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Are Infantry officers broad enough to be future strategic leaders?

Thermopylae's First Theater Take-outs

In popular culture, King Leonidas I sent a character named Dilios home from battle to serve a greater purpose. Due to Dilios' great oration skills, he was chosen by the King not to die in battle but to live to tell the story of the Spartans and ultimately inspire ail of Greece. Upon his return, Dilios was not considered a coward and is later credited with leading a Greek alliance to final victory over the Persians at the Battle of Plataea.

Conversely, the Greek historian Herodotus recounts a different set of characters as early returns from Thermopylae--Eurytus and Aristodcmus. The fates of these two do not end with as much gallantry as Dilios' return. On one hand, a blinded Eurytus forced his slave to return him to Thermopylae and die with him in battle--selfishly to preserve his perceived sense of honor. On the other, Aristodemus returns to Sparta and is widely criticized as a coward who disgraced the Spartan brotherhood. In an attempt to regain his name, Aristodemus conducts a suicidal charge at the final battle of Plataea. He fought in an uncontrolled fashion and with such undisciplined fury, that the Spartans never awarded him for valor because his actions were contrary to the disciplined Spartan culture.

When we take a reflective look at our own modern-day practice for theater take-outs, we see similar contradictions (both popular and historical). The current Army Manning Guidance, dated 17 December 2010, implements three control measures to shape command/ key developmental (KD) tour lengths. These control measures serve as policy implementation to ensure officers get "broadening assignments," which, akin to King Leonidas, is the overarching purpose. Recent analysis shows that the Army's bench of leaders has shortened because high-performing officers are not getting broadening opportunities, which can be directly attributed to extended command/key developmental assignments; hence these policy changes serve to improve leader development.

These three control measures are:

1. Maintain company command tour length at 12-18 months (or up to 24 months total when commanding two companies).

2. Maintain field grade KD assignments at 24 months (may be extended, by exception, to 36 months).

3. Officers who are KD-complete should be released to attend professional military education (PME) and/or meet requirements in the generating force. In order to enable this guidance, BCT commanders in coordination with their chains of command, coordinate directly with the U.S. Army Human Resources Command to ensure what is best for the officer and unit while contributing to the "needs of the greater Army."

When we reflect on our own history, we find that we are not abiding by these control measures. DA PAM 600-3, Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management, dated 1 February 2010, defines company command as a professional development objective for captains focusing on tactical skills. However, for maintaining company command tour lengths. Infantry is in stark contrast to this guidance. The average company command tour length for Infantry officers is now 31 months. There are 50 majors ranging from year group (YG) 99-01 still in company command. YG02, soon promotable, has nearly 50 in command. Majors currently fill 25 percent of the available company commands for Infantrymen. The strain on Infantry progression increases when a BCT redeploys and extends its company commanders until 90 days after redeployment (R+90) and sometimes to R+180. This practice virtually eliminates a captain's opportunity for fellowships, U.S. Military Academy faculty/staff positions, and/or advanced civil schooling.

Many junior officers believe a second company command carries a higher weight than Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) internships, Office of Chief of Legislative Liaison (OCLL) assignments, joint assignments, or other broadening assignments. Those officers are misinformed. Clearly, the latter are a better characterization of "broadening assignments." This misinformation may be attributed to outdated counseling. The key is informing senior leaders, specifically our BCT commanders, of the importance of enforcing the control measures listed above while conveying the benefit of broadening opportunities--the benefit for the Army and the officer. Most junior officers are still coached that they need to stay tactical and that "more KD time is better," which is a model that many of our BCT commanders follow. This counsel is dated and inaccurate.

If you look at the contradiction between the two stories of Leonidas' first theater take-outs--pop-culture versus the historical example--Leonidas sent Dilios back because he had a "broader" purpose for him. Without question, Dilios would've remained loyal by fighting/dying next to his brothers, but then history would have been lost and the future of Sparta perhaps changed. Nor should the broader purpose be met with the same guilt of Eurytus' which compelled him to sacrifice himself and his escort--not just his life but another person's life as well. I find this a particular point when demonstrating YG targeting blockage. Older YGs that are KD complete should change out to allow opportunities for younger YGs. If they do not, they forfeit someone else's career developmental timeline for both KD and broadening opportunity.


In regard to field grade KD tour lengths. Infantry as a branch falls short of the Army Manning Guidance while developing and perpetuating undesirable trends. Roughly 30 percent of YG94 is still in MAJ KD assignments at the BCT level. These officers will not get a broadening assignment post-KD and if they are competitive for command selection list (CSL), they will likely go straight from BCT-level KD to battalion CSL. Essentially, these officers will go from deployment to deployment.

Army-wide there are roughly 250 KD assignments for Infantry majors and only 160 serving (25 percent of the overall grade-plate aggregate). YG94 officers are lieutenant colonels; they are KD-complete (average 36-40 months) and CSL boarded. Those presently in major KD positions now block YG95/96 officers. YG95 officers will show the same trend--and fate--as 42 of 84 are still in major KD positions. In a few months, they will be lieutenant colonels; these officers are promotable majors and have processed through the CSL board. Those in major KD positions are blocking the opportunities of younger YGs. BCTs should have their aim point on YG95, 96, 97, with 97 as S3s, 96 as XOs and 95 at BCT-level. Each year this aim point should scroll forward; however, we are not executing this progression. Infantry branch is loading BCTs with YG98 this summer from Intermediate Level Education (ILE), yet we still have more than 100 YG97/98 officers who have not started their KD clocks.

DA PAM 600-3 defines a major's professional development objectives as: expanding the officer's tactical/ technical experience and broadening him; increasing his understanding of how the Army operates; and preparing for future battalion command and increasingly complex developmental assignments. YG94 developed primarily at the tactical level. As a YG, they are not broadened. Failure to meet Army guidance has created an ultracompetitive model for CSL-selects. In fact, so competitive, that every one of FY12's 11P CSL-selects (YG94) never received a center of mass (COM) report as a major; most never received a COM officer evaluation report in their file. If we reviewed all CSL-selects, we'd find only one officer with a COM in KD. If we gathered all 70-plus Infantry CSL-selects into one room and asked those that were below-the-zone (BZ) to raise a hand--70 percent of the room would raise one hand. If we asked those that were twice BZ to raise a hand, 40 percent would raise their other hand.

Additionally, we find the most common broadening assignment among all CSL-selects was aide-de-camp. In all, there were only a handful of broadening assignments (Combat Training Centers and Joint assignments) compared to the 17 aides. The CSL-select average KD time was 31 months, three deployments, 36 months deployed, 18 months dwell. We've created, and we reward a true Spartan culture. The rest of our officers (60-65 percent of us) fall short. It's concerning that they will meet the same fate as Aristodemus. Where a Spartan's loyalty is challenged, he becomes an outsider; then, in a fit of rage he fights uncontrolled, undisciplined and is ultimately rejected by his own.

In closing, this will not have the longevity of Greek history; however, the trends potentially will remain. We've driven, guided, and counseled a cohort of officers to be heavily armed foot soldiers or hoplites and avert broadening. At every level (captain, major, lieutenant colonel), we are solely focused on assignments at brigade and below. Infantry officers will be peerless when it comes to proficiency at brigade and below tactics, but few will have the requisite understanding of how the Army operates in increasingly complex developmental assignments.

There are three ways to avert the same tragedies of Thermopylae's early returns of Eurytus and Aristodemus. First, follow the Army Manning Guidance and maintain KD for company command and field grades at 24 months. Second, manage exceptions only for BCT S3 or XO at plus 12 months; target ILE at YG+11. Third, senior leaders should counsel young officers to seek at least one broadening assignment in their career. If that assignment doesn't happen at the company-grade level, then it must happen at the field-grade level. If we are unable to do so, when the current conflict ends, our BCT-cenlric experience may resemble history at Thermopylae.


LTC Thomas Boccardi currently serves as the Infantry officer assignments branch chief U.S. Human Resources Command, Fort Knox, Ky. He has served three combat tours during Operation Iraqi Freedom. His assignments include serving as a rifle platoon leader, mortar platoon leader, and company executive officer with the 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division; company commander and battalion staff officer with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division; liaison officer/ planner with the 75th Ranger Regiment; and commander of A Company, 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment (IOBC) where he supervised the pilot program for the Basic Officer Leader Course. He was later assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division where he served as a battalion S3 and XO for the 1st Battalion, 12th fnfantry Regiment during OIF I. He then served as the brigade S3 and XO in OIF 05-07. LTC Boccardi commanded the 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division from May 2007 to June 2009 and participated in OIF 07-09 from December 2007 to March 2009.


What will Army key strategic leaders look like in the next six to 10years? Will the Army have the experienced strategic talent to be able to compete in the Pentagon's annual battle for resources? Certainly, Army officers execute the tactical fight better than any time in history. Those officers who will lead the Army in the strategic resource fight may, because of lack of experience, be ill-equipped to be successful in that fight.

The strategic resource battle is just one example of keeping our Army operating. With more than one in five Army general officers being Infantrymen, it is vitally important for Infantry officers to embrace their broader service to the Army. But, in todays Army, Infantry officers, especially young majors, sometimes fear assignments for the "broader strategic purpose. " Brigade combat team (BCT) commanders are key in dissuading those fears and in encouraging Infantry officers to embrace the broader Army.

Today, Infantry officers stay "tactical" for years. Who will lead the Army in the inevitable resource battle of 2018 when potentially so few will have ever served the Army for a broader purpose?

In the following article, LTC Tommy Boccardi, Infantry officer assignments branch chief, puts into historical perspective the "broader purpose " for military leaders. As a former battalion commander, LTC Boccardi is completing his first broadening assignment. His perspective indicates how he previously misunderstood Army operations beyond the tactical fight.

Using Thermopylae as an example of a time when military leaders embraced a broader purpose for their subordinate leaders, this historical vignette shows that military leaders have been down this path before.

-- COL Mark Lessig

Director, Officer Personnel Management

Directorate, U.S. Army Human Resources Command
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Title Annotation:Professional Forum
Author:Boccardi, Thomas
Publication:Infantry Magazine
Date:Apr 1, 2011
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