- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 14, 2001

Readers respond to Rowny's column

I must respectfully disagree with retired Army Lt. Gen. Edward L. Rowny's Op-ed column concerning Section 501 of Public Law 102-190 ("Facing a withdrawal of officers," Oct. 11).
While it is true that junior officers are leaving the service in record numbers these days, it has nothing to do with the provisions of Section 501 of Public Law 102-190. Junior officers are leaving the services according to their own comments in periodicals such as the Army Times because they find that the military is bureaucratic, stifling of their initiative, and focused on political correctness and personal advancement rather than national defense.
Most junior officers enter the military prepared to suffer in the defense of their country. They are anxious to demonstrate their courage and dedication on or above the battlefield or on or below the seas. Those with whom I have spoken and I speak to many of them almost daily since I teach them to use battlefield command-and-control systems at the U.S. Army headquarters in Europe decide to leave after they become convinced that their courage, their dedication and their willingness to suffer for their country mean little to the bureaucrats who have managed to install themselves in positions of authority over them.
I've spoken to many academy graduates who are counting the days until they can leave the Army, and I haven't heard one of them say that it is because they have to compete for a regular commission. Competition is no problem for these guys and gals. Bureaucracy and political correctness is.
Incidentally, if the Department of Defense doesn't turn the current conflict into another case of all talk and no action, I suspect we'll all see more of these junior officers sticking around. Fighting is what they joined to do.

MARK J. HAMMELL
Heidelberg, Germany



I read with interest the opinion of retired Army Lt. Gen. Edward L. Rowny ("Facing a withdrawal of officers"). Gen. Rowny advocates commissioning West Point graduates and ROTC distinguished military graduates as regular officers. That may not be a bad idea, but as a means to slow the exodus of junior officers from the Army, it highlights some dangerously misguided thinking. Gen. Rowny seems to suffer from the same misconceptions prevalent in so many senior leaders, both military and civilian.
The truth is that the Army does not have a problem with junior officer retention. What it has is a problem that is reflected in the rate of junior officer retention.
The difference may be subtle, but it is significant. As long as the solutions that those such as Gen. Rowny propose focus solely on the symptom and not the cause the exodus will not stop. Indeed, the Army knows why its junior officers are leaving.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki's own blue-ribbon panel the Army Training and Leader Development Panel clearly articulated the root of this problem this summer when it reported that: "Army culture is out of balance. There is friction between Army beliefs and practices. Over time, that friction threatens readiness. Training is not done to standard, leader development in operational assignments is limited and does not meet officer expectations, and officers elect to leave the service early."
That seems dead on, and it is corroborated by half a dozen other studies and surveys during the past several years.
Gen. Rowny believes that a young officer's sense of commitment hinges upon a "reciprocal guarantee of employment by the government." It does not. It hinges upon the bond of trust between themselves and their institution. When that bond is broken or weak, officers leave. In truth, they make no distinction between "regular" and "reserve" commissions.
The senior leaders are the source of the problem, but this makes for a Catch-22 that seems impossible for the Army to overcome. Can we really expect that the same officers who are responsible for creating and perpetuating (or at least tolerating) the skewed Army culture will recognize their role in the problem and be the architects of its change?
That seems too much to ask yet it's exactly what has to happen. Fix that, and I suspect junior officer attrition will begin to fix itself.

MARK R. LEWIS
AlexandriaTo say, as retired Army Lt. Gen. Edward L. Rowny says, that junior officers are leaving the armed services because they receive a reserve commission instead of a regular commission is to vastly oversimplify a complicated issue.
I have borne witness to this exodus and, on several occasions, have been tempted to join it. Ultimately, I elected to stay and to serve. But many of my colleagues some my closest friends in life chose to leave, and their reasons are legion.
A few left on moral grounds, deeply disillusioned and frustrated that the military has become the test bed for every new pet political theory, regardless of its effect on training. Others were tempted by lucrative job offers by companies eager for responsible leaders to fill their management ranks. Some simply did as they planned, exiting after having received a great education and initial job experience on the cheap, all while serving their country honorably.
I have heard rumblings from service academy grads about now having to compete with the rank-and-file for regular slots after three years. In truth, though, this is simply an annoyance to them. Most of them are such good officers that they easily qualify for augmentation to the regular commissioned ranks.
I agree completely with Gen. Rowny that the universal reserve commission is a bad idea and a slap in the face to service academy grads, but it is not by any means the reason for the dearth of junior officers.

SHAUN FITZPATRICK
Nicosia, CyprusAs a retired officer, I read Gen. Edward L. Rowny's Op-Ed piece "Facing a withdrawal of officers" with interest. I agree totally with the need to retain "strong leadership" in small units. To suggest, however, that the way to achieve that goal is to repeal Section 501 of Public Law 102-190 is simply rubbish.
There are many reasons junior officers leave the military at the conclusion of their obligated service. Gen. Rowny's assertion that this public law is a significant cause is wrong. I never had a junior officer cite this as a reason for leaving the military. During 30 years in uniform, I commanded three companies, a battalion and two brigades. I was honored to have served with both regular and reserve officers who were commissioned through the service academies, Officer Candidate School, ROTC and by direct appointment.
My experience was that all of the commissioning sources produced superb officers; they also, occasionally, produced some who were not so superb. Regardless of the source of commission or the designation as distinguished military graduates, some simply do not measure up to the standards we demand of our military officers.
Under the current law, an officer's actual record of service (not his ROTC or academy record) is evaluated before an appointment as a regular officer. In other words, officers now compete for appointments as regular officers based on demonstrated performance as officers. That seems fair to me.
America's sons and daughters deserve the best leadership we can provide. A change in the law will not help achieve that goal.

TOM HOOPER
Arlington

Free speech is not a casualty

Clarence Page, in his otherwise moderate and well-written Commentary column "Free speech on the casualty list?" shows he suffers from a common liberal malady the inability to recognize that the right to free speech does not mandate that somebody pay for it.
He laments the firing of several columnists who expressed their opinions, and discovered the hard way that their employers were not interested in paying for such opinions. The economic reality that Mr. Page seems not to recognize is that newspapers must maintain their circulation to survive. The government does not extract tax dollars from the public to support free speech in newspapers.
The bottom line: None of the fired columnists is in jail or being harassed by government entities. All are free to find media outlets that will let them promulgate their opinions. That, Mr. Page, is the definition of free speech.

CRAIG CAMEALY
Woodbridge, Va.

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