When Military Leaders Fail, People Die

By | February 14, 2019

[February 14, 2019]  Criticizing military leaders for their failures is not something I write about lightly.  But, as all who have “been there and done that,” know that criticizing can have a meaningful and positive impact.  The reason that thoughtful criticism is necessary is that people die when military leadership fails.

One good thing about U.S. military leaders is that they are willing to accept criticism and take action.  This willingness is what prompts me to comment to avoid how this works.  After 40 years of military service, I’ve seen plenty of mistakes made that caused some unfortunate things to happen.

Military failures of leadership can be broadly grouped into two categories.  First, no matter how good you are as a leader, well prepared and supported, resourced, and ready, the enemy still has a vote and troops (and civilians) will still die.  This is the unfortunate side of warfare.  An examination of those decisions and circumstances are necessary.  The idea is to make improvements that strengthen the fighting force and reduce all causalities.

Second, military leadership failures are also the by-product of decisions that were made by commission or omission.  For example, if we were to have access to military Inspector General Reports, we would see that leaders make some awful decisions; busing their power and violating basic ethical and legal standards.

It’s the second, self-inflicted failures of interest to me today.  A cursory reading of any Military Times newspaper gives us a variety of stories of special note about leaders in command positions.  Several publicized senior commanders were removed from their jobs because of a “loss of confidence in their ability to command.” This is the most often stated reason (see examples Air Force, Navy, and Army).

A recent article in the Federalist (link here) highlights how leadership at high levels – acting to protect their careers – failed to ensure units sent into combat were ready.  This is a serious charge and should be investigated fully.  It is old as formal militaries existed that commanders are responsible for everything their command does or fails to do.  That’s what I was taught and in my first command, the idea scared me.

I have found that some senior commanders believe that responsibility only rests on the shoulders of junior commanders.  In the Federalist article, it identified Captain Perozeni, the team leader, as being held out for the mistakes made at higher levels.  At first, the Captain was admonished for his “mistakes” and issued a reprimand.  Then, the reprimand was withdrawn, and he was put in for a Silver Star medal for his bravery, then the reprimand was back on.

This on-again, off again saga is destructive in many ways.  What bothers most of us, is that senior officers are abdicating their responsibilities and not taking the blame for actions taken under conditions they created.  This should not stand, and the U.S. military needs to get their facts straight, stop using the Captain as a piñata, and fix how leaders are held accountable.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

20 thoughts on “When Military Leaders Fail, People Die

    1. Maureen S. Sullivan

      The politics of hate and envy. Wait, the Bible said something about these as being vices to be avoided.

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      Couldn’t happen to a nicer terrorist nation!

    2. Gil Johnson

      Socialist nations, like Iran, can never have really good leaders because they must be ideologically pure before militarily competent.

      1. Eddie Ray Anderson, Jr.

        Socialism exists only when others give it money or there are lots of natural resources. Both explain Iran’s ability to project terror across the world. Where is the UN on this? Nowhere that’s where. Most of those in the UN are taking bribes to stay silent.

  1. Big Al

    This Captain Perozeni should be given a Silver Star for his bravery and willingness to speak up that he was not given the proper resources to do his job. Maybe Gen. Satterfield could put him in on his Moral Courage series. This is the kind of man we need to fight the bad guys. Oh, that reminds me, the bad guys are really nasty brutes. If you think they are like the liberal pansies that occupy the US congress, then think again.

  2. Max Foster

    We should all note that despite this article being written about military leaders, the same ideas apply to all leaders regardless of position or rank. Maybe you won’t die because of failed leadership in business but you will lose your job or get a black mark that will thwart your career.

    1. Darryl Sitterly

      Yes! And that is why I continue to read this blog.

  3. AutisticTechie

    Good article to make me think more about our military men fighting in foreign lands.

  4. Georgie M.

    I read the Federalist article and came away very dismayed at how the military was treating the Army Captain. The senior generals should be ashamed of themselves.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      Yes, very disturbing. I hope this is an aberration rather than the norm. The US military has great respect of the American people and if they knew this sort of thing was going on, I’m afraid they would lose faith.

    2. Lynn Pitts

      Great point and one situation that I hope gets corrected. I don’t blame the generals for ensuring lower-ranking leaders are held responsible for their actions but they should not be putting all the blame on our fighters who are doing the job day in and day out (and in this case without the proper training or resources).

    3. Dale Paul Fox

      I agree. Let’s hope this is not a common occurrence. Allow the warriors to be warriors, not politicians.

    4. José Luis Rodriguez

      I’m continuously surprised by the crazy leaders at all levels in the US. Just look at those running for President in 2020. A bunch of nutjobs!

      1. Len Jakosky

        You are spot on with that comment. Just look at Kamala Harris from California. A read hyper-liberal who wants to imprison those who disagree with her. Fascist? In action, yes. And believe me, I know what a fascist really is.

      2. Anita

        More on her from her official website. Just reading it makes me not trust her or have any confidence that she has the right mindset or experience.

  5. Army Captain

    Couldn’t have said it better. Absolutely correct in your assessment.

    1. Wilson Cox

      Thanks, Army Captain for your confirmation. I always look forward to your comments each morning.

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