¶ … front line of defense and the first line of offense of American might, the United States military plays an essential role in maintaining the integrity of the nation's interests at home and abroad. In sharp contrast to the highly motivated and professional armed forces that are in place today, though, the U.S. military struggled to overcome the legacy of its conscription-based approach to maintaining adequate manpower during the Vietnam War where relatively short enlistment periods and high attrition rates resulted in diminished combat readiness and dangerously low levels of troop morale. This paper examines how the U.S. armed forces overcame this legacy to emerge as the preeminent military power in the world today. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the conclusion.
Organizational Behavior in Today's Military
Over the past half century, the United States armed forces have experienced a number of changes to their organizational structures that have contributed to the development of a highly motivated and professional cadre of service members today. The United States military no longer relies on draftees to fill its ranks, and the current all-volunteer armed forces are comprised of highly trained and capable individuals. Indeed, following the recent successful elimination of Osama bin Laden by a Navy Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) team, it is reasonable to suggest that morale and esprit de corps in the military are the highest since the end of World War II. To determine how the U.S. military accomplished this transition and what it means for the armed forces in the future, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
When it comes to organizational behavior, it is difficult to gain a consensus concerning the precise meanings of many of the key variables that are involved. While definitions vary, a useful definition of organizational behavior is provided by Miner in his book, Organizational Behavior: Foundations, Theories, and Analyses (2002). According to Miner, "Although the exact boundaries of the discipline are somewhat fuzzy (see Blood, 1994), the focus is clearly on the world of organizations. The concern is, first, with the behavior and nature of the people within organizations and, second, with the behavior and nature of organizations within their environments" (p. 3). Even though the first concern is still relevant, Miner suggests that the study of organizational behavior has become more focused on the behavior and nature of organizations within their environments in recent years.
Given the enormity of the organizational structures in place in the U.S. armed forces, it is not surprising that these tenets of organizational behavior have long been applied to the military. Researchers first began using organizational behavior approaches to help the U.S. military achieve its goals during World War I (Greenberg, 2003). Organizational behaviorists continued to assist the military during World War II, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and through the end of the Cold War when the former Soviet Union collapsed (Greenberg, 2003). In fact, even during periods when the outcome of World War II remained uncertain, organizational behaviorists were at work in the armed forces. For example, organizational behavior studies of the armed forces during the period between 1943 and 1947 resulted in the passage of the National Security Act of 1947 that established their current lines of authority (Marutello, 1999).
More recently, organizational behaviorists have been instrumental in helping the armed forces make the transition to the 21st century and the new and emerging role demanded of the military today. For instance, according to Greenberg, following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the world became a truly uncertain and...
Armed Forces be redefined; redefined to operate in a different and uncertain world -- a world that may be more uncertain than at any time since the Civil War" (2003, p. 246). Taken together, the ongoing so-called "Arab Spring" and active shooting wars in the Middle East and Northern Africa make is apparent that the uncertain environment in which the armed forces operate is even more pronounced at present, making the need for a highly trained and motivated military even more important today.
Although each armed service (i.e., U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps and, nominally, the U.S. Coast Guard although it is assigned to the Department of Homeland Defense during times of peace) is unique in some ways, each of the military services is characterized by certain qualities and features that lend themselves to analysis using organizational behavior techniques. For instance, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates emphasizes that, "In the end, the military capabilities we need cannot be separated from the cultural traits and reward structure of the institutions we have: the signals sent by what gets funded, who gets promoted, what is taught in the academies and staff colleges, and how we train" (2008, p. 37).
In a seminal study of the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, a former CIA executive Komer conducted an organizational behavior analysis of the primary constraints that were in place which prevented the military from making the changes that were needed to transform itself into a modern fighting force. The study by Komer, "Bureaucracy Does Its Thing," identified several key organizational structures that were hampering the mandated transitions, including the following:
1. The reluctance to change preferred ways of functioning, and when faced with lack of results, to do more of the same;
2. Trying to run a war with peacetime management structure and practices;
3. A belief that the current set of problems were either an aberration or would soon be over; and,
4. Where because a certain problem -- in that case, counterinsurgency -- did not fit the inherited structure and preferences of organizations -- it simultaneously became everybody's business and no one's business (Gates, 2008, p. 37).
Unfortunately, simply identifying these key problem areas did not automatically translate into corresponding remedies, but this organizational behavior study of the U.S. military did serve to support the use of these analytical methods in helping the armed forces achieve their respective organizational goals. Subsequent successful applications of organizational behavior methods in the U.S. military have also proven their worth in varying degrees, and the need for such analyses is not a static, one-time affair but rather an ongoing requirement, particularly in large, highly bureaucratic organizations such as the armed forces. In this regard, Secretary Gates concludes that, "These tendencies are always present in any large, hierarchical organization, and we must consistently strive to overcome them" (2008, p. 37).
To date, the track record of success for organizational behavior applications in the U.S. military is impressive. Beyond the foregoing seminal study by Komer, a flight officer reports that more recently, organizational behaviors methods have been used to good effect in helping the U.S. Air Force in addressing the high attrition rate of Air Force pilots who were leaving the service in droves following the first Gulf War to join the ranks of higher-paying positions with civilian airlines (Lenzi, 2009). In addition, Vigoda-Gadot and Ben-Zion (2004) applied organizational behavior concepts such as the effects of reward systems and organizational image in reducing attrition rates in the military. This is an especially relevant and timely application of organizational behavior to help the military accomplish its mission given the vast sums invested in human resource administration and training that are characteristic of many high-tech professions in the armed forces today. Enlisted members and officers alike may view more lucrative employment in the civilian world as being sufficient reason to leave the service, and the loss of expertise and the concomitant requirement to train replacements make retention a high priority in the armed forces. In this regard, Vigoda-Gadot and Ben-Zion report that the results of their organizational behavior study of navy and army officers showed that these tendencies are clearly at work in contributing to inordinately high attrition rates in the armed forces. The extent to which organizational image is balanced by "greener fields" elsewhere can be predictive of attrition rates in the military. For instance, these authorities note that, "In recent years organizational image has enjoyed growing interest in organizational behavior literature. In a free-market society and with open transport of information and knowledge it may be argued that the image of organizations is highly influential on peoples' behavior" (Vigoda-Gadot & Ben-Zion, 2004, p. 202). During periods when the military enjoys high levels of organizational image, current service members may place a higher regard on this aspect of their service to the exclusion of more lucrative opportunities in the civilian world. In this regard, Vigoda-Gadot and Ben-Zion conclude that, "Employees' decision to leave a current job or stay with an organization is subject to various considerations. They need to weigh a wide range of advantages and disadvantages as provided by competitive employers" (2004, p. 202). These findings lend support to the assertions by Gates…
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