Leadership: September 12, 2001

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For the past year, the U.S. Army officer corps has been in an uproar over the increase in captains who are retiring. This is worrisome because these are the young officers, with between four and eleven years of service, who will be the senior leaders in ten years time. In 1995, 6.4 percent of captains resigned. This was considered normal. But last year it went over ten percent. The army's initial response to the increased attrition was to dismiss it as a minor problem. The solution was to lower standards so that more officers could be commissioned, and allow more to be promoted before they were ready. The army denied that such a quality problem would result. This despite the effect that they were commissioning new 2nd lieutenants to replace captains with ten years experience. In practical terms, 1st lieutenants with six or seven years experience were being promoted in order to replace the captains with ten years experience. This meant that over the last five years, experience at the company level has been steadily going down. Actually, it's even worse than that. A closer examination of the population of army showed that, if you took away the captains who were still serving out obligatory tours of duty, the annual loss of captains who had the option to resign was closer to fifteen percent. The results are not theoretical. The army is now promoting lieutenants to captain that it would not have promoted a few years ago. This, combined with promoting officers before they have been able to obtain sufficient training and years of experience is beginning to show in tangible ways. As early as 1999, the National Training Center (NTC) began to notice an increasing number of captains and lieutenants who could not perform basic tactical operations. Leadership in NTC exercises are the closest thing to combat an officer can experience in peacetime, and are used as a form of testing to see how well trained young officers are. The 1999 observations were not a fluke, in every year since, the reports have gotten worse. And the situation is actually worse than it appears. The officers that resign tend to be the ones who feel confident enough to give up a secure military career for the uncertainty of starting over as a civilian. The fact that the army is promoting lieutenants it would not have promoted before demonstrates this at work. The reasons for the exodus are recognized by the army (too many unaccompanied-by your family- tours, too much micromanagement, too much political correctness and "zero defects" and poor leadership from senior people in general.) And the army is trying to address some of the problems. If the army does not fix this, we go into the next war without the training and leadership advantage we had in 1991. As a result, we will take more casualties, and we could lose battles. This is not a trivial problem.

 


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