Now that the Iraq war is well on its way into the sixth year, the US Army is having a retention problem of another sort… they are losing the officers that they need to run the war. Not the Generals and Colonels who sit around swilling coffee and making plans to get into a nice cushy defense-contractor gig, but the mid-grade officers who run the Companies and staff the Brigades and other organizational units Army-wide. In the Army, as in the rest of the military the bulk of the work is accomplished by officers who are considered "mid-grade" and senior Non-Commissioned officers.
Officers who occupy the ranks of O-3 and O-4 (Army, Marine and Airforce Captains and Majors and Navy Lieutenants and Lieutenant Commanders) are generally considered at a transitional point in their military careers… not really "careerists" like the more senior officers, but with some level of personal or moral commitment beyond their initial obligation to the military. And it seems like they are now beginning to "vote with their feet", in numbers not seen since the Reagan years (gee, imagine that).
Being an old cold-war sailor me own self, it’s an interesting phenomenon to watch… back then St Ronnie and his DoD were offering us the moon money-wise because so many aviators were bailing out for the airlines (or other careers). It was not that we did not love our jobs… hell, we were getting paid to fly but we were gone from family and friends for not just days or week, but months at a time. Did we sign up for it? Yeah, we did but as the brains in charge came up with new schemes to "win the cold war" like the 600 ship Navy we saw our chances of ever being home diminish as the fleet got larger and larger (fortunately, it never quite happened… the funding for the 600 ship Navy sort of ran out). But our lives were governed by something called "optempo/perstempo" a phrase which denoted how much time we spent away vs how much time we spent home/ashore.
Needless to say, the geniuses in the five-sided monument to Murphy’s Law never broke the code that it wasn’t the money, it was the Quality of Life.
Now it’s happening again…the "optempo" of repeated and what seem to be endless deployments to Mess O’Potamia and Afghanistan, coupled with, I am sure seeing the men and women who serve with and under them becoming statistics has to be taking a toll on these young Americans who are caught in a war that they might not agree with but are serving in an Army that they feel a genuine affection for and a Nation that they love enough to give their lives for.
The Army’s growth plans and the demands of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are contributing to a shortfall of thousands of majors, critical mid-level officers whose ranks are not expected to be replenished for five years, according to Army data and a recent officers survey.
Five years? That might as well be a million years for the Army… for enlisted folks who are completing their first tour and choose not to go back, they can always be recalled via the "back-door draft" of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) but with these mid-grade officers, that’s not always an option because they have already completed their initial obligation and there is no way short of "stop/loss" to compel them to stay or more importantly return.
The gap in majors represents about half of the Army’s current shortage of more than 4,000 officers, and officials say there are no easy solutions to the deficit. "We need more officers, and we are pulling every lever we can," said Col. Paul Aswell, chief of the Army’s personnel division for officers.
A similar shortage on the enlisted side of the house was "solved" by lowering the bar significantly for new recruits, but it’s not that easy for officer accession unless they begin to ease prerequisites like age, college degrees and physical requirements in the same way that they have for enlisted personnel. It’s unlikely that would happen, but as the shortage grows I would have to say that the aphorism "anything is on the table" is probably applicable…and the Army will be the worse for it.
The shortfall is forcing the Army to promote captains more quickly to the rank of major, even though the service is also about 10 percent short of captains.
Promoting so quickly and indiscriminately will only hurt the Army in the long run… the republicans and their dirty little war have done the Army no favors with their stupidity, and it’s beginning to show in many ways. Officers who should never be Majors (or even Captains) will be promoted to fill vacancies and will be in positions of life and death over troops they would ordinarily never have been responsible for because they would have been "weeded out" before they demonstrated that they were living examples of the "Peter Principle"…
So in ten years, the US Army will be filled with men and women who have no business leading troops and we as a nation will be the worse for it. Seeing thunder and hearing lighting is no qualification for promotion but apparently it’s soon going to be the criteria for making Major in the US Army.
As a side note, back during another war they promoted officers pretty indiscriminately and Beloved Glorious Leader could not even make it from First Lieutenant to Captain, normally an "automatic" promotion especially for pilots.
So perhaps there is some hope that the undeserving won’t be leading the unqualified. But not much.