Peace Time: May 7, 2003

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"Military transformation" is the hot buzz word in the U.S. Department of Defense there days, and everyone is being advised to "find out what works and do more of it." One thing that works is the personnel system used by the special operations forces (SOF, including the Special Forces, SEALs, Delta Force). These guys stay together in units for years, unlike the rest of the armed forces where people are constantly being moved around. That "personnel turbulence" means that most combat units always have a lot of new faces. The SOF recognize that this is bad for combat performance, it destroys "unit integrity," performance and morale. And that observation is nothing new, it has been recognized as a battlefield reality for thousands of years. But for over half a century the Department of Defense has been entranced by a system that manages individual careers centrally, treating troops as individual cogs in the machine. The concept of unit integrity has slowly come to be recognized as a good thing, but no one has been able to do much about it. So a "transformation" of the personnel system would have to come to grips with issues like "up or out" (if you don't get promoted within a certain number of years, you must leave the service). One solution to this problem is to let someone who is good at their job, stay at it for a long time. The army long ago decided to do that with their warrant officer system. These officers, who do things like fly helicopters and run technical and maintenance operations, can spent their entire careers doing just that. The warrants have a pay system which allows them to get "promoted" and paid for better performance while they are still doing the job they are good at and want to keep doing. Will this kind of transformation spread? No one knows for sure, even though calls for this sort of thing are getting louder and being listened to by the Secretary of Defense himself. 

 


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