Eagle
American Diplomacy
Foreign Service Life

April 2007

Highlight map


 

Support American Diplomacy RSS Mailing-list Subscription Email American Diplomacy Facebook


Drawing from Richard Henry Dana for the title of this essay, the author, a retired career U. S. ambassador, paints with unparalleled authority the similarities—and differences—between Department of State and Department of Defense authority and command structures. Containing no sensitive or classified information, Amb. Marks' study nevertheless provides the reader unique insights into the basic outlooks and precepts of two of the nation's vital responsibilities— defense and diplomacy.Ed.

Three Years Before the Mast

My response to the invitation to go to Hawaii for six months on a State Department temporary assignment to the U. S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) was affirmative and immediate. It was a WAE (When Actually Employed) contract for only six months, but the months passed as more permanent arrangements failed to jell and PACOM kept asking State to extend me, until an active duty Foreign Service officer (FSO) finally arrived in September 2005. I do not know if I set a record for a temporary duty assignment, but thirty-nine months should put me in the running.

Camp H.M. Smith
This offer was more appropriate than State knew. As a Senior Mentor at the 2001 annual command exercise of the Joint Forces Command, I had formulated the concept of an interagency staff directorate, tentatively labeled JX, to improve interagency coordination. Joint Forces took up the concept and in March 2002 issued a White Paper on the concept, renaming the proposed entity the “Joint Interagency Coordination Group” or JIACG.

Following September 11, the major military commands were instructed to create these new units and to ask other departments to assign civilian personnel. The initial response was unenthusiastic; State pleaded lack of available personnel and money but eventually worked out contract arrangements to employ retired officers.

So off I went to Hawaii as the State Department representative in the Joint Interagency Coordination Group on Counterrorism (JIACG-CT) at the U. S. Pacific Command. I arrived in Honolulu just before July 4 where my reception was warm, although there was an amusing combination of respect combined with reserve and caution. FSOs are not completely unknown at regional combatant commands. Political Advisors (POLADS), now called Foreign Policy Advisors (FPAs), have been around for generations. POLADs, however, reside in the upper reaches of the command, mingling with the most senior officers, while I was imbedded (to use the current phrase) among the working staff.

USPACOM, formerly CINCPAC
USPACOM is one of the regional combatant commands (COCOMs), organizational creatures unlike anything existing in State. They are the “War Fighters,” the actual forces positioned to perform operations, including war itself. Distinct from the Departments (Army, Navy, Air Force, etc.) and the Services, they report directly to the President through the Secretary of Defense and don't do the recruiting, training, equipping, or any of the mundane but necessary “household” tasks of the military. Readers may know them by their old appellation of “CINCDOMS” headed by CINCS or Commanders-in-Chief. However, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld decided, quite logically, that there was only one Commander-in-Chief in the American government, and that was the President. So CINCs became COCOM Commanders, as in Commander, US Pacific Command; and Commander, US Central Command (CENTCOM).

The COCOMs are joint commands (or purple as compared to green for the Army, blue for the Air Force, etc.), staffed by officers from all the military services. Due to its heavy focus on naval warfare (the Asia-Pacific Area of Operation is very watery) PACOM always had a very naval character. The office of the commander, for instance, is generally referred to as the 'bridge”, and the many naval personnel working in the headquarters building refer to “heads” and “decks” instead of “johns” and floors.

The Military World
PACOM personnel are largely military, so the pecking order is very clear, with rank constituting the signposts of their life and behavior. It was interesting to see them automatically insert a “sir” the very day a peer moved up in rank. This was not an act currying favor but merely showing the respect that one gives because one also expects it. (There is also a lower caste of contractors numbering dozens if not hundreds. They are mostly retired military now double dipping and jocularly referred to as contractor slime.)

Distinctions are not only made between ranks but between seniority within ranks. This is especially true of colonels or navy captains where the difference being pre or post major command is significant. Officers are often referred to by number: “he or she is an 0-4 (major) or O-6 (colonel). Generals or admirals are usually referred to as GOs (general officers) or “flags” (flag officers).

The staff falls into three distinct classes: “action officers,” O-6s, and GOs/Flags. Action officers are majors or lt. colonels or their naval equivalents, with full colonels or navy captains generally serving as section or unit bosses. Senior O-6s also belong to something called the “Council of Colonels” a senior vetting group with no official standing but of great weight. The GOs/Flags are treated almost as a different species, and are usually referred to by their job designation: e.g., the Director of Operations is the “3” as the Directorate of Operations is the J3.

There are some enlisted personnel, mostly senior sergeants, but junior officers are rarely seen in the corridors.

The military world is full of sub-communities, beginning with the services themselves— Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. However, these identities are further refined by more specific differentiations—warriors and “horse holders” or rather combat arms and support services. And these categories are still further refined: not merely between pilots and intelligence types, but different types of pilots: in the Air Force for example B-2 pilots, fighter pilots or transport pilots. In the Navy pilots are differentiated from service sailors and submariners, while in turn A-7 pilots form a different community from F-18 pilots. Armored cavalry is different from light infantry or artillery, and again heavy field artillery. And then there are the support services: Military Police, logisticians, planners, engineers and so on. These communities constitute the primary environment in which they are trained and promoted. These differences are muted as individuals move up the ranks and become subject to broader responsibilities and education but they remain important. Promotion takes place within these communities, even to general and admiral.

These communities have generally accepted characteristics. When I commented to a young major on the differing leadership style of our co-bosses, an Army colonel and a Navy captain, I was assuming the difference was one of individual personality. He pointed out, however, that the difference arose from their professional backgrounds, specifically that the decision cycle of a fighter pilot (the Navy Captain) was measured in seconds while that of an infantry officer (the Colonel) in hours and days.

Sometimes called “Bubba” communities, reflecting the heavy Southern influence in the American military world as well as a sort of self-deprecating humor, these communities are of course somewhat similar to Political Officers or Arabists in the Foreign Service. It is just that the military world is so large that the phenomenon is that much more robust.

As a forty-year veteran of the Department of State I thought I was comfortable with large bureaucracies. However, USPACOM alone consists of over 300,000 military personnel, not to mention civilians and contractors, and disposes of amounts of money and materiel unimaginable to FSOs. For instance, when PACOM set up its JIACG after 9/11 (on instructions out of existing resources), the commander “scraped up” forty bodies and $2 million. In my occasional “State Department 101” presentations to PACOM personnel, I would emphasize this vast difference in resources as a major factor explaining the difference in organizational cultures. They always appeared somewhat bemused when I told them that FSOs view the military as unbelievably rich and therefore a good touch if you could only figure out how to do it. They, of course, consider themselves short of resources to accomplish all they need and/or want to do. Military organizations are very expensive.

The COCOMS have a complicated relationship with the Pentagon beginning with the usual tension between Headquarters and the Field—not too dissimilar to that obtaining between embassies and the Department. This inherent tension is exacerbated by the fact that the COCOM Commander is a very senior “four star” with a major responsibility that reports directly, by law, to the Secretary of Defense and the President. He is senior to everyone in the military chain of command except perhaps the actual members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Obviously the President and the Secretary of Defense can give direct orders to the COCOM, but everyone else must ask, suggest or negotiate.

Planning is a word spelled with a capital P in the Department of Defense world, a very formal process pursued in accordance with publications such as Joint Pub 3-07, “Joint Doctrine for Military Operations Other Than War,” A separate caste of officers exist who do planning as their occupational specialty. As the authors of “Defense is from Mars, State is from Venus” put it: “Martians use a formal, linear, sequential problem solving process, a step-by-step guide that ensures a thorough problem analysis and selection of one best course of action” in order to achieve the defined end state. Results are published in thick reports...”

The “end state” concept more than anything defines military planning. It is so central to the process that intellectual and linguistic contortions are used when the end state is not obvious, for instance when the end state is not merely to defeat the Iraqi Army but something like “create a democratic government which provides for economic development, protects human rights, and lives at peace with its neighbors.” While obviously desirable, such an end state is essentially meaningless in the discrete time frame and limited military means at hand.

The planning system constitutes the nervous system of the military. Nothing of any importance or weight—and much with neither quality—is done without it having been “planned” by this process. Influencing the American military, then, means influencing the planning process. Waiting until this process is done, and then attempting to approve or disapprove or influence the final product is extremely difficult. Asking them to go back to the drawing board requires very serious authority.

The JIACGs were created to moderate this process, by introducing the perspectives of other agencies into the military planning process at an early stage. Pursuing greater interagency coordination was not only a military problem, however. Because PACOM was a military command, our attempts to reach out to embassies in an interagency fashion were at first resisted by both the embassies military attachés and civilian officers. The attaches tried to keep all interaction with PACOM in their channels and the civilians cooperated by stating, essentially, that anything coming from PACOM was obviously for the attachés to handle. Regional Security Officers, Agency for International Development officers, legal attachés and intelligence types were particularly resistant.

Also important in the military world is the “The Schoolhouse,” a complex of military training and educational institutions. The professional military spend a significant portion of their career in the Schoolhouse, sometimes as much as 25 percent. The process begins with basic training and progresses to the senior service schools like the National War College and courses for generals and admirals.

The Schoolhouse, of course, has both advantages and disadvantages. It is a repository of tradition and doing things by the book — by approved doctrine. It can be viewed as the proof of the old charge that generals always fight the last war, especially as the American military are fixated on the need to identify lessons learned from anything they do.

On the other hand, the Schoolhouse is also the venue for serious and often critical contemplation of the military profession. Much innovative thinking has come out of the Schoolhouse. Today the Schoolhouse is wrestling with the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs, including the need to work more closely with civilian departments along the continuum from classic warfighting to nation building. The traditional American Way of War called for a sharp division between war and peace but today that approach, if it ever was really valid, is no longer acceptable.

The military, those aware of the situation, are puzzled by State's apparent lack of interest in training (along with our disdain of planning) until the resource situation and the mission of State is explained. I usually explained that, first of all, the discrepancy in resources was enormous. They could understand the lack of funds, but the personnel question often puzzled them until I pointed that that while the military were not unlike the fire department, which stands around polishing its equipment until it is called into action, State is like a police force which is on duty at all times. I would make that point vividly when I recounted the reported blank expressions on the faces of State Department officers when newly appointed Secretary of State Powell asked about the Department's training float.

The military staff culture reflects all of these characteristics. The size and complexity of the military staffs and staff processes involved would astound the Napoleonic era soldiers who invented the Western military staff system. However, not only is the “directorate” system itself large and complicated, it is supplemented by a Topsy-like growth of ad hoc and/or temporary staff organizations, referred to as B2C2WG or “Boards and Bureaus, Cells and Committees, and Working Groups.” Each of these creatures is focused on a specific subject, such as information operations, composed of representatives from the relevant directorates and is designated by the Commander with varying degrees of authority. In one sense, B2C2WG is a matrix organization superimposed on a hierarchical structure. It is a very confusing environment for the outsider, and, in fact, for the military themselves.

Another striking characteristic of the American military staff culture is the centrality of the PowerPoint slide presentation. The written memorandum has been largely replaced by the PowerPoint presentation, prepared by action officers and then presented for correction and approval (“rudder steer” in naval parlance) at every level above until it reaches its final destination. All officers must know how to prepare PowerPoint slides and those with exceptional skills are known as PowerPoint rangers. Jokes are made about medals and ribbons awarded for particularly striking slides and “Death by PowerPoint” is a common comment on a meeting or a conference.

The dominance of PowerPoint culture in the military is sharply contrasted with its absence in civilian agencies in general and the State Department in particular. State Department officers who show up in military venues to give a briefing usually preface their remarks with a mock apology for not having any PowerPoint slides and being therefore forced to make a purely verbal presentation.

Them and me
Although most military officers are by and large innocent of personal experience with State Department types, they hold a very gratifying general respect for the Department of State. The article “Defense is from Mars, State is from Venus” always gets a good reception from military audiences. Their culture (“end state” obsessed and formal planning bound), their professional focus on concrete activities, their conservative instincts, and a general lack of contact with FSOs combine to produce ignorance rather than animosity. However, I always found that actual contact produces a more sympathetic attitude.

I have some military experience, two years as a company clerk draftee in ancient peace-time days. This very modest military experience actually gave me some credibility among these present-day professionals. They did not disdain it, but instead took it as my having done my duty when called upon. I sometimes thought it was more valued than my attendance at the National War College.

So here I was, a superannuated FSO carrying the rank equivalent in protocol terms to a four-star admiral but working side by side and under the direction of colonels. Admittedly I was retired, but the military show respect to retired officers. As my wife always says, they do have excellent manners.

This general attitude quickly manifested itself in two very welcome aspects. The JIACG staff was crammed into an inadequate space in the PACOM headquarters building, a World War II “temporary hospital.” Officers worked cheek and jowl in open workspaces just large enough for a computer desk, with the two co-commanders (two very senior 0-6s) sharing the only office. Out of consideration for my dignity, they had carefully saved for me a workspace in a corner, next to the door to the commanders' office, which by virtue of geography gave me a semblance of privacy.

More important, they had gone to the parking space controller and on the basis of my title obtained for me a designated parking space in the most desirable lot on the base — right in front of the headquarters building. Those with experience in bureaucracies will understand the significance of this act. As it happened, I was able to keep that space all through my time in PACOM. When the headquarters moved across the street to the new building in 2004 a very nice Navy Commander kindly “grandfathered” me (how appropriate!) in my parking spot.

All in all, the working atmosphere within PACOM was much more collegial than I had expected. That may be because of B2C2WG but also probably because of the leadership style of the admiral who commanded PACOM during most of my time at Camp Smith. To the very end of my time at PACOM, no one ever gave me a direct order — although I had made it very clear that I was a working stiff and more than willing to take on assignments and tasks. I always had to volunteer in some fashion, as after awhile I realized that I would have not any work to do unless I did so. I raised this issue with the colonel commanding and he noted that my value to him would be as a sort of advisor and resident “wise man,” not another action officer. I noted that I was quite willing to perform those roles but really needed to have some actual tasks to perform. Eventually such appeared but I always had to seek them out. For instance, giving briefings to foreign visitors eventually became my regular duty, but only after I volunteered.

Eventually people got around to asking if I “minded” or could find some time to do something or other, always with a diffident tone.

We traveled extensively to consult with embassies and governments on counterterrorism programs. I soon discovered that my role was to act as a door opener to the front office of embassies, a prestige symbol when dealing with foreign officials, and as bona fides for the interagency character of our mission. I was, in other words, the Colonel Sanders of the operation, sans white mustache and beard but in a tropical suit.

Traveling with the military was an experience requiring first of all a threat assessment, which would determine our movement mode while “in-country.” In most countries some level of threat of was identified and restrictions on our movements were imposed. For instance, some times we were restricted to the hotel, traveling to our meetings in a group by bus. Other times we were authorized to move about the city in our spare time only if we doubled up in a “buddy system”—much like summer camp. The first time I ran into this situation, I laughed and thought they were joking and when I realized they weren't I pleaded with them not to tell any of my former colleagues in the local embassy, as it would ruin what little reputation I had.

In later trips I noted that whether or not any formal restrictions were in place, some of my young military colleagues made a discreet point of keeping a watchful eye on me. I don't think it was about security concerns per se, merely a respectful concern. After one such trip, when one of these young majors and I took a day off to visit Angkor Wat, he later recounted the experience to my wife over drinks and noted that I had “run him ragged through the temples.” Not true, of course, but my wife noted with appreciation the message that they were watching over me.

And so…..
As all FSOs know, living in someone else's world is curiously liberating. It was also great fun living up to their prejudices and illusions about Foreign Service types. Nevertheless, we learned from each other. In any case I certainly deepened my understanding and sympathy for our military colleagues. They are essentially serious people, despite the locker room style they adopt. The difference between diplomats and the military came ever clearer into focus for me. Firstly, there is the fundamental obligation that the military accept, at least in theory: that under certain conditions they will kill and be killed. No other profession has this obligation as an essential element of the professional contract, except possibly police. It seems to me that this concentrates the mind in some degree.

Another insight, if that is what it is, describes the mirror image of the two professions. Military science is simple in theory (you go left, you go right, and kill those guys over there). Implementation, however, is infinitely complicated. (Moving thousands of men and pieces of equipment in order to arrive in certain places at certain times to accomplish specified tasks while an opponent is trying to frustrate your efforts and do unto you what you hope to do unto him—all being done under unchangeable physical constraints such as gravity and time and weather.) This insight is not new or original, of course. Clausewitz stated it more succinctly as well as authoritatively: “Everything in war is simple; everything in war is difficult.”

Diplomacy, on the other hand, is extremely complicated in theory (see the shelves of books on history and political science and economics and so on) while the actual process is simple. A couple of guys put some notes in a briefcase and go off to discuss the matter at hand with a couple of other guys.

Military activity is essentially short-term, discrete, and finite. Diplomacy is about the relationship between immortal creatures called governments or states—a never-ending process. This difference was reflected in a curious way. I noticed that my military colleagues spent little time discussing events in Afghanistan and Iraq. I was puzzled by this apparent lack of interest about current events I would have thought of intense professional and personal interest. I discreetly inquired about this lack of interest, contrasting it with the insatiable curiosity of FSOs about everything going on everywhere. Our Naval Captain boss finally explained that military folk are practical people who focus on the job at hand, and Iraq was not the job at hand for anyone at PACOM. Yes, they were interested and monitored events, but not closely and with any sense that they had to have an opinion. Besides which, most supported the war so what was there to discuss.

This answer was somewhat disingenuous. Most, but not all, did support the war, but many had become nervous about its path. Still professional discipline held them to continued support and subdued observation, especially in the presence of an outsider like me.

I didn't experience any war during my time at PACOM, not even second hand as all the war being engaged in by the United States during this period was being conducted elsewhere. But I did have an extended and intensive interaction with America's warriors. It was a very rich experience.

All in all, my three years before the mast was memorable, a superb posting. And that would be true even if one discounted that it was in Hawaii.


Edward Marks served more than forty years in the U. S. Foreign Service, including an assignment as ambassador to Guinea-Bissau. He graduated from Michigan and Oklahoma universities and attended the National War College. Retiring in 1995, he subsequently served, as noted in the article above, on detail to the U. S. Navy Pacific Command with headquarters in Hawaii.

white starAmerican Diplomacy white star
Copyright © 2012 American Diplomacy Publishers Chapel Hill NC
www.americandiplomacy.org