Losing Junior Officers: NYT spin Posted by: McQ
on Monday, April 10, 2006
The NYT is reporting that the Army is alarmed that junior officers, especially captains, are leaving at an alarming rate.
Or so they would have you believe.
Young Army officers, including growing numbers of captains who leave as soon as their initial commitment is fulfilled, are bailing out of active-duty service at rates that have alarmed senior officers. Last year, more than a third of the West Point class of 2000 left active duty at the earliest possible moment, after completing their five-year obligation.
It was the second year in a row of worsening retention numbers, apparently marking the end of a burst of patriotic fervor during which junior officers chose continued military service at unusually high rates.
Mirroring the problem among West Pointers, graduates of reserve officer training programs at universities are also increasingly leaving the service at the end of the four-year stint in uniform that follows their commissioning.
Been there, done that. It is at this point in the career of any army officer that he has to make the decision to make the army a career or find something else to do. By the time he or she reaches the rank of captain, two things have usually happened: they have a family and kids and they have a clearer picture of what the future in the army might hold for them.
Unsurprisingly many decide that the army really isn't the best place for them. After all reality doesn't often match the dream. But until the obligation is satisfied, they can go nowhere. Unlike civilians who can quit, that option isn't open for an army officer.
Now that's the common sense explanation. What the NYT wants you to believe is this is all about Iraq:
Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Army has had a far more difficult time in its recruiting than the other services because the ground forces are carrying the heaviest burden of deployments — and injuries and deaths — in the war.
One member of the West Point class of 2000 who left active duty last year is Stephen Kuo, who took a job with a medical equipment company in Florida. Mr. Kuo said his decision was based on "quality of life." He is now recruiting classmates for his company.
"With the rotation of one year overseas, then another year or so back at home, then another overseas rotation — it does take a toll on you," said Mr. Kuo, who served a year in combat in northern Iraq. "Plus, I was not enjoying the staff jobs — desk jobs — I was looking at for the next 8 to 10 years. Furthermore, the private sector had many lucrative offers."
As stated, it is the traditional decision point for officers. And beyond captain, as Kuo points out, it is mostly staff jobs for officers. For a lot of them, that is unappealing and they decide to go.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that Iraq doesn't at all factor into the decison making process, but interestingly, the NYT's own graphic doesn't support the inference that Iraq is the major driving factor in the loss of junior officers. Additionally, their explanation of the graphic is competely misleading:
Not a single year before 9/11 is lower than the retention numbers since the 9/11 and the war in Iraq. That means that in 1997 through 1999 , three years of peace, more officers were leaving the army than in any year since the Iraq war began.
Obviously that means there are other reasons officers leave than just Iraq as I've explained.
Just as obviously the loss rate is trending up a bit. That, I think can, in part, be laid at the feet of Iraq and, most likely, pressure from young families effected by numerous deployments in a short time frame. Then again, maybe not. It may be no more than "the army isn't for me" at work. But to pretend this is some sort of crisis brought on solely by Iraq is a bit over the top.
I suspect that the strength of the economy has much to do with it...after a few years of service as an officer, a 25 or 26 year old has plenty of private opportunities to explore, provided the economy is good.
Except KMAn, the ECONOMY STINKS! It’s foetid, it’s soup lines, it’s a JOBLESS Recovery, wages have been flat-line, the top 1% got all the money! I know this because the NYT tells me so, especially Paul Krugman.
McQ, we heard this same story in the 1990s, about aviators and engineers in particular. The enlisted ranks go through this too, in the rates that are skilled and employable outside the service. Anybody who has reached the 6-10 year point has to decide whether to stay in for retirement, or get out and have a non-military career. And as you note, it’s hard to stay in if you have a family or any employment plans.
But that story doesn’t sell papers like the implication made by the NYT.
And as you note, it’s hard to stay in if you have a family or any employment plans.
Yup, it’s "fish or cut bait" time when that obligation ends (or soon there after).
West Pointers and RA ROTC officers have a minimum 5 year obligation. It is normally in that 5-7 year range that the decisions are made. And with a good economy it stands to reason good employment opportunities for some will overcome further service.
After 5 to 7 years, most who were never really career oriented in the first place, feel they’ve given adequate service and it’s time to get on with their lives and raise a family.
Of course the angle the NYT took on the story isn’t at all surprising since it again underlines their abject ignorance about all things military.
As the economy improves, the job market tightens. When qualified applicants become scarce, companies turn to the military...where else can you find someone who, at that age of 25 or so, has already commanded 100+ people? So as the economy improves, recruitment offers to military members increase, and it truly becomes "an offer you can’t refuse". I’m considing jumping myself, but will probably hang on. 8 years to retirement!
As the economy improves, the job market tightens. When qualified applicants become scarce, companies turn to the military...where else can you find someone who, at that age of 25 or so, has already commanded 100+ people?
Exactly. By the time I was 25 I’d commanded a unit in which I had a separate compound, 500 people (a company sized US unit, a KSC company, KATUSAs, a Korean security detachment and 50 Korean workers), 70 buildings, 50 vehicles, a 24 hour mission, and millions upon millions in assets.
That’s not unusual for an officer of that age in the military. And it is very attractive to the civilian world.
I’m considing jumping myself, but will probably hang on. 8 years to retirement!
Or do your 8 years in the reserves and start your new career early.
I thought of that, but you don’t get the retirement pay until 55 (or is it still 60?) if you take the reserves route. I’m depending/planning on the retirement pay as soon as I get out as a safety net as I pursue a writing career. Since blogging socio-political issues obviously didn’t work out for me. Heh.
When my three-year engagement was almost up I couldn’t wait to get out. Then the first gulf war happened and I felt torn between my desire to be a "free man" and my guilt at getting out if my buddies were sent over. My unit stayed home so it was problem solved. I’m thinking that the Iraq war today is acting to have more officers and men re-enlist then would typically happen in peace time. An assertion illustrated by the graph. Leave it to the NY Times to stare the facts in the face and come up with an erroneous, biased conclusion.
An interesting though; looking at the graph, the current numbers are much like the continuation of the 2000-2001 numbers.
In other words, imagine a steady downward slope starting with the election of a military-friendly Republican to the office of President.
I’d love to see numbers since, say, the start of the all-volunteer military, for longer-term trend analysis.
(And no, I’m not entirely serious about it being just that, or that at all - the data is far too thin to support it. On the other hand, I’ve heard lots of career military say the Clinton years were dispiriting, and my conclusion is more supportable than the Times’.)