Earlier this month, the president nominated Navy Rear Admiral James D. Syring to the position of Vice Admiral – assigned as Director for the Missile Defense Agency.
Amid the calamity of political attack ads and pundits taking pot-shots throughout the media, this news has virtually escaped the public eye. The reason why the news is significant isn’t because of the appointment itself, but because of who the appointment replaces.
The nomination was necessary in order to replace Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly who is under investigation by the Inspector General’s office of the DoD, for allegedly “verbally harassing” his subordinates.
According to a July Wired report, Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly had a habit of using a “hailstorm of expletives” with his staff on a consistent basis, to the point where staff members would avoid telling O’Reilly the truth for fear of another verbal attack. (2)
O’Reilly will have served four years in the Missile Defense Agency this November, and already planned on retiring this year.
The situation isn’t the case of a single disgruntled employee either. Apparently there were 37 witnesses as part of the inspector general report, who all provided examples of incidents where O’Reilly was verbally abusive. In one case, a staff member reports that O’Reilly said he would “f**king choke me”, and repeatedly called his staff “a bunch of god damned idiot[s]”.
The Old Guard in a New Military
While such treatment of subordinates was a way of life in the military a few decades ago, times have changed. Now, the Defense Department Inspector’s General office will investigate claims of abuse just as though the abuse took place in a civilian workforce.
According to the May report issued by the Inspector General’s office following the investigation, the office wrote that O’Reilly:
“…engaged in a leadership style that was inconsistent with standards expected of senior army officials.”
The report went on to explain that subordinates are expected to be treated with “dignity, respect, fairness and consistency.”
The Inspector General’s office allowed O’Reilly a chance to speak to the charges at hand, and O’Reilly simply blamed the subordinates for their “subjective perceptions” and “extrapolations of inaccurate perceptions of isolated incidents.”
However, the incidents were hardly isolated.
Poor Leadership Changes Position to Navy Leadership
Over 30 witnesses consistently reported similar stories, and described O’Reilly with statements like “The worst manager I’ve worked for in 26 years of public service,” and “As a leader, as a director, whatever, he’s the worst.”
The Missile Defense Agency is one of the most heavily funded Pentagon Agencies, with an $8.4 billion budget in 2012. (1)
As of August 6th, President Obama nominated Navy Rear Admiral James Syring to become the new Director of the Missile Defense Agency. This means the leadership of the MDA transitions the leadership of the Missile Defense Agency from the Army to the Navy for the first time in the history of the United States.
The Missile Defense Agency is the second generation of the original Strategic Defense Initiative initiated by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. Past Directors have included a civilian, an Air Force leader and an Army leader. This year will mark the first time Navy leadership has filled the role.
The move makes sense, considering that the Navy is at the core of the sea-based missile defense system utilizing Aegis Ships around the world.
It is also important to note that Navy technology has advanced far beyond just ballistic missiles. Some of the most cutting edge Navy research includes technologies like directed energy and EMF weapons systems such as the Electronic Rail Gun.
The ousting of O’Reilly and his replacement with Syring represents a new age in military leadership and relationships with subordinates. While there will always be a command structure in place, the days of disrespect and mistreatment are gone.