Summary: Asking why we win so few wars forces attention on the US military’s broken personnel system. Here is an example showing how deeply it is broken, and pointing to a proposal to fix it.
America’s military has become senescent. Intellectually and operationally sclerotic, unable to respond to our changing world. That should be obvious to everyone by now. The pitiful results after seventeen years of the Long War. From military’s bizarrely dysfunctional weapons programs: the F-35 (insane cost, doesn’t work well), the Marine’s Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (cancelled after $3 billion R&D), the Zumwalt-class destroyer (2 built, program cancelled after spending $15 billion), and many many other fiascoes.
But nothing shows our broken senior military leadership in action than its response to their difficulty in recruiting ground combat troops. Recruitment has become more difficult with each new generation. Demographic changes are a problem. The worsening physical condition of young people is a problem. Both are growing worse.
DoD’s leaders appear to have targeted women as a new source of recruits for combat. Women (as a group) have higher rates of physical and mental injuries (the exact numbers are deep secrets, as are the probably immense costs), but many – both Left and Right – consider their injuries (even lifetime disabilities) an acceptable cost to achieve their goals. Collateral damage.
But there are other solutions, requiring sacrifices by neither women nor men that are not physically qualified for front-line ground combat. For example, look at recruitment and retention. There is no need to lower physical standards for any military jobs.
Recruiting more people
America has approximately 16 million men between ages 18 to 24. That’s more than an ample base from which to recruit the tiny fraction needed for ground combat (i.e., requiring more than average physical strength and endurance). Why does the military fail to do so? Military recruiting is like every other market: if you can’t recruit enough people, you are not offering what they want.
The leaders of the Army and Marines should consider what combination of pay and prestige that today’s young men want. What’s the pay premium for infantry combat vs. a clerk (indoor work, no heavy lifting)? How much greater is the status the Army gives grunts over POGs (People Other than Grunts) of equivalent or lessor training?
Rather than recruiting people prone to injuries, why not improve retention of existing combat troops (i.e., requiring more than average physical strength and endurance). Improve pay, benefits, prestige, and conditions – until the numbers problem disappears. Every business in America does this in order to survive. DoD can do so as well.
The larger problem
As so many experts have shown, DoD’s personnel system does not work well at recruiting, training, motivating, promoting, or retaining people. It is broken. No deep reform of the military is possible without fixing this. See the book below for a proposal to fix this.
For More Information
- As our 9-11 wars end, new problems appear for the US Army.
- Will the aging and urbanization of America limit the size of our armed forces?
- Important: Do we overpay the members of our armed services?
- The US military’s #1 challenge in the 21st century: recruiting a few good people.
- Don Vandergriff strikes sparks that might help reforge the US Army.
- Martin van Creveld: learning to say “no” to war — more young people are making that choice.
- DoD’s next challenge: managing the fall of our military welfare state.
A proposal for core reforms to the US Army
By Don Vandergriff (Major, US Army, retired).
See the Preface! Here is the publisher’s description …
“An Industrial Age model continues to shape the way the Army approaches its recruiting, personnel management, training, and education. This outdated personnel management paradigm – designed for an earlier era – has been so intimately tied to the maintenance of Army culture that a self-perpetuating cycle has formed, diminishing the Army’s attempts to develop adaptive leaders and institutions.
“This cycle can be broken only if the Army accepts rapid evolutionary change as the norm of the new era. Recruiting the right people, then having them step into an antiquated organization, means that many of them will not stay as they find their ability to contribute and develop limited by a centralized, hierarchical organization. Recruiting and retention data bear this out.
“Several factors have combined to force the Army to think about the way it develops and nurtures its leaders. Yet, Vandergriff maintains, mere modifications to today’s paradigm may not be enough. Today’s Army has to do more than post rhetoric about adaptability on briefing slides and in literature. One cannot divorce the way the Army accesses, promotes, and selects its leaders from its leadership-development model. The Army cannot expect to maintain leaders who grasp and practice adaptability if these officers encounter an organization that is neither adaptive nor innovative. Instead, Army culture must become adaptive, and the personnel system must evolve into one that nurtures adaptability in its policies, practices, and beliefs. Only a detailed, comprehensive plan where nothing is sacred will pave the way to cultural evolution.”