Cent-sible solutions for the Army’s major-retention dilemma

January 6, 2009

This is the opening paragraph of a Commentary piece (A major problem: Cent-sible solutions for the Army’s major-retention dilemma) I wrote for the Armed Forces Journal (December 2008):

Majors — the Army’s future senior leaders — are exiting the service at increasing rates during a period of military growth. A recent article in The Washington Post indicated the Army is about 15 percent short of its goal of 15,700 majors. Lawrence Korb, former assistant secretary of defense and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said, “Retention of battle-tested majors should be the Army’s highest personnel priority. These are the future Pattons, Powells and Petraeuses who will lead soldiers into combat over the next two decades.”

Cost-effective solutions are available. These include financial incentives, leveraging Web 2.0 to enhance mentoring and the personnel assignment process, and uniform vouchers. All could be adopted almost immediately to shore up the ranks.

It generated limited discussion among officers.  Some supported my ideas specifically, or at least the concept that something must be done.  Others disagree with my solutions and assertions; I can only surmise that they don’t think shortage of majors as a problem worth addressing.  Either way, talking about problems is the first step to solving them.

Do you think more money should be allocated towards retaining the future senior leaders of the Army?  How does your corporation retain managers?  What type of incentives have you seen that were successful to keep employees with talent?  If your employer gave you a $500 bonus would you accept it?  Would you make good use of the money?

You can read more about military personnel in the Building the Military for the 21st Century report.

A Major concern for the Army

August 21, 2008

A recent Washington Post article discussed the current shortage of Majors in the Army.  I thought the article was well written and provided good context about the impact of deployments and the expansion of the Army.

Major Insignia

Major Insignia

According to the article:

Majors plan and direct day-to-day military operations for Army battalions, the units primarily responsible for waging the counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout the Army, majors fill key roles as senior staff members, putting together war plans, managing personnel and coordinating logistics.

I’d say that’s an accurate overview.  Though the shortage hurts, we are still fighting and winning wars across the globe.

In general, those of us who continue to serve understand that we aren’t going to get rich in the military.  However, in many of my private discussions my friends agree that a few minor incentives/signs of appreciation would be welcome.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Provide an annual $1,000 “bonus” for all active duty Majors–incl. mobilized reservists (Total cost to Army…less than the price of 100 Toyota Prius)
  • Extend Tuition Assistance benefits to immediate family members if the Soldier doesn’t want to utilize the benefits due to deployments (Total cost to Army…probably less than the price of a $250K Uparmored HMMWV)
  • Allow officers to select duty station of choice for current -or- future assignment (Total cost to Army…”free” someone’s got to fill the slot)
  • Really encourage Senior Leaders (Generals and Colonels) to mentor Majors…some do this really well, some aren’t as engaging.  I suspect that if there were more instances of Senior Leaders having the “How’s your day Major? Where do you see your career going? blah, blah, blah” conversation than many Major’s would simply “feel better.” (Total cost to Army…”free”)
  • Utilize technology to enhance the assignments process (Think: match. com) e.g…A Major fills out a profile of his “desired assignment type, location, duration, family, etc…” that information goes into a computer with an algorithm that spits out potential assignment options.  Through a Social Networking tool, the Major can now contact the Major who currently fills the potential assignment to ask specific questions “How are the schools? Do you like your boss? When will your unit deploy? What are the recreation options? Do you use X,Y,Z equipment?”  All along the way the assignment officer can monitor the conversation and establish report dates based on what works best for the officers–because they will have real-time information.  (Total cost to Army…undetermined; however, the Social Networking technology already exists…just need the “match” feature)
  • Give Majors a free uniform voucher to replace the Green Class A’s.  This is a win-win for the Army because leaders should be the first in the new uniforms and the Majors would appreciate the vouchers. (Total cost to Army would be less than 100 Smart Fortwo!!!)

Let’s hear your opinions…So what do you think?  Should Army Majors simply serve for pride and commitment to duty?  Are the incentives I discussed feasible?  Why do you think the Army is slower than the Navy to embrace incentives? (I have a college classmate who has received $122,000 in bonuses during his Naval career as a Surface Warfare Officerhe’s never been shot at!)