Wednesday, April 11, 2007

West Point Graduates Leaving the Army – Opening a Dialogue

Today’s Boston Globe featured these headlines:

West Point grads exit service at high rate

The topic of Service Academy graduates leaving military service before they have put in a full career as officers has been a point of discussion and contention for many years. The mounting pressure of the prolonged and recurrent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan has brought the simmering debate to a boil once again.

It is my intent, in sharing the link below to today’s Globe feature article, to open a dialogue about this issue. Many regular readers of and contributors to The White Rhino Report are themselves West Point, Annapolis, Air Force Academy and Coast Guard Academy graduates, so I know that there will be no shortage of opinions.

In this brief posting, let me lay out in sketchy form some of my own thoughts, offered as an interested outsider – meaning that I myself am not a service academy graduate. I feel that I can be bold enough to comment on the issue, however, because professionally, I work with many senior executives who have served with distinction in the military. In addition, I am being asked more and more to advise junior military officers on their career options.

Here, in brief, are some preliminary reactions to today’s article:

  • Many of the Service Academy graduates I see opting to leave military service at the end of their initial commitment are wired more entrepreneurially than their peers who elect to remain as military officers.
  • Those who choose to leave after their initial commitment are deeply influenced by a desire to provide for their families a more stabile and predictable life – the ability to plan for having and raising a family, choices of where to live, realistic career path for a non-military spouse. Other family-related quality-of-life issues play a significant role in the decision to walk away from the opportunity for a longer military career.
  • There is a physical, mental and spiritual weariness that sets in after multiple deployments to a war zone, and many leave to find a more stable and healthy career path.
  • The military has done a very poor job in adjusting to a more sophisticated officer corps. Human Resource policies and (mis)management within the military often ends up alienating fine officers who might have chosen to prolong their careers if they felt that they had been treated with respect and even a modicum of consideration.
  • The private sector is beginning to recognize the unique value proposition that battle-tested Junior Military Officers bring to the table, so these JMO’s who are considering leaving the military have many more attractive options open to tem than was the case for earlier generations of JMO’s.

FYI – I noted an error in the Globe article. In two places, the author made the error of saying that West Point graduates are commission as 1st lieutenants – rather than 2nd lieutenants.

I look forward to hearing your opinions on these matters.



Anonymous said...

We're getting out because we have no life outside of the army. West Point wasn't much of a social life, now the army, even when we're home we're gone 3 to 4 months of the year that we're back at base training at NTC, JRTC, and other various locations. Army posts aren't exactly located at the most prime locations for the most part. Fort Polk doesn't have many places for social interaction. And now, I can plan on being deployed for 15 months with a year back home, of which I'll be spending 3 to 4 of those 12 months training in the middle of nowhere with my guys. The only saving grace of the army is the intrinsic rewards. I realize that being an infantry platoon leader in combat will most likely be the most rewarding, challenging exciting job I will ever have. Leading young men in combat, seeing how the civilians in Baghdad react to us. Being able to make a bigger difference in this world than 99% of all Americans my age group is very rewarding. However, there are very few extrinsic rewards for being in the army. We live by army posts in less than desirable locations, I hardly ever get to see my family, there are very few perks to being an officer in the army(no O club, no real special status in society(I could have gone to law or medical school and both those professions seem to get more respect and perks than being an army officer), substandard on base housing, if even available, the vast majority of the population doesn't care about the sacrifices we make(people in the 20-30 year old demographic don't give a shit for our sacrifice, except those with friends or family in the miltiary, and many have told me that I'm a sucker(which I kind of take as a compliment) for making so many sacrifices for our country and getting so little in return, the only people who give us the respect I feel all soldiers deserve is men and women over 40 from what I've seen, which feels good but it would be nice if 24 year old women felt the same way, I get paid about half what I could as a civilian and work twice as hard under substantially harsher working conditions(this is probably the least important factor, at least for me)and those who are in charge of us have never really shared the sacrifices that all soldiers are being asked to make on a continuous basis. I figure all soldiers who have done a combat tour or even served a day in uniform have done more for their country than about 97-98% of this countries residents ever will, so after serving our country for a certain amount of time(both in combat and at home training others) why shouldn't we be allowed to get out and live our lives for ourselves. Live where we want, get paid what we can, and live under much easier conditions. The day when my largest concern is the high price of car insurance(or whatever crap normal people worry about) and not getting shot in the head by a sniper will be a pretty good day. If I get killed tomorrow in the streets of Baghdad I feel like the only people who will suffer or be proud of my sacrifice is my family and friends. It's not like my parents have another son, and to the majority of the people in the US, I'll just be another number(except to those Americans who have a family member in the military and a relatively few others who understand the sacrifice), and nobody will even care. Britney Spears 2nd marriage will get way more attention than my death. In today's society, our sacrifice and service isn't as respected or appreciated as I see it should be. You would most likely feel the same way if you came out with my platoon and saw my soldiers on the 20th day of a 30 day clearing operation dodging bullets and still doing whatever is necessary to accomplish their mission and then see the relative apathy I see when we go home. I apologize if this isn't concise or well thought out but it's been a long day and this is not the most important thing I'm going to do today so it gets less attention.
-West Point grad, Infantry Platoon Leader Baghdad Iraq

jpalessi said...

I taught History at USMA for three years. I am still on active duty and serving as a BN S3. Many of the reasons USMA grads are getting out of the Army is in part due to the reasons why they joined the Academy. I polled each one of my classes at the beginning and end of each semester, and I asked them one simple question, "why did you attend USMA?" Mind you, I taught Plebe through Firsty classes, so this sample cuts across the breadth of the student population. Surprisingly, the majority, roughly 40%, said they decided to attend USMA because it would look good on a job resume after exiting the Army. To think that they were unaware of a socially restricted life at the Point, or that they were joining an Army during one of its most turbulent times in history, is naive to say the least. I suggest that the reason for the extremely high exodus is due to their lack of commitment to the Army from the onset. Only 15% of the cadets I polled said they chose to attend USMA because they wanted to join the Army. Mind you, I put little weight on polls, but in total, I polled roughly 200+ students, and this is the data.