Monday, August 22, 2022

A View from the Cheap Seats, The Army Recruiting Crisis, Part 3

Col. Dziengeleski, off duty
As we were on the boat yesterday, I had a chance to quiz Ski (aka Col. Andrew Dziengeleski, US Army retired) on the third and a half article on the military, and particularly the armies (which is Ski's greatest concern) problem with getting fresh bodies, The Personnel Crisis Has Arrived, Part 3: Understanding The Root Causes. He has identified four main problems:

1) The "woke" issue:

Now, before I go any further, it’s necessary to explain a critical perspective of this topic. It doesn’t matter what you, the reader, think, or what I, the author of this column, think about “being woke” or being “politically correct.” What does matter is that a large number of people in the country think “being woke” in the Army is something tangible and perceivable, and when those parents, relatives, or friends say to a high school junior or senior that they shouldn’t join because they will experience all the wokeism they can handle, all the time, and that’s not good, well, there’s a big strike because the Army and DoD writ large have not developed a decent counter-narrative.

I quizzed him on this one, in particular, hoping to elicit whether or not he thought "wokeness", or merely the perception of "wokeness" is the problem. He did inveigh against it, but I feel that he thought the two are largely inextricable. If enough people think it's a problem, it becomes a problem.

2) MHS Genesis (a medical information system)

In fact, I didn’t even find out about this until March 2022, when a close friend who is an Infantry Brigade Commander in the Army National Guard told me about this system and how it was destroying recruiting. Apparently, this system allows for the retrieval of childhood and adolescent medical AND pharmacy records, and wouldn’t you know, the list of ailments, illnesses and medications precluding people from joining the military is pretty darn long. In fact, it’s so long that if you used any sort of anti-depressant medication, or perhaps had childhood asthma and needed an inhaler for a while, or perhaps your son was diagnosed with ADHD and need Ritalin for bit because the public school experience bored him out of his skull, well guess what, that’s all available now for the recruiters. In addition, the sawbones at your local Military Entry Processing Stations (MEPS for the acronym dorks) can now see all of that in its glory, and they have no compunction about telling a recruit they aren’t shipping out to Fort Benning, Fort Sill or Fort Jackson for basic training. What’s interesting about this is that is has literally received no press, and one has to wander the dark halls of Reddit, or military message boards or chat rooms to get the real deal from recruiters who are nowhere close to meeting their monthly quotas.

This one is completely new to me. To err is human, but to fuck up on a massive scale, a computer program is a good start.

3) Credentialism

Take the new Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT. Ramrodded through the Army in record time and at the cost of tens of millions of dollars, the ACFT has, well, been problematic. The test itself has been altered at least three times, and Congress is now involved again, demanding even stricter standards for those in the combat arms. Initial results for female soldiers were dismal, as 86% failed back in 2019, and the latest publicly available report from Rand stated, “During the test phase, passing rates ranged from 41% to 52% for enlisted women, versus 83% to 92% for men, depending upon component. Pass rates among officers were higher, ranging from 49% to 72% for women, versus 86% to 96% for men. Pass rates are also lower for members of the U.S. Army Reserve, the Army National Guard, and soldiers over 45 years old.” In addition, I believe, but cannot prove at the moment, that older personnel are leaving the service sooner, and the ACFT is a major reason why they are leaving. In effect, the ACFT is creating a brain drain of field grade officers, senior NCOs and mid to senior warrant officers.

It may be a bit Heinleinian of me (holy cow, Microsoft takes Heinleinian as a valid word!), but I think if you really want to join the army, the army ought to do it best to find a place for you help it, even if it is counting the hairs on a caterpillar by feel.

And finally, 4) The military's recent record

The Army is also suffering from being involved in a 20 year set of wars with generally poor outcomes to say it kindly. The 18 year old cohort who came of age in 2022, were born into conflict in 2004 and saw 17 years of American military involvement in Afghanistan and 15 years of involvement in Iraq. They have seen countless Wounded Warrior Foundation commercials amongst other veteran support organizations, and that has left them with more questions and doubt than ever. A few years ago, when serving on the Joint Staff, a 16 year old lad in my neighborhood stopped me in my driveway one evening as I returned from work and asked one of the hardest questions I ever had to take as an officer, as he asked, “Mr. Andy, I thought the Army would take care of you if you got hurt, so why are there so many Wounded Warrior commercials on the TV if that’s the case?” I had no answer for him them, and it left me feeling awful, mainly because I didn’t have a good answer and I thought this kid could have made a fine soldier.

He closes:

The Army has always been the most egalitarian of the services, and I really wish they re-adopt this attitude as quickly as possible. Recent Congressional testimony from the Chief of Staff of the Army shows that the service is becoming even more credentialed, as shown here. With the reduction in all three components of the Army, it’s becoming more and more of an elitest organization, with more members than ever coming from military families. The Army should be a citizen’s Army, drawn from across this great country, from every economic class, ethnic background, racial class and gender. Increasing standards while ignoring major cultural shifts within the youth of the nation cannot continue for much longer, especially in the face of the loss of approximately 100,000 personnel in the next year alone. In the next and last column in this series, I’ll look at ways that the Army can fix the recruiting problem, but it’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be fast. As someone who served for the last 26 years in the Army, I truly hope that the best minds can be placed against this problem, because the trends are extremely troubling.

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