Today has been a ranty mcrantypants day for me. Here’s just one thing that got my blood pressure up.

My lieutenants used to laugh at me when I would say it’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove. Except that, sadly, the burden of proof is the single most frustratingly true thing about being a commander and the most important constraint around.

Folks there is no job in the world that carries with it as much power, authority and responsibility as being a commander in the army. Literally everything falls under the purview of the commander from the big stuff like training requirements to ammo detail to whether your soldiers’ spouse is making their appointments (am so not kidding in this one).

So when I see articles in the media about how “the Army” knew about xx crime of the week and yet chose to do nothing, I get frustrated. Now mind you, I’m aware that we don’t always get the full story from the media and there are far too many cases where commanders knew and had proof but chose not to take action but I wonder how much “proof” the commander actually had in their hands.

Case in point: let’s say you’re a commander and you “know” a soldier has committed a crime. How do you know? Because their spouse is telling you this in the same breath as she loves him and wants him back. But what can you prove if the spouse is unwilling to either make a sworn statement or go to the police? Do you have the basis to conduct a commanders inquiry? Depends on what your lawyer says. And when the lawyer, you know, the folks who have gone to actual law school, say you’ve got nothing, well, you’ve got nothing. Except suspicions that someone in your formation has done something really bad and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I also cringe when the media says “the Army” did x, y, or z or failed to do the same. Folks “the Army” doesn’t exists, not in this manner. When something is done or fails to get done, that’s on the local chain of command from the squad leader/team chief to the company, battalion and or brigade commander. The monolithic “Army” making decisions that impact individual soldiers lives happens in the form of policy. There’s a person implementing that policy and applying thought and a little thing called commander’s discretion.

People are complaining that the promotion rates for captain and major are going down. Folks this is not a bad thing. The days of no lieutenant left behind are over, as they should be. Not everyone should command. Not everyone should be a field grade officer. Because the problem is that when you have no officer left behind, you end up with a lot of dead weight, of people who are in leadership positions who are supposed to, hell, are required to make decisions who lack either the aptitude or the willingness to make decisions.

And not just decisions but sound decisions. That’s how things get royally screwed up: when you have people in charge who either lack the aptitude or the intestinal fortitude to make the hard decisions or hell, any decision. Fall backs to policy are a surefire way to ensure that someone gets screwed.

Maybe it’s a bridge too far to hope that we’ll get back to a day when people actually think instead of regurgitate what “they said”. I certainly hope not.