Problem solvers tackle Army complexity
May 28, 2014
By David Vergun
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WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 28, 2014) -- While the Army is arguably the most important institution in the world, it's also one of the most complex, said Under Secretary of the Army Brad R. Carson.
That complexity often makes it difficult for the Army to articulate to Congress what it does and why it needs this or that to perform its mission, he said, speaking at the FA 50 Senior Force Managers Seminar in the Pentagon, today.
There's a disconnect between policy makers and the American people, Carson noted, citing a May 2014 Gallup Poll, which shows that Americans believe the Army is the most important branch of the U.S. military, while the military as a whole enjoys the most confidence in institutions.
Yet, the most expensive acquisition programs will be awarded to the other services for things like aircraft carriers, submarines and F-35 aircraft.
"No one doubts the utility of ground forces," Carson said, but the Army will have to be more creative and better articulate its case, because when there's money to be trimmed, lawmakers look first at the Army.
Policy makers doubt there will be a major war between nations in the future, he said, adding that sort of thinking has happened in the past. For instance, on the eve of 9/11, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld considered cutting two Army divisions.
Articulating the Army's importance in national security is one of the important areas where FA-50 senior leaders and professionals come into play.
Col. Dan Friend, who is a Functional Area 50 senior leader and professional, and is on the Under Secretary's Strategic Initiatives Group, said explaining why America needs Army capabilities is "intuitive for us, but often difficult for someone outside the Army to understand."
"We can do all the great things in the world, but if we can't articulate why we're doing it, we're not going to be resourced for it," Friend said.
Functional Area 50s assist senior leaders, like the under secretary, to better understand "how the Army runs."
The Army is such a complex organization that Functional Area 50 senior officers and professionals routinely advise senior leaders and commanders how processes work under Title 10 of the U.S. Code, Friend explained.
Title 10 responsibilities include recruiting, organizing, equipping, training and mobilizing forces. Other areas include morale and welfare of personnel, maintenance and repair of equipment and structures and administrative control of personnel.
There's typically one Functional Area 50 senior officers and professional at the division level, and three with a corps. There are a total of 285 Functional Area 50 senior officers and professionals in the Army, ranging in rank from captain to colonel.
"We are the experts on how the Army runs and if we don't have the specific expertise, we can quickly find someone who does," Friend said, explaining the tremendous value of Functional Area 50 senior officers and professionals.
Besides offering advice, Functional Area 50 senior officers and professionals are also instrumental in organizing and equipping the Army to align with doctrine and strategic guidance. Functional Area 50 senior officers and professionals also are familiar with budgetary matters.
"We are the ones who are involved with and understand the processes that deal with the institutional Army," he said, adding that Functional Area 50 senior officers and professionals are in the best position to recommend institutional changes.
A good Functional Area 50 senior officer or professional should have a healthy dose of skepticism and "question every assumption," Carson told the group.
There's a tendency toward group thinking in the Army, he said.
Group think is more prevalent in the Army because it's hierarchically structured, where "your boss can determine your career path and whether or not you're successful, so your ability to speak frankly about important issues is hard in any organization, but especially so in the Army."
Carson noted with dismay that senior leaders are often asked to ratify decisions from planners who've divined the commanders' intent and created solutions based on that intent, instead of on what's best.
Not that Soldiers and planners are bad.
"As an institution, I'm impressed people want to do the right thing and are capable," Carson said.
They just need to be encouraged to speak freely without fear of backlash. In fact, "questioning should be rewarded."
If Soldiers don't ask tough questions, others will, he said.
"Many smart people are skeptical about the efficacy of large land forces,"
he said, and they don't see the logic of a large Army.
To answer those skeptics, he said, solutions should focus on "not creating a force we want, but creating a force the country really needs," and then finding a way to articulate that to lawmakers and to the American people in those strategic terms.
Carson then challenged the Functional Area 50 senior officers and civilians to think big.
"If you were the secretary of the Army, what would you like to see done or changed?" he asked. "Don't be afraid to shoot holes" in strategy and doctrine.