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Army Officer Firings Blamed on Bad Evals, Not Race

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Eight in 10 of the U.S. Army majors being dismissed from the service had poor evaluations or otherwise bad marks, a fact that some say played a far bigger role in the separations than race or ethnicity.

The Army earlier this year convened an Officer Separation Board and an Enhanced Selective Early Retirement Board that reviewed the records of nearly 8,000 majors for possible layoffs as part of an ongoing drawdown of the force.

Of the 550 majors identified for involuntary separation, the vast majority -- 80 percent -- had a negative performance evaluation or other derogatory information in their record, leaked documents show. A similar trend occurred at the captain level.

"Board weighted derog heavily," states one of the slides. That's Army speak for derogatory information, such as a reprimand from a general officer for any type of offense, from driving while intoxicated to plagiarism.

At the same time, there were significant racial disparities in the boards' decisions, with blacks separated at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group, according to the Army documents.

Some 9.8 percent of black majors were dismissed, while 5.7 percent of white majors were let go, the documents show. Meanwhile, 8 percent of Hispanic majors were cut, and 5.9 percent of Asian-Pacific Islander majors were released.

"Greatest variance exists between African American and Caucasian Overall," states one of the slides.

Put another way, blacks made up 128 of the major separations, or 23 percent, while whites accounted for 330, or 60 percent -- even though blacks make up less than 10 percent of the Army's active-duty officer corps, while whites account for almost 80 percent, according to 2012 demographic data.

The trend was also reflected at the captain level, with one in five black captains receiving a pink slip versus less than one in 10 white captains. In all, almost 1,200 O-3s were culled from a pool of almost 11,000 captains. They're among nearly 2,500 officers and NCOs who were notified that their active-duty careers are likely over. The separation date is April 1 for captains and May 1 for majors.

Army officials at the Pentagon wouldn't comment on the 51-slide PowerPoint detailing the major and captain separations, but confirmed that it was prepared in July by the service's Human Resources Command for internal analysis and leaked online.

Paul Prince, a spokesman for Assistant Chief of Staff for Personnel Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, said he could provide only limited information about the deployment status of some separating officers because his office didn't prepare the slides.

Prince previously acknowledged that some officers who were separated had already been reassigned to a new duty location as part of a permanent change of station, or PCS. Others were reportedly informed while serving in Afghanistan.

Earl Simms, a retired Army brigadier general and chairman of The Rocks Inc., the largest military officers' organization with a majority African American membership, said the separation process tries to be equitable but is complex and can result in anomalies.

"We always like to say, 'What is in the best interest of the Army?' " he said. "Obviously, the Army's best interest is to be a diverse force that represents society."

Simms said his group mentors young officers regardless of race or ethnicity. Even so, when he sits down with blacks and other minorities, he said he encourages them to pursue careers in combat arms, a field in which such groups have historically been underrepresented.

"Combat arms is your center of gravity in the Army," he said. "The military is still about the gunfighters."

While the vast majority of the dismissed majors and captains had two or more years of combat experience or deployments, some functional areas were hit harder than others. For example, those in electronic warfare were most likely to be separated, while those in strategic plans and policy were least likely.

After growing in size to 570,000 soldiers in 2008 at the height of the war in Iraq, the Army has less than 520,000 soldiers today and is on pace to shrink to 490,000 soldiers by next year. It's bracing for even further contraction driven by automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.

The Pentagon's proposed budget for 2015 calls for the service's end strength to decrease to 440,000-450,000 soldiers by 2017. If sequestration remains in effect, the number may fall to as low as 420,000 soldiers -- tens of thousands less than what the Army's top officer, Gen. Raymond Odierno, said is needed to adequately respond to conflicts around the world.

Mike Barron, deputy director of government relations at the Military Officers Association of America and a retired Army colonel, said, "Sequestration is the big elephant in the room. If we didn't have sequestration, maybe this wouldn't be so draconian."

Barron disputed the notion that race or ethnicity played a role in the dismissals. Board members are probably scrutinizing officers' manner of performance and whether they've ever received a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand, which, as a permanent addition to the personnel file, is likely the ultimate discriminator in who stays and who goes, he said.

"Every officer knows, it's kind of a ticking time bomb," he said of the document. "It's known within the officer corps as the kiss of death."

In an essay titled, "Here's Why the Army Needed to Cut Officers with a History of Bad Decisions," published on the website www.taskandpurpose.com, Brad Hardy, an active-duty Army major, acknowledges that laying off leaders after more than a decade of war "is an ugly thing to do," especially considering many of them received Purple Hearts and other combat decorations, but argues it's the right thing to do.

"The cold reality is that the Army and the all-volunteer force is not a charity, work program, or entitlement," he wrote. "It is a profession that, by its serious, deadly nature, must be highly selective when considering the character of those who lead it."

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at Brendan.McGarry@monster.com.

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