Morale: Moderating Moving Madness


September 11, 2023: After World War II, the U.S. Army adopted several new personnel policies. One of the most unpopular of these was the requirement that officers move to a new unit or job every two or three years. This was not a problem for junior officers who were in the reserves and only serving a few years on active duty before spending the rest of their career in an often permanent peacetime reserve assignment. But for career officers and their families, the constant moves were unpopular and one reason why career officers and NCOs retired after twenty years so they and their families could finally settle down in one place.

The main justification for the moves was to provide more experience, especially in overseas bases. The army and other military services could ignore such complaints during the Cold War when there were more troops overseas, and that was one of the justifications for the frequent moves. The Cold War ended in 1991 but soon there was a lot more Islamic terrorism, which led to American troops being sent to Afghanistan, Iraq and a few other places. Few of these overseas war zones allowed families to accompany the troops. This lasted until 2008, when the main hotspots of Afghanistan and Iraq were declared pacified and most of the troops came home.

This caused some unique problems. For example, so many army troops had been overseas, usually on one-year tours of duty, that when most were brought home the army found that there were not enough barracks and officer housing for that many troops to live in. That was fixed by building more barracks in a hurry, as well as reducing the size of the army. That army had not done that since World War II, when existing army bases were flooded with millions of new troops. A lot of these buildings were useful when the Cold War with Russia began in the late 1940s and by the 1959s the army was adding personnel again. In the 1969s the Vietnam War tripled the size of the army so many of those old World War II barracks were refurbished and repopulated. By the early 1970s the Vietnam War was over and the army once more shrank to about 750,ooon troops. For the next two decades there were no major wars to fight and the peacetime routine of frequent base moves for career personnel and their families resumed. The army did not lose all its wartime strength levels at once. The Vietnam War expansion reached its peak in 1968 with 1.6 million troops. By 1973 that had been reduced by half, and stabilized at that until the Soviet Union collapsed immediately after the 1990-91 Gulf War, after which it was slowly reduced again until a record low of 461,000 was reached in 1996. The War on Terror bumped that up to 565,000 by 2010 but that has slowly declined ever since to 473,000 active duty troops in 2023.

The army budget didn’t decline along with personnel reductions. The spending per active duty soldier increased because the tools of war have rapidly changed since the 1990s. The army required large quantities of new weapons and equipment to replace the aging Cold War equipment. For the last two decades the army has been spending more on developing and purchasing new weapons. The war time impact of all these new weapons was discovered when many were sent to Ukraine after Russia invaded in early 2022. Over $50 billion worth of weapons from the United States and other NATO nations were sent to Ukraine and performed spectacularly against the Russians. Some additional army troops were sent to Europe to help move the weapons to the Ukrainian border, where the Ukrainians moved them into Ukraine where fighting was going on.

The aid to Ukraine was expensive for the army, which now had to find money to replace those weapons. In some respects, that turned out to be an opportunity because one of the money-saving proposals was to sharply reduce the frequent movements to new bases by career personnel and their families. This was welcomed by the veteran troops and their families and there is now an effort by the troops and army budget experts to permanently reduce the frequent moves. This would improve morale and save the army a lot of money it needs for procurement. Currently the army spends nearly two billion dollars a year on these moves. That is significant when you realize that the army budget for 2023 is $178 billion. Nothing like necessity to justify needed changes so the army can spend nearly five billion a year on new weapons and equipment.




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