Why are Junior Officers Leaving the Navy?
The Question of Leadership (Again!!!!)

January 31, 2000

Comment: #345

Discussion Thread:  # 344 and associated threads


[1] Ed Offley, "Young Officers' Anger, Frustration Stun Navy's Top Brass," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 29, 2000.

[2] Jonathan S. Landay, "The Pentagon's Latest Recruitment Force: Celebrities - The military attempts to enlist stars as part of its strategy to add to its declining ranks," Philadelphia Inquirer, January 30, 2000.

Evidence is mounting that the courtiers in Versailles on the Potomac are afflicted seriously by an intensifying case of cognitive dissonance when it comes to dealing with the military's mushrooming retention and recruiting crises.

Comment #344 discussed an Officer Retention Survey addressing the question of why captains are leaving the Army. This survey was conducted by the Army at Ft Benning. Ed Offley of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports in Reference #1 that another survey of about 2,500 young surface warfare officers in the Navy yielded remarkably similar results.

Like their Army counterparts, these junior officers appear to be disgusted with poor leadership, as well as the spirit-killing pathologies attending to a zero defects culture, the mind-deadening effects of busy work, and the excess workload caused by shortages of spare parts and aging equipment.

Notwithstanding this and other surveys, it appears that Navy's leadership is sticking to its belief that junior officer retention problems are less related to their leadership than to monetary incentives.

Offley tells us, for example, that Vice Adm Ed Moore, commander of Pacific Fleet's surface forces believes initiatives, like the 4.8 percent pay raise that went into effect on Jan. 1, special bonus of up to $50,000 for surface warfare officers signing up for another five years, and policy changes aimed at giving qualified young officers opportunity for early promotion and command have had a positive effects on morale and retention. "Although we must continue to look for ways to make a Navy career more satisfying to our Surface Warriors, the outlook is good," Moore said.

There you have it: The outlook is good!!!

Now it is a well established principle in evolutionary biology that organisms disconnected from their environments, like dinosaurs, will be eventually selected out. But Admiral Moore's dissonance may be the tip of a much larger iceberg of denial.

Some of our more far-sighted planners apparently believe they have found a way to stop and even reverse the twin crises of recruiting and retention. Their plan is apparently based on the creationist theory that one overwhelm the selection pressures of the real world by creating a comfortable fantasy world.

The key to their creationist plan lies not in textbooks of the Kansas school system but in the skills of Hollywood. Reference #2, illustrates the point. The Secretary of Defense wants to enlist Hollywood celebrities noted defense luminaries like Tom Cruise, Robert De Niro, and Julia Roberts -- in a PR campaign to solve the Pentagon's recruiting problems.

As would be expected, certain fringe elements of society object to this plan.

Chris Lombardi, of the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, ironically, echoes veterans of Task Force Smith when he said: "I think it's unethical to glamorize the military without talking about the hard responsibilities of war [Reference #2]."

On the other hand, enlisting Hollywood will have a major advantage that nattering nabobs of negativism, like Lombardi and battle-hardened veterans, fail to appreciate. Hollywood will provide the courtiers in Versailles with a good reason to dump their of the failed mercenary appeal of "Be All You Can Be."

Welcome to "Jurassic Defense."

Chuck Spinney

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