Attrition: Killer Qualities


July 9, 2011:  The U.S. military continues to meet all its recruiting goals. That's largely due to the fact that the unemployment rate went from 4.4 percent in late 2006 to 9.9 percent three years later. It has since declined to 9.2 percent. Thus for many young men and women, the military has been a good source of jobs. But it's been harder to get in. And there's not as much money. Three years ago, the military, especially the U.S. Army ended most of its bonus programs. Since then, admission standards have been going up.

Recruiters, not surprisingly, found more young people willing to consider a military career. The military has an opinion survey taken annually, at the end of the school year, among people in their late teens and early 20s, to see if they are considering a military career. Three years ago, the survey showed 22 percent more positive responses. Soon recruiters found themselves taking in twice as many recruits as the previous year, and higher quality ones at that. This has continued every year since 2007. The army, for example, now gets recruits who are over 90 percent high school graduates, versus 79 percent four years ago.

During the years of heavy fighting in Iraq (2004-7), recruiting standards were cut, especially for support troops. There was never a shortage of young men trying to get into the infantry. But the 85 percent of troops who normally don't get shot at, were put off by their higher casualty rates in Iraq. The fobbits (a play on FOB, or Forward Operating Base, and hobbits) have now adapted to 21st century combat, and unemployment rates.

After years of tough wartime recruiting, the recruiting sergeants and officers have had three years of having more quality applicants than they can take. This has presented an unprecedented opportunity to increase the overall quality of military personnel. The air force and navy have been benefitting from this for the last decade, as they have been reducing their overall strength (because of automation and fewer, but more capable, ships and aircraft in service). The army and marines have now been ordered to reduce their strength, and that is producing a similar winnowing of the upper NCO and officer ranks. This will have a positive long-term impact, which is particularly important as the military faces increasing quantities of new technology. It takes smart and talented leaders to select and implement these new, and often unique, technologies. The country that does this most quickly and effectively, will be the most powerful.


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