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Myers: Changing military culture key to transformation

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- The most important area for transformation is the space "between our warfighters' ears," said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

During an interview, Gen. Richard B. Myers addressed the need for servicemembers and Department of Defense civilians to transform the way they think. He said DOD people need to be more agile, innovative and not afraid to take appropriate chances.

General Myers said people need to stop thinking of transformation in terms of "widgets." While some changes need technological innovations to occur, "that's not true of most transformations," General Myers said. When the German army launched the blitzkrieg in 1939, it was not dependent on new pieces of equipment. The blitzkrieg was a new way of putting existing technologies together.

"When (Army Gen. George S.) Patton and the 9th Air Force decided to take on Europe (in 1944), it was innovation that put airpower and ground power together. It wasn't new stuff," General Myers said.

The best-known recent example of this type of transformation occurred in Afghanistan in 2002. U.S. special forces riding mules and donkeys were able to use space-age communications devices to signal to 50-year-old B-52 Stratofortress bombers that dropped smart bombs on Taliban and al-Qaida targets.

The chairman did not downplay the importance of new equipment. Radars, stealth technology, unmanned aircraft, new communications capabilities are all important to transformation, but, he stressed, the people using the equipment are the most transformational aspect of any system.

When the chairman refers to a cultural change in the military, he said he is talking about "changing the orientation and the way we look at the world." This is a long process, but the current security environment is helping in the change. Because of the war on terrorism, there is new impetus to counter new threats.

For example, U.S. forces in Iraq are looking for new ways to counter improvised explosive devices. The military is working to find ways to hunt for individuals.

"These require new ways of thinking," General Myers said.

The way the military has trained and educated leaders is a hurdle that must be overcome, the chairman said.

"If you look at the lieutenant colonels in today, they have anywhere between 16 and 21 years of service," he said. "So they were brought up primarily in the Cold War. That's where they were educated, that's how they were trained, by those precepts, and that's what they are living with."

It is tough, he said, to overcome that training, but defense officials are moving ahead.

"We have to create a new generation of leaders who are not constrained by what the doctrine says," he said.

Some services are more adept at cultural change than others, the chairman said. But across the services, he said, leaders are “more accommodating to change and are more willing to take on new things and try them in new ways or create different organizations to meet the problem at hand or on the battlefield."

And change is happening. Even before Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush ordered the Defense Department to change from a 20th century force to one that could handle the 21st century threats. For instance, the Army is involved in a huge organizational restructuring from divisions as the maneuver unit of choice to more autonomous brigades.

But again, knowing how to use these new organizations and new technologies comes down to people.

"What you strive for is joint-force commanders and component commanders to have the education and training to think broadly about their task and how they go about solving problems," General Myers said.

"In today's world, there ought to be a premium for people who are thinking, innovative and are willing to take appropriate risks," he said. "If you don't try, and you stay locked in the doctrine that brought you there, you're going to fail. You are not going to be as good as you can be in terms of efficiency in the battlespace, and you're probably going to hurt your people. You've got to adapt."

General Myers said the U.S. Joint Forces Command is the epicenter of transformation in the U.S. military. He said the command is looking at missions and new ways of accomplishing the missions. He called the command the department's "change agent" for transformation.

Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, who heads the command, is also NATO's supreme allied commander for transformation. That signals changes contemplated for the U.S. military may be mirrored by the closest allies.

But asking difficult questions is also a part of cultural transformation.

"For example, what is the appropriate U.S. military role in homeland security?" General Myers asked. "I found myself kind of being locked into my background."

General Myers said his first inclination was to say the military only acts in support of a lead federal agency.

"In fact, given the threats we face, we have to take a hard look at how we're organized and how we should be organized," he said. "We're a huge department. We're very well-funded, and we have huge capability."

Should DOD play a different role in homeland security and homeland defense?

"I don't know the answer to that, but we need to be open-minded," General Myers said.

The chairman said people are working hard at changing the culture.

"But it's a big ship and not much of a rudder," he said. "It's tough to turn the ship in the direction it needs to go."

On the battlefield, people will be as innovative as they have to be in order to be successful.

"We have to make sure we support that," General Myers said. "It's a formula for disaster if we don't do this transformation."

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