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Whence Morale?

Some wonder how the Afghan army, with 300,000 soldiers and its own air force, could not hold its own against some 75,000 Taliban. And as we know, even with those odds, that well-equipped organization melted away in the face of a poorly armed militia.  What was the difference?  Morale!

Morale is almost impossible to measure but any good commander knows when his unit has it. Morale is essential element of effective units just as it is for winning athletic teams. More often than not, it is the difference between winning and losing in any arena.

In Expendable Warriors. I described the Montagnard Popular Forces soldiers as having had victory sucked out of them when after destroying all attacking NVA they watched their Marine counterparts board helicopters and leave the District Headquarters.  They had won and been deserted—just like the Afghan Army.

Over the course of its history, the American military has mastered the process that develops unity by compelling recruits to let go of their individualism for the sake of their unit. The traits of race, creed, color, faith, and family heritage are hard enough to put in check, but technology has created an additional problem by encouraging individualism.

Today’s military labors to rid the iPhone generation of its focus on self through a relentless series of physical and emotional challenges that can be resolved only by believing in and being part of something bigger than the individual.  Well trained basic trainees leave with a service culture, work ethic, and an indelible bond that is shared with all others that have earned the right to wear that uniform.  The Marines are probably the best at this,

A couple of examples of morale at work.  In the middle 60s I commanded an Airborne cavalry troop.  More than once, I got called to the enlisted club to break up potential brawls.  What I found were my paratroopers in the middle and the “legs” on both sides of them.  Race was not an issue for them—their airborne heritage was predominant.  Other units that I commanded took long unit runs on Friday mornings with lots of Jody cadence and on some runs we added unit actions such as passage of lines or scouts out for reconnaissance.  For the rest of the day, you could feel the troops being on a different level.

At West Point the Corps of Cadets is referred to as the 12th man—the bonding of the Corps to support its athletic teams.  Every former Army athlete that I know will tell you that their team and the support that they got from the Corps played a large part in their success.  Morale takes many forms!

Leaders of units with exceptional morale fight off every stimulus that could pit one part of their team against another. During the late 1960s and 70s race was a big divider within Army units.  It was through the efforts of Generals Abrams and Depuy that we rebuilt the Army to create the force of the Gulf wars. Hard realistic training built effective fighting units. These units were effective because the men and women that they consisted of worked together. And in many cases played together.

And of course, today the Biden administration is trying to destroy the unity of units by destroying their morale and cohesion by stressing critical race theory.

Critical race theory destroys unifying organizational cultures by dividing people by race and sex. And then, incredulously, it demands each subgroup to identify themselves and the others as either oppressors or the oppressed. The remedy critical race theory offers society, is to subjugate the “oppressors” to the whims of those it has predetermined to be “oppressed,” sanctifying the blight of racism the units and whole services have worked so hard to stamp out. Critical race theory divides organizations against themselves, and history shows that divided organizations fail.

Unfortunately, the senior leaders within the Defense Department have become so politically motivated that they cannot do what must be done—stand alone, if necessary, against every introductory element or seemingly benign aspect of this destructive effort. They must make that stand now, before we lose the bond that holds our military together and relegates those segregated groups, and our nation, to the kind of nightmare the people of Afghanistan now endure.

With respect to the service academies recently, the White House reached out to numerous former Trump administration officials to ask for their resignations from the service academy advisory boards to which they were appointed by the former president.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed to reporters at a briefing that officials asked for Trump appointees to resign from the advisory boards for the Air Force Academy, West Point and the Naval Academy, positions that come with multiyear terms and typically span across administrations.

“The president’s objective is what any president’s objective is, which is to ensure you have nominees and people serving on these boards who are qualified to serve on them and who are aligned with your values,” Psaki said. “And so yes that was an ask that was made.”

The intent of these requests is obvious.  The administration does not want any advice coming from such boards as to their efforts to destroy the service academies with critical race theory and other such “woke” ideas.

The board of visitors, as the advisory boards are called, visit their assigned service academy usually once a year and review the curriculum and other such matters.  The board then writes a report that goes to the superintendent of the academy and also the secretary of the service involved.  In some cases, the board results are provided to the Congress. In several cases superintendents have asked select members of the board to work on specific issues that confront the academy.  The Borman effort on honor at West Point is one that comes to mind.

Several of these “fired” board members have filed suit against the Biden administration arguing that the president does not have the authority to terminate their membership on the board.  If the mass firings were not such an obvious attempt to avoid negative reports from board members it might be something different.

What do you think?

I lived through and was part of the remaking of the US military in the 1970s and 80s.  I fear that we are going to have to do that again and am concerned that we may not have the leadership that is required for such a task.  If the service academies are not producing the leaders because their graduates have been infected with critical race theory the leaders will have to come from today’s middle ranks—captains and majors. Maybe this is the good news because there are a few of such leaders speaking out.  Where are the great leaders of the future going to come from?  Will they survive this current wave of wokeism? Will the service academies survive these efforts?  Or is that the ultimate goal—the destruction of the greatest leadership development institutions of all time?

One can only hope that the readers of this essay will make their voices heard to avert this looming disaster.


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