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General Mattis’ Failure: US Army a Hot Mess

It strains creditability to describe the US military as the most successful military on the planet. Unless you are a jingoistic American military hawk trying to lead a chanting–USA USA–mob of Americans, the American military can only be described as a failure. As a former US soldier and ex-member of US intelligence community, I am placing the blame not on the individual soldiers but squarely on its failed leaders like General Mattis, General Dunford, General Kelly.

General James Mattis deserved to be fired as Secretary Defense. Not only was he one of the architects of the current failed American military, but as Secretary Defense he failed for two years to solve the deep structural issues within the military and at the same time, pushed for increased military engagement fully knowing that the US military was not prepared.

Before I launch into a detailed analysis, let me clearly state that only a suicidal nation would fight the US military on the open battlefield, or open seas. It is the best equipped, best educated, best trained, and best led–below the General Staff level-military in the world. But we do not fight these type of battles anymore. Do we? That said, it is also recognized that the United States can marshal vast resources to fight a war, and that counts in the short-term, but it does not direct a success.

Only the 1991 American Gulf War achieved its stated objectives. By all accounts, the United States did not achieve its objective in the American Vietnam War, the American 2003 invasion of Iraq, and failed in its 17-year-war in Afghanistan. On balance, it was highly successful in taking over a third-rate dictator in Panama, and the heroic invasion of Grenada, a small island without an army.

Lets dig into the significant issues of the US military that Geneal Mattis had a part in causing and failed to fix. In this analysis, I do not wish to show disrespect to the decades of excellent service of General Mattis to this nation. He is a loyal patriot who served with honor. However, the facts show it is time for new leadership.

General Mattis and the General Staff failed in the following five areas:

  • Air power is the backbone of the United States military might and according to internal reports, aircraft readiness is at an all time low. It is in desparate need of new leadership and a new strategy to improve readiness and over two years General Mattis failed to correct this situation.
  • Under General Mattis’ leadership there has been a growing list of Naval and Marine accidents that has cost lives. Other than declaring a “time-out” General Mattis has failed to halt these problems that are a sign of poor training, and incompetent leadership.
  • Deployment readiness is at an all-time low. A significant percentage of our soldiers, sailors, aviators, and Marines can not be forward deployed. General Mattis has failed to stem this problem.
  • The US military is not meeting its enlistment or re-enlistment goals with normal measures. When it does meet its goals, it is by granting an excessive number of waivers that weaken the overall quality of the fighting force.
  • Cracks in the Special Operations Command are showing with failures in Yemen and especially West Africa. These failures are leadership failures that harken to the leadership failures of the Vietnam War.

Aircraft Readiness

Air Force aircraft readiness has fallen under General Mattis’ command. In 2017, readiness of all aircraft fell to 71.3 percent from 72.1 percent in 2016; however, in terms of combat aircraft the plunge has created significant alarm.

Former head of the Air Combat Command who has followed the situation since his departure says, “it scares the heck out of me.”

John Venable of the Heritage Foundation citing the pentagon headed by General Mattis as “on the backside of the power curve.”

F-22 Raptors readiness fell 11 percent in the last year. F-35 dropped 10 percent. Some variations of the B1 bombers have a dismal readiness record of only 52 percent.

The following chart gives the full picture:

US Army Deployability Crisis

Deployability means troops ready for combat and the non-deployability percentage in the US Army has plunged to 14 percent under General Mattis’ leadership. This is despite a General Accounting Office (GAO) report in September 2016 that warned of this crisis unless a comprehensive plan was developed.

Genereal Mattis, as Secretary Defense, did not respond to this growing crisis until mid-2018. An in-depth investigation revealed two causes for the crisis. First, according to Command Sgt Major John Troxeli there was a command breakdown with soldiers missing medical and dental appointments–an activity supervised by senior unit officers–that hindered their readiness for deployment.

Former under secretary of defence for personnel and readiness, Robert Wilkie, pinned the problem on longer term problems. Wilkie blamed too many enlistment waivers for either medical or bad conduct issues. These waivers allowed the US Army to meet its enlistment goals but filled the ranks with soldiers with barriers to deployment.

If you were a CEO of a corporation and 14 percent of your workers did not show each day, would you still have a job? No.

Recruitment Failures

Under General Mattis, the US Army in the last fiscal year missed its recuritment goals by 20,000 enlistees. This is spread across the regular Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserves. General Mattis has ordered increased waivers for medical or conduct issues which sets up further problems in terms of deployability. The larger problem is out of General Mattis’ control. A shocking number–only 30 percent–of American youth between the ages of 17 and 24 can pass the mental or physical tests for enlistment.

Though the Air Force is meeting its enlistment goals it is failing under General Mattis in terms of retention of pilots and the programs proposed by General Mattis have failed.

Air Force General Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, says the pilot shortage “has become a crisis” with a significant shortage of experienced 11F pilots. At the Air Mobility Command pilot retention rates have failed despite a General Mattis plan that threw money–a common Pentagon strategy–at the problem by increasing the retention bonsus. But the pilots signaled a vote of no confidence when retention dropped a further 6 percent to 37.9 percent.

Leadership Failure at Special Operation Command

The most publicized failure in the Special Operation Command was the October 2017 ambush of a 11-member Green Beret team in Niger, Africa. However, there have been others like the botched Navy Seal Operation in Yemen during General Mattis’ tenure.

The Niger failure which cost the lives of four enlisted men is pinned directly on incompetence of the officer corp. An inquiry board found that leadership had not directed the team to have crucial training as a unit, not rehearsed the mission before leaving base, and two officers had intentionally mischaracterized the mission. In addition, there was a command breakdown in obtaining a timely evacuation of the wounded.

These findings indicate a breakdown in the command structure under General Mattis.

Lack of Naval Leadership Causing Accidents at Sea and Marine Aviation Accidents

During General Mattis’ tenure there have been four major naval accidents on the open seas, and all are pinned to lack of command leadership. These accidents have led to the death of 17 sailors and senior officers charged with dereliction of duty and endangerment of a ship.

These accidents include the USS John S McCain which rammed an oil tanker in August. 2017 and the USS Fizgerald hitting another commerical ship off the coast of Japan. Both accidents occurred in open water and under acceptable weather conditions.

Marine aviation accidents have gone through the roof. A Military Times investigation found that Marine Aviation accidents under General Mattis increased from 56 per year in 2013 to 101 per year in 2017. They reported this as an 80 percent increase and costing Marine deaths in the double digits.

The following charts provide an overview:


There is a current trend in America to compare government actions to corporation management principles. This begs one single question:

If a board of directors hired a new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for a company with significant problems, which is true for the US military, and the new CEO did not turn it around in two years would that CEO still have a job?

Rightly, the answer is no. It was time for General Mattis to leave his job as Secretary Defense but we should still honor his decades of selfless service to this nation.

William Church


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