|by Colonel Christopher R. Paparone, USA (Ret.)
The author fears that the Army is not only incorporating business terms
into its vocabulary, but also distorting the meanings of words that are defined clearly in doctrine.
Even as our Nation’s attention is focused
on the war in Iraq, I notice the increasing incorporation of
commercial or popular management terminology
into the profession of military logistics. Frankly, words like “enterprise
management,” “portfolios,” “business rules,” “Lean
Six Sigma,” and “national partners” make me cringe. I sometimes
wonder whether I should consult Harvard Business Review or Army
I want to increase my professional logistics knowledge.
Even some who wear military uniforms and others who are part of the Department
of Defense civilian logistics corps have begun to assume that business terms
like these hold a shared meaning for the rest of us. I believe I speak for the
majority of us in the military profession of logistics when I say, “No,
they do not.”
I remember attending a meeting years ago during which a lieutenant colonel disrupted
discussion of an Army Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) contract
issue when he said, “I do not like the way you use the word ‘event’ instead
of ‘operation.’ We should use the word ‘operation’ because
those are Soldiers out there, not kids running a cross-country race.” Boy,
was he right!
Because the duties of my last assignment entailed writing, reviewing, and commenting
on logistics doctrine and future operating concepts, I found myself in a constant
struggle with those (many in senior grades) who simply had not stayed abreast
of their professional art. The military logistics profession is about the uncommon
sense that sets us logisticians apart from laymen. Part of our shared sense-making
is our artful use of words that seem esoteric to those outside the profession.
Words such as “general support,” “supporting commander,” “lines
of communication,” and “lines of operation” are distinctive
and enhance our ability to communicate effectively (a key aspect of any profession).
We logisticians are not only letting business terms encroach on our profession
but also allowing ourselves to distort the meaning of words that are defined
clearly in doctrine. For example, in doctrine written over the last decade, the
modifiers “strategic,” “operational,” and “tactical” have
been paired with logistics levels of organization and support. These terms originally
were conceptualized as levels of war, not levels of organization or support.
Joint Publication 3–0, Doctrine for Joint Operations, states—
The levels of war, from a doctrinal perspective, clarify the
links between strategic objectives and tactical actions. Although there are
no finite limits or boundaries between them, the three levels are strategic,
operational, and tactical. They apply to both war and MOOTW [military operations
other than war]. Actions can be defined as strategic, operational, or tactical
based on their effect or contribution to achieving strategic, operational,
or tactical objectives.
In Field Manual 3–0, Operations,
the Army has also recognized that the use of these terms is
focused on the effects of activities and should not be confused
with levels of organization—
The levels of war are doctrinal perspectives
that clarify the links between strategic objectives and tactical
actions. Although there are no finite limits or boundaries
between them, the three levels are strategic, operational,
and tactical. Understanding the interdependent relationship
of all three helps commanders visualize a logical flow of operations,
allocate resources, and assign tasks. Actions within the three
levels are not associated with a particular command level,
unit size, equipment type, or force or component type. Instead,
actions are defined as strategic, operational, or tactical
based on their effect or contribution to achieving strategic,
operational, or tactical objectives.
We professional military logisticians
should be careful not to use terms such as “operational logistics” or “strategic
logistics,” as used in Joint Publication 4–0, Doctrine
for Logistics Support of Joint Operations, because we do not know if
logistics actions by organizations at any level will actually achieve
certain objectives (or to what degree they will contribute to or enable
them) until after the fact. Joint Publication 4–0 states—
The Joint Staff and Service staffs concentrate
on strategic logistics matters. Serving as supported commanders, the
geographic combatant commanders as well as supporting commands and
agencies link strategic and operational level logistics to support
their assigned missions. Subordinate commanders blend operational logistic
and tactical support to accomplish tasks assigned by the commander
of a combatant command…
This excerpt contains a flagrant misuse of the words “strategic,” “operational,” and “tactical.” Their
use here seems to suggest a commercial, businesslike interpretation
of “strategic management.” In retrospect, the last time
logistics was militarily “strategic” probably was during
the Berlin Airlift, when military logistics (transport aircraft) did
achieve national strategic objectives. When logistics actions are the
main effort of an operation, as was the case during the recent relief
actions following Hurricane Katrina and the Pakistani earthquake, we
might have a case for “operational logistics,” but that
must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
We need to use agreed-upon terms to describe the kind of support
rendered, such as “area,” “general,” or “direct” support.
I also believe that we should use “national,” “joint
force,” and “unit” when we refer to organizational
levels of logistics.
I believe that we should use the word “national” to describe
support provided by forces that are assigned to a continental United
States-based service or agency or the U.S. Transportation Command but
are not assigned or allocated to a geographic combatant commander.
National support capability, by virtue of supporting-to-supported command
relationships and direct liaison authorization, may be collocated in
theater with the theater-level support capability. Joint deployment
and distribution operations centers are an example of this collocation
to help ensure a “seamless” transition from national- to
joint-force-level logistics distribution.
I believe that “joint force” should mean general or area
support that is common to one or more theaters of operations, theaters
of war, or joint operations areas. “Unit,” I believe, should
refer to support forces that are highly integrated, or “organic,” and
that are acting in direct support of combat formations, task groups,
or task forces.
Cultural symbols, such as language and icons, are increasingly “free-floating” and
lack the concrete meanings of the industrial era. In an
article published in Teaching Ethics and Values in Public
Administration: Innovations, Strategies, and Issues, Charles
J. Fox, a postmodern theorist, claims that people in post-industrial
societies are caught in a world of unstable
meanings because “language loses its ability to communicate
the discrete workaday reality.” He claims that the “unanchoring” of
meaning is a sign of an emergent postmodern era. If he
is right, the result could be “deprofessionalized” logisticians
who are utterly dependent on outsiders.
According to Fox, we have had 10 major management fads
in 25 years. This rapid diffusion of different movements suggests that
science is not the culprit but that the “hyperreal” symbols
of transformations are. From a critical thinking perspective, these
transformations are only shifts in vocabulary and not in tangible product.
For example, fads such as Management by Objectives and Total Quality
Management are merely alterations in the ongoing search to satisfy
the perception of effectiveness and perhaps serve more as anxiety-reduction
mechanisms than actual performance enhancements. “Lean Six Sigma” and “Balanced
Scorecard” are offshoots of the same quest. Nothing really new
is created. Fox calls such management symbols and movements “plastic,
disposable reifications” (something abstract that is regarded
as a material or concrete thing). The work-force becomes cynical as
these waves of plastic, disposable fads are constantly reintroduced.
It is incumbent on all of us to study the words of our profession,
use existing terms correctly, and suggest new terms only
when warranted. We should avoid the copycat mentality that seeks
to import business
terms and perhaps corrupt our profession as a result. We
should guard against the use of plastic, disposable definitions
and popular management
fads that disguise false learning, fail to challenge old
knowledge or provide us with knowledge that is truly new, and do
not lead to
positive achievement or change.
Colonel Christopher R. Paparone, USA (Ret.), recently
retired after 28 years of active duty as a Quartermaster Corps
officer. In his last assignment, he served as the Deputy Director
for Logistics and Engineering at the U.S. Joint Forces Command.
He has a Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University.