I expected knowledgeable Corner readers to have a lot to say about yesterday’s post regarding increased promotions within the U.S. Army. They didn’t disappoint. Of the dozens of correspondents, many active or retired military, most said that the Boston Globe was making too much of what is really a normal, predictable promotion pattern during wartime. For example:
Historically, during peacetime a lot of dead wood accumulates in the officer corps – officers who are well-suited to the politics of jockeying for advancement in a bureaucracy, but who are not tested as commanders of soldiers in the heat of battle. The war in Iraq is perhaps weeding out many substandard officers who could not handle the pressure of real world combat operations. The officers who reup are the ones who possess the mental toughness needed for the job – a job whose pressures most of we civilians could never imagine.
And several commenters made this point:
Re rapid promotion. That inevitable happens in war. It worked pretty well with some guys named Washington (militia colonel to general-in-chief), Grant and Eisenhower.
A few correspondents from the military argued that focusing on the level of captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels was a bit beside the point, anyway, because the quality of commanders at the high end and NCOs at the low end would have a greater effect on success. For example, one Army veteran wrote:
I would be more concerned if this was coupled with a dramatic exodus of non-commissioned officers (NCO). The mid-level officers are not the “backbone” of the Army. It is the sergeants who hold the Army together. They are the one who directly plan and supervise the soldiers under them, as well as train and mentor younger officers. They are also specialists in their fields. Since Army retention rates for enlisted soldiers continue to exceed goals, it sounds like the institutional knowledge is safe.
On the other hand, a few military folks wrote me to express concern about what the Globe reported. They argued that some experienced officers they knew had left because extended deployments had taken a toll on family life, and that they weren’t sure the new officers represented an increase in wartime experience and performance. For example:
As a current — but not for long — officer in the Army (National Guard, but spent past two on active), I can vouch for this, on the Guard side as well as active duty/Regular Army… a lot more of the younger officers are doing the minimum, then getting out (fewer see it as a career), and people who have been deployed multiple times are getting out as well. A LOT of them are being pressured by families (mostly spouses) who would like to spend more than 10% of the year with the ones they love. LTs used to take 2 years to go from 2LT to 1LT and 1LT to CPT… but those have each been shortened by 6 months. Last year a group of us (CPTs) were told that, barring any criminal conviction, all new CPTs have a 96% chance of making LTC!
The bottom line: so many people are getting out that they have to promote whoever is left, and faster than they want to.
Finally, there was a lot – and I mean a lot – of Boston Globe bashing. Yeah, this conservative Southerner really needs convincing.