Why the Rush to Throw Money at Retention & Recruiting
Problems Will Not Fix the Personnel Crisis

February 17, 1999

Comment: #238

Discussion Thread:  #234


[1] Army Advertisement copied from the PERSCOM web page, "FORMER CAPTAINS…AGAIN!" Attached.

[2] Dana Priest, "Services Combat Recruit Shortfall: Army Chief Wants Change In Education Requirements," Washington Post, February 17, 1999, Pg. 1.

[3] Dave Moniz, "Army battles decline in enlistments, turns to younger recruiters," KNIGHT RIDDER NEWS SERVICE, February 14, 1999.

[4] Transcript, ABC WORLD NEWS TONIGHT ABC TV, "U.S. Military Recruitment Crunch," 6:30 PM FEBRUARY 9, 1999

[5] Jim Tice, "This 'Triad' Strategy No Cold Warrior," Army Times, February 15, 1999, Pg. 8

The Army, Navy, and Air Force face the worst recruiting crisis in their history. The conventional wisdom among the courtiers of Versailles on the Potomac is that these shortfalls are the result of a national economy with unemployment below 5 percent, businesses offering employment packages with college money to workers, a generation of young people who have little or no connection to military life, over-deployment in peacekeeping operations, while the absence of a well-defined threat takes away the glamour of the military profession. If the courtiers are correct, then the solution is simple—bribe people to join and stay with higher pay and benefits and lower standards.

In the Reference #2, for example, Dana Priest reports that the Secretary of the Army believes the Army could fall short of recruiting goals by 10,000 soldiers. She says he wants to make up for the shortfall by recruiting more high school dropouts with equivalency diplomas.

At the core of the Army, Navy, and Air Force plans to solve the crisis are slick advertising campaigns that devalue people by appealing to material self interest and careerism rather than the noble values of soldierly self-sacrifice, service, and patriotism [see References #3, #4, & #5 as well as Comment #234].

Many mid-level officers disagree with this plan. They believe the most important reason why people are leaving, particularly those in the crucial leadership cohort of junior officers, is a senior leadership that is more interested in protecting its own bureaucratic prerogatives (careerism, bureaucratic power seeking, and politics) than in service, country, or in making the sacrifices necessary to support the troops in the field. They argue that the better recruiting and retention rates of the Marines are because the Marines are the only service that still appeals the traditional group-centric military values of honor, self-sacrifice, and service.

To these serving the junior officers, the key to the retention problem IS leadership, and they view the bribes and slick advertisements as another reflection of a hypocritical value system that says people are the top priority while the real decisions devalue people they think the Armed Forces Day poster that celebrates weapons but ignores people is a metaphor for this hypocrisy [New readers can find this poster at <http://www.defenselink.mil/afd/images/afd.gif>

If these officers are correct, perhaps a better solution to the retention crisis lies in reforming the personnel and promotion policies in the officer corps. With this in mind, consider please, the following comments by two Army officers


I. From an Active Duty Army Officer:

The military hierarchy continues to claim that a strong economy, lack of money for training and massive deployments are the causes of our readiness problems.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When you tell decision makers that increasing pay will not fix their "retention" problems, they are stunned. To the number crunchers in the Versailles on the Potomac, this is the only solution that makes sense, because all solutions must measurable by numbers. Intangibles like cohesion, professionalism, and experience, don't apply.

Additionally, inside they say, "if I am drawn by rapid promotions, positions of power, and more pay, then everyone else must be." Leaders, both civilian and military, that dominate the five-sided palace, cannot understand that money is not the number one concern of most officers and soldiers.

What matters to them is being professional soldiers, getting to do what they saw in commercials, on videos, and were told, being allowed to learn the complexities of their profession, share comradeship with fellow soldiers (male bonding), and act like men. Yet, a politically correct military that practices "zero-defects" is running off those who want to serve.

It is inconceivable to the milcrats in Versailles that young Americans want to be part of something that means Duty, Honor and Country. This does not make sense to those educated personnel management in Ivy-league business schools. Now, in desperation, the PERSORSAs [personnel operations research analysts] think the way to beat the officer exodus is to promote people even faster [see the Army advertisement in Reference #1 below]. Faster promotions will fill up the massive amount of jobs the Cold War military machine created for mass mobilization for WW III. These positions exist in hundreds of headquarters so senior officers "have a place to hang-up their hat" in a military that has the worse officer "bloat" and worst ratio of generals to service members in our history.


 II. From an Active Duty Army Officer assigned to Hq. Army (DCS/Personnel).

[Response to a question about the Army's letters to captains who got out [Reference #1] that asked them to rejoin as well as the freeze on waivers for retirement. ]

I work across the hall from the fiasco you are talking about … We can't buy a recruit right now. Talk about a mess. We are giving kids 12k to sign their names. Talking about paying captain pro pay to keep them on active duty. It's pretty crazy to say the least. I totally agree that it's not about money. Somebody needs to figure this stuff out. "

Compare that to General Ohle's article in Army Times this week (15 Feb 99) [Reference #5 contains some of his remarks]. "Now, what if recruiting continues to sag and the attrition problem remains? Will we then look for additional money?"

Am I missing something, or what??????? --------

An that, dear reader, is why the rush to throw money at the personnel retention problem may be a symptom of the disease, not a cure for it.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, the following material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #1

Army Advertisement copied from the PERSCOM web page


The Army continues to be short captains and majors. Filling captain positions remains one of our greatest challenges in the personnel arena. To this end, the Department of the Army has extended the FY98 Limited Call to Active Duty Appointments for Captains Program through 30 September 1999. This exciting program allows qualified officers who separated from the Army on honorable terms the opportunity to return to active duty. To emphasize the importance of this program, the PERSCOM Commanding General mailed a letter to eligible individuals inviting them to return to active duty. If we have an old address you may not receive a personal letter but are still eligible to apply.

If you, or someone you know, have second thoughts about the decision to separate, we want you to know about this program and the exciting opportunities that await today's company grade officers. With new career fields offered under Officer Personnel Management System XXI (OPMS XXI), captains can expect to see increased promotions, schooling opportunities and multiple paths leading to career success. You can review the new career opportunities by visiting the OPMS XXI web site. We will also promote faster to the grades of major and lieutenant colonel. The Army just took an initiative that will move the pin-on date to major about a year earlier than we do today.

The Army needs you! We encourage you to make the profession of arms your career choice once again. PERSCOM stands ready to advise and assist in helping you make the right decision. To help you through the process of applying for your return to active duty refer to Army-wide message, fact sheet and DA 160-R, Application for Active Duty.

Contact your career branch to address specific questions.

To request forms or information on application procedures contact Ms. Pruitt at 1-800-325-4898, (314) 592-0685 or DSN: 892-0685. For processing information, call Ms. Tharps at 1-800-654-7298, (703) 325-4471 or DSN: 221-4471.

This page was last updated on Friday, February 5, 1999.