Thursday, July 19, 2007

Losses in leadership that will haunt the military for at least 25 years

"To point out that our military has been overextended, taken for granted, and neglected - that is no criticism of the military. That is a criticism of a president and a vice president, and the record they have built together." - Vice Presidential Candidate Dick Cheney, 8/30/00

"Not only did Clinton spend a large amount of money on the military; most of it was spent wisely... The Clinton administration also kept the quality of our military personnel high by closing the gap between military and private sector compensation, a gap that the first Bush administration had allowed to grow, and improving retirement and health benefits for military retirees." Lawrence Korb, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense, 5/13/04

The Law of Unintended Consequences™ is rearing its ugly head in the form of a depleted leadership corps in the all-volunteer military. I have been screaming about a dearth of Officers for quite some time, and the compromised state of the NCO corps for almost as long.

NCO’s are the backbone of the military command structure. Without top-notch NCO’s the force suffers. They fill a unique role, because they manage both up and down the chain of command. They transmit orders to the troops they supervise, and they have great influence over the decisions made by the officers they serve.

NCO’s simultaneously prepare their units to complete their mission and know the personal pertinents of their personnel. They know whose kids are struggling to adjust, whose marriage is rocky, who is expecting a baby, whose mother is ill, who has an in-law “vacationing” on their couch and clueless about why they can’t come play. They have the standing to pull a green Lieutenant aside and tell him or her the real score.

These middle managers are especially important in wartime. Not the least of all among reasons: seasoned NCO’s keep Leiutenants alive long enough to become seasoned officers. There are more Sergeants leading Soldiers and Marines down dangerous alleys and on patrol than there are Lieutenants and Captains.

These are the enlisted personnel that an Army facing a three-decade rebuilding process after the folly of destabilizing and occupying Iraq needs to retain most, but they are not staying. Instead they are leaving in droves.

"When they aren't reenlisting, you are going to have holes in the force, and that becomes a readiness issue," said retired Army Lt. Gen. Randall L. Rigby, a former deputy commandant in charge of training. "They are facing 10 to 15 more years of repetitive overseas tours, and that's just hard on people. I'm concerned they won't be able to sustain the Army that way."

A Sergeant who leaves after 8, 12, 15 years in service is not a G.I. who can be replaced at the local recruiting station.

After experiencing repeated deployments and seeing no end in sight, they are simply walking away. Even reenlistment bonuses that run into the tens of thousands of dollars and promises to be stationed in Hawaii and Southern California and other desirable billets are not enough to retain adequate numbers of seasoned NCO’s. They are human beings, not machines. They want to have families and not watch their kids grow up on video. They want to be there for birthday parties and first days of school and to help with homework and attend soccer games.

This dearth of military leadership will be dealt with by our military for decades to come, and it is just one more sad legacy of the abject failure that is the Bush maladministration.