[November 22, 2020] Today’s article is not about dogs and ponies. Some readers might be disappointed because they interpret the title of my articles quite seriously. I’m using the phrase as a colloquium to mean “some elaborate or overblown affair or event.” I retired from the U.S. Army, and, unsurprisingly, I have witnessed many dog and pony shows, one of which I will discuss.
It is hard to say when I first witnessed a real, no-kidding dog and pony show. I think the first was as a Company Commander. Being an army Captain, you get to see a great deal of the military’s inner workings, and, as expected, it’s a real bureaucratic nightmare. Headquarter staffs spend a lot of energy and resources just fixing their own problems and rarely have time to support their subordinate units.
I was sent as an Infantry Company Commander to be part of a Lessons Learned event given by Infantry units attending the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, CA. This event’s purpose was to provide quality feedback to improve military units’ performance on the simulated battlefield. This was the U.S. Army’s largest force-on-force training area. I have to say that this was the most intense, professional event I had seen up to that point in my career.
The Lessons Learned event called an After Action Review (AAR), began with a giant dog and pony show. The first 30 minutes were about the excellent training facilities (yes, that is true), the experienced and rarely beaten U.S. opposing forces (yep, they are that good), and the common problems found in these exercises. There are many charts and graphs and lots and lots of talking about everything but the unit being exercised.
The dog and pony show was okay, and I was duly impressed. However, the overblown attention to detail had nothing to do with the unit being trained and evaluated. In other words, much time was wasted. The wasted time, which one of the commanders called a “sh** show,” could have been used to discuss better what the unit did wrong and give recommendations on fixing them.
That is my main point about dog and pony shows. They waste valuable time and resources. Interestingly, the most junior soldier at the AAR could see the presentation for what it was. He was overheard to say he could have used his time better helping his men pack for departure instead of sitting on a folding chair watching a PowerPoint presentation.