DOD works to close generation gap

Related Links

"VA plan rolls on"

The Defense Department faces many cultural and behavioral challenges in its ongoing transformation, not the least of which is bridging the generation gap between Cold War-era personnel and the more technology-savvy generation.

Retired Navy Vice Adm. Herbert Browne, president and chief executive officer of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association International, said cultures are changing.

As an example, he noted that a former paratrooper, Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Kellogg Jr., is the director of command, control, communications and computers for DOD's Joint Chiefs of Staff — a position that would have been filled by a "techie" in the past.

"The people in the airplanes, tanks or ships are IT professionals, and we need to take credit for that," Browne said. But he added that other people — particularly the baby boomer generation, of which he is a part — need to catch up.

Browne said that the stovepipes that DOD, the intelligence community and the federal government in general are attempting to break up are outdated, but he acknowledged that the previous structure did serve a purpose.

"If it weren't for the stovepipes, the CIA, FBI and [the National Security Agency] would not be at the level they are today," he said. "Now, if the same amount of energy is used to cut across will be absolutely successful. That's the second measure of success."

Jack Spencer, a defense analyst with the Heritage Foundation, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., agreed and said the generation gap problem "is governmentwide, not just at the Pentagon."

But Spencer said the Cold War mind-set was "far more prominent" before the events of Sept. 11. "You can no longer apply the same set of thinking to the 21st century that was developed to help us compete during the Cold War. There's a tremendous Cold War inertia that pervades the defense and national security" communities.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, vice commander of Air Combat Command, said the service understood years ago that it was "hindered by the Cold War [mentality] where the intelligence community's support and focus were at the strategic level" for senior decision-makers. However, that was necessary in a bipolar world where the United States' primary enemy was the Soviet Union, he said.

Now, with a wide variety of threats that are constantly changing, the Air Force is teaming with the national intelligence community and working closely with the combat air forces to give all parties a more complete picture of the enemy and the battlefield, Wright said.

Spencer credited Bush with leading mainstream recognition of not only modernizing, but also transforming DOD. In a Sept. 23, 1999, speech at the Citadel, Bush said he would "earmark at least 20 percent of the procurement budget for acquisition programs that propel America generations ahead in military technology."

Still, there is not universal acceptance of Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's decree that DOD must transform. But this reluctance isn't necessarily bad because DOD and the nation might be more susceptible to a near-term risk if everyone were focused on transforming, Spencer said.

DOD's ongoing transformation includes a "movement to create a culture of new thinkers," he said. For example, the Air Force's space community has traditionally produced few warfighters and many computer engineers, but is now changing to produce both.

Wright said the Air Force is also attempting to overcome the issue through its Developing Aerospace Leaders (DAL) program. After 10 years in their core competency — intelligence, communications or flying — officers can "broaden their operational perspective" through DAL, he said.

"They can take their expertise and broaden it into a better operational context," Wright said.


Building bridges

The Defense Department is attempting to bridge its generation gap through a number of programs, including:

* The Air Force's Developing Aerospace Leaders program, where after 10 years in a core competency — intelligence, communications or flying — officers can "broaden their operational perspective" and explore a new specialty.

* The Army Knowledge Leaders program in the chief information officer's office, which offers intensive training to handpicked, outstanding scholars through two years of academic, technical and leadership training, paid for by the Army. Upon completion of the program, participants are given a position in the service.

* The Army's Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems has established a program similar to Army Knowledge Leaders. This year, they set aside about 13 technology internships for college students during their summer and winter vacations with the goal of encouraging them to continue working for the Army after graduation.


  • Defense
    Soldiers from the Old Guard test the second iteration of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) capability set during an exercise at Fort Belvoir, VA in Fall 2019. Photo by Courtney Bacon

    IVAS and the future of defense acquisition

    The Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System has been in the works for years, but the potentially multibillion deal could mark a paradigm shift in how the Defense Department buys and leverages technology.

  • Cybersecurity
    Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lora Ratliff)

    Mayorkas announces cyber 'sprints' on ransomware, ICS, workforce

    The Homeland Security secretary announced a series of focused efforts to address issues around ransomware, critical infrastructure and the agency's workforce that will all be launched in the coming weeks.

Stay Connected