Dark Bilious Vapors

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Home » Archives » January 2006 » Interesting.....

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01/31/2006: Interesting.....

Via William Edmondson at the Leiter Report we get this pointer to an LA Times article on rising promotion rates in the Army:

Struggling to retain enough officers to lead its forces, the Army has begun to dramatically increase the number of soldiers it promotes, raising fears within the service that wartime strains are diluting the quality of the officer corps.

Last year, the Army promoted 97% of all eligible captains to the rank of major, Pentagon data show. That was up from a historical average of 70% to 80%.

Traditionally, the Army has used the step to major as a winnowing point to push lower-performing soldiers out of the military.

The service also promoted 86% of eligible majors to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 2005, up from the historical average of 65% to 75%.

The higher rates of promotion are part of efforts to fill new slots created by an Army reorganization and to compensate for officers who are resigning from the service, many after multiple rotations to Iraq.

The promotion rates "are much higher than they have been in the past because we need more officers than we did before," said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman.

The Army has long taken pride in the competitiveness of its promotions, and insists that only officers that meet rigorous standards are elevated through its ranks.

But the recent trends in promotions have stirred concerns that the Army is being forced to lower its standards to provide leaders for combat units that will be deployed overseas.
Something immediately jumps to my mind here. The article doesn't point out whether the population of officers eligible for promotion being discussed here is that of officers in the Regular Army, or all officers including National Guard and Army Reserve officers on active duty to supplement the complement of troops needed for the Iraq occupation.

The distinction may be critical to determining the quality of the Army officer corps in the mid-to-long-term future.

If these figures are for the Regular Army officer corps, this isn't a development that fills me with confidence about the quality of the Army in the future. I don't know if the laws governing armed service officer procurement and personnel management have changed significantly since I was in the Navy, but back when I was serving the leap from O-3 (Army/Air Force/Marine captain; Navy/Coast Guard lieutenant) to O-4 (USA/USAF/USMC major; USN/USCG lieutenant commander) was a critical one. Pursuant to the laws on the books then, once you were promoted to O-4 you were pretty well guaranteed a full 20-year career if you wanted it. It was like achieving tenure at a college or university--once you got to that point, they couldn't force you out (save for severe disciplinary action--dismissal from the service pursuant to the sentence of a court martial, or possibly a massive reduction in force--not likely in the end stages of the Cold War when I was serving). Edmundson notes:
According to the LA Times's high-ranking Pentagon source, "Basically, if you haven't been court-martialed, you're going to be promoted [from captain] to major." Not a trivial incentive to re-enlist if you're among the bottom 20% that traditionally would dead-end at captain.
That's an especially non-trivial incentive if current officer personnel management laws still confer the guarantee of finishing twenty years (and the right to retired pay that entails).

In other words, it seems that the best and the brightest are bailing, while the dregs are hanging on for the job security. Not an enviable position to be in, if you're tasked with maintaining the quality of the officer corps.

If the whole officer pool being discussed here is the total of both Regular and Guard/Reserve officers, it's possible that the situation may be mitigated a bit (one would have to do a detailed analysis of retention and promotion in each component, Regular and Reserve), since at least the substandard Guard/Reserve officers can eventually be returned to civilian life; even if they have "tenure" in the Guard/Reserve they won't be dragging down the quality of the Regular Army officer corps once the present emergency has passed. On the other hand, since the War on Terra™ is, to all intents and purposes, something that has no real end in sight, that may not be much of a consolation.

Len on 01.31.06 @ 08:58 AM CST

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