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talked to the corps commanders, I discovered they were getting their word directly from the palace in Saigon. I would go back to the headquarters in Saigon and talk to the combined staff of the Vietnamese armed forces and discover they had no knowledge of the operation that was going to be conducted by the corps commander, nor did the MAČV staff have any knowledge.
I found it out by being out there, rattling around in the bushes, finding out what was going on. We were trying to fight a war where half the forces were fighting under a limited command arrangement of a corps commander, where the U.S. commander had no responsibility for what these guys did, could not hold them accountable, couldn't give orders to them, and couldn't influence the way in which they were fighting. This is a blueprint for disaster.
I might say we are going to have a similar problem in Europe, if you don't get that command arrangement squared away. If war should break out in Europe, we have
to fight in the NATO environment. The NATO environment, the NATO command structure, is the thing that will run the war, not the U.S. CINC, not the guy in Stuttgart, but the combat commander who, in this case, will be the commander in the central region--who is a German four-star general incidentially—and who will be directing the combat operations on the central front where the real war will occur unless we have our command arrangements ironed out with these people, and with a clear understanding of how that war is going to be fought, there will be another disaster. So I think you might ask your staff to take a look at the combined command arrangements which are so essential to the conduct of any U.S. operations in the future, not just how the U.S. forces are organized to fight.
I think that is all I would like to say at this point, sir, as an opening statement. I would be very happy to respond to anything you might ask.
Mr. NICHOLS. Thank you, General.
Let me just say as chairman of this Investigating subcommittee that made the report for the Congress on the Lebanon situation, I am thoroughly familiar with what you are talking about, and I am thoroughly supportive of what you are talking about. The situation there was garbled from one end to the other.
I listened to every word that you had to say about the chain of command. The chain of command at the moment, if I am correct, goes from the President to the Secretary of Defense to the combantant commanders. But that is not in law, and I believe it is going to be the intent of both the House and the Senate bills to put that into law. I just want to say that on the one issue.
The fact that you have served—you didn't touch on this—several years on the Joint Staff compels me to ask you some questions relative to the Joint Staff. First I will start with the commander. Should the chairman be responsible, as we had suggested, I believe, in our bill for the Joint Staff?
General Vogt. Sir, the chairman has been responsible for the Joint Staff all along. There has never been any question about that. When I was the director, the chairman gave me my orders, and he controlled the Joint Staff. I think a lot is made of the fact that it isn't clearly stated to be the case. But that is the way it works. Certainly it worked that way when I was involved. The chairman has sufficient stature and authority to direct the staff to conduct the operations in the manner in which he thinks they should be conducted. That involves the planning and the operational data as well.
As a matter of fact, when I was the director and the chief of operations, we were involved in the sending of messages to the combat commanders all the time in conduct of the Vietnam War. The Joint Staff was really effectively operating as the drafter of the messages, originator of the directives to the commanders, in response to the guidance of the chairman, not the corporate structure. The corporate structure could not keep up with the daily operational activities. They would be informed at the next JCS meeting of what had occurred in the last 24 hours. The chairman was conducting the actual operation, getting his orders directly from the Secretary of Defense and from the President, and more precisely from the WASAG, the Washington Special Activities Group, that was organized to conduct the policymaking apparatus of the government as to the conduct of the war, all during the Nixon administration.
I think this may be beyond your present efforts, but the main area for examination is that part of the structure, that part of the machinery, from which originates most of the directives involving the urgent decisions that are going to be made in the war in Southeast Asia. If the guidance comes out of this level, that WASAG level or the NSC level, in a confused form, that is how it is going to arrive down at the other end to the combat commander. I will give you an example of some of the problems that we encountered.
I used to attend those WASĀG meetings with the chairman, as the director of the Joint Staff, so I could prepare the messages to go out to the combat commander directing that action which the President had agreed ought to be taken in the next 24 hours or the next 48 hours. I would draft the messages, bring them in to the chairman who would take them up to the Secretary of Defense, who hadn't been at the meeting, who would countermand the thing or change it in a very fundamental way and say he disagreed with the decision that had been made at WASAG. There is where your problem came in. That is where the indecision and screwed-up guidance came, at that level above the JCS. There was not much difference of view in the years I was in the Joint Staff between the major JCS members themselves. There was great unanimity of view on how the war ought to be conducted. The problem was in getting it sold at the decisionmaking level, getting the State Department to agree to it, CIA, and all the others who had to agree to it before it could be turned into an order and sent down to the commander in the field.
At one point in time, for example, the actual targets that were being selected and hit in Vietnam by our Air Forces were selected by a committee at that level above the JCS. They would sit down and say, “For the next 10 days we are going to cover the following targets. They will be hit on the following days.” Another blueprint for disaster.
What would happen, of course, is that these people, without any operational knowledge, would decide what targets they wanted hit. But they wouldn't have any understanding of the operational conditions in the field. They might direct that we hit targets up in the northeast section of the country when the monsoon season had brought weather that made it impossible to hit those targets. Targets elsewhere that could have been hit went unattacked, and those selected couldn't be attacked. We would sit there paralyzed for two weeks at a time with nothing happening. This is a problem, of course, that goes beyond the reorganization of the Defense De partment and the Joint Chiefs. It is a problem of getting decisions made properly at the right level, where the decisions are made.
I might add, sir, that in the years that I was involved in the formulation of policy, military policy, and with regard to how we pursued the war in Vietnam, the major initiatives for most of the major combat operations that involved changes in our situation in Vietnam came from levels above the JCS. The JCS advice was, by and large, disregarded. The attacks across the border in Cambodia, the attempts to cut the pipeline, these were all things that originated above the level of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sometimes opposed by the JCS.
Our problem in getting a decision at the highest level of the government is our greatest task, and one that I wish you could find some time to get the committee to focus on-how we get that decisionmaking authority focused so that when a decision gets transmitted down in the form of an order, it makes sense—so that it isn't countermanded by somebody else in the chain the next day. It is frustrating to hammer out an agreement across the river at the White House level, think you have got something, and find that the Secretary has countermanded it the next day and it can't go. This is a difficult task, I know, because you have to bring the State Department into this, the CIA, and other agencies in Government that have something to say about it.
Let me say that in our efforts to streamline things and to get matters into the hands of responsible individuals, we have some times caused ourselves problems. The National Security agency, for example, used to be an agency that was responsible to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In my tenure, the decision was made to have that agency report directly to the Secretary of Defense, and I saw the operational impact on me as the commander later on trying to fight the air war. I will give you an example.
I mentioned earlier that when the enemy introduced some of these new weapons systems,
we had no knowledge at all as to what their characteristics were. The strella hand-held surface-to-air missile that was causing great destruction to our aircraft was a case in point. I asked for information on how this thing operated, so I could respond operationally.
Back in the old days you went to the intelligence officer in your unit who had a chain-of-command arrangement whereby he could get the people who knew something about technical intelligence on the phone and in a few minutes you had some sort of answers. I waited 9 days to get any technical information or advice on this new weapons system. We had to wing it on our own in the meantime. You know, what altitude was it effective at, how did it operate, what was the mechanism that was used for aiming and guidance. All those things essential for countering the weapon were denied me for 9 days because an agency, now remote from the military responsibilities of the conduct of the war, controlled it. Later on, when I ran into command and control problems because the enemy was netting all its radars and we were going blind when we flew out of our coverage up in the north and the enemy was gaining great tactical advantage, I asked to get National Security Agency information made available immediately on a timely basis to conduct combat operations properly. And I was a commander in the field trying to deal with an agency that didn't even report to the Joint Chiefs of Staff-most difficult to get a response and to get people to react. They ultimately did. But, believe me, it was far more difficult than it would have been with a clearcut arrangement where the military had control and the responsive agencies reported to them. Some of these agencies get so big and so intertwined with their own responsibilities they begin to lose sight of the poor little guy in the field who is trying to fight the war. That is something we have to worry about.
Mr. NICHOLS. Let me go back to the staff, if I might, for just a minute. We have got about 400-old people on the staff of the JCS. The argument frequently has been, General, that no one wants to serve on that staff
. It is the kiss of death. A bright young officer wants a command. He doesn't want to be stuck away from his branch of service, away from his contemporaries on a staff here in the Pentagon. So, some thought is being given to trying to make that staff duty perhaps a little more attractive, certainly, that staff duty should not in any way be an impediment toward the normal promotion of a very qualified officer. Have you got any ideas on that?
General Vogt. Yes, sir; I wrestled with that problem when I was the director. I recall vividly one year when the promotion list came out of the respective services that the Joint Staff people were, in fact, lagging behind their contemporaries in the service staffs, and I made an issue of this, and I did it in a very direct way. I went to the Chiefs of the services. In one case in particular, the selection to the level of Navy captain, it was rather glaring. My commanders were falling far short of what would have been a reasonable quota, and I went to Admiral Zumwalt, who was the CNO at the time, and I said to him, “Look, one of two things is happening here. Either you are sending me people who aren't as good as they should be, and that explains why they are not being promoted, or you are sending me your good people and then forgetting about them or discriminating against them once they get down there. Now what is it?" I showed him the figures and said, in fact, they were not keeping pace with his own staff on the promotion list. The next year that was revised dramatically and the Joint Staff guys came out very well. The same thing applied with the other service Chiefs. When I went to them and explained the situation to them, the problem was hammered out. It was something that I think involved a little personal involvement on the part of the director and the Chiefs. And these were very reasonable men. When you explained what was happening, you got results. Now, maybe it will take a law to make that a perpetual thing. I don't think that is needed. There is another danger, and it is this: If people think that the way to get promoted fast is to gravitate toward the desk jobs in the Joint Staff, and they start shying away from the cockpits and the combat positions in the field, you are going to have great strategic guidance from the top and soldiers who can't or won't fight adequately at the other end. And I have worried about this, when we start establishing quotas at the expense of the people who are doing the fighting. I have been at both ends. I have been a combat commander in the cockpit, and a squadron commander in World War II, over at a beachhead in Normandy, wondering how these people are faring back in the Pentagon, and elsewhere, who never saw the war, wondering what motivated them in some of the decisions they were making. But believe me, it helped me understand in my greater responsibilities later how to conduct a war and how to fight a war. You have got to get in there and get shot at and hit a few times to really understand the meaning of combat command and what it is all about in the field.
I would personally not like to see a system where we have officers who spend the bulk of their career not facing the enemy or the potential enemy, but facing combatants in Washington, because you will have, as I say, people who will do that job superbly, but you won't have the guys that are going to have to do other jobs in the field. So, I would be cautious about that one.
Certainly, some emphasis is required to get the proper people there. They ought to be rewarded if they do the job properly. But let's not do it at the expense of the guy who is going to fight the war. Some of the finest officers are those guys out in the cockpits, sitting on those ships, facing those dangers every day. They are the ones that are called upon to make the command decisions in the field when the Pentagon isn't at your elbow telling you what to do.
Mr. NICHOLS. One final question on my part. Talk to us about the Deputy Chairman. In our conversations with the Joint Chiefs, who sat as a panel to testify, and otherwise, it is apparent that this issue is probably one of the most sticky issues that we face, the creation of a Deputy Chairman. First, is he needed in your judgment; second, what rank would you give him; third, if he is needed and can be utilized, what responsibilities would you assign to him?
General Vogt. Well, sir, I think, as is the case with most deputies, you wind up with people who really don't have the responsibility or the authority, nor do they have the respect and the kind of responsive reaction they should be getting, because they are, in fact, the No. 2 man. In most military chains of command, the No. 2 man isn't, in fact, the guy in the chain. Go out to CINCPAC for example. The commander in chief, Pacific, is always the commander in chief, Pacific. He never has a deputy designated as such. He has a chief of staff. The reason for that is the feeling that they have had over the years that you can't create in a deputy a man with sufficient stature to talk to the CINC's or the component commanders and the heads of governments and what have you. I rather suspect that what you are going to wind up with is somebody with a name and a title but without the aura that is going to be required to do the job properly.
Mr. NICHOLS. If I may interrupt right here, why should people look down their noses at a deputy chairman or a deputy commander? What is demeaning about that job in the eyes of contemporaries?