In Praise of the Battle Rhythm

A battle rhythm is an organizational schedule, but it is more. The battle rhythm is made for each subunit and nested into the rhythm of the whole organization. 

A few weeks ago a small group of leaders in my directorate approached me asking to change the meeting schedule. Some of their employees had been concerned about the amount of time that they spend in meetings, a concern of us all, and had devised a way to improve the situation. I heard them out and then approved the change on a trial basis. Word went out to all of our employees. The new schedule didn’t last long, however, because our Commanding General (CG) needed to make a change at his level which invalidated ours. Now we needed to reverse course and let everyone know. Confusion abounded; even my executive assistant wasn’t sure what she should do and when.

Continue reading “In Praise of the Battle Rhythm”

Are US Military Members Today Weaker Than in the Past?

The US military is the strongest in the world, and the strongest in history. However, it is a fighting force, not a bed for social engineering and experimentation. In this business of life and death, religious faith is a source of strength. It should be encouraged, not penalized. 

On a recent speaking trip I was asked if cultural changes in the US military had emasculated it compared to the past. This is a daunting question, but like all questions, the first step in answering it is to define one’s terms. Aside from the anatomic definition, a reasonable definition of emasculation is “to deprive of strength or vigor, to weaken.”

In 2009 the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest ranking member of the US military, called experts in various fields together to try to identify all of the components of fitness, collectively termed Total Force Fitness (TFF). His goal was to improve all aspects of fitness in US military members. After long deliberation and study, the group identified the following areas:

Continue reading “Are US Military Members Today Weaker Than in the Past?”

Chaplains and Doctors in the US Military

Soldiers are in the business of war, and health, physical and spiritual, is required. Chaplains and doctors work together to optimize both. 

Chaplains and doctors in the military are both special staff officers to the unit commander. Chaplains are de facto and de jure non-combatants under the Geneva Convention, while doctors can be combatants but their primary responsibilities are to heal, not to kill. As such, chaplains and doctors in the military should work closely together, and often do. Medicine involves all aspects of man, body, soul and spirit, and the religious work of the chaplain does the same. In Iraq I worked very closely with our Task Force chaplain, LTC Alvin Sykes. We shared a tent, along with LTC Alfonso Franqui, our Task Force chemical officer.

The US Army has had chaplains since 29 July 1775 and today there are over 3,000 chaplains in uniform representing over 140 different religious organizations. The role of chaplains in the US military is to meet the spiritual, and the some extent the behavioral health needs, of their soldiers. In a typical Army battalion there are 500-700 soldiers, one chaplain and one chaplain’s assistant. Those two people, called the Unit Ministry Team (UMT), are responsible for religious services, counseling, funerals, and a host of other duties. In Iraq and Afghanistan chaplains worked with local religious leaders to seek common ground to promote peace and prosperity.

Continue reading “Chaplains and Doctors in the US Military”

Taking Intelligence Threats Seriously

Knowing about a threat is the first step to avoiding it. Believing correctly about the threat is the second step. In our world in which the ordinary is expected, we sometimes miss extraordinary threats at our door. 

On 7 December 1941, Privates Joseph L. Lockard and George Elliot were at the Opana radar site on Oahu. They detected a large group of aircraft flying in from the north and reported the findings to Private Joseph McDonald at Fort Shafter. Lieutenant Kermit Tyler was the officer in charge and knew that a routine flight of B-17 bombers were expected that morning from San Francisco. He told his subordinates “Don’t worry about it.” Thus, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was unopposed. Tyler had not taken the threat seriously.

The Joint Task Force National Capital Medicine (JTF Cap Med) recently completed medical support for the 57th Presidential Inauguration, involving hundreds of medical professionals providing health care and preventive services to thousands of military and civilian participants and hundreds of thousands of onlookers. Since the president, key members of government, and Washington DC itself are high profile targets, planners developed a careful intelligence estimate for the event. Military personnel in combat service support roles such as quartermaster, finance, chaplain and medical sometimes do not understand the importance of such estimates. In other cases we do not consider the breadth of threats to military operations such as the Inauguration.

Continue reading “Taking Intelligence Threats Seriously”

Getting Things Done in Military Medicine

How to get things done in military medicine, and how to carry that skill into every area of life. 

Like everything in government, military medicine is a vast bureaucracy. As such, military medicine is inherently resistant to change; sometimes it seems that people work four times as hard to get one-fourth of the work done. Nonetheless good people do good things every day, and slowly the prow of this lumbering battleship gets pointed in the right direction. I have spent over 23 years in military medicine, including 18 months as a liaison in Washington at the Department of Health and Human Services, and have learned a few things along the way. This paper is intended to help my staff, others currently in military medicine, and perhaps even those after us, get good things done in the US military health system.

Continue reading “Getting Things Done in Military Medicine”