Let's get real. In spite of the copious amounts of lipstick the services have been putting on the proverbial people pig, our military is facing a troubling manning crisis. And it's not about recruiting, necessarily (although those stats are taking a turn for the worse); the bigger problem is retention - keeping those who are already serving to keep serving.
Today's Washington Post has a couple of op-eds that frame the issue nicely. The first is by a young captain who has decided to get out of the Army. From what I've heard his story is representative of the feelings of most of the junior officers and staff NCOs service-wide. They're willing to do their part, but they also need time to catch their collective breath. The current operational tempo doesn't afford that, nor does there seem to be any plan in the works to make it so in the forseeable future.So if these guys are leaving, who's going to man the force? Another op-ed speaks of casting a wider net. Here's an excerpt from Who Says the Elite Aren't Fit to Serve?:
The privileged of prior generations were more likely to consider military service a natural expression of their own privileged relationship to the state -- the least, you might say, that they could do in return for the opportunities the nation had granted them. Consider a young John F. Kennedy working connections to obtain a commission that his health would have denied him otherwise. How many from Harvard pull such strings today? To chalk this up to the ethos of a "simpler," less questioning time would be easy, but it would also be facile.All else being equal, staffing the armed services with citizens from the broadest range of backgrounds is still the best course. Further, we are in a time, and a conflict, in which the unique demands placed upon the military make the need for innovative leadership acute. (My artillery battalion, for example, conducts foot patrols in Ramadi, performs base security, trains Iraqi police recruits, mans outposts in the desert, forms neighborhood councils, oversees reconstruction projects and . . . oh yes, shoots artillery.) How better to achieve this than to cast a wide net?
Admiral Mullen has addressed this retention issue, but are the services really doing enough to stymie it? After all, we might have a real threat to our national security emerge in the next few years. Wouldn't it be best to have a healthy military in place at that time?