This week the Association of the United States Army held their Winter Symposium in south Florida. Yes, Florida! Way to go AUSA! Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was invited by senior leadership from AUSA to moderate a panel on operational energy. I immediately agreed and started packing my sunscreen. A couple of days later I got a call from a more senior AUSA member of leadership to disinvite me to moderate, although they did offer to pay my cover charge if I came anyway. When I agreed to moderate, I took on the expense of travel, hotels, etc., because I felt it was important. When the gentleman called to waive me off, he explained it was because the senior member of the panel decide he did not want a moderator. Interestingly, it will be the only panel that will not have a moderator. I was assured it had nothing to do with my, sometime, contrary opinions in this page and it was a personal decision on the part of the senior officer on the panel. The gentleman that disinvited me did not have to make that personal call; he could have left it to other folks farther down the food chain. But as I said, he is a gentleman. I believe his assurances that it had nothing to do with my opinions.
Often, at the various energy conferences hosted by or including DOD, the group essentially sits around and sings Kumbaya. Only rarely will someone with a known contrarian view be invited and asked to speak at these events. Last week in Arizona, the REF broke these rules. At their NetZero at the Tactical Edge Conference they invited BG(R) Steve Anderson to present. Steve was one of the first senior officers in uniform to recognize the vulnerabilities associated with the profligate use of energy in theater. As Petraus' Loggie, Anderson set about finding solutions for energy security in Iraq. Since retiring, he has crisscrossed the Nation sounding the tocsin for operational energy security, speaking, writing and appearing on TV to get DOD to move faster in implementing energy conservation measures that could save lives in theater. He has been a relentless critic of DOD leadership and he did not disappoint.
When Sharon Burke finished her presentation, Steve's hand shot up in the air. Once of the folks from the REF ran over and asked him to be nice; not a good move. Steve asked Ms. Burke how DOD could claim that energy was a priority when the new SECDEF failed to include it in his list of priorities? Ms. Burke provided a diplomatic answer if not a very informative one. As I attempted to slide at least one seat away from Steve (never share a foxhole with anyone braver than you are) I could sense the room's displeasure at the question. "How could he treat the Army's honored guest this way?" seemed to be the question on everyone's mind. The fact is, although it was an unpleasant question to ask, it was not unfair.
On the final day, BG(R) Anderson got up to speak and harangued the largely Army crowd with DOD's failure to act with alacrity in securing operational energy. The Army folks looked around and said, "Wait, we work for the Army and we are moving out smartly." The criticism of DOD, although accurate was misplaced and the crowd did get a bit sulky. Again, the criticism was not unfair, just poorly targeted.
The fact remains, the REF did something brave by bringing in a known, contrary view. One of the things I always tell any staff on which I work or works for me is, "If all of us are thinking the same way, some of us are not necessary." We need to encourage and listen to the dissident voices out there. Disagreement is not disrespect. Of course, we need to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. Dan Nolan