The Army and Change
General Donn Starry and the Army of the 1970s.
Thomas Ricks points us to the second volume of the Press On! Selected Works of General Donn A Starry, superbly edited by Lewis Sorley.
Starry, who turns 86 at the end of this month, is a legendary officer who commanded the Army Center, V Corps, TRADOC, and finally U.S. Readiness Command during the period 1973 to 1983. He’s perhaps best known for fathering the AirLand Battle doctrine.
What’s fascinating to me about the book, which is mostly a collection of letters and memoranda, is both the biting directness Starry employed–I don’t know whether it was typical in his day but it certainly isn’t today–but how damned little things have changed. For example, he spent nearly the entire decade–including years as a four star combatant commander–fighting to get berets issued to soldier in lieu of several useless hats then in the uniform bag and getting a decent set of protective clothing for tankers. Both happened well after his retirement.
Many of the arguments on soldier training, the nature of military leadership, and the need to focus on real training by eliminating chickenshit remain just as vital now as then. I’m especially amused by this at page 875:
Message to Multiple Addressees
6 April 1978
1. Recently I became aware that at several of our installations troops are being required to remove their boots before entering the barracks. I am told the purpose of this is to keep the barracks floors in their spit-shined condition.
2. Whatever the reason for its being, this practice is patently ridiculous. It amounts to the kind of harassment we decided to stamp out of our Army in VOLAR days. Then we called it Mickey Mouse. I thought we were rid of it, but apparently not.
3. Each of you will take the necessary steps to stop the practice immediately if indeed it exists in your command. Further, each of you check very thoroughly to make sure it is not taking place in your command. Don’t just assume it isn’t because you don’t know about it. It’s apparently been going on for some time and I just recently became aware of it—quite by accident. You may be in the same situation.
4. With regard to the spit-shined floors, there shouldn’t be any in TRADOC. Clean, neat, orderly, well cared for barracks are essential. But for every spit-shined floor I find I’ll bet you I can find a host of things that need fixing more than the floors need to be spit shined. Let’s get our priorities straight.
5. Someone will be around to check on this, so don’t be surprised. Get it straight the first time. We’ve a whole bunch of important things to teach our soldiers, and we haven’t much time in which to do it. Spit shining floors and removing boots before entering barracks are tasks that are not on my list of important things they have to learn in TRADOC.
Things in the Army change. But they don’t change fast.