Thursday, March 27, 2008

My Baby is a soldier - update

My daughter is assigned to a Army Reserve Military Police Battalion and has been training for two months in preparation for deployment. I wrote about my daughter’s progress through the training process before and I remain in marvel of the system that transformed my little Girl into a soldier.

We recently had 4 days with her during a Pass from the training (in fact the training is completed) She was picked up from the Barracks that served as one of her temporary homes at the training installation. Most of the training tour period was spend in tents in January and February in the field locations to maximize the training realism of conditions that would be faced over the next year. (probably really because of a lack of space at Ft. Dix which if anyone remembers was BRACed years ago and scheduled to close) As before the unit has a strong sense of efficiency, team atmosphere, competence and determination.

During the 4 days she did the normal 19 Year old type of things, trips to the mall although she didn’t want to purchase much as she would be able to use or wear it for another 10 months. A little bit of networking with friends and sleeping in at home. At the end of 4 days she was ready to return to her new family – her team to get started on the task at hand.

The unit will be departing for overseas shortly with the task of conducting its mission in Iraq. She will be part of an effort often in the shadows for many … including her peers from high school who still worry about fashion, what is in and out and where is the next party. I sense that she knows that it takes silent patriots, like her, to preserve that way of life for her friends. Like many that have served in OIF, she makes up the vanguard of today’s Army quiet heroes.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

OIF Contract Frauds

Although not on the forefront of the news lately, I did a little search about contract fraud and some of the more notable Army Officers that participated in such activities over the last several years. I liked into the case of Maj John Cockerham. Cockerham faces an April trial on charges he took $9.6 million in bribes in 2004 and 2005 from firms seeking business with the U.S. military in Kuwait and Iraq. Companies that did not accept entreaties to bribe this officer found their contracts terminated. Others received unfair competition for contracts which may have resulted in awards that were not merited.

Another individual allegedly involved was Major Gloria Davis, another contracting officer. Maj Davis killed herself in December, a day after admitting to Army investigators that she took $225,000 in bribes from contractors.

These two “officer” sought personal gain in completing their duties. While the impact on me and other soldiers may seem slight…whether we had shabby poorly maintained living conditions, risk of substandard food, water or other service, but it was real. To date there 36 people indicted to date on Iraq war-contract crimes per the Justice Department.

I read accounts from sites about these two officers in particular that praises their service, bemoans that they are pawns of the system. I even saw that Maj Davis has a headstone in Arlington Cemetery just like any other veteran that served honorably.

My point of note here is that these soldiers forgot a key tenet of Army Values … Selfless service
Selfless Service
Put the welfare of the nation, the Army, and your subordinates before your own.
Selfless service leads to organizational teamwork and encompasses discipline, self-control and faith in the system.

These two at least contributed to matters that will impact other soldiers in the future. The Army Contracting apparatus is severely undermanned and will now have untold additional measures to control, restrict (read choke) its utility to quickly support soldier needs. I can guarantee somewhere a soldier will go days longer easting MREs in a new operations waiting for contracted services to be awarded under the new bureaucracy that will be established as a result of these two selfish individual’s actions.

They violated the trust that other soldiers expected in them. They may still be loved by their families, highly regarded by their communities, but in my mind and that of soldiers that relied upon their service… We were let down … These soldiers served … not the Army, not the soldier in the field, not the Army Values… They served deceit, lies, greed and themselves.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Do we really need Army Bands?

I’m actually reading in Standto that starting late in FY 08 , all Army bands will be changed to organize bands into separately deployable/employable Music Support Teams (MST). These organizations can be deployed alone or combined with other MSTs to provide different types of music support.

I may get some flak from the Band members out there, but something strikes me odd that we are deploying soldiers as band members and hiring contractors to provide security…. Shouldn’t that be reversed? Frankly I think we would have fewer issues with hiring bands to fill needs for “music support” using same contract vehicles we used for cooks, etc in combat theaters. We reduced the number of Army Cooks years ago recognizing we could contract those skills and the result is much better selection and faire in dining facilities in the combat theater.

Why are we training a number of soldiers to fill roles that are prevalent in the civilian workforce… and it may not be PC to say this, I’d rather have an IPOD for my music support than lose the count of one soldier to play an instrument. If there are 20 soldiers in each band element across 10 organizations we are spending 200 soldiers to produce music I can get in a simple electronic gadget. (Although as a disclaimer, I don’t have much martial or band music on mine)

We need to rethink all aspects of our army to improve efficiency for every soldier trained. Antiquated Victorian institutions such as Army Division Bands don’t fit well in an organization that is struggling to maintain adequate warfighters in boots on the ground.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Looking back at one mediocre assignment

I looked into AKO to review a document and decided to see where I was 5 years ago. I do this once in a while because I am still amazed at the rapid course of events that have occurred since my departure from the Army Reserves.

I opened and read an evaluation report from 5 years ago – 1993 when I was assigned as a new Battalion commander in the 98th Division. As it turns out it was the only bad report I ever received in my career. I got this OER from a Col Mike Smith (no relation) now BG Mike Smith after my Battalion was noted as the Best QM training Battalion in the Army. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the Army system – one bad report effectively kill your chances for advancement, even in the Army Reserve.

Oddly enough my successive Battalion Command reports were very good from the same Colonel Smith, but they changed nothing. I illustrate this phenomenon because every Officer reached their high water mark in their careers just as I did 5 years ago. It may be objection to policies, procedures, or misguided priorities or other failing that marks the jump the shark moment for any officer. The strange thing that occurs just after that realization is the new empowerment to speak your mind and become much more forceful in shaping organizational success…after all you no longer has anything to fear.

Perhaps if senior leadership facing down the Secretary of Defense in 2003 had jumped the shark and had no hope of advancement they too would have been more proactive in engaging the plan that later faltered in execution. Often the most ineffective leaders are the folks worried about their careers and shaping every decision to preserve advancement momentum. Perhaps those leaders that speak their mind and commit career suicide deserve more of the spotlight for making the tough decision that is truly selfless. And to think I come up with this stuff from just looking at my one bad OER.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

VA process remains broken

There is a systematic failure in both Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) programs designed to address the medical and overall readjustment needs of war veterans. There is no plan to gather usable data and monitor the 1.5 million deployed Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) service members as they return to duty or reintegrate into civilian society. The continued incomplete process of reintegrating soldiers, especially Guard and Reserve Soldiers is an indicator of continued process deficiencies.

DoD currently requires service members to answer a limited questionnaire to determine if they need to be referred for treatment upon their return from a combat theater. Soldiers are typically rushed to return home after a deployment and do not necessarily give these questions sufficient attention, nor have they changed gears from mission first mentality.

I returned from OIF as a Reservist in 2005. DoD had no provision for me or any member of my unit to obtain physicals or evaluation. As individually mobilized Reserve Soldiers we were swiftly processed, lock step, over 4 days at Ft. Bliss and shipped home. I went to the VA about a month after my return to civilian life (had to take leave from my civilian job) and in the course of trying to get my initial medical screen was assaulted by a Phlebotomist at the Clinic. So the Bottom line - no medical exam, check-up, evaluation, etc... for this Reserve Soldier. My story is not unique and many others can be found online... DoD and VA net effort to identify, treat and reintegrate is near zero and broken.

As a status check if the system we see the reported rise in the backlog of more than 100,000 claims in two years. The continued absence of consistently prompt mental health referrals as part of Post-Deployment Health Assessment process. Half as many members of the Guard and Reserve file disability claims as compared to active duty veterans and these claims are rejected at twice the rate. Frankly, after 24 years in the Army Reserve, I don’t have a clue how to even start a claim, nor is anyone inclined to step up and assist as I’m now retired.

I believe its time to insist that VA and DoD better coordinate efforts and become more proactive. Efforts to effectively share medical information are underway but still far short of what is needed. My medical records from the mobilization were unceremoniously put in an envelope and mailed to my house… no one reviewed, followed up or checked them. I could not get a physical or even medical attention at Bliss within the month I returned as facilities were overwhelmed. The effort at that post at the time being nearly completely invested in those getting ready to deploy. To be fair DoD should conduct mandatory in-person physical and mental health exams with every service member 30 to 90 days after deployment.

The current system still reflects a bias that was relevant before Guard and Reserve soldiers became part of an operational reserve. Little has been done to change the support structure for Reserve component unique challenges in either the VA or DoD. Efforts to integrate the resources of DoD and the VA must be continued beyond sharing medical data to include a true plan of action for citizen soldiers health care in light of the greater reliance of the nation upon their services.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Installation Services for EAP

Recently the small Army Installation where I work sent out a missive in front of a Army inspection (often the inspection process causes information to flow as no other time it seems) concerning the installation's Employee Assistance Program. I learned that EAP is a is a comprehensive program designed to address problems that can adversely affect job performance, reliability, and personal health issues. The program can also address substance abuse and addiction related issues for drugs/alcohol. The program is confidential ,f you choose to use the short-term counseling service, no one will know you are using the service unless you tell him or her.

I noted the attention given to this program with its potential assistance for former combat zone veteran's like myself remains pretty buried in the menu of support this installation gives its community. I recieved countless notes related to golf club, Restaurant and other Installation agencies, but only once in 4 years any information that a EAP was even here.

I guess its a indicator of the greater stigma that surrounds PTSD, soldier and civilian employee mental health that keeps such programs in the background. The Army has done much to work the issues that restricted access to mental health resources with the Wounded Warrior program. We can do more for Military and Civilians alike - sometimes, as in this case, we already have programs for in installations. Maybe we should endeavor to push those services a little harder in the Army Community.