Officers Leave Army Hurting

November 7th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Officers Leave Army Hurting

Austin American-Statesman
November 5, 2006
Pg. 13

By Bob Deans, Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Concerned about midlevel officers leaving the Army under the strain of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon has adopted new incentives, including enhanced graduate school opportunities, to help keep lieutenants and captains in uniform.
But concern persists over how the Army will be able to retain enough officers to fully staff an expanding force. The number of junior officers stands at 40,300 and needs to increase by 3,000 officers in the coming years to meet the goal for the expansion.
During the past year, 7.9 percent of the Army's junior officers left active service. To meet the growing demand for officers, the attrition rate will have to fall to 5 percent a year, a tall order given the pressures that multiple combat deployments are placing on young officers and their families.
''We know it's a strain on the force,'' said Col. Mark Patterson, chief of the Army group responsible for recruiting and retaining officers. ''It's a challenge that we're meeting head-on. We're not waiting until we have a retention problem; we're working it hard right now.''
After losing 5.7 percent of its company-grade officers in 2003 - the year President Bush launched the invasion of Iraq - the Army saw its officer attrition rate jump the next year to 8.1 percent. In 2005, it hit 8.5 percent, prompting concern within the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill.
In response, the Army initiated three programs a year ago aimed at extending the service commitment of newly commissioned lieutenants and experienced captains.
The dip in the attrition rate over the past year suggests that the programs are working.
''If the 10-year average is 8.4 percent, the Army is doing pretty well,'' said Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington defense policy research institute.
Traditionally, the Army has provided graduate school funding for about 400 mid-career officers each year. In exchange, they agree to extend their active service by three years for each year they spend in school. Last year, the Army added 200 new scholarships to the program, with a goal of expanding it to 1,000 per year over the next few years.
The Army also has begun providing new options to cadets coming from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, as well as officers commissioned through any of the 274 colleges and universities with ROTC programs. Under an incentive arrangement, they may select either the Army specialty they go into - infantry, for example, or military intelligence - or the base where they'll be posted, in exchange for a three-year extension of their active service obligation.
Patterson said the incentives are the beginning of a broader menu of options the Army is putting together to enhance the appeal of remaining in the service.
Beyond sheer numbers is the question of quality of leadership, a measure that can't be calibrated in numbers.
''The question is, are you keeping the future General Grants, the future General MacArthurs, the future General Eisenhowers, or are these people leaving? I don't know the answer to that,'' said Krepinevich, a West Point graduate who spent 21 years as an Army officer. ''I suspect the Pentagon doesn't know either.''
The future of the Army rests largely on the shoulders of junior officers - lieutenants and captains who will be leading battalions and brigades over the next decade and will be, over the next 20 years, running the Army.
They are also under intense pressure during wartime, as they are called on to lead at the company level in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the pace of deployments has driven some to reconsider a military career.
''The operations tempo is hardest for the company-grade officers to tolerate,'' said Christine Wormuth, military analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, another Washington think tank. ''You stay a captain for quite a few years, so they could be deployed two times, possibly even three times overseas, at a time when many of them have young families. . . . This is putting a tremendous strain on them.''
It was that issue that drove Capt. Robert Cole to retire in 2003, just six years after graduating from West Point. After deployments in Bosnia and Qatar, and domestic postings at Fort Gordon, Ga., and Fort Hood, Cole decided he couldn't continue in the Army and still do right by his growing family.
''You could just tell that it was just going to be more and more deployments,'' said Cole, now a Ryland Homes manager in Mansfield, near Dallas.
''They were getting me ready to take company command and then go back over within a three-month period'' to Iraq, he said. ''We just decided it would be best for us just to get out for a more stable family life.''
His wife, former Army Capt. Janelle Cole, also a 1996 West Point graduate, left the Army in 2001 so the couple could start a family.
The Coles were by no means alone.
By 2001, the first year that officers from the West Point class of 1996 were eligible to leave active duty, 27.3 percent had opted to leave the Army. By this year, though, 35.3 percent of the class of 2001 - members of which hit their five-year mark in June - chose to leave active duty, up from 34.2 percent for the 2000 class the year before.
Those are important figures, because a key to retaining officers is keeping them in the service for at least 10 years. That's the point beyond which it becomes harder financially to justify leaving the Army, which permits soldiers to retire after 20 years of service and receive half of their pay for life.
''If they can get them to that threshold, it often will be the tipping point that will get people to stay in,'' Wormuth said.
It's also these junior officers, though, who find themselves at the crossroads of their careers: well-trained and experienced leaders who have fulfilled their military obligations and face lucrative options in the private sector.
As deployment time and casualties mount, the stress of continued service also rises.
''You have a lot of family members who are saying, 'My gosh, I'm not sure we signed on for this,' '' said Ret. Air Force Col. Steve Strobridge, director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America. The group, based in Alexandria, Va., represents 365,000 active-duty, reserve and retired officers from all branches of the military.
''The troops have been running on patriotism and adrenaline for a long time,'' Strobridge said, ''but after a while they need some real relief.''
November 7th, 2006  
Hey TI what do you think they need to do to keep these guys from moving on?
November 7th, 2006  
Team Infidel
hehehe.... do you really want my opinion.... this forum may not be the best place for "non attribution"....
November 7th, 2006  
Fair enough, I'll move the question to the inner sanctum.
November 7th, 2006  
Team Infidel
that's fine.

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