The politics of promotion

5 June 2023

Recent simultaneous announcements about the two top command positions in North American Aerospace & Defence Command underscore how U.S. appointments are more openly and often egregiously politicized than they are in Canada. Moreover, it’s been that way for decades and shows no signs of changing.

In Ottawa, the promotion of Major-General B.F. Frawley to Lieutenant-General and his assignment as NORAD’s deputy commander in Colorado Springs was announced as a fait accompli by the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Wayne Eyre.

In Washington, meanwhile, more than 200 senior nominations are on hold. The fly in U.S. policy is that the Constitution requires Senate ratification of all other senior military nominations. An Alabama Republican, Tommy Tuberville, first elected in 2021 and now the state’s “senior” Senator, has repeatedly blocked promotions of generals and admirals in recent months.

The former university football coach and ally of Donald Trump is protesting a Department of Defense policy which is designed to ensure that military personnel continue to have access to abortion services after the conservative-controlled U.S. Supreme Court reversed “Roe v. Wade”, the court’s 1972 ruling that the Constitution protected abortion rights in general.

As of late May, more than 200 senior nominations were on hold and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the backlog could balloon to more than 650 by year’s end. “This indefinite hold harms America's national security and hinders the Pentagon's normal operations,” Austin wrote to Jack Reed, the Rhode Island Democrat and Army veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division who chairs the Senate Committee on Armed Services, which has legislative oversight of the military.

Tuberville predictably rejects Austin’s argument, saying that the Department of Defense could simply hold officers in their current positions until the nominations are approved. “I’m holding the military accountable; others are holding our national security hostage by forcing their agenda where it doesn’t belong,” he says. “Americans want a military focused on a national defense − and that’s what I’m fighting for.”

The nominees benched by Tuberville include the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Charles Q. Brown, President Joe Biden’s pick to replace Army General Mark Milley as Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So too is USAF General Timothy Haugh, promoted to head both Cyber Command and the National Security Agency. Also on the bench and of possibly more direct interest to Canada is USAF Lieutenant-General Gregory Guillot, promoted as a two-star Major-General to head Northern Command and NORAD.

There have been many such issues of political interference in the U.S election and promotion process over the decades but the situation in Canada is more arm’s-length, especially since October 2021, when the Canadian Armed Forces took their first steps to introduce “new rigour and science” to promotion selection.\

“We are making improvements to the selection process […] and refining our performance-evaluation process, so that they can be more effective and inclusive,” Eyre said at the time. “Character traits such as integrity, humility, and empathy will be encouraged and valued, playing an equal part along with performance for our leaders. This will strengthen our ability […] to identify the best leaders for the right positions while ensuring that those selected truly embody CAF ethos and values.”

It was, admittedly, a political response by the military to a parliamentary committee’s call for a freeze on all senior promotions until candidates could be screened for possible incidents of inappropriate behaviour – and who knows how long that could take?

The committee was responding to a series of sexual and other misconduct by some senior officers, notably Eyre’s two predecessors, Admiral Art McDonald and General Jonathan Vance. The freeze never happened but Eyre’s subsequent announcement about a more rigorous selection process set the stage for the CAF’s introduction of an evidence-based framework for assessing appointees’ character.

The first step for General Officer and Flag Officer (GOFO) candidates, put into effect last year, involves three online psychometric assessments. They cover general cognitive ability and reasoning, a “personality inventory” of characteristics associated with organizational success, and an assessment of leadership skills as commonly used in executive selection. Candidates who score well and are recommended by the CAF to the Minister of National Defence for promotion then are subject to a “360 degree” assessment based on feedback from a diverse group of evaluators.

Lieutenant-General Frances Allen, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff and chair of the GOFO selection board at the time, called the evolving process “a step forward in enhancing the CAF’s overall efforts toward positive culture change.” Meanwhile, Research and consultation are underway to develop an evidence-based framework for character-based assessments that can be expanded to other leadership ranks in the coming years. The intent is to expand the scrutiny to Majors, Lieutenant-Commander and Sergeant/Petty Officer second-class ranks and above.

The first high-profile selection under the new system was the selection in April 2023 of the new CAF Chief Warrant Officer, New Brunswick native Bob McCann, who has a diverse domestic and foreign experience from deployments as Unit CWO of the CAF Support Unit in Geilenkirchen, Germany, in 2010, and to Iraq during Operation Impact in 2017. He also is, among other things, a graduate of the Joint Advanced Warrant Officer Course at the New Zealand Staff College.

So what does this imply for the CAF going forward? “The Director General of Military Careers continues to work toward the implementation a more rigorous process for senior officers and senior non-commissioned members,” DND told FrontLine. “This process is ongoing and we do not yet have a timeline for implementation.”

Brigadier-General Kirk Gallinger brings serious chops to the job. Four years after joining the CAF in 1989, he joined the First Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (1 PPCLI) in Calgary, going on to serve in command, staff and instructor appointments in 1 PPCLI and, at CFB Gagetown, the Second Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment and the Infantry School.

His operational experience includes deployments to Croatia and Bosnia and as 1PPCLI A Company Commander in Afghanistan. He returned to Gagetown as Commandant of the Infantry School and then as Deputy Commander of the Combat Training Centre Headquarters before becoming Commander of CFB Kingston.

Coupled with his experience at the Army Transition Command & Staff Course, the Combined Arms Team Commander’s Course, the Joint Command and Staff Program and the U.S. Army War College, Gallinger’s career experience suggests that his appointment as DG Military Careers in May 2021 was inevitable and it’s to be expected that Gallinger’s “more rigorous” approach to selections and promotions will continue as the policy evolves − without political interference.

That’s certainly true in Frawley’s case and, eventually, Guillot. They bring different but complementary career experiences to NORAD as the continental partnership enters its 66th year.

Frawley joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1985 and eventually was posted to 425 Squadron at 3 Wing Bagotville, Quebec as a CF-188 Hornet pilot, flying two operational tours. He flew combat missions over Yugoslavia and Kosovo in support of Operation Allied Force before he was assigned as the Executive Officer of the Task Force Aviano National Command Element in Italy and the Air Mobility Division Deputy Director at the U.S.-led 609th Combined Air and Space Operations Centre in Qatar.

Accumulating more than 3,000 hours in the McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing fighter, he also flew Hornets on exchange with the U.S. Marine Corps in California and did three instructor tours at 410 Squadron at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, where he was Commanding Officer of 410 Tactical Fighter/Operational Training Squadron. A transfer to Winnipeg saw him taking command of 17 Wing and the RCAF training centre before he was selected as Combined Force Air Component Commander of the 2016 multinational Exercise Rim of the Pacific.

In addition to senior staff positions at 3 Wing operations and at the Directorate of Aerospace Requirements in Ottawa, Frawley has been Commander of 1 Canadian Air Division and RCAF Director General (Space). In March 2021, the former RCAF Deputy Commander became Deputy Vice Chief of the Defence Staff until his current promotion in May.

In contrast, Guillot’s expertise in the U.S. Air Force has been in battle management and until Biden’s latest announcement, had been Deputy Commander of U.S. Central Command where was instrumental in instrumental in integrating air, missile and drone defences across the Middle East.

He would assume NORAD command at a critical point in its evolution, which would more over-the-horizon surveillance capabilities and warnings about potential gaps in domain awareness. One of those gaps” permitted high-altitude balloons to enter North American airspace earlier this year before they were shot down and it was disclosed that other incursions had gone unchallenged.

“As NORAD commander, it’s my responsibility to detect threats to North America,” Guillot’s predecessor said at the time. “I will tell you that we did not detect those threats, said General Glen VanHerck. “That’s a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out.”

Guillot’s prior assignments include a stint as operations director at U.S. North Command, which oversees not only the U.S. and Canada but also the Caribbean and Bermuda. Other assignments have included command of the 552nd Air Control Wing at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, flies 707-based Boeing E-3 Sentry surveillance aircraft, and the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB in Nebraska, another surveillance centre.

While NORAD will continue to operate as it has done for decades, the alliance can be expected to continue plans for its technological enhancement with long-term financing commitments from both governments. Arguably petty and patently illogical politics south of the border U.S. politics hopefully won't continue to get in the way of long-overdue progress. Unfortunately, given the tenor of the times in Congress, that seems unlikely. Breath-holding clearly isn’t recommended