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How is a CO of a battalion chosen?

Michael Dorosh

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CFL said:
Are there more potential candidates then positions?

Thanks.

Depends on the battalion.  Sometimes there are NO candidates and someone has to be parachuted in from elsewhere; I suspect this is the same in the Regs just as in the reserves.  Generally it goes to the DCO in reserve units, if he is qualified. If not, strange things can happen; someone comes from another unit, or they pull an ex CO to do a second tour, easy to do if he is on staff at Brigade, harder to do if he has already retired!
 

KevinB

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I know for the Lt Col Vida replacement there was two possible choices for 1VP - typically 2-3 choices IIRC for most of the other change of commands as well.


PRI/Bartok5/and PPCLI Guy could likely give you a more insightful look
 

Bartok5

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Fellas,

The question came from CFL in 2 PPCLI, so I will assume that the question pertains to CO selection for the Regular Army battalions, and not the Reserves.  The latter are a whole different kettle of fish, which I will briefly address below.

Given that there are only 9 Regular Force infantry battalions in the Canadian Army, I can most assuredly tell you that there are far more qualified (and eminently suitable) prospective COs than there are battalions to command.   As a result, our current "cream of the crop" have been selected for command.   Gone are the days where we had to dip into the deep-end of the gene pool to appoint unit CO's.   Also gone are the days where internal politics and "who you know" played a substantive role in the selection process.   Patronage and "Regimental Politics" largely ended ended in the early 1990's.   In today's Army, only those who are eminiently qualified and possess the right mix of leadership qualities will be selected for battalion command.   I need only point out the stellar cast currently commanding (or about to command) the three PPCLI battalions to make my point - LCol Ian Hope (1 PPCLI designate), LCol Stu Sharpe (2 PPCLI) and LCol Wayne Eyre (3 PPCLI).   I have worked with all three of those gentlemen, and they are without question outstanding officers in every single regard.   The soldiers of today are far better served by their unit leadership than was the case in the late 1980's/early 1990s.   Not that all COs were necessarily tainted in those days, by any stretch.   The "quality control" was simply a tad erratic thanks to internal politics.   As a result, there were as many politically-appointed "duds" as there were "shooting stars".   Thankfully, those days are now long over and the guys currently commanding are the best that our Army has to offer its soldiers.  

As far as Army Reserve units are concerned, Michael's observations are pretty much bang-on.  The Army Reserve has a serious problem with long-term retention and succession, to the extent that unit's seldom have ideal (or even reasonably qualified and competent) senior officers waiting in the wings to assume command.   This is why you frequently see "cross-posting" of successful CO's from one unit to the next within a single armoury.   Finish your command of a Medical Company without getting into trouble, and then move across the Armoury Floor as a civilian doctor/military Health Care Adminstrator to command an Infantry unit in the absence of a suitably-qualified infantry officer.   Don't laugh - I've seen this (or a variation on the theme) happen more times than I can count.   How about retired Airforce officers commanding infantry companies?   Just ask B Coy, C Scot R....   The same applies to Army Reserve RSMs who change hat-bagdes to cross the armoury floor and have another 2 years in the job with an entirely different unit and MOC.   Classification and MOC qualifications apparently mean little at the Reserve CO and RSM ranks.   But of course, those are simply the first-hand observations of one malcontent Regular Force officer....

In any case, to get back to the original question I can assure you that there is no need to "parachute" anyone who is not eminently qualified into command of a Regular Force infantry battalion.   There is a merit-based command succession list with literally a half-dozen qualified LCols chomping at the bit for each of our 9 battalion command positions.   Sadly, all but one of those fine officers will instead end up flying a desk.   And if they are so lucky as to beat the odds and attain unit command?   Well than see my post in the topic "We are driving good soldiers out of the Army".   In today's Army, the "pinnacle" of command ain't necessarily what it used to be....
 

Scoobie Newbie

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Well thanks for that explanation.  Its good to see that the good ole boy system is gone (now if we could get that to the senior NCO level).  It unfortunate that not all qualified people will attain the job of CO.  I know a few CO's ago we got shafted hard.  It has been on the up swing though with LCol Mackalowich (sp) and LCol Day (not sure if they have been promoted so thats why I left it at LCol).  Mister Sharpe is brand new so we are still seeing how he works.  He does have a weird habit of talking in the third person though. :)
 

pbi

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Folks: MarkC has, as usual, given a good answer to the question. I will expand a bit.

In the Regular Army, COs are selected from lists generated within the Regiments. The candidates on these lists are LCols who have the requisite levels of performance, potential, experience and qualification. These lists are then considered annually by an Army-level selection board that reviews each nominee and decides suitability. It is most assuredly NOT decided by the Regiments. As MarkC pointed out (and as he, PPCLI Guy and I quite well remember...) some dreadful creatures were allowed to become COs in the "old days". (Althogh most were at least half-decent, often better). The CLS signs off on the final decisions, and these officers then become the COs-in-waiting. A similar process is now followed for RSM.

In the Regular Army the issue of command is being taken much more seriously in terms of quality control: it is far more likely to see a CO removed now than it ever was in the "old days" (in fact it was almost unheard of). RSMs are also under this gun now too, for things like DWI.


A similar process has existed for the last few years for the Army Reserve, at least in LFWA: the unit nominates a CO candidate (if it even has one: a perennial problem in our Bde, as we don't enjoy the riches of the "officer-fat" Res CBGs I hear of elsewhere). The Bde Comd integrates the nomination into the Bde Succession List, which must reflect at least two fills behind each incumbent CO (again, some units just can't ante up...). Once he has assembled his list(usually working with his DComd, COS and ACOS), the Bde Comd takes it to the Area Comd and DComd. Together these two BGens review the lists, and approve or deny the proposed candidates. The Bde Comd then appoints the COs of the units accordingly.

Although we still have some serious problems with depth of succession in our Bde (and the amount of time it takes to qualify a suitable candidate) the Reserve system is basically pretty good, if you have the human material to work with. Cheers.
 

Scoobie Newbie

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"COs are selected from lists generated within the Regiments" how do mean generated within the regiment?


"RSMs are also under this gun now too, for things like DWI."  I hope our current RSM (real awesome never meets that fate and I am no way impling that he drinks and drives only that he is old school when it comes to drinking).
 

pbi

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The senior officers of the Regiment assemble annually and review all of the suitable candidates, including considering those Majors who have demonstrated potential to one day be COs. They then put forward a list that is reviewed at Army level to determine who gets put forward for appointment, including a very detailed pers file review. At Army level each name can be challenged, and the Regt can be asked why some people were not put on it. Once the selection committee is satisfied, the CLS signs off (if he agrees).

I know your RSM fairly well and you have nothing to worry about, IMHO. The CLS intent is to hold RSMs and COs to the same standards for DWI (and ethical behaviour in general)-this recognizes the fact that the RSM is a key leader in his own right.

I have had the great pleasure to know your current CO for many years, since we served together in 1 PPCLI. He is a very fine officer and a truly good man. There are not many like him. Give him a chance. Cheers.
 

Scoobie Newbie

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Oh you have no worries.  I will definitely give him the benefit of the doubt.

"The CLS intent is to hold RSMs and COs to the same standards for DWI (and ethical behavior in general)-this recognizes the fact that the RSM is a key leader in his own right."  I can definitely appreciate everyone being on a more level playing field as far as discipline goes.
 

PPCLI Guy

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pbi said:
Folks: MarkC has, as usual, given a good answer to the question. I will expand a bit.

In the Regular Army, COs are selected from lists generated within the Regiments. The candidates on these lists are LCols who have the requisite levels of performance, potential, experience and qualification. These lists are then considered annually by an Army-level selection board that reviews each nominee and decides suitability. It is most assuredly NOT decided by the Regiments.

And to add a bit more detail:

The Regiment puts forward two names for each Command Position, and it is Army Council (and ultimately the CLS) that choses which of the two candidates are selected. 

Candidates whose names are being put forward are told in advance, in the unlikely event that a selected officer is not interested in Commanding (this has happened before in other trades).

From a Regimental perspective, we have a lot of quality officers to chose from, which is reflected in the outstanding COs that we have right now for all three Battalions.
 

pbi

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No, hopefully not. But, as I think I mentioned a while back, that was a very difficult personal decision for him to make. The Army places huge trust in you when they give you command, and it is an honour and a great privelige to be allowed to lead Canadian soldiers. That is why it is so hard for a CO to do as LCol Vida did, but IMHO he knew what he was doing and made the right call. I am still very sorry to see him go (an I told him that) but it was his choice. Cheers.
 

dapaterson

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After fifteen years, perhaps it's time to dust of this discussion, and examine the new model the US Army is adopting for command selection:

Army Physical Fitness Test including height and weight measurement
Evaluation of written communication skills
Series of cognitive and non-cognitive assessments
Peer and subordinate assessments
Psychologist interview, and
Double-blind panel interview.


After running a trial on a group that started with 30 personnel:

Eight failed or dropped out when told of the requirements;
On average, people moved eight slots up or down compared to the original system.
And the top-ranked individual following the new evaluation had previously been at the bottom of the list.


“We should have commanders who are deployable, can lead without being toxic, and have the mental faculties to be successful in command. And we know that the current centralized selection list system on its own is not getting us there.”

https://warontherocks.com/2019/12/battalion-commanders-are-the-seed-corn-of-the-army/
 

Infanteer

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Great article.

We are changing the paradigm. No longer will we spend weeks selecting a private for the Ranger Regiment while spending an average of two minutes to select battalion commanders.

That's particularly damning.

Giving boards more objective performance vectors than three lines from a few PERs and personal observations on past performance probably wouldn't hurt the process.
 

tomahawk6

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One hurdle to battalion command is to graduate from a staff college. Same is true for brigade command, having completed the war college. I don't know the selection rate for Majors to attend a staff college but it used to be around 50%. Fewer still are selected for the war college. Both schools are a big filter. You wont make BG without a brigade command plus an important staff job such as a tour at the Pentagroin on the joint staff. Another type of job almost certain to gain one a star is to be Executive Officer to a four star commander on top of having a good tour as a brigade commander.

I am not sure that changing selection for commander is necessary. I would rather see a more liberal approach,allowing for officers that have failed get a second chance. This would encourage risk taking which I think is an important attribute of a good leader.
 

b00161400

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I’m in the process of rereading Thinking Fast and Slow for my research project here at JCSP and it has some insight on how things like this should be done.  A simple formula that identifies critical attributes and assigns them scores will likely result in better candidates than informal selections based primarily on impressions from a file and limited (if any) interactions with the actual member.  Interesting to see the US including interviews because the book is clear on how useless interviews can be if a disciplined approach like the one described isn’t used. The way the Canadian selection process has been described clarifies why EA jobs are so valued: they give members who will one day be competed for unit command exposure to those who will sit in the board to decide their fate.  In a system that lacks a formalized assessment criteria, those interactions will weigh much more heavily than any file.


tomahawk6 said:
I am not sure that changing selection for commander is necessary. I would rather see a more liberal approach,allowing for officers that have failed get a second chance. This would encourage risk taking which I think is an important attribute of a good leader.

Good point on the risk taking.
 

tomahawk6

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The US Army has ever since the Vietnam War has had a zero tolerance for mistakes, we also see that in the USN with their revolving door command changes. Also our up or out policy has eliminated some good officers who were never advanced beyond Captain. Not make the selection to Major you might make it on the next board, if not you are done. I remember a 1Lt who made a mistake on ex by splitting his platoon. This error saw him relieved on the spot. A second chance might have been worthwhile. A second case was a newly promoted Captain given company command. His company failed their annual readiness ex and he was fired by the battalion co and told not to return to clean out his desk. In fact he had to find his own job ending up as non-appropriated funds custodian before leaving the service for civvy life, quite a waste of talent.
 

ballz

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Haligonian said:
The way the Canadian selection process has been described clarifies why EA jobs are so valued: they give members who will one day be competed for unit command exposure to those who will sit in the board to decide their fate.

A very poor practice of ours which not only makes self-fulfilling prophecies but also wastes key development years. If you're going to be a CO some day, there's a lot more valuable experience you can get over following someone around, clicking powerpoint slides, updating a guy,'s calendar, etc. Those who are deep-selected often don't get enough years in rank as it is.
 

PPCLI Guy

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Hmm.  I am thinking that you have not yet been an EA.  There is way more to it than you have suggested. 

I accept Haligonian's premise, but also suggest that there is a flip side to that - exposing an officer to higher level problems, thinking, and styles at an early point in their careers.

In the few times that I have been peripherally involved in career planning and development, I have pushed for EA jobs to expose the officer to the senior leaders, and not the other way around.
 
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