Army, Marines to shield quality in 80,000-force
October 11, 2012
by Tom Philpott
Soldiers and Marines have had the most
deployments, seen the toughest fighting and suffered the greatest number
of U.S. casualties in recent wars. And as with most post-war periods,
ground forces also will see their career opportunities tighten faster
than for other service branches.
The Army plans to shed 60,000 troops,
or 11 percent of its active force, to reach 490,000 by fiscal 2017. The
Marine Corps will cut 20,000 -- 5000 a year over the next four
years –to reach an end-strength of 182,100.
Both services say they are determined
through the drawdown to sustain force quality and to keep a proper mix
of job skills and leadership experience to meet future
"Everything we do through the next five years is going to
be about making the Army a quality force,"said Al
Eggerton, deputy chief of the officer division for the
directorate of military personnel management.
"We’ve gotten an
awful lot of experience in the last 10 years of war, and we’re
going to make selections to keep the very best of that that we can. And
we’re going to make sure we level our force across the
optimum grades and skills and that we don’t have any
This time "we won’t
just be opening the door and allowing everyone to walk,"he
said. "We want to use precision, care and
Army leaders haven’t reached
final decisions yet on grade structure or skill mix for the
post-drawdown force. So Eggerton can’t say yet how
force cuts will impact specific groups of officers or
"That’s a point of
contention for field officers who would love to know exactly how
we’re going to do this. But at this point we’ve
got the framework but not the decisions,"Eggerton
When final decisions are made, perhaps
soon after the election Eggerton said, "we will begin to
look at each year group of the drawdown period and, by grades and
skills, analyze our populations to determine where we need to pare and
where there are shortages or gaps we have to fill."
In the post-Cold War drawdown of the
1990s, to meet force targets, Army cut recruiting too deeply, creating
hollow areas that later impacted the career force. Recruiting this time
is falling more modestly.
From 2004 to 2010, the Army was
expanding and officer promotion selection rates "were allowed to go
fairly high because we needed to keep all the fully-qualified people we
had,"Eggerton said. In the last two years, rates moved
toward what was the norm prior to our large expansion."
So competition for promotion is rising.
Some officers in overmanned skills, if not selected for promotion on a
first pass, are being invited to leave service early through waivers of
remaining service obligations.
Other officers are being offered
"affiliation bonuses"to leave active
duty for reserve components. To sharpen this incentive, the Army has
Congress to double the maximum affiliation bonus to $20,000.
Army also has asked for authority to
separate some officers involuntarily, anticipating that voluntary
enticements and the usual promotion board process of separating officers
who twice fail selection to the next highest rank, won’t
get the Army to its drawdown targets fast enough.
"Some year groups and grades won’t get a
chance to be seen by the promotion process and separate through that,
which would be more natural,"Eggerton said. He
can’t say yet how many officers might be forced out if
Congress grants that authority.
For the enlisted force, the goal
is "precision retention"of careerists.
Commanders will be able to deny even "enlisted members
who are fully qualified the opportunity to re-up their
contracts"based on service needs.
But the key force-shaping tool is the
enlisted Qualitative Service Program, introduced earlier this year, to
identify non-commissioned officers for involuntary early
separation from active duty. A series of "centralized
enlisted selection board processes,"the QSP will allow
tailoring of the force based on how well leaders have developed, and
imbalances across skills.
The first QSP board in June denied
continued service to 138 active duty and 40 Active Guard Reserve senior
NCOs. Eight more boards are planned for 2013, all of them targeting
grades and skills projected to be over strength or to lack viable career
progression without QSP board action.
To be considered for QSP, soldiers who
E-9 must have three years time in grade. Those in E-8 and below must
have four years in grade.
Gen. James Amos, Marine Corps
commandant, said the Corps plans no involuntary "reductions in
force"that would cut service contracts short. That would not
be "keeping faith"with Marines
are bred on loyalty and faithfulness"and who have put
their lives on the line again and again.
That said, competition to reenlist, or
for officers to extend service obligations, "will be a little
more fierce"as the size of the Corps falls. This will incentivize
Marines "to be the very best they can. So that is how I keep
faith,"Amos recently told a group of news reporters.
Like the Army, the Marine Corps has
slowed recruiting. During the Iraq war, its accession target some years
hit 35,000, Amos said, up from the normal 30,000. In fiscal 2012, the
Corps signed only 28,500 recruits.
Meanwhile, first-term reenlistments
have become "much more competitive,"Amos said. Combat
experience alone is no guarantee a Marine will be retained because 70
percent of current Marines have seen combat.
And top-performing Marines who
haven’t seen combat shouldn’t feel
discouraged about their career prospects. First of all, the world
"isn’t getting any
nicer out there,"Amos said, so Afghanistan likely won’t be
the last chance this generation of Marines has to fight for their
But also a "superstar"Marine who
hasn’t seen combat will still compete favorably for promotion
with a combat-experienced Marine who "is something less
than a superstar player,"Amos said.
system is designed, promotion-wise, actually to [find] the best
"Combat is a pretty good filter for the performance of a
Marine under stress. But over time we have gone through periods of
peace. And our bright young Marines have always floated to the surface
in preparation for future combat,"Amos
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