- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2000

The number of senior Army officers declining to assume commands has skyrocketed in the past five years, internal documents show.
Only six colonels turned down commands in the 1992-95 period. But since 1996, 171 lieutenant colonels and full colonels have refused commands, according to Army briefing documents obtained by The Washington Times.
The surge in "command declinations," as the Army terms them, comes as the service is struggling to bring in a sufficient number of recruits each year. It is also trying to slow an exodus of young captains that threatens to leave billets vacant and shrink the pool of future senior leaders.
The numbers are contained in briefing papers prepared for Army Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude, deputy chief of staff for personnel, who delivered the news at an Oct. 19 commanders' conference of two-star generals. Gen. Maude also has briefed Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff.
"Officer attrition is continuing at a rate that will not allow full manning of the force structure if loss rates continue at [fiscal year 2000] rate," the documents warn.
An Army official at the Pentagon, who asked not to be identified, said Gen. Maude has ordered a study by a personnel think tank at West Point to determine why officers are turning down what are presumed to be plum assignments that enhance careers.
The official noted that there are more commands today than in the early 1990s, when the Army was cutting combat divisions. Since then, the Army has reorganized various units, creating more commands.
He said the colonels may be rejecting commands for the same reason an increased number of young officers are leaving: too much time away from their families and the offer of good-paying private-sector jobs.
"It could be for a variety of reasons," the official said. "It could be for family reasons. Health reasons. People die. That's a factor, too."
Army officers say privately they are also upset with combat readiness problems in the form of shortages of equipment and training hours.
Two colonels turned down command of an aviation brigade this year, the documents show. Aviation readiness has been hampered by aging equipment and shortages of spare parts.
Gen. Maude's briefing comes as Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush accuses the Clinton administration of mishandling the military. He charges that budget cuts, coupled with a record number of peacekeeping and war missions, has created shortfalls in equipment and has forced personnel to quit the armed forces.
Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, downplays any problems and says the military has never been in better shape.
Turning down a command does not necessarily end an officer's career, but it can hinder chances for promotion as they move to a non-command career path in staff jobs.
One chart shows that only one colonel turned down a command in 1992. But starting in 1996, the numbers of declines shot up. In one year alone, 39 lieutenant colonels refused commands. The Army is facing the same problem in the fiscal year that just began one month ago. Already, 33 lieutenant colonels and colonels have said "no" to commands.
The commands included both combat and support units, such as an aviation brigade, training billets, infantry units in Korea and recruiting jobs.
Aggravating that problem is the fact that those same ranks are electing to retire earlier, the documents show. The average lieutenant colonel is retiring at the 21-year mark, compared with 22 years in 1998. The average full colonel is retiring at 26 years compared with 28 two years ago.
The Army official said that trend could stem from the fact there is an increased number of colonels facing a decision whether to retire or take another assignment.
"It wasn't an alarming number," the official said. "It's a curious number that we're trying to figure out."
The trend in command declinations and earlier retirements is troubling because it is the lieutenant colonels and colonels who run the Army's brigades and battalions, and manage support operations.
"These losses hurt Army readiness and rob taxpayers of their investments," said Robert Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and analyst at the Family Research Council. "Historically, it has been rare for an officer to decline command."
"This is another indication there is something deeply wrong with the Army officer corps," said Mr. Maginnis. "These career-ending concerns are based on widespread dissatisfaction with peacekeeping, high operational tempo, lack of trust in top leadership and dwindling benefits."
Young officers, particularly captains, are quitting at a higher rate than forecasted. Army-sponsored focus groups show officers are fed up with frequent peacekeeping deployments and senior leaders whom they see as too political.
The Army is taking steps to reverse officer attrition by increasing assignment options and opening up more lines of communications.

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