Sunday, May 22, 2005

Let My People Go

Instead of finishing CLR or maybe packing (neither of which have been completed), I fixed my sights on an LA times story on an impending parting of the Red Sea with the exodus of junior officers (O-3 and below). I'm no expert so I can't opine on the logistics of all this, but it's clear that the all the branches of the military rest their Officers' Corps on the backs of captains, who are most likely to leave following the end of their initial commitments.

More striking is the reason for the not fight but flight decisions. The last line of the article, quoting Capt. Tuohey, a Harvard grad and a Cambridge MA, eerily sums it up:

"What's the end point?" he asked. "When do you declare victory?"

Let the implications of that sink in for a second. These aren't some Berkeley vegans shooting the shit at Peet's (no offense to my vegan brothers and sisters, I'm just trying to draw a distinction). These are the most important leaders of our military who see no end in sight, or at least philosophically find the prospects of a continued war on terror unfulfilling. Obviously this is bad news given that we are in the middle of a war in Afghanistan and Iraq (and let's not let the theatrics of self-governance in either fool us into a lull that we're in anything but war). At the same time, might we reach a point in the near future where the Administration (at whatever level) will be forced to tip its hands and admit that we can't possibly fight a war against terror as a concept to its fruition? (If for no other reason than to ensure that we have enough battle-hardened junior officers in place to at least reach some sort of a face-saving conclusion in these initial battles of the war.)

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Blogger Boalt Action said...

The Times article is inconclusive and unpersuasive. The only statistical evidence it presents is that "last year, Army lieutenants and captains left the service at an annual rate of 8.7% —the highest since 2001."

These numbers tell us very little. First of all, 2001 is the year of the 9/11 attacks -- it isn't THAT hard to assume that driven by patriotic zeal, officers would be less likely to leave the Army.

Second, we don't know what the average (or the expected) attrition rate is. Ooohhh, look out, its 8.7%! That's more than... well... anything below 8.7%.

Third (and this may or may not be covered by the vaunted 8.7% figure), we don’t know the rate of annual replenishment of the officer corps. Like you, I’m no expert, but I bet it offsets the 8.7% by quite a bit.

Fourth, I don’t completely buy your argument about captains and lieutenants being the most important leaders of our military. The fact that captains are so numerous may point not to their importance, but to the difficulty of reaching the rank of major by a “rank and file” captain – a hurdle that may make it more enticing for the average officer to leave than to stay. And as for lieutenants, could it be their inexperience and/or disenchantment with Army life in general that is driving them out? As for their importance, I thought lieutenants ranked well below good NCOs – remember, Murphy says that nothing is more dangerous than a 2nd lieutenant with a map and a compass.

Lastly, I seriously doubt that the opinion of these few officers resonates with any strength through the rest of the Army officer corps. But even if it does, it would be wise to compare it to pre-9/11 levels before drawing any politically motivated conclusions.

5/22/2005 5:24 PM  

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