Last week I looked at the backgrounds of the UK Armed Forces chiefs of staff over the past 20 or so years, and what effect this might have on the outlook of their service.
The conclusion was, largely, that the RAF’s high command has been overwhelmingly been in the hands of former fighter pilots, while no officers with a background in the more humdrum fields of logistics or battlefield support have made it to the top of the tree.
By contast, Royal Navy and Army Chiefs of Staff seem to have had a more diverse background, both individually and in terms of the different people who have risen to the top of the pack.
But are these trends unique to the UK, or do they transcend national barriers? As a bit of a comparison, I thought I would take a look at the equivalent commands in the US. The findings are pretty interesting to say the least.
US Air Force
The US Air Force’s career structure is uncannily similar to that of the RAF – Fighter pilots are very much the top dogs. Apparently Norton Schwartz’s appointment as Chief of Staff was made deliberately to buck the trend, as the Secretary of Defence was keen to have someone other than a Fighter Pilot in command. The main difference with the RAF is that senior officers in the US Air Force have the opportunity of more ‘star’ commands before reaching Chief of Staff level, whether they be functional home commands of the command of air components in joint combat commands.
Norton Schwartz – Airlift (mainly C-130), US Transportation Command
Michael Moseley – Fighters (F-15 Eagle), Central Command Air Forces
John Jumper – Fighters (F-4 Phantom), Airlift (C-7 Caribou), US Air Forces Europe, Central Command Air Forces
Michael Ryan – Fighters (F-4 Phantom), US Air Forces Europe
Ronald Fogleman – Fighters (F-100 Super Sabre), US Transportation Command, Deputy Commander Korea
Merrill McPeak – Fighters (F-100 Super Sabre, F-104 Starfighter, F-4 Phantom), Southern Command Air Forces
Michael Dugan – Fighters (F-100 Super Sabre), Attack (A-1 Skyraider), US Air Forces Europe
Larry Welch – Fighters (F-4 Phantom), Strategic Air Command
Charles Gabriel – Fighters (F-51 Mustang, F-86 Sabre), US Air Forces Europe
Lew Allen – Bombers (B-29 Superfortress, B-36 Peacemaker), Air Force Systems Command
US Navy Chiefs of Staff have a broadly diverse experience base. Most have commanded a number of ships, and the modern trend is for former Destroyer and Cruiser Captains. For a Navy based on the power of the supercarrier, very few have actually commanded a carrier, although some have commanded Carrier Battle Groups. During the Cold War aviators and submariners were in a prominent position.
Gary Roughead – Destroyer (USS Barry), Cruiser (USS Port Royal), George Washington Carrier Battle Group, US Pacific Fleet
Michael Mullen – Tanker (USS Noxubee), Destroyer (USS Goldsborough), Cruiser (USS Yorktown), George Washington Carrier Battle Group, US Second Fleet
Vern Clark – Gunboat (USS Grand Rapids), Destroyer (USS Spruance), Destroyer Squadrons, Carl Vinson Carrier Battle Group, US Second Fleet, US Atlantic Fleet
Jay Johnson – Naval Fighters (F8- Crusader, F-14 Tomcat), Theodore Roosevelt Battle Group, US Second Fleet
Jeremy Boorda – Minesweeper (USS Parrot), Frigate (USS Farragut), Saratoga Battle Group, US Naval Forces Europe
Frank Kelso – Submarines (USS Finback, USS Bluefish), US Sixth Fleet, US Atlantic Command
Carlisle Trost – Submarines, US Seventh Fleet, US Atlantic Fleet
James Watkins – Destroyers, Cruisers, Submarines, Sixth Fleet, Pacific Fleet
Thomas Hayward – Naval Fighters, Aircraft Carrier (USS America), US Seventh Fleet, US Pacific Fleet
James Holloway – Naval Fighters (F-9 Panther), Attack (A-4 Skyhawks), Aircraft Carrier (USS Enterprise), US Seventh Fleet
US Army Generals also come from a broad experience base, both as individuals and as a group. Unlike the British Army, where an officer stays within his Regiment until reaching ‘star’ rank, in the US Army it is not unknown for officers to transfer frequently, and hence gain experience in more than one arm. As in the British Army, it is not unknown for an infantryman to command an Armoured Division, for example. It is also noticeable that more US Generals appear to have Airborne, Ranger and Air Assault qualifications, even if they have not served in the relevant units. Commanders in Vietnam usually became Chief of Staff of the Army, probably due to the profile and experience that the war in South East Asia gave them.
George Casey – Rangers/Mechanized Infantry, 1st Armoured Division, Multi-National Force Iraq
Peter Schoomaker – Armoured Cavalry/Special Forces, Delta Force, US Special Operations Command
Eric Shinseki – Infantry/Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, Seventh US Army
Gordon Sullivan – Armour, 1st Infantry Division, Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations and Plans)
Carl Vuono – Artillery, 8th Infantry Division, Training and Doctrine Command
John Wickham – Infantry/Airborne, 101st Airborne Division, US Forces Korea
Edward Meyer – Armoured Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division, Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations and Plans)
Bernard Rogers – Infantry, 5th Infantry (Mechanized) Division, US Army Forces Command
Frederick Weyand – Artillery/Intelligence, 25th Infantry Division, II Field Force (Vietnam), Military Assistance Command (Vietnam), US Army Pacific
Creighton Abrams – Armour, 3rd Armoured Division, V Corps, Military Assistance Command (Vietnam).