“Hope Is Not A Method”


But let me go on to another point. On the other hand, was I divorced or alienated from society? No. When I left Armor Branch, I went to graduate school in New Hampshire, about eighteen or nineteen months at the university. Now, I don’t think the University of New Hampshire was known as a hotbed of dissent, but there were some dissenting students and faculty members. I was probed a little bit, but I truly enjoyed it. It was a very important experience in my life—one of the best. It taught me a different kind of discipline, handling the complexities of the broader world.

This is a fragile organization, Remember, it took us more than a decade to rebuild after Vietnam.

Here you were, then, in the early to mid-1970s. I don’t think the American public yet understands the scope of the reforms the Army undertook in those years. Of all the things the Army did for itself in those years, can you say on reflection what were the most important?

Looking back, I don’t think anyone back then knew exactly where it would all go, but I think Gen. [William E.] DePuy, the first commander of the Training and Doctrine Command, had a vision. What we were really doing was physically and mentally rebuilding the Army. That meant that we had to understand our role in defense policy after Vietnam, and how it focused once again on the defense of Europe. It meant we had to create a new fighting doctrine, and then we had to reform the whole training system and establish the relationship between operations and training at every level. I think the most important thing we did was—even though this may sound simplistic—the after-action review. We established a whole new set of standards to follow in our training. Then in after-action reviews, following every exercise or training event, we learned to pick it all apart, criticize ourselves—what went wrong, what was right, and why—and create new standards of performance in our units. All of that was threatening to us, but we learned, slowly, what it took to be modern professionals. That all started in 1974, and it took more than a decade to instill in the Army.

So the Army has a much more precise way of thinking about its business than when you first came into the Army?

Exactly. Hope is not a method. I started saying that back in the mid-seventies. When I was a battalion commander in those days and the focus was on tank gunnery, the notion was, if you could hit the target, all the rest would automatically follow. Well, the rest does not automatically follow.

Where did the sense arise that training tor battle in the future would have to be so much more precise?

It came out of the ’73 war, the Arab-Israeli War. The U.S. Army was greatly influenced by that war. The way it was fought represented the state of the military art at the time, a way for us to gauge our own shortcomings. We began being very precise in how we thought about the modern battlefield: “Well, tell me what it is that you are really going to do with these weapons systems.” You have these tanks and you have these TOWs [precision-guided antitank missiles], and how is all this going to fit? Gen. [Donn] Starry, commanding up in V Corps in Germany, made us take him out and show him on the ground just how we planned to bring all our weapons to bear. We envisioned enormous numbers of Soviet vehicles coming at us in the next war, and we were thinking about how we might cope with all of that. That, coupled with our new ideas about training, caused us to be very critical of ourselves and very precise about our intentions. It was a turning point.

There was a lot of criticism of the new fighting doctrines at the time, that they were offering a cookbook approach to welfare.

Yes, the chief complaint was that there was no room for imagination. But I think everybody knew that when you’re training an organization, you have to have a doctrine that isn’t changing all the time. There was a great deal of uncertainty that rippled back through the whole organization. Thankfully, most of the officers were not running around as if they had found truth, because I don’t think the Army at the time knew what truth was. No one was claiming to have found the touchstone.

About the after-action review, to bring ourselves to that point, we had to create a whole system that is intellectually linked. Everyone must understand what the doctrine is, how we intend to fight as an army, as units, and as collections of weapons and soldiers. I don’t believe that the Infantry School way back in 1959 was teaching what the Armor School was teaching in 1959. They just didn’t do the same things then. You were brought together as infantry officers, as armor officers, or whatever in your unit. Doctrine didn’t create the synthesis then. Synthesis is what we were trying to achieve in the seventies.

Remember, too, that in the seventies we were not only building America’s first large-scale volunteer force in peacetime but also rebuilding an NCO corps devastated by Vietnam. The sergeants I had respected at Fort Hood fifteen years before were gone. So we were not just learning as officers; we were learning—inventing—a new system and teaching it to our sergeants all at once. Training to standards, doctrine, leader development, volunteer soldiers—I don’t think we could see it at the time, but in retrospect it is clear that the foundations for a great Army were being put into place.