Thursday, October 11, 2007

This is an important story and it goes to the heart of the military manpower crisis.

There has been a flood of top-quality, combat experienced captains from the Army, especially combat arms officers who face the toughest and most dangerous assignments. The article cites an overall attrition rate over the past six years of 12% but that is a very squishy number and should not be trusted. A better indication is the implication that they need to retain over 70% of those eligible to leave in order for this bonus system to succeed (at the end of the article). That suggests a 30% attrition rate overall.

In fact, when the numbers are disaggregated the losses are far more serious. Why? Because when you adjust for officers with top quality records, including many West Point graduates, the numbers are far higher. The generals know this and they worry about it all the time. They also have the data in detail.

If education and intellectual training matter in today's Army, as Gen. David Petraeus has suggested it does, then there is great cause for worry. Of course, there are many fine officers graduated from ROTC programs at average or mediocre colleges and universities, but if you look at the numbers from the top schools the attrition rate is well over 50%.

Based on my experience at West Point, where I taught for many years, as well long experience in the army including two years of combat, I argue that grads of USMA--where cadets earn a respected four year college degree as well as a commission--provide a foundation of integrity and professionalism to the officer corps. (I am not a West Point grad--I was commissioned from the ranks at the ripe age of 20.) These talented officers, and many others with first-rate educations, are leaving in alarming numbers.

You will find some senior generals arguing that they don't care about smarts but instead they want officers ready to get in the foxholes with their troops and officers who are committed to service, but in a technically sophisticated military facing complex challenges in Iraq and elsewhere, some brains and book-smarts matter too.
What the Pentagon is doing now is putting a cork in the dam. What the nation really needs is a full-blown debate about military (wo)man-power and about national service, and I hope Secretary Gates, who is proving to be a very fine Secretary of Defense, decides to address the bigger problem.

Army Offers Big Cash To Keep Key Officers -

A related story on large bonuses being offered to retain special operations people.

No comments: