Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Military officers who write well spend less time fighting the crazy Bureaucracy

The Regimental Rogue
The Young Officer and Staff Duties By Michael M. O'Leary, Captain, The RCR

Time, time, and the saving of it, should be the soul of every order and instruction, of every report and of every message. - J.F.C. Fuller, 1943

The line officer despises the lowly "staff officer," and rues the day he might become one himself. But every officer, regardless of rank, position, or responsibilities requires the fundamental skills on which the capable staff officer depends. These skills are best acquired when opportunity presents at the most junior levels, for they are much more difficult to master (or fake) if early years of commissioned rank are spent avoiding putting pen to paper, for this, when dealing with the bureaucracy on behalf of one's troops, is where the rubber meets the road.

Even the most enthusiastic platoon commander, between assaulting enemy objectives and leading troops to hell and back, must be ready to write a brief, comprehensive and clear memorandum ensuring one of those troops for which he is responsible receives an entitled benefit or is identified for an opportunity. Whether writing Performance Evaluation Reports, letters of recommendation, Summary Investigations, or requests for adventure training funds, young officers are never far from occasions requiring the development of their personal military writing skills. As painful as it may seem at the time, each time a Company 2IC, OC or Adjutant, bleeds red ink over a carefully crafted memo it should be seen not as a condemnation of effort, but as a chance to refine one's abilities. No less important than indications of MPI and individual hits on a rifle range are to an infantry rifleman.

Officers who write well spend less time fighting the bureaucracy and more time training with resources they managed to convince the staff to provide them. Those who see staff duties as a dead or unneeded art spend a lot of time running in circles and finding things unobtainable when the good old boy net fails them. Easy to set the blame on those others when one's own staffwork is non-existent, even if it means you've set aside one's own commitment to doing the best for the troops.

In this age of e-mail and instantaneous passage of information and queries, it is hard to develop a concrete understanding that good staff duties are as important as ever. Let me set forth one example:

In the days of hand-written drafts, and clerk-typed correspondence, a staff officer might take a day or two to mull over the perfect wording for a set of four or five questions to another unit or headquarters. Passing this to a clerk, it might be a day or two before the typed version of the draft was returned. By then, the staff officer had time to consider the issue, and then to view the content, structure and tone of the letter with fresh eyes. Amendments might be in order, to either remove or insert points, or even to completely alter the tone or format of the letter. Extra work for the clerk perhaps, but it did ensure that the final product was as good as the staff officer could produce - in this case the staff officer's contribution was the intellectual effort to create and revise the document, the clerk's was to prepare it in the requested format. Must read: click here to continue reading...

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