Category Archives: commander responsibilities

The Buck Stops Where

Job Security – The Commander versus the Commander in Chief

Life would be so much simpler in Washington if the Commander in Chief would follow the same axioms and tenets as a military commander. Let me explain.

I went through the Army ROTC program at a Midwestern university in the late 60s. The first maxim about the Army that was drilled into our heads was that, “A commander was responsible for everything that the unit does, or fails to do.” Period.

Wow! That was a burden and responsibility that was foisted upon us, and we were still teenagers aspiring to become future Army officers. It became obvious that along with authority, came responsibility and accountability.

What a concept!

In retrospect, after 26 years in the military community, I can safely say that maxim is still being regarded as gospel. It has been for the 45+ years since I enrolled in ROTC as well as about 200 years before I enrolled in ROTC.

Now that we have established that the commander of a military unit has responsibility, we need to note that this individual also has authority. This is placed in the hands of this individual in order to accomplish the most important part of his (or her) responsibility: accomplishing the assigned mission.

How does the commander do this?

The commander does this by exercising command and control. What is command and control?

I was familiar with Field Manual (FM) 101-5 in the late 60s.  It describes basic doctrine of the role, relationships, organization, and responsibilities of staffs in the US Army.  It is intended for use by staff officers in carrying out their duties and responsibilities as they assist the commander in accomplishing the mission.  This is the definition of command and control  given in the FM 101-5.

Command and control is an essential element of the art and science of warfare. Command and control is the exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commander in the accomplishment of the mission. The focus of command and control is the commander. Command is the authoritative act of making decisions and ordering action; control is the act of monitoring and influencing this action.

Hopefully, I have not lost any readers with the introduction of these military terms. The FM 101-5 has not changed significantly since my introduction to it in the 60s.  Tried and true, tested on many battlefields, the commander and command and control concepts have survived for centuries.

So how does one person single-handedly win a battle or a war? The short answer is that he doesn’t.

The very first sentence of the very first chapter of the FM 101-5 is this: Staffs exist to help the commander make and implement decisions. It goes on to say that the staff is the most important resource that the commander uses to exercise command and control when the commander cannot exercise command and control by himself.

So there you have it! The commander actually has assistance in the form of a staff. There is no need to go into the specific staff members and their responsibilities. (The staff relationships can all be found online by googling FM 101-5.) But let me give this in summation, the purpose of a staff is to advise the commander, keep the commander informed, and implement any of the commander’s desires in the accomplishment of the mission. That is my abbreviated definition of a staff function from my personal experience.

We do need to revisit the role of the commander, especially given that he/she is responsible for everything the unit does, or fails to do.

An excellent article in the Military Review magazine defines the specific responsibilities of a commander. These are as follows:

* A commander can delegate authority but not responsibility. Authority refers to who is in charge, while responsibility refers to who is accountable.

* Commanders have a responsibility to ensure their subordinates are trained and can operate independently, based on the commander’s intent.

* Commanders have a responsibility to set a command climate wherein subordinates will act ethically in the absence of leaders.

How does this all segue into what exists in our government in Washington?

In Washington, we not only have a commander, we have a Commander In Chief (CIC) . That would be the President of the United States (POTUS). Like a military commander, the CIC has a staff. His staff consists of the Vice President, fifteen cabinet members, and seven additional people with the same rank as the fifteen cabinet members. Additionally, there are thirty-eight “czars” currently in the Obama administration. (Coincidentally, “czars” have been used since the FDR administration. Did you know we had a bird flu czar?) The current administration holds the record for the number of czars.

Now that the groundwork and background have been given, let us get to the meat of this blog.

Two recent events (scandals?) have recently arisen in the Washington political scene. The first is the loss of an Ambassador and former Navy Seals in Benghazi, Libya. The second is the “special attention” given by the IRS to conservative political groups.

In Benghazi, the consulate was attacked and overtaken by a group of militants. The result was the death of our US Ambassador to Libya, as well as three former Navy Seals. The details of the attack are well known. The lack of response on the part of our government becomes considerably more hazy. There is much speculation that a relief force was underway, and ultimately ordered to “return to base.” This action doomed the people under attack. There has also been speculation that any show of force, even as small as a flyover by US aircraft, would have stopped the attack.

The second event is the IRS targeting politically conservative groups. Everyone immediately thinks that this was just the Tea Party. Not so. This included many conservative Christian groups as well.

What do these two occurrences have in common? How does this relate to the role of a military commander?

The one item that ties these unrelated events together is that our POTUS, our Commander in Chief, has publicly indicated that he had no knowledge of either of these two events. The inference is that he cannot be held accountable for events of which he had no knowledge.

Really? Let me get this straight. He has a staff of fifty-one cabinet members and czars and not one of them made him aware of the current situation for either event? A military commander, even at the highest levels, has an immediate staff of usually less than ten. In comparison, the CIC has a staff large enough to run a galaxy!

This is frightening for two reasons.

#1. Could our CIC, our President of the United States, be lying to the American public? Could he have ordered the IRS to give “special attention” to conservative political groups? Was he the person that directed the stand-down of our relief force to Benghazi?

I do know from experience that the US military establishment would have done anything and everything possible to save those Americans. It is what they are taught to do and it is the purpose of their existence. So I will speculate that it took an order higher than the Pentagon to stand-down that relief force. Who could that be?

Targeting conservative political groups by using the IRS as a hammer?

I remember Watergate. For those younger than baby boomers, President Nixon used his “plumbers” to break into the Democratic National Headquarters. He saw the need to acquire the liberal strategy for the upcoming election. He pulverized McGovern in the election, so in retrospect, the intel from the break-in was really not necessary. But then President Nixon took it one step further – he lied to the American public about any knowledge of the event. This was made painfully clear and public by insider information from the insider referred to as “Deep Throat.” The President knew, the President ordered it done, and the President lied to the American people. Could this be occurring now? (Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment!)

#2. The blame for both happenings has been placed on staff underlings. If indeed this is true, and staff underlings were responsible for the egregious way both events were handled, then who is responsible for the staff? Who is minding the store? Have the lunatics taken over the insane asylum?  Could this be the result of appointing political allies to high executive positions without regard to qualification?

The answer to all of these questions in the military would be the commander. The answer to all these questions in Washington is the POTUS, our CIC, the President of the United States.

Whether he had direct knowledge, and whether or not it was done by his staff, he is still responsible! Harry Truman said that the, “Buck stops here.” Our President appears to be handing ten different people a dime each to divert any blame or responsibility from him.

To get back to the original title of this blog as to who has more job security, a commander or a Commander in Chief?  The answer is simple. The Commander in Chief enjoys more job security.   Why?  He has violated all three responsibilities as outlined in the Military Review magazine and he is still occupying the White House.

A military commander would have been relieved of command for similar statements and actions.  Period.