- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2000

The Army is losing some of its best future leadership because officers are growing increasingly disenchanted with a bureaucratic operation dominated by peacekeeping missions.

An internal study appears to rebut the argument of Pentagon leaders that officers are fleeing the military for better paying private-sector jobs in a robust economy.

"Pay is not a major factor in career intent," says the Army survey, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times. "The decision to leave is based on multiple reasons … a strong civilian economy enables career change, but does not cause it."

The Army survey reinforces the findings of a study released today by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which concludes that "readiness and morale" have "slipped" in recent years.

The Army survey was conducted at Fort Benning, Ga., home of Army infantry training, by the Army Research Institute. An Army spokesman declined to comment because the report is still a "working document."

Researchers surveyed captains the Army's leaders in the future to find out why the attrition rate for that rank has increased from 6.7 percent 10 years ago to nearly 11 percent in 1999. The exit flow has increased 3 percent in the past three years.

The most often-cited reasons the captains gave for leaving were high-operational tempo, a "dissatisfaction" with the Clinton administration's peacekeeping missions, "excessive micromanagement" by superiors, and insufficient time and equipment for realistic combat training.

Of peacekeeping, such as ongoing missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, the report said: "A source for career disillusionment for some leavers. Not what they came in Army to do."

The report is troubling for the Army on two fronts. For one, its post-Cold War future has been geared more to peace enforcement than to fighting a great land battle, meaning the attrition rate may continue to increase. By losing captains, the Army has a reduced pool from which to select battalion and brigade commanders as officers rise in rank from captain to major to colonel.

The Fort Benning report found that exiting captains complained of "disillusionment with their role as an officer, lack of control in assignments, family disruption and lack of autonomy and limited responsibility."

"It's not fun anymore," says Joseph Collins, a retired Army colonel and an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "There's too much pressure. Too many deployments. There's a general sense of a force under pressure."

Mr. Collins is an author of the wide-ranging new CSIS study into the military's changing culture.

"We say in our study that people are overcommitted, underpaid and underresourced at the cutting edge," Mr. Collins said. "People complain for the most part about having to do more with less, meaning equipment is getting older. They have less money to keep it going. They have more requirements to keep them on the road and away from the family."

The CSIS study found the military is increasingly dispirited by a lack of money and equipment for realistic training and by an accelerated pace of operations with a pared down force.

"Many service members have a deep concern about the state of training and readiness in their units. This strikes at the heart of a number of military values," the CSIS study found.

"Today, the smallest force in four decades with 56 percent married is overworked, underpaid, and underresourced at the cutting edge. Readiness and morale have slipped; recruiting and retention are problematic; and careers in the military have become less satisfying."

Sinking morale was a major finding in the two-year CSIS study, "American Military Culture in the 21st Century," which was based on surveys of 12,000 military personnel and on 125 focus groups.

"Morale and satisfaction with service have both suffered," CSIS found, "and this has had a negative impact on military effectiveness."

The Fort Benning study includes these typical responses from captains:

* "I do not enjoy peacekeeping missions. When I was in Germany, we did zero warfighting training."

* "Job I am doing now we had lieutenants do in my previous unit. I am not challenged and [am] overly supervised. It's just not fun any more."

* "The time lost from my children due to deployments makes getting out more attractive."

* "The best are getting out, leaving the mediocre to step into positions of command."

The Fort Benning study found that while the quitting rate for infantry officers has risen to nearly 11 percent, the number for other critical positions is even higher. Field artillery captains have a 13.4 percent rate. The number for military intelligence captains is 12.8 percent.

Congress last year increased all service members' pay by 4.8 percent, and provided targeted salary boosts for skilled personnel. The pay was part of an overall defense spending increase aimed at improving combat readiness and at aiding recruiting and retention.

Military experts say the pay issue is especially important for enlisted soldiers whose pay lags civilian compensation. But they say the Fort Benning study shows the Pentagon cannot cure low morale in the officer corps with money alone.

The Army study recommends several changes in relations between junior officers and superiors. These include granting more autonomy, opening dialogue between the ranks and re-evaluating the jobs given captains.

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