. . . new that any sane man can be a sailor (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
by the LA Times which notes that the junior, or company grade, officer attrition rate from the Army is worrying some in that service's leadership. This struck a chord with me because 1) That is the most common time for submariner officers to bail, as well; 2) The article blames Iraq for the attrition-So, to sum up the article:
>Army JO attrition rate is currently at about 8.7% - higher than any year since 2001.
>Why are the bailing at this point in their career?
- "Young captains in the Army are looking ahead to repeated combat tours, years away from their families and a global war that their commanders tell them could last for decades. Like other college grads in their mid-20s, they are making decisions about what to do with their lives"
- One interviewed officer said, as most feel, that, "At 26, he felt his window of opportunity to change careers was closing."
- The Army even acknowledges that, "if they are able to persuade captains to remain in uniform a few years past their initial commitment, the odds are good they will eventually commit to a full 20-year military career.
> The article also states: "The officers ... are proud of what they accomplished ... and they are generally optimistic"
> The Pentagon is considering slowing the rate of deployments to improve quality of life and hopefully raise retention. However, even with those efforts, and "with [his Army] achievements behind him, the Notre Dame graduate said he was looking for a life with more stability."
> And, frankly, JO's are in high demand. One such headhunter (from Lucas, grrrr) told "how eager private-sector employers were for young, combat-tested officers"
Fascinating. Sooo, the article seems to imply that Iraq, and the "uncertainty about ... an unconventional war" is what is driving attrition, along with a hungry economy, and the general harshness of a military career.
So, is the driving force really this "unconvential war?" Too bad we don't have data from before the war to compare. Oh wait, we do:
In Jan 01, in the Field Artillery Journal, MGEN Stricklin addresses the problem of retaining captains. He points to senior leadership as needing to reform to meet the needs of junior officers.
In March 01, the ADA online magazine wrote about how to emphasize the positives of military life in order to retain officers. When researchers asked "company grade officers what they "most liked" about being an officer. Of almost 19,000 surveyed, the top four categories in order were: Opportunity to Command, Patriotism, Working with soldiers and Camaraderie."
In order to put this in terms I can understand, I also compared what these three articles said to the state of the submarine community, the area I feel most comfortable commenting on. It is not a simple one to one comparison, as we shall see, but at least some parallels can be drawn. By the way, most of the following data is culled from the BUPERS community status brief.
To get a good overall feel, let's look at officer manning rates from nubs to COs. First off, the accession rate:
So, we didn't get quite the numbers we wanted from 94-99, but like most of the services, we got a bump in 2000, and more than we expected after 2001. This year, though, it looks as if we will not recruit quite as many as we had hoped (although the year is not yet over). So, perhaps there is some truth to the fear of not enough officers? Let's keep looking.
The next big step, after signing up, is who goes on to be a Department Head. This is the same point, time wise, that the LA Times article discusses with the Army.
So, the biggest shortfalls in people continuing their careers were from 2000 to 2003 - at which point a nominal Dept. Head tour was running upwards of 42 months - my WEPS did a 46 month tour. Any wonder why being a Dept. Head didn't sound thrilling to JOs at that point - it was a self-reinforcing cycle. But now it looks like we are right on track with how many guys we are keeping. Sure, 60%(!) of JOs bail (as compared to the Army's 8.7%), but we had planned on it.
So, perhaps the manning "crisis," while notable, is not truly a crisis yet? Let's review command structures to give a little more insight.
Of a group of 100 sub JO's, only about 40 will go on to be Dept. Heads. Of those, about 28 will get LCDR billets (XO or XOSS) - and right now it looks like all of those 28 will get CDR billets (CO or COSS). Are these numbers startling? Well, no, not if you are familiar with a sub's command structure. When I left ustafish, we had 10 JOs, 3 Dept Heads (no, I do -not- count Chop), 1 XO and 1 CO. All the tour lengths are supposed to be around 3 years, with the exception of the XO (2yrs). So, that ratio of attrition works out for subs.
What about the Army? Granted, here I am a little out of my depth, but from what I understand, there command structure isn't quite as tapered off as ours, hence they look for a much smaller attrition rate. But is there rate startling? Well, it is hard to say. I could not find accession rates vs. expected for the Army officer corps (I am much more adpet at surfing Navy personnel pages), but we can make some assumptions.
1. The Army had a surplus of new people after 9/11 - all the branches did.
2. Those people now have at least one deployment under their belts, for the most part.
3. Their initial 4 year commitment is almost up.
Now, I am going to to define two types of servicemembers: 1) "Regulars" - Those who would have served whether we were at war or not; and 2) "Crisis volunteers" - Those who signed up do to 9/11 and/or the GWOT. Prior to 9/11, the military had projected a certain manning level based on group 1), as that was all they had at the time, and their manning was fairly consistent. After 2001, a large number of folks from group 2) swelled the ranks. However, they joined not with a career in mind, as many in group 1) did, but with the idea to help fight the war on terror. Now, with a deployment (at least) down, and significant time in, they probably feel as if they have done their part, and they are ready to move on. Hence the uptick in attrition. However, as long as group 1) stays consistent with pre-9/11 projections, the military is probably not in a crisis mode yet. Sure, the % may be higher than expected, but do you still have enough people to fill the needed billets? I would guess yes - mere percentages can be misleading, and no hard numbers (such as 'The Army will be short 200 CAPTs for critical infantry billets next year') are provided, or available anywhere I can find. As we have heard no such alarm being raised, I think it is a safe assumption that this situation does not yet exist.
Attrition is an unfortunate fact of life for the military. But, as you will never have as mnay COLs as 2LTs, it is planned for and expected. In fact, if it didn't happen, they would probably force it to. It is how the force is structured. While every branch would like to retain people, especially the seasoned junior officers, that is simply the most logical point for them to leave, if they are going to. Myself, I actually stayed in past my initial commitment. However, I did not remain much longer. No, not due to Iraq, and not due to the 'poor' pay, for, check this out:
This is what BUPERS thinks a LT makes. Take out the nuke bonus and the 'tax advantage' - which I think is a bit of bogus number inflation, and that is what most O-3's, in all branches, should make base salary, approximately. So that bit in the LA Times article about civilian jobs with slaries of 50-70k being much more than an O-3's salary - yeah, not so much. While I did not get the nuke bonus (I was a rent-a-nuke, not buy-a-nuke), I still took a pay cut when I went civilian. As several of the other articles pointed out, money is not really a factor. It won't draw us in, and it won't keep us in. It is, however, a nice bennie, so keep it coming! Seriously, though, O-3s are going to leave the service. That is just how it is - if you wait past your initial commitment, it just gets harder and harder to leave, I know this from experience, and most O-3s are forewarned about it. Are they going to struggle with the decision? Yes. Are they going to leave because of Iraq? No - for the most part, everyone involved in this is proud to be serving, and doing the job they signed up to do. Are they going to leave because of financials? Not for the most part. Then why? They finally have first hand knowledge of the reality of the job, and for various reasons (family, stability, education), that reality just does not fit with how they want to continue to grow. This is natural, and should not be panicked over. When the military starts to announce that it can not man senior posts, then we will know we have an attrition problem. But we are not there yet.
And yes, if you are wondering, it is a hard decision, either way, chosing to stay or go. I did not make up my mind until the day I turned in my letter - and even then I almost changed my mind, after an hour long talk with my CAPT. Do I regret my decision? No - luckily, I still serve in a different capacity. Do I ever think about changing my mind. Lots - especially since I am still a reservist, and could technically get back in fairly easily. However, the point of contention for me was my kids. When I got back from my last deployment, my oldest (who was 3 at the time) would not speak to me for weeks, except to tell me he was angry at me for leaving, and #2, who was 1, did not recognize me at all, as I had only been around for 7 weeks of his first year of life. For him, "Daddy" was the picture in the living room. So no, if I sit back and think about it, I know I will not be going back. Especially since #3 has never known me to go to sea, and I don't intend to let her experience it.