Army Accountability: Battlefield vs. Gridiron

West Point football coach fired day after loss to arch-rival Navy

  • Share
  • Read Later
Marvin Lynchard / U.S. Navy

Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds scores in Saturday's 34-7 win over Army in Philadelphia, its 12th consecutive victory over West Point.

The last time Army beat Navy in their annual football clash was on Dec. 1, 2001. The 12 years since are just about as long as the U.S. has been in Afghanistan, where it has spent $700 billion and 2,293 U.S. lives trying to make the country unsafe for terrorists.

But only hours after the U.S. Military Academy’s Black Knights lost in their annual game with the Midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy, West Point fired Army football coach Rich Ellerson. It came on the heels of a 3-and-9 season, including last weekend’s 34-7 loss to Navy. The academy announced his departure with the same kind of terse statement that’s usually issued from a prison after an execution has been carried out:

Ellerson was notified of the decision Sunday evening after returning from Philadelphia following the Black Knights’ loss to Navy on Saturday.

Those with loved ones who have waged the seemingly interminable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan might wonder where such accountability was during the years of bloody wheel-spinning in both campaigns. “Blow a war, get a medal. Blow a football season, you’re toast,” concludes retired Army officer Ralph Peters. “One can only conclude that football is more important than warfare.”

That’s a glib response, to be sure, but there’s enough truth in it to sting. After all, the most famous cashiering of a U.S. military commander in the post-9/11 wars wasn’t due to sloppy missions in the sands of Iraq, or failing to beat down the Taliban in Afghanistan. It was President Obama’s 2010 decision to can Army General Stan McChrystal, who was running the Afghan campaign—after a couple of his aides, too drunk and naïve for their own good—privately dissed senior civilians in the U.S. government to a reporter.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 10.11.12 PM

Army photo

Army’s Rich Ellerson coaching one of his players.

In fact, some Army generals are not only not fired for lackluster performance in the field—they’re promoted. The Senate made General George Casey the service’s 36th chief of staff in 2007, after he commanded U.S. forces in Iraq for 30 water-treading months. Senator John McCain, a former Navy pilot and prisoner-of-war in Vietnam, questioned Casey’s judgment during the general’s confirmation hearing to serve as the Army’s top officer. The Arizona Republican rattled off a series of rosy projections Casey issued during his tenure in Iraq, none of which came true. Nonetheless, the Senate confirmed Casey to the top Army job, 83-14. “I don’t support promotion to higher position for failure,” McCain (an Annapolis grad, to be sure) said on the Senate floor. “To reward failure is going to send a message all around the military that I don’t think is a healthy one.”

Author Tom Ricks wrote The Generals last year about what he sees as the failure—of the nation, the government and superior officers—to hold the Army’s senior leaders accountable. “Privates are routinely punished for infractions,” he told Time when the book came out. “But as far as I can tell, no general has been fired for incompetence in combat since Major General James Baldwin was fired as commander of the Americal Division in 1971…Today being a general is like having tenure.”

The problem may be reflected in their respective paychecks. An Army four-star general earns $180,000 annually in basic pay, less than half Ellerson’s pre-firing salary of $410,500. (This can be a dangerous road to go down: Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo has an annual salary of $1.5 million. But unlike the generals, who are paid by the taxpayers, the coaches are paid through separate, privately-funded athletic associations.)

The difference in accountability between generals and coaches reflects the views of U.S. society, especially when that society, lacking a draft, has so little skin in the game. “Americans pay far more attention to who wins or loses in football, than to the decisions generals make that waste blood and treasure,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired Army colonel and bona fide military pot-stirrer. “What happens in a place remote from the United States, provided it does not affect the average American in a substantive way, is irrelevant.”

Now, back to the game…

4 comments
formerlyjames
formerlyjames

It is common for football chat and analysis to seem nutty to me and this one is no exception.  The same logic behind this article could be applied to the Ivy League schools' influence in business and government.  There is no correlation or conclusion that can be drawn.  Apples and oranges.  BTW, Casey was son a a West Pointer, but was a  product of ROTC. 

ThomasHall
ThomasHall

Without the possibily of a military draft and actually being required to serve in the military America  is more likely to commit to a war without a good or demonstrated reason as the draft-dodging Bush-Cheney neo-con-artists managed to appeal to the darkside of America's fear, paranoia and desire for revenge  after 911 taht resulted in the US invasion of two sovereign nations neither of which actually attacked America despite the GOP lies, deceit, and propaganda.

After 20+ years of combined Bush-Cheney wars, wasted lives and hundreds of billions spread among 435+ GOP-approved war profiteers who failed in their nation-building while leaving behind lifetimes of war bills and costly VA healthcare projected to cost $6 trillion, notice that Al Qaeda our actual 911 enemy has made up less than four percent of US-Coalition enemy combatants in Afghanistan and Iraq and the killing and deaths go on and on.

Remember when Cheney said the war would be short--months not years and could be paid for with Iraqi oil? As always, he lied. In fact, China not the US has acquired the largest Iraqi oil contract without firing a shot.

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

General Casey did manage a put-down of Lieutenant General Petraeus at one time, but the wily King David went on to replace Casey after he was shipped off to Washington oblivion. What precipitated it was a dishonest Op-Ed by a Lieutenant General in the Washington Post in the heat of, and having an effect upon, a presidential political campaign during an ongoing conflict, when contender Kerry was putting some heat on President Bush for the Iraq failure.

General Petreaus was in charge of the training of Iraqi army battalions from Jun 2004 to Sep 2005

Sep 2004: LtjGen Petreaus, in the WaPo: “Six battalions of the Iraqi regular army and the Iraqi Intervention Force are now conducting operations. . .Within the next 60 days, six more regular army and six additional Intervention Force battalions will become operational. . . Nine more regular army battalions will complete training in January”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A49283-2004Sep25.html

A year later -- what happened to all those battalions?

Sep 2005–Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who oversees U.S. forces in Iraq, said there are fewer Iraqi battalions at “Level 1" readiness than there were a few months ago. . . The number of Iraqi army battalions that can fight insurgents without U.S. and coalition help has dropped from three to one, top U.S. generals told Congress yesterday.
http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2005/tr20050930-secdef4002.html [dead link]

Feb 2007-General David Petraeus was named commander of multinational military forces in Iraq. General Casey was shipped off to the Pentagonal Puzzle Palace as Army Chief of Staff.  

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

"The Senate made General George Casey the service’s 36th chief of staff in 2007, after he commanded U.S. forces in Iraq for 30 water-treading months."
But at least General Casey is immortalized, in my poem.

CASEY AT BAG-DAD
The outlook isn't bright for the coalition forces this year.
For a long three years Iraqis have held Baghdad with seemingly nothing to fear.

Shock and Awe was mission accomplished, the sign behind the President read.
Iraqi resistance? "My answer is bring 'em on" our fearless leader said.

Baghdad is an ancient and storied place, with many centers of antiquity.
Its suburbs include Abu Ghurayb, Adhamiya, Kadhimain, Karradah Sharqiyah, Mamoon and Sadr City.

The Iraqi army was defeated there, April ninth in oh-three,
But then regular Iraqis took control, and now people must fight or flee.

In June Operation Together Forward was announced by the new Iraqi Prime Minister,
as if he could really command, or had the freedom to administer.

The operation was a failure, with more and more GIs and Iraqis dying,
As the Islamic militias strengthened their hold, there was no more use in trying.

But wait! There's hope for us yet, perhaps the situation's not so bad,
General Casey, mighty Casey, will he be taking control of Baghdad!


There was ease in Casey's manner, as he moved to his rightful place,
There was pride in Casey's bearing and confidence on his face.

Casey said that the next six months will be  decisive, and will determine Iraq's fate.
What a man! What a call!  Inspirational and moving, and none other could speak as great.

Except maybe Casey himself, in his last bogus pre-election prediction.
"We'll have the majority of the country pacified by New Year's" was that years fiction.

Oh someday in Iraq there will be freedom, when people can do as they please.
Their oil and water will be theirs, and they won't be brought to their knees.

But 'til then there will be airstrikes, cluster bombs and depleted uranium,
Kidnapping, shooting and torture, and other forms of military mayhem.

Until men like General Casey learn  what to the rest of us is plain,
You can't militarily pacify  a foreign land--it's Vietnam all over again.