An interview with LTG H. R. McMaster

Just prior to departing Ft. Benning, H.R.  McMaster gave an interview with the local newspaper, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. A lot of it is geared to the local community, but quite a bit of it is applicable across the board, and worth a few minutes.

Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster is a combination of warrior, intellectual and leader. He was recently recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

McMaster earned a reputation for his 1997 book, “Dereliction of Duty,” which questioned political and military leadership during Vietnam.

Dave Barno, a retired lieutenant general, described McMaster this way: “I watched senior Army generals argue over ways to end his career. But he dodged those bullets and will soon take over command of the Army’s ‘futures’ center. After years as an outspoken critic, McMaster soon will be in the right place to help build the right Army for the nation.”

McMaster has spent two years as commander of Fort Benning. He has been selected for promotion to lieutenant general, and has been reassigned to Fort Monroe, Va., where he will serve as the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, Training and Doctrine Command. He has been in charge of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning for two years. McMaster recently sat down with Ledger-Enquirer reporter Chuck Williams.


One of the key strengths of our Army is what we call the “philosophy of mission command,” which is basically decentralized operations based on mission orders. It means, “Hey, I’m going to ask you to accomplish a mission, but I’m not going to tell you how to do it. You can figure it out.” That’s the strength of the American Army. It’s that kind of initiative and the ability to apply your imagination to solve problems. What I’ve found here at Fort Benning and across my career is if you give people the freedom to take initiative and help give them the resources they need to accomplish the mission, they’re always going to exceed your expectations.

When you’re a company commander or platoon leader at a remote Combat Outpost in Afghanistan, it’s hard for your commander to micromanage. There are some that are sure to try, but sheer distance has imposed Mission Command philosophy to some extent. Harking back to the WaPo piece on the challenges the Army will face in peacetime, one thing I suspect we’ll see quite a bit of is junior officers, used to operated well away from their chain of command, will increasingly chafe under the daily stress of the battalion commander being right across the street, and the multitude of taskings his staff generates that, to our hard charging officer, have no correlation to success in combat. These officers, who are just as capable of being successful as entrepreneurs as they were combat leaders, will walk out the door. The ones left behind, by and large, will be the ones that need more supervision. And the higher echelons of the unit will give it to them in ever increasing doses.  This “brightsizing” happens to every army in the transition to peacetime. And frankly, I don’t know how to mitigate it. And the worst part is, eventually those micromanaged leaders become senior leaders who, while fully capable of mouthing the philosophy of Mission Command, have internalized the lessons of oversupervision and micromanagement. Let’s hope enough of the cream of the crop can tolerate the avian excrement long enough to rise to senior leadership.


In the comments on a recent post, Byron asked about McMaster being passed over for Lieutenant General the first time.

While then COL McMaster was passed over for promotion to Brigadier General by the first promotion board, there is no promotion board for Lieutenant General. LTG is a nominative rank, and a rank of office. That is, only those positions authorized and required to be filled by a three star general, all of which require the advise and consent of the Senate. If you aren’t serving in one of those positions, you don’t get the three stars.

4 thoughts on “An interview with LTG H. R. McMaster”

  1. In my opinion, we are already well on the way to creating a JO corps with nothing but garrison experience. By the time I switched out of command in the end of May, only two of my Lts had deployed with the Bn, and that was shutting down Iraq in 2010, so not much of anything anyway. This is the case with more and more units now. The same can be said for most SGTs and below.

  2. I would think that the Mission Command philosophy would conflict with the network-centric warfare doctrine with its emphasis on information sharing and ability to continuously update the commander. It was bad enough in Vietnam when it was possible to have battalion, brigade, and division commanders all quickly on the scene of a company in contact. I just cannot imagine the situation being better with higher HQs being able to contact individual vehicles or squads.

    1. Assuming the networked capability you are referring to is Blue Force Tracker (or FBCB2 if you are unlucky enough to be using that nightmare), there is no conflict between Mission Command and the use of these systems. One simple example: assume that I am maneuvering a battalion in which the majority of the of the combat vehicles are equipped with BFT. I get some intelligence from a higher surveillance system. I can look at my screen, decide who is where, make appropriate decisions about how to maneuver, and issue clear guidance: Guidons, FRAGO Follows: Assassin, orient north and set a blocking position. Bulldog, move to Phase Line Red, orient East and establish a Support By Fire position oriented NW. Chaos, once Bulldog reports set, attack to Phase Line White and destroy an estimated MRC (-). Dragoon, detach one tank platoon to Chaos, assume reserve and set vicinity MR 133 459. Execute now. Report set.”

      The more information (to a certain point) that a commander can gather WITHOUT HAVING TO DISTRACT/BOTHER HIS SUBORDINATES, the better. Mission command isn’t about a commander looking at a BFT screen and calling individual vehicles to tell them to shift left or right 50 meters. Incidentally, the ability for a young company XO to push detailed and accurate reporting up to the BN TOC via BFT is amazing and allows very accurate battlefield reporting/tracking, enabling the TOC and BN XO to do what they are supposed to do which is provide recommendations to the commander on the ground. Great capabilities.

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