MILITARY

Ex-SEAL Carl Higbie: Bureaucratic zombies are ruining our military. We must pivot now

Carl Higbie

Before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, America’s military totaled less than one and a half million soldiers, sailors, Marines, and Coast men. Waiting for our nation stood the Japanese at over 6,000,000 men strong and the Germans at well over 10,000,000.  Compounding matters was the fact that our adversaries outnumbered our ships. Yet America, despite the odds, won. How?

While the short answer is the atomic bomb but the real question is how we made it happen in the first place.

I believe a large reason for our victory grew from American exceptionalism and the unchained drive to innovate combined with America’s citizen-soldier military.

The men and women who joined the fight took their business mentality and understood how to get things done, our politicians had the political will, goals and trust in our military.

Having served in the military I can state without hesitation that our military lacks the qualities of World War II’s citizen-soldier force.

Do not be confused; our modern military is comprised of good people, men and women who want to make a difference in world but the system however, the mindless and political bureaucracy, thwarts the young service member and is leading to a weakened military.

Many of our ranking commanders have become career and rank obsessed, rules of laws rather than leaders of men. As these types climb the rank they forget that the military’s job is to put bullets in bad guys and somewhere along the line turn to a commitment of appeasement.

I want to give great credit to this piece Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving”, which sums up the reason for the dismay in the ranks and why many of the military’s best men are departing and leaving, at times, subpar officers are in positions that require better men.

Facing forces like North Korea and ISIS today we need to unleash the individual genius of innovation.

While in the Navy, I watched as politics sidelined the most productive, sharpest, and talented soldiers.

Unfortunately, the career soldiers and sailors—like career politicians—turn into bureaucratic zombies, those few who can stand the mind-numbing evolve into the rulers-of-laws rather than leaders of men.

Unfortunately, many of these career soldiers and sailors become fixated on their own careers and turn into “career before country” patriots. 

These are the military “leaders” who discourage the free-thinker, institute needless rules, protocols and redundancy. They pride structure over function, stifle innovation, creativity, and productivity. 

Sadly they are crushing our military with the weight of their bureaucratic machinery and will continue to do so regardless of the $700 billion dollar budget we need and now that we have the proper leadership.

As we re-engage our 15-year war in the Middle East, our military has been pushed to serving longer deployments and larger tasks.

Throughout Barack Obama’s presidency, funding was cut, manning was decreased and the moral eviscerated. This, combined with the politically intensifying atmosphere, led to a force that was depleted both physically and ideologically.

To combat this, the military began handing out significant retention bonuses for service members who re-enlisted for set periods of time, but only after the loss in the force, leaving huge delays in not only re-manning troop’s levels but also gaps in our most skilled positions needed to keep America at the top of the food chain.

We need to trim the fat. If you have a sports team that is being slowed down by someone you cut them. In a recent report, it was found that the pentagon had over $120 billion dollars in wasteful spending.

You must cut the redundancy. We have untold numbers of civilian contractors that do nothing of importance, give them the axe.

Next; we must examine the budget system. Every unit is given “X” dollars a year to spend on its needs, if you don’t spend all of it by the end of the year, you lose it for the next year. If you spend it all, you get last year’s budget plus a marginal addition based on a force-wide percentage of increase.

This is the opposite of fiscal conservatism, it actually entices units to spend money.

When I was at SEAL team 10, we often took extravagant and needless “training” trips at the end of each fiscal year to burn the rest of the money in our budget so we wouldn’t lose any in the next year.

Enough! Start every year with zero and justify each expenditure, it will save the DOD billions.

Finally, we must address the promotion structure (which is tough to do in an op-ed but here’s the run down): 

- Stop automatic and written test promotions. Currently much of the promotion system is based on time in and checking boxes.

- Make the promotion system a 360 evaluation. Look at superiors, subordinates and peers. Rank everyone against each other and promote the best ones. That's simple enough.

With the dawn of Donald Trump, who overwhelmingly won the military vote, we have a unique opportunity to reassert ourselves on the world’s stage as the military powerhouse we once were. 

Our military can be great again but it will take some changes from how things have been done over the last decade.

Secretary Mattis and President Trump are very honorable men and are fashionably suited for this task so I believe it can happen.

The world is a better place when America is strong.

Carl Higbie was a Special Operator with SEAL Team Ten, Echo Platoon. He deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His most recent book is "Enemies, Foreign and Domestic: A SEAL's Story."