- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Shane Walsh was just what the Army needed.
The son of a Vietnam combat officer, Mr. Walsh became an officer in 1996 with plans to wear Army green for at least 10 years and hoping to command a tank company. Today, he works in his family's pump business in Houston.
"The Army I thought it would be and the Army it was were two totally different things," said the former first lieutenant, who led a tank platoon in the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas.
Mr. Walsh said that M1A1 tanks often sat on the sidelines with broken rebuilt starter motors or simply because there was not enough money to refill the gas-guzzlers.
"What I quickly discovered is the parts flow for tanks is awful," Mr. Walsh said. "Not necessarily because the parts don't get there, but because the parts that ever get there are rarely new. Half of them didn't work."
Mr. Walsh's decision is part of a larger Army problem now being studied at the Pentagon. Of 15,000 captains, the Army loses about 300 more each year than the planned 1,125. The exodus means some captain posts go vacant. Long-term, the talent pool for future majors and senior officers shrinks.
"The fact is we are losing more over the past three years than we expected to lose when we did our forecasting," said Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude, deputy Army chief of staff for personnel. "We're working diligently to get this to an acceptable [level]. I think we are making progress."
The Washington Times interviewed three men two ex-tank officers and one who plans to quit next year to hear why once exuberant lieutenants grew frustrated and quit.
The three officers' stories are part of a larger national debate on military readiness.
George W. Bush, the Republican presidential nominee, says the Clinton administration has allowed preparedness to decline. Democratic Al Gore dismisses the charge, saying the U.S. military remains the world's best.
Army leadership acknowledges the captain gap, but seems schizophrenic about its ramifications.
On the one hand, it has started major studies to find ways to improve officers' careers. Local bases convened officer focus groups, from which commanders heard volleys of complaints. Officers maligned senior leaders as too political and prone to micromanaging. They also bemoaned endless overseas deployments that disrupt family life.
But on the other hand, the Army says the quit rate is manageable. After the captain attrition rate ballooned to 10 percent in 1998, it has stabilized at 8.5 percent. Still, that is one percentage point above target.
Army Secretary Louis Caldera, a former Army officer, said one solution may be to simply take in more ROTC graduates.
"I don't see this as the sky is falling," Mr. Caldera said last week.
Gen. Maude said he has ordered changes he hopes will encourage first lieutenants and captains at the four- and five-year mark to sign up.
He ordered the personnel assignment command to "work harder" to hand five-year officers the assignment they want. If they are sent on a 12-month tour to Korea without family, they will be guaranteed their choice for the next assignment. And the Army will make more postgraduate studies available.
For ex-Lt. Walsh, the tools to stay combat-ready were not always available at Fort Riley. The Pentagon has acknowledged that while front-line overseas forces are well equipped, that largesse has come at the expense of second-to-fight units like Mr. Walsh's Fort Riley brigade.
For example, Mr. Walsh said the last time his unit went to Fort Irwin, Calif., for realistic training, there was only one battle in six that all 14 company tanks were mechanically ready to participate in.
He also said he was frustrated by the living conditions of enlisted soldiers at Fort Riley and the poor housing married privates and corporals resided in off base.
Maj. Todd Livick, a spokesman at Fort Riley, disputed some of what Mr. Walsh said. Maj. Livick said the starter motors are rebuilt, but he estimated 85 percent come back "fully mission-capable."
As to fuel shortages, "there's no such problem here on post," he said. Tankers have ample opportunity to do what they crave: fire the 70-ton tank's gun.
Capt. Glenn Hemminger, a 1996 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, plans to leave next June rather than extend his five-year commitment as first planned.
One reason: While at Fort Riley he saw the training budget cut from $2.9 million to $2.2 million annually to fund peacekeeping missions.
"We couldn't train the way we needed to train," said Capt. Hemminger, who is now writing battle doctrine at Fort Knox, Ky.
Chris Ewolski, West Point class of '95, left armor school at Fort Knox ready to make the Army a career. "I knew I was on the cusp of our fighting forces," he said. "Armor is basically leading the way in any conflict."
Today, he's back home in Cleveland working for General Electric, purchasing folding cartons.
When he commanded a tank platoon, Mr. Ewolski said, he rarely had the 16 soldiers required to man four tanks. Later, as a logistics support officer, he had only half the full strength of 72 soldiers.
"I looked down a tunnel, and I didn't see a light at the end of it," he said. "Five more years? I did not see the Army making any substantial improvements over the next five years to make me want to stay in."

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