06 May 2008


There is a Major Crisis in the US Army that receiving very little attention, but is having a critical affect on the military and its ability to continue the high operational tempo: there is a 17% shortage of US Army active duty majors. Half of the specialty branches are so undersized majors that the branches would be considered not ready for combat using the US Army Unit Status Reporting system. For example, the transportation branch is short 50% of requirements for majors with 92% of these officers planning on leaving after they reach 21 years of service, or less.

This predicament dates back to the massive military drawdown in the early to mid-1990s; the US Army decreased its number of officers by 31% and under-accessed newly commissioned second lieutenants following the Cold War and as Operation Desert Storm came to an end. Now twelve years later, increased operations after 9/11 has placed extraordinary strains on those officers, now majors, who came in from 1991-1997. Since 1998, the percentage of majors leaving the service has increased 73%. This exodus is expected to continue its growth as more officers are leaving after 20 years because of the strain multiple deployments are having on their families.

The US Army recently attempted to address the officer deficiency by increasing accessing second lieutenants accessions, early officer promotions, increasing the officer promotion rates (nearly 100% from first lieutenant to captain, and then nearly 100% to major despite Department of the Army guidance of 90% and 80% respectively per DA PAM 600-3), graduate programs, duty station of choice, and retention bonuses up to $35,000 for captains. There are also interservice transfer agreements with the Navy and Air Force under what is known as the “Blue to Green” Program. These programs failed to decrease the growing trend of junior officers departing as soon as they reach their minimum requirement and the field grade officers (field grade officers are defined as officers serving in the rank of major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel) leaving as soon as they reach 20 years of service.

Another statistic of interest is the over 35% of officers that have served more than a year of time as an enlisted Soldier. This number is important because it indicates the percent of officer that will reach 20 years of service sooner than their year group peers.

If the number of officers getting out continues to increase, as indicated in a recent survey, there will be an increase in the total shortage of lieutenant colonels from 8.5% in 2008 to 40% or even 50% by 2012. This deficiency will be even greater in some specialty branches that are already operating at a requirement of fewer than 70% of the authorized required lieutenant colonels.

Not only do lieutenant colonels command battalions, but they are also the direct, senior mentors to the junior officers. From Department of the Army Pamphlet 600-3 2007: “Officers in the grade of lieutenant colonel serve as senior leaders and managers throughout the Army providing wisdom, experience, vision, and mentorship mastered over many years in uniform.” Without quality mentors, the entire professionalism of the US Army officer corps suffers. This tipping point perhaps could be the most destructive aspect of the officer shortage.

The current average number of officers that are leaving the service each year at 20 years of service is 20%. This number is predicted to increase to an average of about 60%. This percentage is even higher in most of the specialty branches that presently have the fewest number of majors required.

Less than 8% of those majors planning to leave the service at 20 years or less noted that nothing would keep them from getting out later; therefore, 92% of the officers could be convinced to stay past their planned retirement at 20 years, with the proper incentive. There is a window of opportunity.

As the nation continues to fight an unpopular war, both nationally and internationally, and over such an extended period, there will be manning issues. Consequently, the overall security of our nation depends on the senior military and civilian leadership to recognize these issues before they become critical and reach a tipping point beyond what can be quickly fixed. It is most likely that the US Army has already reached this point in several of the specialty branches.
More discussion is needed, but it is apparent that the situation is bad and getting worse. The longer the military takes to seize the opportunity to take action, the less options and assets the US Army will have.


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