Changing Military Mentality Vital to Modernization

By Adriane ElliotApril 23, 2024

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

As the Army comes out of prolonged conflicts in the Middle East and focuses its attention on Russia and the pacing threat of China, Army leadership is working overtime on modernization plans to ensure it cannot be outranged or outpaced by its adversaries.

Whether the threats come from cyberspace or traditional battlefields like Ukraine, the Army is pursuing its most significant modernization effort in generations. But as the Army modernizes, it must also help its allies and partners modernize to maintain the vital interoperability and operational effectiveness that will prove decisive on tomorrow’s battlefields.

Part of that partner modernization assistance includes helping allies refine operational concepts, not just tactical practices.

The U.S. Army Security Assistance Command (USASAC)—headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, with personnel spread across the globe—has incorporated this modernization support into its vast arsenal of security assistance aid.

USASAC’s Security Assistance Training Management Organization (SATMO) supplied Ukraine with a Doctrine Education Advisory Group (DEAG), which was headquartered in Kyiv from 2016 until three weeks before Russia’s invasion in February 2022. SATMO provides advanced and specialized training, professional military education, and tactical-level expertise to allies and partners worldwide.

The DEAG was activated to support the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which had been deeply entrenched in post-Soviet mindsets and processes, to become a force capable of NATO integration. It consisted of highly skilled U.S. Army officers, numbering between four and six Soldiers at a time, who advised at the operational level to revamp doctrine and professional military education.

“There was minimal teaching in the traditional sense of standing in front of a classroom,” explained Lt. Col. Rob Nesbit, former detachment commander for the DEAG. “The reality is that there is far more advising of senior Ukrainian leaders which, in an abstract way, is teaching. Having said that, what we modeled to the Ukrainians is effective long- and mid-range planning and professionalism.”

If that sounds simple, Nesbit said it’s not. And he should know. Leading the DEAG until weeks before the invasion and continuing to consult at the start of the war, Nesbit has spent the majority of his life as an active-duty Army officer (37 years and counting) with multiple combat deployments. He is currently the deputy of G-33 Current Operations for the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Liberty, North Carolina.

“Creating a climate for organizational change, altering the way a group has been thinking for generations, is a much bigger feat than teaching someone to follow orders or execute a task,” he said.

It’s a complete cultural shift, notoriously difficult even in the best of circumstances, and even more so considering the rigid, top-down style of leadership that was a remnant of Ukraine’s Soviet roots. This is in sharp contrast to the U.S. military’s mission command doctrine, which delegates decision-making to subordinates wherever possible, minimizing detailed control, and empowering lower-level initiative.

Despite the challenges, Nesbit began to witness a hopeful shift as senior Ukrainian officers, recognizing the value of standardized planning, began using long-range forecasting and preparation that are a hallmark of successful organizations.

The DEAG mission supported the Armed Forces of Ukraine: the National Guard, the National Defense University, and to a lesser extent the Air Assault and Airborne Forces and the Ukrainian Marine Corps. The mission was a crucial test of what the future holds for a strong, independent Ukraine and regional stability throughout Europe.

“Within the realm of great power competition, the DEAG was really a component of U.S. and NATO efforts to counter Russian influence, not just in Ukraine but throughout Europe,” said Nesbit. “The importance of the mission rested in its ability to set conditions that enable the Ukrainian military to serve alongside Euro-Atlantic partners in the future.”

Col. Dan Miller, former chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, described the DEAG’s work as leading edge, most notably its “development of new, NATO-interoperable doctrine and reforms to the professional military education system. This represents vital first steps to creating the sustainable and irreversible change needed for Ukraine to progress on its desired path to NATO membership.”

No one knows how the story will end, but the beginning is clear. The world watched in awe as a much smaller, lesser-equipped Ukrainian military used extraordinary resolve and overwhelming allied support to defy the odds against Russia.

“We won’t know the full impact of the DEAG and other international support,” said SATMO’s Ukraine Foreign Assistance Specialist Pat Macri, “but we’re confident that it aided our partner and will continue, long after this war has ended, to provide tremendous benefit.”

For more information on USASAC and how its security assistance missions support U.S. foreign policy, visit, or to learn more about SATMO, visit


Adriane Elliot has served as a journalist, editor, and public affairs specialist for the Army for more than 26 years, both on and off active duty in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Before beginning her military public affairs career, she served as a freelance reporter and columnist for the New Bern Sun Journal in New Bern, North Carolina. She served as the director of public affairs for the Army Area Support Group-Afghanistan during a yearlong deployment in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and the ongoing NATO-led Resolute Support Mission. She is the recipient of multiple military and national civilian journalism competition awards.


This article was published in the Spring 2024 issue of Army Sustainment.


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