Why the Army's Emerging Personnel Policies
Will Not Stem the Exodus of Captains

June 26, 2000

Comment #:  365

Discussion Thread:  #s 126, 136, 137, 206, 281, 282, 303, 321, 336, 337, 344

The following email comes from Capt Sam Damon, the nom de plum for an active duty infantry officer with considerable command time at the company level. He is a graduate of West Point, has a fine record, and is deeply concerned about reversing the deteriorating state of professionalism in the post-cold war Army.

Email From: Captain Sam Damon

Date: 26 Jun 2000


Every year in May, the Infantry School at Fort Benning holds a conference. Among its many events are extensive contractor displays of all the latest high tech gear, from new boot insoles to MILES and claymore mines to the newest upgrades to the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Also, included are a number of presentations by various senior officers on a variety of topics related to the Army as a whole and Infantry branch in particular. It is a big event, and many, if not most, battalion and brigade commanders have Temporary Duty funds set aside in their budget so they may attend.

This year the LTG Ohle, the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel (DCSPER), gave a presentation on the state of personnel in the Army.

The following is a summation of one officer's notes who was in attendance. My [Damon's] comments are below each point as appropriate. [Comments in brackets— []'s —are added by Spinney.]

As part of the Infantry Conference, LTG Ohle, DCSPER [Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel] gave a presentation.

Point 1. The Army is extremely short CPTs. The percentages he showed were shocking. To alleviate the problem the Army is more 2LTs, promoting them to 1LT and CPT quicker, and getting CPTs into their career courses earlier. Commanders are being asked not to hold their CPTs from attending the career course.

Comment: The Army is responding expediently to the symptom of the problem rather than evolving a solution for the long term. While this action may reduce the pressure in the short term, it will do so only from a managerial or bureaucratic point of view and will accelerate the decline in soldierly professionalism.

Creating captains who can win battles and keep the peace takes time, not the stroke of a pen.

The senior leadership is sending the message that your time as a Lieutenant is nothing more than a gate to be passed through as rapidly as possible, so you can go to the Career Course (aka the Advanced Course with six additional weeks of staff training at Fort Leavenworth, such as how to use Power Point to make and present briefings and do staff memos,). The message is get to your next unit, command as quickly as possible, and then get into the TDA Army to fill one of the innumerable support jobs as a "branch qualified Captain" such as duty as an instructor at West Point, Recruiting Command, duty with the Reserve Component, etc.

This kind of job hopping is more aimed a satisfying the bureaucratic needs of the personnel system than the army. I first became aware of this pattern about 3 years ago. LTs were spending between 6 and 9 months as platoon leaders. I knew one LT who had a combined total of 15 months platoon leader and company XO time before he went up to serve as a staff officer on Brigade Staff. The Army insists on filling every staff position with an officer, but it is alright to have one or even two platoons in a company led by a SFC [Sergeant First Class] or even a SSG [Staff Sergeant]. I have even heard of companies with no officer platoon leaders. Yet our staff positions will always be filled with officers.

This is a poor set of priorities and a prescription for spilt blood on a battlefield.

This severe lack of time cutting your teeth as a LT is showing up in deteriorating performance during training exercises.

Reports from peers of mine at the CTCs [combat training centers] indicate that company commanders are arriving with very poor grounding in the fundamentals. Moreover, when guys get only 12 to 18 months command experience at the company level and lower, it slowly infects the army at higher levels, first when they are S3s and Battalion Commanders 8 to 12 years down the road and later when they are brigade or division commanders.

It takes an enormous amount of time in exercises and professional study to develop tactical expertise to say nothing of leadership, wisdom, judgment, and the intuitive touch needed to lead troops on the battlefield. This is hard enough in combat by it is even more difficult in a peacetime Army.

Finally, it is my belief that the rotation and personnel policies to put officers on staffs as fast as possible are one reason why we have the shortage of captains in the first place. LTs—particularly the ones the Army needs to keep—want to lead/command soldiers. They recognize it is one of the few times they can do it as an officer. To cut that short is stupid.

Point 2. LTG Ohle also said the Army is short of MAJs. To fix that problem the next promotion board to Major board will have a selection rate of 93% (no typo there). LTG Ohle did not feel there would be a decline in quality due to the high selection rate.

Comment: Only time will tell, but it sounds irrational, because it assumes everyone is of uniform high quality, which makes no sense in view of our deteriorating performance in exercises. I have seen some very weak field grade officers who were considered in the top half of their peers in very competitive promotion years (of course that only means the ticket punching statistics in their files made them look better).

I would like to know why the DCSPER feels there will be no decline in quality, especially since a lot of evidence indicate many of our best have left or are intending to leave. Again, the Army solution emphasizes quantity and bureaucratic measures over quality. "Sir, We are short Majors." "Well, just order up some new ones. Increase our normal order by 20 %. They are interchangeable anyway." This makes it easier to run a personnel system, but it does not produce more effective officers.

Point 3: The Army is trying to fix the problem where MAJs at CGSC [Command and General Staff School, Ft Leavenworth] are trying to avoid SAMS [School of Advanced Military Studies, a special 2-yr course] because their timeline is off. He said that the two year window to get to CGSC should fix the problem plus deferments will be reduced.

Comment: SAMS is the closest approximation the Army has to a true General Staff College akin to the War Academy in the old German army, and people are more concerned about their timeline so they can punch their tickets and get promoted more quickly. I can understand the concern of these young Majors. The Army is unforgiving to all but a small number of perfumed princes for whom the rules don't seem to apply. But a desire to avoid SAMS is a stunning example of how satisfying needs of rigid personnel bureaucracy encourages careerism to professionalism. On a battlefield this value system will translate into mediocre performance

Point 4: The idea of a Universal 100% selection to CGSC is still being discussed, but LTG Ohle said there has been no decision yet.

Comment: Hopefully this will come to fruition, assuming CGSC is converted to a truly professional learning experience. I have seen reports it will be in place by 2004. I have always believed it was a stupid idea to use school selection as a method of culling the pack. But interestingly, at least 5 Aviators and 4 Infantrymen (I have not checked any other branch) who were selected for battalion command this year were not previously selected to attend the resident staff college and had to complete it by correspondence. (This may be more a consequence of the shortage in Captains that a drift away from using school selection as a culling tool.) Free play competitive exercises are the best way to identify superior performance in peace time.

Point 5. The Army is getting short of Lt Colonels and Colonels also. The assignment folks have been directed to "work" with LTC/COLs to find a PCS assignment that is to their liking. "The days of 'take this assignment or retire' are over."

Comment: This may be a sign that the power of the Personnel Empire is starting to crumble. But "command economies" always do in times of prolonged stress.

Point 6: Leaders should talk to their LTs all the time about the benefits of staying in the army. Many LTs are getting out and saying they were never asked why or had a discussion with their superiors about the benefits of staying. Everyone must get involved. Despite all the deployments, etc leaders need to change to get their younger officers to stay. "Working 12-15 hour days in garrison everyday doesn't help."

Comment: Glad to see someone is dusting off Leadership 101. This advice tells more about the sorry state of leadership than anything else. Imagine that, a recommendation to talk to your subordinates. You would think that is normal, but it is becoming less and less so, especially with email.

But what do you expect when the Battalion and Brigade Precommand Course reading list at Fort Leavenworth has titles like "How to Have a Harassment Free Work Place". I have personally seen my senior rater 5 times in the past 12 months. I have a good friend who, as a company commander, received a "butt-chewing" over email. The battalion commander wrote everything in caps, 24 pitch, bold and red. Used very harsh wording. No kidding.

[The comment about email is particularly telling. I have been getting more and reports of 'command by email.' On the one hand, email is a truly revolutionary device for communicating real problems or other information informally , like readiness. On the other had, the increasing and unimaginative use of email as a substitute for normal face to face contact in business or leadership situations depersonalizes the organization, sows mistrust, and undermines the informal organization. CS]

Point 7: LTG Ohle said the Army leadership does not feel that there are enough minorities in the combat arms branches. Efforts will be undertaken to rectify this.

Comment: Instead of force feeding this, why not ask why? Putting a guy in the Infantry or Armor who does not want to be there is dangerous, and criminal when discussing officers. I have seen officers, primarily minorities, who were detailed to the Infantry who indicated Infantry was their LAST choice of all basic branches. The results were predictable. They were often terrible and in a few cases relieved (a rarity in a peacetime Army). Not because they were minorities, but because they did not have the desire needed to lead combat soldiers. Lest I be misunderstood on this point, I have seen this with white officers detailed to the Infantry also.

Point 8: The Chief of Staff is serious about filling divisions to 100% by the end of the year. That WILL happen, but given other units and requirements that must be filled to 100% will make it quite difficult. TRADOC [Training and Doctrine Command] will be the bill payer here. LTG Ohle said to fill the units would take an addition of 12,500 to the Army's authorized end state. However, it's been decided, for now, not to ask for it and to take the requirement out of our hide.

Comment: Especially since we can't fill our authorized end strength now!

My concern is that TRADOC will take the hits in all the wrong places. Doctrine writing for one. And sad to say, there are some guys in some TRADOC support positions (we call them "Big Sarge") who are now making a contribution, albeit small, to the Army. A SSG with 19 years, the last six being in some range control job at Fort Jackson, is probably only going to hurt the unit he is forced into. This is the wrong way to bring up the numbers. He will not add striking power. But we will have a SSG filling a squad leader position, so all will be well with personnel bureaucracy, because that is what the table of organization and equipment authorizes.

Point 9: There is a new regulation effective 1 October. It will state that your retirement date must be at least 6 months from the date of submittal. There was an unanswered question concerning accrued leave and its effect. "We used to work hard to get you retired in a week or two, if circumstances required it. Not under this regulation anymore."

Comment: A reaction to the problem of Colonels retiring with 22-24 years versus the full 30 they can stay and are programmed to stay by the personnel managers. Same problem for Lieutenant Colonels. Anyone ever hear of a guy turning down command of a battalion or brigade? It used to have the radar cross section of a mosquito. Now, its more like a blue jay.

Best wishes from the frontier Army,

CPT Sam Damon

----[end email]-------

Chuck Spinney

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