Fire the Horse-Holders!

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army center of military history

Former defense -- and Air Force -- secretary Harold Brown argues that the military service secretaries are now as redundant as horse holders in a cavalry-less Army.

Battleland is always impressed with 20/20 hindsight, visual clarity of any sort being so unusual in the rarified circles at the top echelon of U.S. national security. Take the column in Friday’s Washington Post by physicist Harold Brown. He served as President Carter’s defense secretary — and as LBJ’s Air Force secretary from 1965 to 1969, nearly a half-century ago.

Having once been a civilian service chief himself, Brown says they have out-lived their utility. He drags out one of the most pejorative terms military folks use – “horse holders” – to describe the positions of the secretaries of the Air Force, Army and Navy. He doesn’t estimate how much money doing away with them would save, but that might not be the most important reason to get rid of them: they have simply become management underbrush that rusts the political chain of command.

Changes in the structure and the way the U.S. military operates have made the service secretaries and the service chiefs – the top uniformed officer in each service – redundant, Brown argues. He says it’s time for those civilians to get the heave-ho:

I am reminded of an apocryphal [Battleland editor’s note: perhaps not] piece of Washington history. In the 1950s, the Army reexamined its Table of Organization and Equipment. It found that an artillery battery contained one soldier whose presence and function were unexplained. The position was that of the man who, during combat, had held the horses that drew the caissons carrying the guns. The horses had gone, but not the personnel slot. Let’s retire another set of horse holders.