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Increase Officer Retention

An appreciable number of the Quartermaster officers selected for promotion to captain in 2000 are not still on active duty. Multiple deployments to support the Global War on Terrorism and an increased operating tempo are primarily responsible for this attrition. The Quartermaster Corps is providing on-the-job training and experience for officers who, after completing their initial service obligation, will leave the Army to become future managers and executives for major retailers.

Thirty percent of the cadets who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, New York, between 1970 and 1980 left the military after 6 years of service, and 48 percent left after 10 years. Well-paying positions in the private sector provide incentive and opportunity for this exodus, which is not limited to the Quartermaster Corps.

Congress and the Department of Defense (DOD) should reexamine the Army’s officer accession policies. I believe that no one should be allowed to become an officer without first completing a minimum of 3 years of enlisted service. However, senior military leaders and lawmakers would oppose any attempt to institute this requirement.

The most viable option is to change the current policy to allow mature, experienced enlisted personnel the opportunity to become officers. The benefits are obvious. These Soldiers already have demonstrated leadership ability; they understand the Army and see career potential. Therefore, they would be more likely to remain on active duty until retirement.

Currently, an incoming USMA cadet must be 22 years old or younger as of 1 July of the year he enters the Academy. I believe that Congress and DOD should increase the age limit to 27 years old for enlisted personnel on active duty. This would allow older, experienced individuals to attend and complete the USMA Preparatory School (if necessary) and enroll at the USMA with a wealth of military knowledge and leadership skills.

One-third of each incoming USMA class should come from the enlisted ranks. Installation commanders can conduct the initial oral interview boards, physical tests, and written examination, and corps commanders can conduct subsequent boards and submit recommendations of selected candidates to the USMA.

The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) Green-to-Gold Program (active duty option) is a 2-year program that provides an opportunity for enlisted Soldiers to complete a bachelor’s degree and earn a commission. The applicant must be under 31 years old on 31 December of the year of commissioning. The age limitation for this program should remain unchanged. This enables service members to serve a sufficient number of years as commissioned officers before retirement for the Army to recoup its investment.

The age limitation for completing Officer Candidate School—no more than 29 years old at the time of enrollment—is adequate. However, some graduates will lack a bachelor’s degree. A college degree, regardless of major, is regarded as a “union card” for entrance and retention in the officer corps. Career officers also are encouraged to obtain advanced degrees in addition to required military education such as the Army Command and General Staff College and the Army War College.

I am unaware of any studies that show a direct correlation between the level of education and the ability to lead people and make sound decisions under extreme pressure with limited information available. Lacking a bachelor’s degree should not be a deterrent for commissioning a Soldier who has demonstrated outstanding leadership ability. These Soldiers, if commissioned, should be afforded the opportunity to take college-level courses that will enhance their performance as leaders, such as English composition, economics, accounting, statistics, and principles of management. The lack of a bachelor’s degree should not be a major discriminator in the officer corps retention and promotion process.

The best way to stem the current exodus of officers is to afford outstanding enlisted Soldiers the opportunity to obtain commissions. Remember: “Every Soldier carries a field marshal’s baton in
his knapsack.”

James T. Delisi works part time for a nonprofit organization. He retired from Federal Civil Service as a management analyst with the Army Forces Command. He also retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, where he served more than 10 years as an enlisted Soldier before receiving a direct commission as a first lieutenant. He has a B.A. degree in political science from Duquesne University and an M.A. degree in business management from Central Michigan University.