting it cleared, but I can understand his frustration. NATO Organizations are more concerned with Latte's then prosecuting a war.
He says he submitted for clearance, did they shitcan it and pretend like they didn't see it? If so, bad on them (PA). How many times do I hand deliver something before saying fuck you I am pushing foward?
He doesn't present the argument very well, but his general bitch is spot on.
 

Marauder06

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Even if he had gotten it cleared, I would have canned him anyway. It's like saying "with all due respect" before you tell your boss to fuck off- it doesn't give you a free pass.

This guy was mouthing off to show how clever he was, at his unit's expense. Maybe the reason he had nothing to do was because he wasn't capable of doing anything really important?

This is another example of why I fought tooth and nail anytime someone wanted to give us a Reservist O6- the ones I met were either somebody's boy, wanted a break from the office, or were "war tourists" trying to get their GWOT on- sometimes all three. (I know that in this specific case the last reason I listed doesn't hold, since this was the guy's 2nd or 3rd tour). The reserve O6s we got usually lacked the experience and credibility to function in positions commensurate with their ranks (would YOU put a guy you didn't know in charge of something really important if you had other options?) so they usually sat around all butt-hurt because... you guessed it... they didn't have enough to do.

Plus, no matter how much they said, "I don't have to be in charge, I can take orders from people I outrank," it never turned out to be true. They were always on some crusade to fix some perceived injustice. And they usually had a "what can they do to me" attitude- "I'm a reservist O6... I'm not going to get promoted, and I have a job making twice as much waiting for me when I get home, the worst they can do is send me back-" so that's usually what happened.

Important caveat- the above observations are limited to my experiences with reserve 06s assigned to my units in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's not a generalized disparagement of Reservists in general or reserve O6s specifically, just the ones it has been my misfortune to work with.
 

0699

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Even if he had gotten it cleared, I would have canned him anyway. It's like saying "with all due respect" before you tell your boss to fuck off- it doesn't give you a free pass.

This guy was mouthing off to show how clever he was, at his unit's expense. Maybe the reason he had nothing to do was because he wasn't capable of doing anything really important?

This is another example of why I fought tooth and nail anytime someone wanted to give us a Reservist O6- the ones I met were either somebody's boy, wanted a break from the office, or were "war tourists" trying to get their GWOT on- sometimes all three. (I know that in this specific case the last reason I listed doesn't hold, since this was the guy's 2nd or 3rd tour). The reserve O6s we got usually lacked the experience and credibility to function in positions commensurate with their ranks (would YOU put a guy you didn't know in charge of something really important if you had other options?) so they usually sat around all butt-hurt because... you guessed it... they didn't have enough to do.

Plus, no matter how much they said, "I don't have to be in charge, I can take orders from people I outrank," it never turned out to be true. They were always on some crusade to fix some perceived injustice. And they usually had a "what can they do to me" attitude- "I'm a reservist O6... I'm not going to get promoted, and I have a job making twice as much waiting for me when I get home, the worst they can do is send me back-" so that's usually what happened.

Important caveat- the above observations are limited to my experiences with reserve 06s assigned to my units in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's not a generalized disparagement of Reservists in general or reserve O6s specifically, just the ones it has been my misfortune to work with.

It's in the Geneva Convention!! :D
 

AWP

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Wow...they guy is pretty spot-on from my perspective, and speaking as someone who has torpedoed opportunities because of his mouth.....

The problem is multi-dimensional, the good, the bad, the solutions, everything. Rarely does something of this magnitude boil down to a simple answer or cause. We preach integrity (My Lai was used as a case study in my OCS class, but look at how the real events worked out), but hammer anyone who speaks out. We preach teamwork, but how many times have you heard 'If I don't take of my career, who will?'?"

"The system" sends mixed messages.

Plus, careers trump mission. Sure, not for everyone, but enough guys and gals out there are looking for the next pay grade and so they don't rock the boat. A general says he wants "X" done, but no one wishes to discuss the Emporer's New Clothes. So, if you have the belief that what you are seing is wrong, don't you have an obligation to stand up? You call out a war crime and you're a hero, but bring attention to a bad commander or staff or process and now you aren't a team player?

I applaud what the guy did, but I would have fired him. The second he hits Manas on the way to the house, send the email to the UPI. Otherwise this sort of thing happens.

Sometimes it isn't the battle you fight, but when you fight it. Ultimately, nothing will change anyway and if we don't lose this war then we're going to drag it out YEARS beyond what we should.
 
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