Friday, January 7, 2011

Voting With Their Feet

Not only is the shrinking gene pool from which we get the Troops we need to maintain the predominant military force on the planet a problem, but retaining the good Officers to lead and employ them is problematic, too.  The Atlantic drills down into why a lot of our best talent is voting with its feet.
The best point: It's not the money.
The next best is that you can't just try to change the culture.  Change the system, and the culture will adapt.  I made some similar points on breaking up the "cookie cutter" career path earlier.  While I agree with the need to change in principle, I'm a little leery of Tim Kane's recommendations.
Here is how a market alternative would work. Each commander would have sole hiring authority over the people in his unit. Officers would be free to apply for any job opening. If a major applied for an opening above his pay grade, the commander at that unit could hire him (and bear the consequences). Coordination could be done through existing online tools such as or (presumably those companies would be interested in offering rebranded versions for the military). If an officer chose to stay in a job longer than “normal” (“I just want to fly fighter jets, sir”), that would be solely between him and his commander. 
This approach is a little suspicious to me.  True, it facilitates recognizing and rewarding niche brilliance, but my sense is that it would, over time, lapse into nepotism.  If a guy is, in his own estimation, successful as a Lieutenant Colonel because of the Majors and Captains assigned to him, then there's a good chance he'll pull these guys into his orbit as a Colonel.  This runs the risk of developing, as a co-worker of mine once succinctly put it, ,into  "impenetrable titanium cylinders of excellence."  Look at how the insularity and lack of perspective that Stanley McChrystal's hand-picked staff possessed laid him low. Also, a lot of "high-speed"--or at least high demand-- positions would become difficult if not impossible to break into if one hasn't had the right opportunity to fellate the right officers over the course of the years.
Still, the vast, heart-breaking numbers of Lieutenants and Captains that I got to know in Iraq, great young leaders all, who were determined to get out once they got home because of their disillusionment with their local leadership and the military bureaucracy bespeak the need for a change.

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