The post-9/11 military force reductions are starting to cut into the field-grade officer corps, and for reasons the Army has not explained, a disproportionate number -- almost one in five -- began as enlisted soldiers, according to The New York Times.
Faced with declining budgets, the largest of the services cut its force this year to 508,000 soldiers from 530,000, with plans to trim 20,000 more troops next year.
Cuts had largely come through attrition and reductions in recruiting, and had mostly affected low-ranking enlisted soldiers. But this summer, the cuts fell on officers as well, including 1,188 captains and 550 majors, many of whom were intending on making a career of the military, the Times wrote.
Being forced out of a life they have known for a decade or more has been a disruption as shocking and painful as being laid off, the Times noted. They are losing jobs, and in many cases, receiving smaller pensions than they had expected -- or no pensions at all. They are being forced to give up their identities as soldiers. Some are losing their ranks or status as officers. All must be out by April.
"It's our culture, it's our family, it's our language," Capt. Bill Moore, who works in intelligence at Fort Bragg, told the Times. "A lot of us have been in since high school. We feel like we've given everything, our families have given everything, and they just give us a handshake and say 'Thank you for your service.' "
When the Army announced the impending officer cuts a year ago, officials said they would target officers with evidence of poor performance or misconduct.
But an internal Army briefing disclosed by a military website in September showed the majority of captains being forced out had no blemishes on their records. The briefing, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, also showed that officers who had joined the Army as enlisted soldiers, then endured the demanding process required to rise into the officer corps, were three times as likely as captains who graduated from West Point to be forced to retire.
Many of the prior enlisted had been encouraged to make the jump to the officer corps between 2006 and 2009 when the Iraq war was raging and the Pentagon was struggling to replace junior officers who were leaving the Army as soon as their initial commitments were over, often because they were worn out by multiple deployments.
The soldiers who volunteered to fill the gap -- older than most junior officers because they had been enlisted -- were picked from the best of the ranks, and some had to earn bachelor's degrees to make the cut. Many said in interviews they believed they are now being pushed out because they are entitled to more pay and are eligible for retirement earlier, since they've been in the Army longer than other commissioned officers.
"The Army knew we had more years and they could save money by cutting us," said Capt. Tina Patton, 43, a combat medic who became an officer in 2007. "Looking back at our records, a lot of us can't figure out why else we would be cut."
The Army declined to discuss its criteria.
"Selections for separation are based on a soldier's manner of performance relative to their peers while serving as a commissioned officer," Lt. Col. Benjamin Garrett, an Army spokesman, told the Times in an email. "The boards retained those with the highest demonstrated levels of performance and the most potential for future contributions on active duty."
Capt. Tawanna Jamison, 43, who served 22 years in the Army but only seven as a captain, will get a sergeant's retirement pay of $2,200 per month, less than half of what a retired captain receives, which is about $4,500.
"I could be facing bankruptcy," she said. "I was helping my daughter pay for college. Now she's on her own. I couldn't have planned for this. It's hard not to feel like the Army isn't trying to save money on our backs."