The Army Loses One Of Its Best
Today the U.S. Army will lose one of its finest general officers. The Vice Chief of Staff, General Peter Chiarelli, is retiring after some forty years in uniform. The Vice Chief is the Army’s chief of operations, responsible for the day-to-day management of the Army. This was no small task in a period when the Army was fighting two wars, transitioning from a structure based on division to one centered on the brigade combat team, ending the policy of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell and trying to recapitalize its worn out stock of equipment. Anyone who has read David Cloud’s and Greg Jaffe’s excellent study in military leadership, The Fourth Star, appreciates how much fortune played in General Chiarelli’s rise to be the 32nd Vice Chief and how lucky it was for the Army that he assumed that post when he did.
General Chiarelli was a major force for change in reforming how the army developed and acquired new weapons systems. He was centrally involved in the decision to kill the Army’s ill-fated Future Combat System. More important, General Chiarelli was instrumental in creating the intellectual process by which the Army reviewed its requirements for new armored combat vehicles. This process brought together technologists, operators, industry representatives and academics to focus on the single question: what did the warfighter need? The result was the Ground Combat Vehicle program.
General Chiarelli also is responsible for the establishment of one of the most innovative product evaluation tools anywhere in the Department of Defense. This is the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) process. The NIE is a series of semi-annual field tests in which real soldiers organized in complete units go into the field with a host of new communications gear to see what works and what doesn’t. The Vice Chief understood perhaps better than any senior Army leader the importance of the network to the future operations of the Army. The problem was that the Army, like the other services, did not design and acquire its networks as single, integrated architectures or systems of systems. Consequently, what worked in the laboratory often failed in the field or stand alone capabilities could not be connected to other elements of the overall network. Often a decade or more was spent developing a capability or system only to find out it was too expensive, didn’t work as advertised or both. The NIE process is intended to shorten the acquisition cycle, ensure that the parts of the Army’s communications network work with each other and demonstrate that everyone from the individual dismounted private to the commanding general can communicate as needed.
General Chiarelli did not focus only on hardware. He has been the driving force behind the Army’s current effort to improve its treatment of wounded warriors and to address the rising epidemic in post traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicide and traumatic brain injury. Because this involved changing the Army’s culture, it was in some ways a more difficult challenge than altering the service’s procurement system or test and evaluation procedures. One can only hope that General Chiarelli’s successor, General Lloyd Austin, places as much emphasis as did his predecessor on this aspect of his job.
General Chiarelli leaves the Army at the end of one era but the beginning of another. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down. Now the Army has to redefine itself for a new age, one in which getting smaller and having fewer dollars may be the least of its problems. Hopefully, even in his well-earned retirement, General Chiarelli will be available to offer sage advice.