A U.S. Army captain with more than a dozen years in the service, including multiple tours of duty in combat zones, assumed his job was safe.
The non-commissioned officer-turned-officer knew the service was downsizing after more than a decade of war. But he figured he'd be one of the lucky ones, in part because of his tours in Bosnia, Kosovo and, most recently, Afghanistan. What's more, he had just received orders to move to a new duty station.
So he and his wife, who's newly pregnant with their first child, signed a lease and put a deposit on a home at the family's next location. A few days later, he was called into his post's commanding general's office and informed that, effective almost immediately, he would no longer be in the military.
"I was led to believe that everything was good to go, and next thing you know, Monday morning, you're having to talk to the man," said the captain, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the incident and without professional repercussions. "You never think it's going to happen to you."
The Army last week began notifying about 1,100 captains that they will be purged from the ranks. The same fate is awaiting about 500 majors, who beginning this week will be told their active-duty careers are over. They're among nearly 2,500 officers and NCOs who will be involuntarily separated this year as part of an ongoing drawdown of forces.
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 fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1, calls for the service's headcount to decrease to 440,000 to 450,000 soldiers by fiscal 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.
Even officers who escaped the current round of dismissals criticized the move, saying it encourages talented leaders to leave the service.
"It really is disheartening to see the Army engaging in force shaping in the manner that it is," one said. "I've seen many of my fellow company-grade officers decide to get out because of the uncertainty over pay and future promotions. We're losing those who can get jobs, which means the Army is losing the talent it should be retaining."
Christina Magill, a spouse at Fort Hood, Texas, said her husband was among those who received news that he's being cut. A 2007 year-group captain with a total of 15 years in the military, including five years in the Army National Guard, was blindsided by the decision, she said.
"One of the guys he worked with ... kept telling us it wouldn't be him because he was too good of an officer, and there were too many others they would need to weed out," she said. "I am shocked and a little angry and very scared of what it's going to be like."
Magill said the commander didn't know whether her husband's time in the Guard would count toward his 15 years of service. If it does, he'll be able to receive early retirement. If not he'll be left with the separation pay and the hunt for a new job.
"This is all we have known, so it's going to be hard," she said. "We will be married 10 years in a few weeks and we have spent it all as an Army family."
An officer separation board that met earlier this year reviewed captains and majors with between six and 18 years of service, while a selective early retirement board considered captains and majors with 18 years or more of service, according to an Army Times report.
Paul Prince, an Army spokesman, said the panels didn't disproportionately target those with prior service, either as enlisted personnel or members of the National Guard or Reserve. Rather, many officers who were commissioned in recent years had prior enlisted service, he said.
"Because of the need for rapid growth to meet increased force structure during the years 2006 through 2011, the Army opened its most responsive commissioning program, Officer Candidate School (OCS), to larger numbers of enlisted soldiers," Prince said in an e-mail. "Many of these OCS officers came with significant enlisted service.
"Our boards carefully evaluated the eligible populations by year group and specialty, and selected officers to separate from active duty based on performance and potential for continued active duty contributions," he added. "Many of those selected were well-qualified officers who have served honorably, completed multiple deployments and have performed well in their career fields."
Prince did acknowledge 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, but declined to say how many until the notifications are completed in early July.
"The Army moves and plans moves for a large percentage of its officer force during the summer season," he said. "As a result, it is certain that a small number of officers selected to separate by the officer separation or early retirement boards will have been previously identified for reassignment and are in the process of moving."
Thus, some officers who were let go are scrambling to find a home, as well as a job. Thankfully for the captain who's expecting his first child, his landlord is allowing him and his wife to continue to rent the house at their current location without any hassle. He just wishes the Army gave him more answers.
"It sounded very scripted," he said of his dismissal. "I didn't feel like they were very prepared for questions."
-- Military.com Associate Editor Amy Bushatz contributed to this report.
-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org