Lewis Report: Why Stopping the Exodus of Junior Officers is Important

September 7, 2001

Comment: #426

Discussion Thread - Comment #s - 372 and Vandergriff Report

Separate Attachment in Adobe Acrobat Format:

[1] Mark R. Lewis, The Army Transformation Meets the Junior Officer Exodus [a presentation on 30 Aug 01 to the "Security for a New Century" discussion group in the Rayburn Office Building, U.S. Congress.]

The U.S. Army has too many officers, but paradoxically, it faces a shortage of officers. This phenomenon was analyzed over a year ago in Comment #372, "Sayen Report: Officer Bloat Creates the Shortage of Captains" (July 16, 2000). Nevertheless, the increasing exodus rate of our best and brightest captains (officers with between 4 and 11 years of service) is, or should be, a matter of deep concern, because these officers should be the pool of raw material from which the future leadership of the Army is drawn.

Ironically, the Army recognizes it has a deep-rooted cultural problem. The Army Training and Leader Development Panel Officer Study Report, released in the summer of 2001, concluded that the "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 and their families elect to leave the service early."

But the Army's response to a subtle cultural problem has been another one of those brute force mechanical solutions so loved by economists, systems analysts, and cosmetologists: reduce standards to open the valves and thereby increase the total number of junior officers flowing unimpeded through the personnel pipeline by (1) commissioning more officers (i.e., by decreasing accession standards), (2) promoting a larger percentage of officers (i.e., by lowering performance standards), and (3) promoting them faster (i.e., by reducing experience standards).

The attached report by Mark Lewis (one of those captains who punched out of the Army, but one who nevertheless loves the Army) takes issue with the Army's response. He shows in graphic detail why the Army will find it impossible to develop experienced and skilled leaders it so clearly needs, unless it retains its junior officers in their jobs longer and provides them with a richer set of training opportunities.

Obviously, the Army will not be able to identify those officers with the greatest leadership potential unless it can retain enough well-trained, experienced officers to allow for some rational process of selecting the best leaders based on performance (preferably demonstrated in free play competitions where the creative spirit is free to roam, to paraphrase Clausewitz).

The bottom line: Lewis shows why stopping the exodus is important, but he concludes by saying the exodus of captains will not be reversed until the Army links the experience, skill, and quality of its company grade officers to their retention. Unfortunately, the current get-well plan shows that the Army has not made that connection.

The Lewis report is attached to this message in its entirety (including graphics) as an PDF file. [DNI editor's note: Mark Lewis has another essay on our site, "Time to Regenerate: A GenX Response to Dr. Wong's Monograph", November 2000.]

One final note: the Lewis Report is an excellent complement to Major Vandergriff's cross-cultural study of what is wrong with the Army's officer personnel management system and his analysis of why that system should be reformed from a global perspective. The Vandergriff proposals close the loop by simultaneously addressing the officer retention problem as well the officer bloat problem so eloquently described in the Sayen Report (Comment #372). Vandergriff's recommendations are imbedded in a concept he calls parallel evolution - which addresses the systemic nature of problem by explicitly addressing its cultural context.

I am pleased to announce that the Vandergriff Report will be the subject of a forthcoming book (hopefully with a zippier title) that will be published by Presidio Press next January.

Chuck Spinney

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