June 1, 2005
By Owen West & Phil Carter
We won’t solve the manpower crisis by keeping our worst soldiers.
After combat, recruiting may be the toughest duty in the military today. Both the Army and Marines—who shoulder the casualty burden in Iraq and Afghanistan almost to the exclusion of their Navy and Air Force brethren—have failed to meet their recruiting targets for the last few months. The Army has assigned more recruiters, pledged more money, and lowered quality standards in an effort to hit its recruiting targets. Both active-duty and reserve recruiting has suffered. For the most part, the Army and Marines continue to meet their retention targets, thanks to a labyrinth of incentives. But current operational demands make retention increasingly uncertain. Many military experts predict a manpower meltdown at some point in 2006.
Now comes a new Army directive that attempts to alleviate the personnel crunch by retaining soldiers who are earmarked for early discharge during their first term of enlistment because of alcohol or drug abuse, unsatisfactory performance, or being overweight, among other reasons. By retaining these soldiers, the Army lowers the quality of its force and places a heavy burden on commanders who have to take the poor performers into harm’s way. This is a quick fix that may create more problems than it solves.