Gen. Dempsey believes that our leaders need these experiences in their formative years as officers. He himself reached the conclusion that the Army was the right career for him precisely because of his non-military experiences, in which he "had seen other possibilities" and "interacted with some of the best and brightest in America."
Given the examples above, Gen. Barno's assertion that senior Army leaders are not interested in retaining the best young officers is not very compelling. I for one am confident that when measured against private industry, government, or academia, the Army is an institution and profession where the most resilient, industrious, and creative officers will seek to remain if they are given the ability and freedom to make informed choices about their career options.
But Gen. Barno does raise a fair point. None of these programs is a substitute for active and sustained counseling and mentoring, which the Army leadership has directed and taught us to do. The branch managers and promotion boards operate to fulfill the demands and projected personnel needs of the Army. However, it is the leader's duty to ensure that the people under his or her charge are growing professionally, developing their potential, and progressing toward their future career goals. Again, I know that I am not the only senior leader in the Army who gets this concept. I see my peers do this all the time. But it is critical that our battalion and brigade-level commanders and staff fulfill this duty of talking to their captains and lieutenants.
Senior Army leaders have emphasized this repeatedly and are setting an example by doing it themselves. My own experience validates this. In 33-plus years of service and about 25 different duty positions, there were only two times when I ended up in a duty position I had specifically requested or pursued. Every other assignment was the result of the personal intervention of commanders, mentors, or some senior leader in the span of my career who wanted to invest in me and prepare me for greater challenges. That has been my experience -- indeed, that is the norm I have witnessed for over three decades -- and it's the legacy I have tried to pass to others.
In order to ensure our security, avoid war, and deter aggression, we must maintain the most effective military in the world. But in this era of austerity, our nation cannot make the miscalculation of relying on advanced technology in order to save on manpower. Our land forces must be led by soldiers with the right values, an innovative and adaptive way of thinking, and mental and physical fitness.
After 2014, we will transition back to a training and contingency methodology and tiered readiness. Clearly, we will need to retain the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to train and lead our forces in the coming years. Senior leaders know this and are taking action. Admiral James Stavridis, the commander of U.S. European Command and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, specifically charged me, as commander of NATO's Allied Land Command, with the responsibility of retaining the effectiveness and interoperability NATO forces have achieved over the past decade. He said we've got to ensure we don't lose all those leaders and their hard-earned experience from 10 years of fighting and operating together. Every other senior Army leader I know sees it the same way.
In his 2011 speech at West Point, Secretary Gates said, "One thing I have learned from decades of leading large public organizations is that it is important to really focus on the top 20 percent of your people and, though it may be politically incorrect to say so, the bottom 20 percent as well. The former to elevate and give more responsibility and opportunity, the latter to transition out, albeit with consideration and respect for the service they have rendered. Failure to do this risks frustrating, demoralizing, and ultimately losing the leaders we will most need for the future." Based on the talk in my circles and reforms underway in our evaluations system and assignments process, the message was well received and is being heeded.