TCS Daily

The Best Defense Doesn't Just Add Up; It Reaches Down to the Troops

By Ken Adelman - January 29, 2001 12:00 AM

"You could hear the sigh of relief and feel the warm welcome," said a prominent spectator Friday at the Pentagon's welcoming ceremonies for its new defense chief, Donald Rumsfeld.

Sitting there with Secretary of State Colin Powell, five additional cabinet members, sundry senators and congressmen, family and friends, we all could feel the renewed respect between those serving in uniform and their civilian superiors. This comes none too soon.

In his first official public speech, Secretary Rumsfeld stressed the intangibles of our security assets - the knowledge and spirit of the people who serve. He considers this both the biggest factor in our military strength and the main element that needs fixing now.

During the presidential campaign, U.S. national security, when mentioned at all, was discussed in terms of bigger military budgets, high and rising technology, more readiness, greater procurement and other things measurable with numbers and dollars.

All, for sure, are important. But none is as important as the immeasurable hearts and minds of the troops.

The military's antagonism to former President William Clinton reached dangerous levels at the outset of his administration. The relationship between professional military and civilian chiefs improved but was always strained.

That tension fueled general resentment throughout the ranks for being underpaid, under-trained and under appreciated. The services failed to meet recruitment goals, mid-level soldiers bailed out in ever-higher numbers, and morale fell. Readiness totals declined while peacekeeping assignments rose.

When he was defense secretary the first time around, Rumsfeld was popular with the troops. He does appreciate the military's professionalism and dedication, and it shows.

This time around will prove the same. On the lawn in front of the Pentagon entrance --with all the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their wives present, and an honor guard of each service -- Secretary Rumsfeld read a special letter from President George W. Bush pledging to improve the lives and spirit of our men and women in uniform. Much of Rumsfeld's speech reinforced the president's message.

Those in the military -- just as those on the outside -- gain the most job satisfaction from doing something important, and doing it well.

The "doing something important" comes easily. Nothing matches a mission at work as protecting our country, safeguarding freedom for America and its friends and allies. Indeed, that constitutes the federal government's primary mission, bar none.

"Doing it well" is tougher to get right. It certainly takes proper pay, nicer living conditions, and wider educational and training opportunities. But it also takes giving those who risk their lives the best tools possible. Appropriately, at Rumsfeld's swearing-in at the Oval Office just before the Pentagon ceremony on Friday, President Bush said that his administration would take "full advantage of revolutionary new technologies." Finally, "doing it well" takes giving the troops enough hours for flying, sailing, and overall training to raise readiness measures.

Management studies for private business consistently show immeasurables to be the most important thing to overall job satisfaction. Pay, vacations, technology, and training all help, but it's the worker's relationship to the boss and colleagues that ranks No. 1.

The right boss and competent, caring colleagues can turn even a resource-limited job into a marvelous one. The wrong boss and dispirited, unprofessional colleagues can make the highest-paying job miserable.

Top defense expert Norman Augustine - onetime undersecretary of the Army and later chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin - advises young professionals to "make sure you have a great boss." "If not," he tells them, "leave there and go find yourself a great boss."

Not discounting real problems involving resources, high-tech programs, and roles and missions that the U.S. military faces today, at least it has found itself a great boss.

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