“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.”
– General Stanley A. McChrystal
A senior American staff officer has been sacked after publishing a rant against the bureaucracy and endless PowerPoint briefings at Nato’s Kabul headquarters.
Col Lawrence Sellin was sent home after generals read an opinion piece he had written revealing “little of substance” was done at the coalition’s joint command in Afghanistan.
He went on to paint a picture of a bloated organisation, swollen by the vanity of commanders, where endless slide show presentations are given to brief “cognitively challenged” generals.
A spokesman for the joint command confirmed Col Sellin, an army reservist with a PhD who was on his second tour of Afghanistan, had lost his job because of his remarks.
“He’s no longer working at the joint command, he has been sent back to his unit.”
Col Sellin’s piece, written for the news agency UPI and called “PowerPoints ‘R’ Us”, was published on Tuesday, but appears to have been born of a long period of frustration.
Beginning by acknowledging the piece may not benefit his career, but explaining it would be therapeutic, he wrote: “I have been assigned as a staff officer to a headquarters in Afghanistan for about two months. During that time, I have not done anything productive. Fortunately little of substance is really done here, but that is a task we do well.”
He said the international coalition’s sprawling joint command, which oversees operations across Afghanistan, was probably founded “to provide some general a three-star command”.
It had grown from a small group of “dedicated and intelligent officers” to “a stove-piped and bloated organisation, top-heavy in rank” where “you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a colonel”.
However he reserved his deepest criticism for the daily slide show presentations junior officers must give to keep top brass updated.
“For headquarters staff, war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information,” he wrote.
Giving good presentations had become an end in itself, he said, suggesting “random motion, ad hoc processes and an in-depth knowledge of Army minutia and acronyms are also key characteristics of a successful staff officer.”
Actual progress in the war had become “optional”, he believed.
The cornerstone of HQ life, the commander’s update, was delivered to “semi-comatose” audience of one and two-star generals where each briefer has “1 or 2 minutes to impart either information or misinformation”.
“Usually they don’t do either. Fortunately, none of the information provided makes an indelible impact on any of the generals.”
Col Sellin said the joint command was to grow even more because “an officer, who is currently without one, needs a staff of 35 people to create a big splash before his promotion board”.
Soldiers have long complained of the growing reliance on slide shows to brief people and the time dedicated to writing the presentations.
A spokesman for the Nato joint command said Col Sellin had been sacked because he had failed to clear his comments with public affairs officers.
Colonel Hans Bush, chief of public affairs said: “His comments do not reflect the reality of the work done every day at [joint command].
“His insights are his own, however, his duty position and responsibilities did not offer him the situational awareness needed to validate his postings to the media.”
By Ben Farmer in Kabul
Published: 2:12PM BST 28 Aug 2010
Source: The Independent