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I think that no great argument would have to be presented to show that our promotion system [seniority] has been unsatisfactory. Until we got to the grade of general officer, it was absolutely a lock-step promotion; and short of almost crime being committed by an officer, there were ineffectual ways of eliminating a man. All the rest of them had to be replaced and gotten out of the way and younger men had to come along and take over the job. Instead of employing a seniority system for promotions, the Navy relied on an up-or-out promotion system, which holds that officers must separate from service after a predetermined length of time if they are passed over for promotion.

Compared to a seniority system, up-or-out has several advantages. Given its real and perceived advantages, up-or-out was applied uniformly across the services for permanent promotions after World War II with the passage of the Officer Personnel Act OPA of The services still had flexibility for temporary assignments. The Officer Grade Limitation Act OGLA further solidified up-or-out by imposing statutory limitations on the number of regular and reserve officers that could serve at each rank for all grades above major and eliminating the loophole in OPA which did not impose limitations on temporary promotions.

Code after the Korean War. At the time, there was widespread agreement among military and civilian experts that up-or-out was a significant improvement. It was designed for the specific security environment in which the United States found itself at the time and for the military strategies it devised to manage that environment.

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World War II and the Korean War required the services to marshal large and bottom-heavy armies that were quickly assembled through the draft: U. Policymakers believed that enlisted and junior-officer personnel, brought in through the draft, could be trained quickly for war but that more experienced commanders needed more time to prepare and could not therefore be recruited swiftly during a crisis. Consequently, the military maintained a much higher percentage of officers than it had previously.

Five years later, the ratio stood at 4 to Moreover, in keeping with the strategic need for officers who could lead fresh recruits into battle, because up-or-out was intended to be meritocratic, the promotion path and criteria created by the post—World War II personnel system emphasized and rewarded the ability to command. It is worth noting that even in some senators objected to the up-or-out personnel system, correctly noting that the retirement system would incentivize many, if not most, officers to retire from military service in their 40s.

This seems to me to be a most wasteful and illogical requirement, particularly for the technical services. The era of the all-volunteer force brought significant changes to personnel policy beginning in , when soon-to-be President Richard Nixon made a campaign promise to end conscription. That promise gave rise to the Gates Commission, a group of notable experts chaired by former Secretary of Defense Tom Gates fashioned to examine the viability of an all-volunteer force.

On February 20, , the commission officially and unanimously recommended to President Nixon that the United States shift to an all-volunteer force AVF. Multiple causes contributed to the demise of the draft, but the evolving strategic context and manpower needs played a role. Furthermore, turnover rates were expected to be lower among enlisted service members in an AVF, which would result in longer careers and more experienced personnel. Several factors were expected to contribute to this evolution, including longer initial enlistments for volunteers, historically higher rates of reenlistment among volunteers, and generally higher pay and morale among volunteers as compared to draftees.

In addition, members of an AVF would receive more on-the-job training and were expected, as a result, to be more productive and effective than members of a draft force. There also were strategic reasons for shifting to an AVF at this point in history. Britain, which switched to an AVF in , had simultaneously shifted its defense policies to emphasize nuclear deterrence over the utilization of land troops. As the all-volunteer force emerged, policymakers slowly began to realize that in order to retain talent, they would need to compete with the private sector, especially in terms of compensation.

This lag occurred even though the final report of the Gates Commission recommended various changes in both the officer and enlisted personnel systems, including substantial pay increases and compensation reforms. As analysts at the RAND Corporation note, the history of enlisted personnel policy is a history of responses to immediate events, not long-term policy strategies. Furthermore, the military did not have to compete with the private market for talent because recruits were required to serve either through direct conscription or through the formation of ad hoc regional militias.

While the age of the all-volunteer force began in , Congress waited nearly a decade to reform the personnel and promotion systems to account for this shift. These reforms were notable for a few reasons. Pirie, Jr. These changes enshrined the one-size-fits-all military career, particularly for officers. This career, which is about the same length for most officers regardless of specialty , is highly predictable from a management perspective and gives the services a stable officer corps in peacetime.

The policies that govern enlisted personnel mimic the officer side i. It is worth noting that DOD does not often pursue radical changes in enlisted policy. Similarly, while ROPMA provided some clarity on the role of reserve officers in the overall structure of the forces, reserve personnel were still not well integrated with the active component—something that remains true today. Many analysts have noted that the reserve component is both culturally segregated and underutilized.

Download Chart. Goldwater—Nichols: A Push for Interoperability. Goldwater—Nichols was enacted in response to rising frustration that the forces were not sufficiently interoperable—that is, that they were not able to fight efficiently as a joint force. Operations in Grenada were generally considered to be a success, but groups from the different services still had an extremely difficult time communicating with one another, particularly coordinating fire support.

In Beirut, where servicemembers were killed in a tragic terrorist bombing, military leaders and policymakers further concluded that a distinct lack of interservice interoperability was to blame and that the combatant commanders still did not have enough direct authority to direct operations in the field.

Like every other unified [combatant] commander, I could only operate through the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine component commanders, who stood between me and the forces in the field….

Military Recruiting and Retention After the Fiscal Year 2000 Military Pay Legislation

Component commanders reported to their own service chiefs for administration, logistics and training matters, and the service chiefs could use this channel to outflank the unified commander. There was sizeable potential for confusion and conflict. One consequence of this change was the addition of four to five years to the standard military career. While ensuring that all general and flag officers would have joint force experience was generally accepted as a positive development and was intended to prevent a dangerous fissure from opening between operating forces and command staff without practical field experience, applying the policy uniformly across the officer corps effectively mandated that officers undergo training necessary only for a small subset.

Prior to recent reforms included in the FY National Defense Authorization Act NDAA , these were the last major reforms to the active-duty, enlisted, and reserve components, and they led to the structure of the armed forces as it stands today. Overall, while the U. Ultimately, the majority of the force, especially ground-combat units, has continued to be made up of young and fit personnel, while officers have been presented with a single, uniform path for advancement with promotions based on and leading to increasingly higher levels of command responsibility.

The military created by this up-or-out, post—World War II personnel system has achieved significant strategic victories: It won the Cold War and protected the nation for 70 years. The system achieved precisely the outcomes that it was designed to achieve.

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Yet, given the changing security environment and new strategic needs, there are calls from some quarters for a more fundamental reimagining of the personnel system. While core U. Once viewed as archaic, the threat of great-power conflict with the resurgence of Russia and rise of China is relevant once again.

Add to that the more diffuse threats from malicious non-state actors that have mastered the techniques of unconventional warfare while metastasizing across much of the world. The tremendous technological advances made by rogue nations could allow them to undermine much of the traditional military superiority long enjoyed by U. New Threats, New Challenges. In this new normal, a military that is designed only to wage conventional war against great powers will likely not be adequate. Success against future enemies on new battlefields will require not only physical strength and vigor, but also and increasingly mental agility, technical experience, and rapid innovation.

However, there are differing opinions on whether personnel reforms are necessary and, if they are, how extensive those reforms should be. The most obvious personnel issue raised by the potential for conflicts waged as much on virtual as on physical battlefields is the need to attract a highly skilled and technologically savvy military workforce. But while constant news of increasingly grave cyber threats and the creation of a Cyber Force presents the most visible manifestation of the role of technology in a 21st century military, the implications are far more widespread and complicated.


Sophisticated networked communications, drone-enabled reconnaissance, and even the integration of electronic warfare are being incorporated into platoon-level infantry tactics. Autonomous systems will likely press the military to delegate decision-making to lower grades in order to keep up with the speed of warfare. Perhaps the skills necessary to thrive in this environment can be taught, with updated military training being sufficient to turn recruits into 21st century warriors, but it is also quite possible that, unlike the physical strength and tactics needed for ground combat, some of the qualities the military will prize most in future servicemembers cannot simply be drilled into them.

Military Recruiting and Retention After the Fiscal Year Military Pay Legislation

In that case, those with the skills to navigate this high-tech world could well be hotly pursued by private-sector firms that are able to pay many times more than the military and more interested in honing and maintaining their expertise than in commanding troops. If the military is to attract them, it might have to provide a value proposition other than the current one-size-fits-all career path. Another area in which changes in how the military carries out its mission affect how it recruits and manages personnel is train, advise, and assist missions.

As the United States looks to other partner nations to share the burden of providing for mutual security, building the capacity of partner forces is likely to become a large part of the U. Traditionally, these operations are given to Special Operations Forces, who are comfortable working and embedding with partner militaries because of their high levels of training and experience. While Special Operations Forces offer impressive and unique capabilities, they have been heavily utilized over the past 15 years of fighting. Many such units have been required to focus their energy on counterterrorism missions, which makes it more challenging to prepare for the train, advise, and assist missions.

The Military Needs Reform, Not a Raise

To meet the train, advise, and assist demand in the future, the military will have to turn to conventional units to satisfy much of the need. The cadre of mature, experienced, and well-trained personnel required for these missions can be found in the field-grade and noncommissioned officer corps, but the current promotion system also calls on servicemembers in these grades to be checking boxes as they carry out joint and other service-specific key assignments rather than devoting time in the field to teaching partner militaries.

Relatedly, even as the military might increasingly need to rely on its Foreign Area Officers—servicemembers with specific linguistic, political, and cultural understanding of partner nations in which the military operates—there is currently little incentive for the best and brightest to pursue these careers Specializing in a single country instead of commanding forces is currently not the way to advance to senior grades.

Any changes in defense personnel systems must therefore be driven by careful assessment of the strategic environment and the force needed to protect U.

here A Whole New World. As the strategic challenges facing the military have evolved, so too have the ambitions, expectations, and lifestyles of U. In , just over a decade after the passage of the Officer Personnel Act of , only 25 percent of married couples with children had two income earners.

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In the s, when the draft ended, this figure was around 32 percent. The operational tempo and ever-present duty requirements of the military often prevent spouses—the majority of whom are women—from holding regular jobs.

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  6. Varied sources of data, including the Status of Forces Survey of Active Duty Members, indicate that junior enlisted families with children are the most vulnerable to experiencing food insecurity, although systematic data on the proportion or characteristics of military families who are food insecure is limited GAO, Analyses of nationally representative data on veterans have found that veterans serving during the all-volunteer era have had significantly higher odds of food insecurity when compared to either veterans serving during the previous era or to civilian households Miller et al.

    Military personnel are not ineligible for these programs. Due to limited systematic data from these benefit providers, DoD does not have a comprehensive picture of the extent to which service members need or use food assistance programs GAO, , p. Nevertheless, the use of SNAP among service members, while hard to measure exactly, indicates that food insecurity is significant.

    As is the case for people struggling financially in the civilian sector, service members and their families face both logistical challenges and stigma in seeking food assistance GAO, , p.