Sunday, April 09, 2006

Army faces a major officer shortage

Graph showing loss of Army officers. From NY Times

Americablog originally had a post on this story regarding a shortage of Army officers. Americablog's source was a story from, also known as San Antonio Express News. Now it appears that the New York Times is picking up on this story.

So first, I'll start with the story:

The Army expects to be short 2,500 captains and majors this year, with the number rising to 3,300 in 2007. These officers are the Army's seed corn, the people who 10 years from now should be leading battalions and brigades.

"We're ruining an Army that took us 30 years to build," Republican maverick Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., told a group of reporters at a recent conference.

The Army blames its expansion from 33 to 42 brigades, growing its force by 30,000 soldiers to 512,000, as the reason for the dip.

Now let's look at what the New York Times has to say about this:

WASHINGTON, April 9 — Young Army officers, including growing numbers of captains who leave as soon as their initial commitment is fulfilled, are bailing out of active-duty service at rates that have alarmed senior officers. Last year, more than a third of the West Point class of 2000 left active duty at the earliest possible moment, after completing their five-year obligation.

It was the second year in a row of worsening retention numbers, apparently marking the end of a burst of patriotic fervor during which junior officers chose continued military service at unusually high rates.

Here is some stats from the Times on retention rates:

In 2001, but before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, 9.3 percent of the Army's young officers left active duty at their first opportunity. By 2002, the number of those junior officers leaving at their first opportunity dropped to 7.1 percent, and in 2003, only 6.3 percent opted out. But the number grew to 8.3 percent in 2004 and 8.6 percent in 2005.

The statistics are even more striking among West Point graduates, who receive an Ivy League-quality education at taxpayer expense — and, in the view of many senior officers and West Point alumni, owe the nation and the Army a debt of loyalty beyond the initial five years of active duty.

The retention rate at the five-year mark for the West Point class of 1999 was 71.9 percent in 2004, down from 78.1 percent for the previous year's class. And for the class of 2000, the retention rate fell to 65.8 percent, meaning that last year the Army lost more than a third — 34. 2 percent — of that group of officers as they reached the end of their initial five-year commitment.

That is the highest rate of loss over the past 16 years among West Point officers reaching the five-year mark.

So what is happening here with the Army? Both the Times and cite a combination of factors as to why junior officers are leaving the Army. The two main factors really have been the extended tours in Iraq, and corporate headhunters are taking away the best of these officers. Consider this from the Times:

To entice more to stay, the Army is offering new incentives this year, including a promise of graduate school on Army time and at government expense to newly commissioned officers who agree to stay in uniform for three extra years. Other enticements include the choice of an Army job or a pick of a desirable location for a home post.

The program was begun this year to counter pressures on junior officers to leave active duty, including the draw of high-paying jobs in the private sector; the desires of a spouse for a calmer civilian quality of life at a time when the officers can be expected to be starting their families; and, for the past two years, the concerns over repeated tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Army has had a far more difficult time in its recruiting than the other services because the ground forces are carrying the heaviest burden of deployments — and injuries and deaths — in the war.

One member of the West Point class of 2000 who left active duty last year is Stephen Kuo, who took a job with a medical equipment company in Florida. Mr. Kuo said his decision was based on "quality of life." He is now recruiting classmates for his company.

"With the rotation of one year overseas, then another year or so back at home, then another overseas rotation — it does take a toll on you," said Mr. Kuo, who served a year in combat in northern Iraq. "Plus, I was not enjoying the staff jobs — desk jobs — I was looking at for the next 8 to 10 years. Furthermore, the private sector had many lucrative offers."

Even shows the aggressivness of corporate headhunters:

There's no shortage of headhunters looking for them. One company, the Lucas Group, held seminars in Killeen near Fort Hood, a Marine base in Miramar, Calif., and Fort Benning, Ga., in recent weeks.

But the biggest problem the Army is facing is simply the war in Iraq. Iraq has become an ongoing, no-win quagmire--a sausage grinder for young American men and women. And it appears that we are not making any progress in Iraq. There are no clear objectives for the American military, no clear definitions for the American public on how to achieve victory in Iraq. All we get are feel-good statements from the Bush White House and political spin--We're making progress in Iraq, or as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down. The American public is not buying the political spin these days. Young people are learning from their friends in the military about what it is really like in Iraq, and they are deciding against enlisting. And with the Pentagon pushing two or three tours on regular Army and National Guard soldiers, those individual soldiers who are given the opportunity for getting out, are leaving. That is the problem the Army has--it can not maintain using up its current forces in Iraq, while facing declining recruiting and enlistment numbers.

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