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Comments by YACCS
Monday, April 10, 2006

Your marriage or your career

Wow. more time in the Army, my wife will
love this.

Young Officers Leaving Army at a High Rate

WASHINGTON, April 9 — Young Army officers, including growing numbers of captains who leave as soon as their initial commitment is fulfilled, are bailing out of active-duty service at rates that have alarmed senior officers. Last year, more than a third of the West Point class of 2000 left active duty at the earliest possible moment, after completing their five-year obligation.

It was the second year in a row of worsening retention numbers, apparently marking the end of a burst of patriotic fervor during which junior officers chose continued military service at unusually high rates.

Mirroring the problem among West Pointers, graduates of reserve officer training programs at universities are also increasingly leaving the service at the end of the four-year stint in uniform that follows their commissioning.

To entice more to stay, the Army is offering new incentives this year, including a promise of graduate school on Army time and at government expense to newly commissioned officers who agree to stay in uniform for three extra years. Other enticements include the choice of an Army job or a pick of a desirable location for a home post.


In 2001, but before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, 9.3 percent of the Army's young officers left active duty at their first opportunity. By 2002, the number of those junior officers leaving at their first opportunity dropped to 7.1 percent, and in 2003, only 6.3 percent opted out. But the number grew to 8.3 percent in 2004 and 8.6 percent in 2005.

The statistics are even more striking among West Point graduates, who receive an Ivy League-quality education at taxpayer expense — and, in the view of many senior officers and West Point alumni, owe the nation and the Army a debt of loyalty beyond the initial five years of active duty.

The retention rate at the five-year mark for the West Point class of 1999 was 71.9 percent in 2004, down from 78.1 percent for the previous year's class. And for the class of 2000, the retention rate fell to 65.8 percent, meaning that last year the Army lost more than a third — 34. 2 percent — of that group of officers as they reached the end of their initial five-year commitment.

That is the highest rate of loss over the past 16 years among West Point officers reaching the five-year mark. For young officers receiving their commissions in 2006, the Army will guarantee slots in the most sought-after branches of the service — aviation, armor or intelligence, for example — in exchange for an extra three years in uniform.

Similarly, if a young officer wants an initial posting to a desired location or an opportunity to earn a master's degree, the Army will guarantee either choice in exchange for three more years of active duty.

The West Point graduating class of 2006 responded at levels even higher than anticipated by senior officers at the military academy, with 352 of the 875 seniors — 40.2 percent — signing on to the program as they approached the date in late May when they would be commissioned as second lieutenants.

"It is an amazing response," said Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox Jr., the West Point superintendent. "It has exceeded how I thought the class would respond."

Across the entire Army this spring, 3,420 newly commissioned junior officers are expected to enter active duty, according to the Army's personnel office. Of those, 1,124 — about one-third — have agreed to serve an extra three years in uniform under the new program.

According to Army statistics, 718 signed up to choose their career track, 289 contracted for the graduate school opportunity — 257 of them from West Point — and 117 wanted to pick the location where they, and their families, would be based.

The graduate school program was carefully structured to keep officers in uniform even beyond the extra three-year commitment.

After completing a master's degree program, an officer also has to repay the Army with three months of service for every month back in the classroom. This could push some officers beyond an automatic 8 years of service, toward 12 years — at which point, goes the thinking of the senior officers who devised the program, they may decide to stay in for a full 20.


So I hope the Army provides marriage counselling for people who choose this. Toss on PTSD, three combat tours, and something has to give. And as the lawyers around our major bases can tell you, the divorce rate is exploding.

You're a young captain, you tell your wife about this "opportunity" and then she flips out at the extra three years you'll owe Uncle Sugar. Not just flips out, but starts packing her and kids for the drive to mom's. You can talk about Harvard or Georgetown Foreign Service all day long, how you've always wanted to study under Williamson Murray, and all she sees is you coming home with half a leg.

Oh, and the fantasy of the loyalty of West Pointers is fucking comical. A study of the class of 1966 showed many opted for non-combat assignments and others fled from the military as soon as they could.

Most of the people who make it to captain love the military, they love the responsibility and the feeling of command. Leaving the Army is not an easy choice. But the Army's demand may drive even more people from the ranks because it places insane pressure on marriages.

It's easy to add on three extra years at 21, at 28 with a kid or two, not so easy. And after two years of grad school, another combat tour?

A lot of wives are gonna see 12 years in the Army as 4 years more than they can handle.

One thing I've noticed is the way that the discussion of PTSD always tops out at Sergeants, but it's lieutenants and captains who bear the real responsibility for carrying out orders and the consequences when things go wrong. They also have that much more to lose if they go for treatment.

So this isn't some gift. You're a wife who's husband is screaming in his nightmares and refuses to get help. Then he comes to you with this? And this is going to make you happy?

I mean it's great if you planned on an Army career, but otherwise, this could break a marriage.

posted by Steve @ 12:21:00 AM

12:21:00 AM

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