Saturday, March 28, 2009

Let Them Fight, Already

Tom Ricks has been talking deployments, specifically, why on Earth is there still such a large contingent of Soldiers and Marines who have never deployed? An Army officer familiar with these matters weighs in. After explaining several case examples of eager soldiers who've unwillingly spent their whole careers in non-deploying positions, he explains the heart of the problem:
So, my point is the numbers don't tell the whole story... The vast majority of those who haven't deployed can be reasonably explained based on current personnel policies. Yes, some people are avoiding deployment, but nowhere near all of them.

Current personnel policies are the true problem... We are operating our service personnel programs under a peacetime model. There is no appetite for creative thinking. There is no willingness to examine and understand the issue. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that manpower management does not exactly attract all-star players. It's hard to think outside the box when you don't really understand what's inside the box.

Is there an answer? Maybe. We could throw some money at the problem. If we are going to deploy Soldiers and Marines we could come up with interesting ways of taking care of families without jerking them around with unnecessary PCS moves. We could force the G1s [personnel branch] and G3s [operations branch] to talk to one another. Maybe if the 1s understood the scope of the operational requirements they would have a greater motivation to provide viable solutions. We could also take a chance that non-traditional career patterns won't hurt chances for promotion and retention.

Here's my own suggestion: find the flexibility to make use of those soldiers who are chomping at the bit to deploy again and again. I would happily have spent my entire contracted service in Iraq, with maybe a few months between tours at most. I know I'm not alone in this either; a goodly proportion of my buddies are of the same mind. Many of us have never planned anything but a five-years-and-out Army career path, so burnout or interrupted career advancement are irrelevant. It doesn't make the news, probably because it's far more difficult for civilians to identify with, but for every soldier profiled on CNN, burnt out and struggling with the separation from his wife and kids after his third or fourth deployment, there's a single soldier languishing in garrison who would give anything to get back to the desert. I know the Army isn't a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but it really grinds my gears to see soldiers with critical skills that are desperately needed in theater scraping paint and pulling weeds in garrison, particularly when those soldiers would give anything just for the chance to do their jobs. I've heard of soldiers in my unit get denied a transfer to sooner-deploying units because their job is listed as "Critical Need", so they had to stay here and pull weeds for a year before we deploy again. Rather than wrap their minds around that one, most of them just left the Army instead. Fighting multiple long wars isn't going to "break" the Army. Hopelessly squandering the human resources we need to win them just might.

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