Promotions For Everyone

I tend to disagree with assertions that the military is ‘broken,’ but there is more than just anecdotal evidence that the military is under a great deal of strain due to the heavy deployments overseas. Via Gary Farber, here is some more:

Struggling to retain enough officers to lead its forces, the Army has begun to dramatically increase the number of soldiers it promotes, raising fears within the service that wartime strains are diluting the quality of the officer corps.

Last year, the Army promoted 97% of all eligible captains to the rank of major, Pentagon data show. That was up from a historical average of 70% to 80%.

Traditionally, the Army has used the step to major as a winnowing point to push lower-performing soldiers out of the military.

The service also promoted 86% of eligible majors to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 2005, up from the historical average of 65% to 75%.

The higher rates of promotion are part of efforts to fill new slots created by an Army reorganization and to compensate for officers who are resigning from the service, many after multiple rotations to Iraq.

The promotion rates “are much higher than they have been in the past because we need more officers than we did before,” said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman.

That is an exceedingly high rate, and I worry about the quality control.

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19 replies
  1. 1
    Steve says:

    In our city schools they call this “social promotion.”

  2. 2

    Salon.com has an article up today about the government now is giving waivers for past criminal activity in order to meet its recruitment numbers. From the article:

    This is where waivers come in. According to statistics provided to Salon by the office of the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, the Army said that 17 percent (21,880 new soldiers) of its 2005 recruits were admitted under waivers. Put another way, more soldiers than are in an entire infantry division entered the Army in 2005 without meeting normal standards. This use of waivers represents a 42 percent increase since the pre-Iraq year of 2000. (All annual figures used in this article are based on the government’s fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. So fiscal year 2006 began Oct. 1, 2005.)

    Hey, bring back the draft. It’ll end these phony wars when every mother’s son is potential hamburger on the highway to Fallujah.

  3. 3
    D. Mason says:

    That is an exceedingly high rate, and I worry about the quality control.

    I guess it’s a good thing that you worry because the military leadership is too busy to worry about such trivial things as quality. They have real serious threats to deal with, like cartoonists they dont like. I guess they decided to focus more on the control than the quality lol.

    Sure there was a time when the American military valued quality but times change, man. Who needs smart soldiers when you have smart bombs? Why should the military know how to wage war itself when all of those details can be outsourced to some top defense company?

    The Marines used to be looking for a few good men now they seem to just be looking for a few warm bodies.

  4. 4

    I tend to disagree with assertions that the military is ‘broken,’

    Just for fairness sake…

    Did you disagree with this when the Republicans were saying it under Clinton’s term? Or when Bush said it in 2000?

  5. 5
    JWeidner says:

    I had seen this article a couple days ago, and I was curious about your thoughts John. Seeing as how you have experience with the military. I have no frame of reference, other than the statistics that were put up in the article about the increase in percentages.

    On the surface, it sure looks like it would be a bad thing to pass almost 100% of captains on to major, and almost 90% of majors on to Lt. Col., but, like I said, absent a frame of reference for how those numbers might relate to quality of officer, I don’t feel qualified to make any judgement…

    I guess what I mean is…if, under normal circumstances, a soldier might not get a promotion if he had a court martial in his past, say for something relatively minor, but now the soldier is getting that promo, is that a really bad thing?

    Or are we potentially looking at soldiers who have no business being promoted to higher rank, but getting the promotion anyway, due to the strain on the armed forces? (And is this really different than in other wars? I mean, it seems there are stories of incompetent officers in every war we fight. It’s obviously not an ideal situation, but it’s clear that it happens)

  6. 6
    Slide says:

    You promote the Captains you have not the Captains you want.

  7. 7
    Pooh says:

    Damn, that’s my line, Slide.

  8. 8
    Marcus Wellby says:

    Don’t worry John — this is America, where only the best and brightest rise to the top. Look at the president as an example. We aren’t some old-european backwater monarchy where idiots from selected families run the show.

  9. 9
    D. Mason says:

    Don’t worry John—this is America, where only the best and brightest rise to the top. Look at the president as an example. We aren’t some old-european backwater monarchy where idiots from selected families run the show.

    Exactly!

  10. 10
    Perry Como says:

    Criticizing the leadership is criticizing the troops. Why do you hate our troops?

  11. 11
    Otto Man says:

    Ahhh…. the soft bigotry of low expectations.

  12. 12
    elledblu says:

    Lowering standards and rewarding mediocrity (if not outright incompetence) – pretty much the Bush administration in a nutshell.

  13. 13
    Davebo says:

    the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, the Army said that 17 percent (21,880 new soldiers) of its 2005 recruits were admitted under waivers. Put another way, more soldiers than are in an entire infantry division entered the Army in 2005 without meeting normal standards.

    Oh come on. These new recruits are just Battle Hardened

  14. 14
    TM Lutas says:

    StrategyPage had an article on this awhile back. Their spin was that the peacetime function of rejecting promotion applications was being replaced by combat selection pressures. In other words, the Lt. you don’t want promoted is generally taking himself out of the Army because he doesn’t want to go back to Iraq.

    And what about the guys who are incompetent but want to go back anyway? Well, there’s your 3% failure rate in the current stats.

    I don’t know whether this argument is right or not but I thought I’d inject it in here before snark completely overwhelmed coherent thought on the thread.

  15. 15
    Pooh says:

    TM, that’s interesting, but it assumes the guys who don’t want to go back are the same set as the guys who you don’t want going back. Which I’m not sure I buy completely.

  16. 16
    my cat says:

    Maybe the problem is the word “broken”. Who knows what that means? There are two reports, one commissioned by the the Democrats and one by Rumsfield which both conclude that our military is overstretched and cannot sustain our current level of involvement in Iraq–is that “broken”? Or does “broken” mean the incremental making of less-than-professional-decisions under pressure because of the overstrtching?
    I wish the discussion wasn’t about the word “broken” because it is a digression. We need to talk about the overstretching and the implications that has for policy in Iraq ( Bush is going to cut and run and call it victory). We also need to be talking about how the money and lobbyists are driving the wrong kind of procurements for the wrong kind of military. We still have a WWIII military, heavy on huge weapons and technology, light on people and support for the people. Since our future wars are likely to be small scale ground wars against insurgents where hearts and minds matter and nukes are not appropriate, we really should be rethinking the whole orientation of our military, not just worrying about unqualified people being promoted.

  17. 17
    Pooh says:

    We also need to be talking about how the money and lobbyists are driving the wrong kind of procurements for the wrong kind of military. We still have a WWIII military, heavy on huge weapons and technology, light on people and support for the people.

    Matt Yglesias has a piece about just that today.

    Pick your metaphor, carts and horses or tails and dogs…

  18. 18
    Gary Farber says:

    Thanks for the link, John. (Naturally, I only just said something in another thread about not being read. Naturally.)

    “I tend to disagree with assertions that the military is ‘broken,’….”

    I think “very stretched” is fair to say. Not the zoomies or the swabbies; just the Army.

  19. 19
    BadTux says:

    The comment about the Army not being designed to fight the war it is fighting is quite apt. The problem is that the U.S. Army of today was designed to fight Gulf War I — i.e., a conventional war utilizing overwhelming technology against an outmatched regional foe (no, today’s Army is *not* the one designed to fight WWIII, that was the army we used to fight Gulf War I). We found out, in Gulf War I, that our military technology made the Soviet military technology look just sick. The M1A1 can pick off a top-of-the-line Soviet/Russian tank at a range where the Soviet tank’s shells just bounce off the M1A1’s armor. We could have destroyed Saddam’s forces in Gulf War I with a tenth of the force we actually used, because our technology simply makes the old Soviet technology look pathetic. And though the Russians have done limited and haphazard improvement of the old Soviet technology in the years since the Soviet Union collapsed, that basic situation still applies, and will continue to apply for the foreseeable future.

    So today’s Army was designed to fight Gulf War I — a conventional war against a conventional enemy, using a combination of superior technology and rapid maneuver. Air power is used in this scheme to basically immobilize the enemy — his tanks and soldiers cannot budge from their camouflaged locations because they will be immediately destroyed via overwhelming air superiority, allowing U.S. commanders to concentrate their forces and overwhelm the enemy at a point, then roll up the still-immobilized enemy from the point of penetration. I suggest you read Tom Clancy’s book on Gulf War I for more on this strategy. The U.S. Army is very good at this, as proven by Gulf War II.

    The problem is that the need for this kind of military ends at the point that Bush makes a speech in front of a “Mission Accomplished!” sign, and then we’re in a guerilla war of occupation. The current U.S. Army is not designed for that kind of war. The U.S. Army is heavily oriented around tracked vehicles — the M1 tank and Bradley AFV. The M1 tank is not designed for sustained occupation duty, its gas turbine engine has less than 1/10th the rated duty hours between rebuilds of a diesel engine, and while some combat requires heavy armor (most death of Marines has occurred during times when they did not have integral armor to use for direct fire support, indirect fire support from aviation cannot substitute for direct fire support from integral artillery and armor), the M1A1’s weight and gun length makes it less than suitable for use within cities — indeed, the only deaths in Iraq for tankers within their M1’s have been drownings, either because the tanker fell asleep and ran off the road into a canal, or because a bridge collapsed under the tank.

    The Bradley AFV is more suited for this, it has performed quite well in Iraq, but its tracks have proven to have an unexpectedly short life in the Iraqi sands. In addition, it too has mobility problems in urban areas due to its weight and bulk, though not to the extent that the M1A1 does.

    The end result of this is that our forces have had to unexpectly rely overly much upon the only wheeled vehicles they have — Humvees and Strykers. And we don’t have many Strykers, I doubt we’ve ever had more than a few dozen in the whole of Iraq at any given time. Humvees were never designed for this sort of warfare, they were designed to haul troops and supplies to the front from whence the troops would disembark and fight on foot and to perform fast patrols, they weren’t designed to drive into actual combat. As for the Stryker, a) we don’t have many of them, and b) the ones we have lack the 25mm autocannon of the LAV or Pirhana and thus lacks effective firepower in combat (the Stryker, as basically an upsized Mowag Pirhana, certainly could mount the 25mm autocannon, but it was decided that being able to roll off of a C135 was more important and the upsizing as compared to the LAV made it too tall for the autocannont turret).

    The end result is that our Army is being ground like hamburger meat in Iraq. There aren’t enough boots on the ground, they lack the proper equipment to fight a guerilla war (and uparmored Humvees are NOT the proper equipment, they need a vehicle actually *designed* to carry armor, the Humvees are very unreliable once uparmored), and the equipment they do have is literally falling apart and spends as much time in the repair depot as in the combat zone because it was never designed for the use that’s being made of it. And then we get this latest Pentagon report that says “Gee whiz, everything’s well! We don’t need to do anything, we have exactly the Army we need!” and I almost growl with frustration…

    Here’s some needs I see:

    1. Improve Bradley track and bogie reliability. This is the primary limitation on use of the Bradleys. The Bradley otherwise has proven to be a surprisingly good weapon for this sort of war, but this reliability issue has limited its use.

    2. A better power pack for the M1 tanks. The gas turbine engine seemed the only possibility when the M1 was designed in the early 1970’s, because diesel engines were too heavy and made only 2/3rds the power. But the Europeans have introduced something they call the “EuroPowerPack” for their latest generation of tanks, which is a diesel power pack that produces the same power as the turbine in the M1 tank, weighs only a few hundred pounds more, and will fit in the same space, and has a rated service life between rebuilds that is ten times that of the (no-longer-manufactured) gas turbine. Getting that sucker into our tanks would give the Abrams a new lease on life.

    3. Add the autocannon to the Stryker. I’m sorry, but a .50 caliber machine gun that requires the operator to be hanging his ass in the wind with a target painted on it 10 feet above the ground isn’t a viable weapon for this kind of fight. This conflict has shown that organic artillery is important to keep our troops alive. Despite Rummy’s rantings, air power has not proven to be near as effective as organic artillery here.

    4. More Strykers. Our soldiers should *never* be doing escort duty in Humvees. Humvees are death traps in this kind of scenario.

    That’s the *least* that needs to be done to prepare our military for future Iraq-style guerilla wars.

    And the Pentagon’s happy happy cheery report addressed *NONE* of this.

    Bleh. What a waste.

    As for the procurement fat — we don’t need two new fighter-bomber jets, we need more F-16’s and F-18 E/F’s. The F-16 is the best fighter in the world. It is reliable, servicable, hauls a heavy weapons load, has a good range, and is cheap both to acquire and operate. With upgraded weapons systems and avionics it will continue to be the best fighter in the world into the foreseeable future. Certainly none of the old Soviet fighter technology is going to threaten the F-16 anytime in the foreseeable future. As for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, this relatively new fighter/bomber jet is a workhorse. It has most of the same attributes as the F-16, hauling a huge weapons load into the air either to deliver to a ground target or to take out a dozen Soviet-era fighters all by its lonesome at a range where the Soviet-era fighters can’t even get a good radar fix on it.

    We simply don’t need a new fighter jet. The Russian’s limited development of the Su-27 doesn’t cause such a requirement, because the Russians don’t have the money to invest in avionics and weapons systems — the fundamental Su-27 airframe is sound, but the engines are unreliable and the weapons systems are Soviet-era knock-offs of 1970’s U.S. weapons systems. Even the latest variant being purchased by the Chinese and Indians is a sitting duck to the F-16 and F-18 and will remain such for the foreseeable future.

    What we *do* need to do is this. 1. Buy more F-16’s. 2. Buy more Super Hornets to get rid of the last of the non-Super Hornets and Tomcats. 3. Continue investing in weapons and avionics upgrades. That’s it. No new fighter jets needed for at *least* 20 years.

    But instead of spending the money on upgrading the weapons systems that Iraq shows we need to upgrade, instead we’re sending hundreds of billions of dollars to defense contractors to build weapons we *don’t* need…

    Anyhow, that’s what I see — a military that is not equipped for the war it is fighting and whose leadership, from the Commander in Chief down, refuses to confront and resolve this problem. Iraq has placed pressures upon the Army that it simply was not designed to handle. The fact that they’ve managed to keep going despite all the equipment failures is admirable, but we should get them the right equipment to fight the war they’re fighting. Period. Instead of denying reality and saying “Everything is fine, no problem!”.

    – Badtux the Military Penguin

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