Loss Leader

 

 

 

” I’m glad to see a concerned senior Army officer respond to my recent piece on the risks of brain drain inside the U.S. military. Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges undoubtedly speaks for many senior leaders in each service who feel exactly the same way about this looming challenge: “Hey, we don’t even have a problem!”

Maybe, maybe not. Frankly, I remain worried. The issue is not that the best and brightest in the military have already left. My concern is that the worst effects of the ongoing drawdown are still to come — and may well be years away. The people who must ultimately judge whether Hodges’s defense is sound are the junior officers and sergeants wrestling with tough individual decisions about staying in or leaving the service. But for the Army, now is the time to look for leading indicators and craft proactive strategies to avert what could easily become one of the worst unintended consequences of shrinking the force.

Each service will have unique challenges keeping top-drawer talent as numbers drop, budgets tighten, and opportunities to serve in combat dwindle. But the Army most of all faces a perfect storm of vexing issues. It is gradually coming down from a wartime high of nearly 570,000 troops, planning to hit 490,000 by 2017. Most Army leaders and defense analysts expect that number will decline farther — perhaps to 400,000 soldiers or less. Officer and NCO reductions — voluntary and otherwise — under that scenario could number in the tens of thousands.

At the same time it gets smaller, the Army is leaving a decade of combat that has energized the force with an unparalleled focus and sense of mission. The next Army will largely be a garrison force based almost entirely in the United States, with limited opportunities to serve abroad. Even its planned exercise program to rotate units regularly overseas is jeopardized by lack of funding. Convincing experienced combat leaders that this force will be an empowering, exciting place to serve is the ultimate challenge. The bare bones remedies Hodges outlines are not nearly adequate to the task. Fundamental change is needed. Here are a few ways to do it: “