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Military to evaluate officers for character, competence

Misconduct fuels effort to overhaul assessments

David H. Petraeus resigned from the CIA over an affair with Paula Broadwell, coauthor of his biography.

Associated Press/File

David H. Petraeus resigned from the CIA over an affair with Paula Broadwell, coauthor of his biography.

WASHINGTON — After a series of scandals involving high-ranking officers, the US military for the first time will require generals and admirals to be evaluated by their peers and the people they command on qualities including personal character.

The new effort is being led by General Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as part of a broad overhaul of training and development programs for generals and admirals. It will include new courses to train the security detail, executive staffs, and even the spouses of senior officers.

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Saying that he was ‘‘disturbed about the misconduct issues,’’ Dempsey said that evaluations of top officers needed to go beyond the traditional assessment of professional performance by superior officers alone. He said he had decided the changes were necessary ‘‘to assess both competence and character in a richer way.’’

‘‘You can have someone of incredible character who can’t lead their way out of a forward operating base because they don’t have the competence to understand the application of military power, and that doesn’t do me any good,’’ Dempsey said. ‘‘Conversely, you can have someone who is intensely competent, who is steeped in the skills of the profession, but doesn’t live a life of character, and that doesn’t do me any good.’’

A significant number of military personnel have been investigated, penalized, and fired in recent months for poor judgment, financial malfeasance, and sexual improprieties or sexual violence. Others were relieved for inappropriate leadership judgment while in command.

Dempsey said that regularly scheduled professional reviews would be transformed from top-down assessments to the kind of ‘‘360-degree performance evaluation’’ often seen in corporate settings.

He acknowledged that the change had already drawn concern from some in the military’s senior ranks, who warned that it risked damaging a hierarchical command system based on discipline and adherence to orders from above.

‘It will reduce what the military calls “toxic leadership.” ’

Richard H. Kohn, specialist in military culture 
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Richard H. Kohn, a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who specializes in military culture, said he thought the 360-degree evaluation would have a positive effect on the leadership styles of many officers.

“It will reduce what the military calls ‘toxic leadership,’ elevating those who are highly competent but also fair and less brusque and peremptory,’’ Kohn said.

As for the new training programs, Kohn said that while it may be impossible to prevent willful infractions, ‘‘most officers need to be reminded of the rules and regulations on a routine basis.’’

Dempsey said the demands of combat deployments in the past decade had prevented officers from attending the academic programs that historically had been integrated into an officer’s career every few years, and he pledged to rebalance that.

It is likely that the review will lead to a reduction in the overall number of generals and admirals, and the size of personal staffs, communications teams and security details. The review also looked at whether administrative staff members assigned to commanders had been used to run personal errands for officers and their spouses.

Among the serious cases of misconduct over recent months, the four-star general who previously served as the top officer in Africa, William Ward, was demoted to three-star general after an investigation into misuse of government funds, including lavish travel with his wife. A one-star officer, Jeffrey A. Sinclair, is facing a court-martial on sexual misconduct charges involving a subordinate.

David H. Petraeus resigned from the CIA over an affair after he had retired as a four-star general. The scandal shined an unflattering light on the high-society life at the military’s Central Command when General John R. Allen was investigated, and cleared of, wrongdoing over e-mails to a Tampa socialite who also was friend of Petraeus.

Dempsey said that ‘‘the perception in a profession is just as important as the performance.”

The challenge, he said, would be to trim the size of staffs assigned to senior leaders to fit new budget constraints without diminishing the ability of those officers to perform their national security duties.

Under Dempsey’s plan, teams of inspectors will observe and review the procedures of commanders and their staff.

The inspections will not be punitive but will provide a ‘‘periodic opportunity for general officers and flag officers to understand whether, from an institutional perspective, we think they are inside or outside the white lines,’’ he said.

In addition, new programs will be instituted to ensure that a commander’s staff, and a spouse, are fully aware of military regulations.

Dempsey said he would be putting the new assessment procedures in effect for all generals and admirals serving on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff and in other military headquarters around the world in command of combat operations; the other chiefs will do so within their individual armed services.

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