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NeXt Secretary of Defense

Erik Prince

The American military tolerates failure, bleeds talent, and wastes resources at an unsustainable rate. Opinions aside, the military’s resume speaks for itself. True Defense Department visionaries must form a consensus on how to reform the last great American institution.


Engaging this debate was Marine Colonel Gary Anderson in Real Clear Defense’s May ’24 article, “Today’s Generals and Admirals, Children of a Lesser God.” Colonel Anderson correctly identified the systemic problems afflicting military leadership, but his recommendations for reform fell short.


Colonel Anderson and many other military reformists believe the path back to victory begins with Congress updating the Goldwater-Nichols legislation governing the current joint model. But this is a fool’s errand. It’s akin to a forward-deployed captain waiting for doctrine to be published before developing a new tactic required by the current battlefield. In both situations, waiting leads to people getting killed. Let Congress rewrite the rules once the new model demonstrates results.


The next President provides the most expedient and effective path to true military reform. Congress will never agree, and military leadership will never aggressively reform a system that validates their titles and positions. Yet, the Commander and Chief has a unique ability to turn the American military from a bad investment into a winner.


The next Secretary of Defense, within the Commander in Chief’s intent, should immediately screen leadership for warfighting lethality, build a promotion system based on competition, and create financial efficiency. This can be accomplished by the following:


First, usher in new military leadership across the board. An entire generation of general officers must be shown the exit. The current system, through good intentions, rewards leadership for various and often counterproductive reasons. Does anyone really believe the current Air Force Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is the most capable warfighter in the American military? If so, he’ll have the chance to prove it.


Second, implement a new system of promotion and retention based on competition. Competition drives innovation, creativity, and performance. At a certain point, the only requirement for promotion should be demonstrated performance in “general” (this is literally why that name exists) warfighting lethality. Only the best demonstrated performers should be promoted. In the new model, time in service, DEI, and branch of service become less important.


Place one-star generals with similar forces in the Mojave Desert against each other – the winner gets promoted. Imagine two general officers with a force of 2,500 troops, an equal budget, and complete freedom to solve a military problem in a true head-to-head competition. Specifics of the competition can be refined over time, but the creation of the competition is critical. Defense Department leaders must be able to identify the military’s top performers.


Third, implement a new business model to maximize ROI for a trillion-dollar annual budget.


The next leader of the Defense Department must understand the problems with the current military’s losing culture and possess the professional credibility to influence change. Their expertise in generating battlefield lethality should be unparalleled. And perhaps just as importantly, the next secretary, like any successful CEO, must have executive experience managing organizational performance on a budget.


Based on my reflection, there is only one person possessing this unique set of qualifications: Erik Prince.


Erik Prince, the former Navy Seal, is most well-known as the former owner of the private security company Blackwater. His name generates emotions. Yet he, like many other things I’ve realized over the past few years, is much different than the headlines you read about him.


Bias upfront, I have a personal relationship with Mr. Prince. Unlike thousands of other veterans, I have never worked for Mr. Prince. And despite a few sit-downs, most of our communication is informal. But I found it easy to identify with a man who created an effective wartime service for the government, only to have the government turn on him when it wasn’t convenient.


Anyone who has a conversation with Mr. Prince will be struck by the depth of his knowledge on leadership, military history, and, most importantly, business management. The day following our first sit-down conversation, I found myself doing burpees, buying a book on the Rhodesian War (not taught in military academies), and thinking about how money impacts lethality in warfare.


Who better to implement an effective system in the military than the Navy Seal with a brilliant business mind? After watching Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, I believe savvy business-minded professionals know how to walk into hostile organizations, lock out former employees, identify obvious shortfalls, and reorganize. The how you “reorganize” is really the point of the debate.


I asked Mr. Prince if he had ambitions to become the next Secretary of Defense, and he stated, “I would never get confirmed by Congress.” He understands that critics will mischaracterize his personal reputation, political views, and business track record. Mr. Prince believes someone like Colonel Doug MacGregor is a better choice. Colonel MacGregor, if you look him up, has a great resume. He is also one of the voices advocating for military reform in the American Conservative. But I believe, if selected, MacGregor ends up like many other safe choices: relegated to foreign policy through the Defense Department lens and less as a crusading reformer within the Department.


Despite Prince’s (probably correct) prediction about Congressional pushback, he would be the best thing that happened to the American military. A conversation from Prince’s Off Leash podcast illustrates his unique utility:


Erik Prince: “What does a military do? It recruits, vets, equips, trains, deploys, and supports people to do a difficult mission. We [Blackwater] vertically integrated the steps to do it, did it very efficiently, and measured the cost across each step so that we could be the low-cost provider.”
Mark Serrano [Co-Host and former Trump advisor]: “So government turns to the private sector solution because they knew it would be done better and more efficiently.”
Erik Prince: “And more quickly.”

Blackwater was wildly successful because they manufactured combat lethality efficiently and effectively. Mr. Prince, the son of a successful auto manufacturer, inherited his initial wealth from his father. But the importance his father placed on manufacturing, replicated by Erik in his Blackwater model, was perhaps the critical characteristic. Prince’s experience and business insight will be unparalleled for turning the Defense Department’s trillion-dollar annual budget into lethality.


Elon Musk, another brilliant business mind, who on multiple interviews also stresses the critical nature of manufacturing, started Space X by calculating the base cost of a spaceship. What if another savvy business professional calculated the base cost of an Army Brigade or Marine Expeditionary Unit? This base cost could be proven by manufacturing a private Brigade or Expeditionary Unit at a fraction of the current cost. This newly created private force using off-the-shelf technology could be tested in a warfighting competition against current units. The new cost-effective force could be replicated, or simply used as a benchmarking tool to illustrate the current inefficient model. Fear of exposing the wildly inefficient force is the only reason this currently isn’t done.


President Trump, and his pick for the next Secretary of Defense, can reform America’s failing military model. Erik Prince’s business acumen and military experience make him exceptionally qualified for this role. I believe Mr. Prince will lock out the underperformers, deep state sycophants, and politicians in uniform so that talent can rise and lead. I believe he should implement a performance-based system centered on competition to sharpen our force for lethality on a future battlefield. And, in the end, there is no better resume for an American capable of managing financial performance across lethality to drive innovation and not waste.


These changes are all possible without legislation, but they won’t happen without a strong Commander in Chief and Secretary of Defense.



Stuart Scheller is a former USMC infantry officer and author of Crisis of Command: How We Lost Trust and Confidence in America’s Generals and Politicians.



The article NeXt Secretary of Defense was written on June 29, 2024, and published by Real Clear Defence. 

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3 Comments


How's this Marine going to deal with Kirby and Sullivan?

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Your article presents a compelling vision for military reform, emphasizing the need for new leadership and a competitive, performance-based system. However, it seems to overlook a critical issue: the significant loss of talent and expertise that has already occurred within the services. This is evident from recent changes in command and the ongoing struggle to meet recruitment goals.


While a new President and Secretary of Defense might provide a short-term boost, these changes are not sufficient to address the long-term, systemic problems plaguing the military. The root causes of recruitment and retention issues—such as quality of life, career development, and public perception—need to be tackled comprehensively.


True reform requires more than just leadership changes; it demands policies that enhance the…


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ZDacquel Ochoa
ZDacquel Ochoa
6 days ago
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Leadership-especially military leadership’s-is CRITICAL to the future of our country; most especially when war and quest may  mean the difference between our survival or our submission and subsequent demise. Lethality on the battlefield ensures our legacy on the world stage for generations to come.


As LtCol has already publicly announced his vote for Trump, along with countless of Americans world wide…(HELL!even our enemies prefer Trump over FJB!!) I confidently submit that Trump’s restoration to the White House will change the current aversion to military service. Trump’s FAFO reputation will inspire the right kind of applicant to enlist: Patriots are preferable, NOT “mercenaries”motivated only by the promise of a meal ticket. Bear in mind to be a WARRIOR is a calling…


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