By Melissa Bower Staff WriterPublished: Thursday, January 8, 2009 8:51 AM CST
A recent graduate of the Command and General Staff College is concerned the Army's shortage of majors may be sooner and more serious than originally thought."I'm mainly putting this out there," said Maj. George Brown, who graduated in the 2008-02 class. "It's kind of like the Army suggestion program."Brown based his opinions on research for his Master of Military Art and Science thesis, "A Pending Major Crisis: An analysis of the critical shortage of U.S. Army officers in year groups 1991-1997."
"If you don't do something now, the shortages are critical to the point where it may affect mission readiness," he said.For his thesis, Brown conducted a survey of majors in the 2008-02 and 2009-01 Intermediate Level Education classes. The Army already knows it is facing a shortage of intermediate level officers, Brown said.Officers nearing the 20-year mark of service are the targets of Brown's thesis. Although they are leaving at a 20 percent rate now, that rate could grow to 60 percent. By 2014, the Army could be 30 percent short of lieutenant colonels and 20 percent short of majors. Some branches could face shortages greater than 50 percent by 2014, he said.
"The shortage of officers is only going to get worse over the next few years because nothing is being done to encourage officers to stay in past 20 years of service," Brown said.Reasons officers leave after their 20 years are because of the high operational tempo, understaffing in the mid 1990s, and long and multiple deployments to the Global War on Terrorism. Officers who are not deployed must pick up extra duties, Brown said. Another survey of officer spouses, conducted by Angela Crist in 2006 for Central Michigan University, found similar results to Brown's for reasons why officers leave."Nearly half of the branches are so understaffed in the rank of major that these branches would be considered not ready for combat using the U.S. Army Unit Status Reporting system," Brown wrote. "Any significant loss within these branches could be devastating."
Officers typically receive a letter at 18 years of service from the Army Career and Alumni Program with information about retiring at their 20-year mark. Because Brown himself served a few years in the National Guard, he received that letter after 15 years of active-duty service instead of 18 years."I could retire by 2012, not 2015," he said.Brown hasn't made his own decision for retirement; he said that is something he'll have to talk about with his family.
"These officers are not disgruntled, but are tired, frustrated and starting to leave the service," Brown said of those surveyed. "Persuading these officers to stay in longer is imperative, but currently, there is surprisingly little being done."That's why Brown suggests a three-pronged approach to encouraging longtime service members to stay in the Army. First, he said a short-term information campaign could help encourage support. Mentoring and career counseling, he said, would provide a "sense of organizational belonging.""Senior leadership in the U.S. Army should reach out to the officers approaching 18 years of service or sooner and take part in the edification process," he wrote in his thesis. "Addressing the majors at CGSC would be an example of a quality forum where this process should begin."
He suggests formalizing bonus and incentive programs the Army already uses and creating a monetary bonus program similar to the one for enlisted Soldiers. Brown said providing money across the board simply isn't enough; financial incentives need to be targeted toward those who genuinely want to stay in the Army and fill a need.The shortages aren't yet felt in every branch, Brown explained, so one branch might be short by 50 percent, while another branch might only be 10 percent short."Find those in critical MOS branches and offer them bonuses to stay longer," he said.
Brown's thesis received the attention of a Washington Post article in August 2008. According to the article, the Army projects that it will fill the captain shortage by 2011, but will continue to have a shortage by 2013. Brown's survey disagrees."Senior leadership agrees that we have a bigger problem approaching," he said. "They already know they have a problem. They just don't realize how bad it could be."