Posts Tagged ‘military’

The news media has finally jumped on the military recruitment crisis. The smart, intelligent, witty and dashingly handsome readers of this blog that look just like you already knew it was coming because of all the previous reporting here. But let’s say you weren’t so smart, intelligent, witty and perhaps only average in your looks. Let’s say that this not-nearly-as-good version of you wanted to know the truth, because the media likes to blow up a small story into something big to make money. Would there be a way to figure out if the military was really struggling to recruit new members?

Well, stand-in dumber-version-of-you reader, there is, because you can use the military’s readily available instructions to figure out just that! But first, we need a primer on military recruitment and promotion.

Military manpower is a big pyramid scheme, with lots of young blood on at the base of the pyramid, and fewer crusty old folks at the top ranks. Most military members only serve for 3-5 years, getting out for the much greener pastures in the civilian world. The one’s that stay in have some pretty good incentives: guaranteed pay, a pretty cool mission, a chance to get skills and experience on fancy, taxpayer funded weapon systems, and that sweet, sexy uniform that entices all the ladies.

Well, and the guys too, I mean, its 2022 and we have to be all inclusive.

Anyway, this pyramid scheme of manpower relies on a big influx every year of new recruits. We’ve already talked at length about why normal recruiting isn’t working. If recruitment sags, the military has other tricks to keep its numbers up, namely by making it more difficult for people to leave. They can do this by not letting people leave early, or even go so far as to force people to stay.

Let’s say that hypothetically we recruit a lot more people then we really need. Instead of showing them the door, the military can allow other members a chance to leave early. OR the military can tighten down on physical fitness standards, which they can use to boot people out. OR they can create some new stupid rule that will piss people off, which will cause more existing members to leave. These rules are like the handle on a water faucet that you can adjust so the water flow is just right.

Knowing this, guess which way the handle is moving?

Let’s look at the Navy, which releases NAVADMIN messages. These are bland, dull administrative things that nobody except slightly-inebriated Sailors actually read. At the end of June, the Navy released NAVADMIN 142/22 titled FISCAL YEAR 2022 ACTIVE COMPONENT ENLISTED FORCE MANAGEMENT ACTIONS (CORRECTED COPY), because I guess the admin person made a mistake and had to correct it.

Doesn’t inspire much confidence in our administrative people!

Anyway, let’s read the message.

1.  The purpose of this NAVADMIN is to implement key force 
management personnel policy actions in the enlisted active component 
to ensure the Navy remains fully manned and operationally ready. 
References (a) and (b) are hereby updated for enlisted personnel. 
For those who have decided to separate, please review reference (c) 
for additional career progression opportunities in the Navys 
Selected Reserves.  Navy encourages all qualified Sailors to stay 
Navy.  See your career counselor for more information.  While we 
strive to retain all qualified Sailors, commanding officers should 
continue to exercise their obligation to document performance and 
adjust their recommendation for retention, accordingly. 
 
2.  Sailors are encouraged to look for selective reenlistment bonus 
(SRB) updates frequently to take advantage of the opportunities 
published on the Navy’s SRB website at: 
https://www.mynavyhr.navy.mil/References/Pay-Benefits/N130D/. 
Please keep in mind SRB levels may be adjusted up or down depending 
on rating health. 

OK, not much here. Maybe this section was put in to put the inebriated Sailors to sleep?

3.  Early Separation Cancellation.  Effective immediately, all 
enlisted early out programs and new time in grade requirement 
waivers are hereby cancelled.  Service commitments such as 
enlistment contracts, service obligations for accepting permanent 
change of station orders, advancements, bonuses, training, etc., 
will be fulfilled.  Service members experiencing difficulty in 
fulfilling obligated service requirements are encouraged to work 
with their chain of command and respective detailers to examine 
available alternatives to complete their obligation. 
    a.  Commanding officers still retain the 90-day early out 
authority for policy outlined in references (d) and (e). 
    b.  Service members previously granted approval will not be 
affected by this policy change. 
    c.  Service members interested in pursuing commissions in the 
Navy are still encouraged to submit requests.  As always, these 
requests will be considered on a case by case basis. 
    d.  United States Space Force applicants are not affected by 
this policy change.

Well, that’s a change! No early-out options. Definitely closing the faucet handle.

4.  Delaying separation or retirement.  The Navy is accepting 
applications from enlisted personnel who desire to delay their 
separation or retirement.  The deadline for application submission 
is 31 August 2022. 

How about that! Did you want to rethink getting out? Well, now you can, just delay that separation or retirement for another year! Unless you didn’t take the COVID vaccine, in which case you better be part of the class-action lawsuit or else you’re out on the street!

The rest of the NAVADMIN is the dirty details of who can or can’t apply. Another NAVADMIN to look at is 172/22, titled: ACTIVE DUTY ENLISTED ADVANCE-TO-POSITION PROGRAM UPDATE. No corrected copy, looks like they got this one right the first time. I’ll summarize it: enlisted members can apply for billets one paygrade above their current one.

That sounds good right? Let people take on more challenges early? You might think that, until you realize the reason this is happening is because there isn’t enough people at that paygrade to fill all the slots…meaning the Navy is desperate to fill them, even if it means sticking otherwise not-as-qualified individuals in there to meet their numbers.

By the Navy’s own admission, it is hitting a personnel wall that it can’t seem to scale. One contributing reason might be all the “smart people” in the room telling us we could use part-time people, cut back on pay and benefits, and magically we’d have a better, cheaper Navy. I’m not making this up, see every single report that Beth Asch authored at RAND. She’s one of many “smart people” that writes up nice looking reports about policy that influences many people in Washington DC, but don’t seem to understand the nuances associated with a job where you actively kill people while they try to kill you. Since the military services did put into place many of RAND’s recommendations, how’s that working out?

The next steps I expect to see is the military suspending physical fitness separations. After that, expect waivers galore for things like tattoos and prior non-violent felonies. After that…expect stop-loss and calls to bring back the draft.

2023 is going to be even worse. So buckle up and hope we don’t go to war with China.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency, because those people will simply point you to some RAND report to justify their actions.

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Spoiler alert: its because we’re solving the wrong problem.

You can’t walk around on a military base without being innundated with suicide prevention materials. Walk down any hallway and there’s a poster with the hotline number. Navigate to any DoD website and there is a 24/7 military suicide chat line linked at the bottom. Heck, even if you sit down to do your business in the bathroom, you’ll see a suicide prevention poster on the inside of the door.

Granted, the suicide rate in the military is rising. The military is composed mainly of 18-25 year old men, who traditionally have the highest rate of suicide. Combined with the stress of working in a job field where people actively try to kill you while you kill them, and you’d think that would spike the suicide rate. But for the longest time, despite the many years spent in Afghanistan and Iraq, military suicide was statistically lower than average.

From Suicide Rates Among Active Duty Service Members Compared with Civilian Counterparts, 2005–2014

Look at 2005-2008 here. The rate is far below what you would expect. You can look at the crude numbers here as well.

It’s obvious though that the rate was rising. If you look at combat deaths and the news, the United States had a nasty surge in combat deaths from 2009-2011. This was when we were trying to drawdown in Iraq and surging in Afghanistan. It would be easy to blame the added stress for the rise in suicide. But I’m not so sure. After the surge, the number of combat deaths plummeted, yet the military suicide rate continued to rise. The additional stresses of combat, once removed, don’t support the hypothesis that it caused the increase in suicide.

In order to have enough troops to surge, the military, particularly the Army, waived a lot of requirements, including physical standards and prior drug use. This means that instead of selecting from the best of the crop, you get a swath of people that look more like most Americans, which means you get the suicide rate of most Americans. Notice that the suicide rate plateaus and matches the average civilian rate.

This is further confirmed by looking at the most recent suicide rates. The rate slowly began rising again from 2018 until today, despite a continued decline in combat deaths. Now its rising again. What are we doing that might cause it to rise?

From DoD Suicide Report
From DoD Report on Suicide

If you look at my previous posts here, I’ve been complaining about the drop in standards and loss in direction for the military for a while now. The Army finally admitted it will simply be short 10,000 troops, but that it “wanted to maintain high standards” instead of recruiting more soldiers. To that I call BS, because they already lowered standards a lot in order to get to where they are at now.

Worse still, we’re cutting back on training. The Army softened its boot camp, which caused retention to go up, but likely didn’t help build soldier’s confidence. Most of the services have cut back on specialized training (the Navy in particular), so its harder for service members to feel like an expert in their field. Combine that with a refocus on things like “extremism training,” and military members can’t be faulted for feeling a bit adrift.

So we’re lowering entrance standards, which we have proof raises our sucide rate, AND we’re shortening and softening our training, making less capable military members (who, by the way, KNOW that they aren’t as capable). That’s a bad combination, and its the real reason behind the continued rise in suicide. It’s not that we lack the funding for suicide prevention programs. It’s that we’re solving the wrong problem.

Until we solve the standards problem, we can’t begin to prevent military suicide.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

And if you’re thinking about suicide, put it off for a day, watch this Jordan Peterson video, and then call a friend or a hotline. We’d rather have you around.

The National Defense Authorization Act for FY22 just passed this week. While there are some nice changes, like a 2.7% pay increase (sadly offset by rampant inflation) and some additional baby leave, there is a lot that is left to be desired.

Now, given looming war with China and Russia, our gaps in hypersonic technology, space, bioweapons, and cyber, and our poorly maintained “battle” fleet that seems to barely limp along from extended deployment to extended deployment, you would think anyone writing the executive summary of this bill would want to reassure the public that its going to make us stronger and ready for war with the hopes of deterring it to make peace.

And well, you’d be wrong. Here’s the highlighted portion of page one of the summary:

The FY22 NDAA builds on previous attempts to close the pay gap by authorizing support for a 2.7 percent pay increase for our service men and women in uniform, makes historic and sweeping
changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice to combat sexual assault in the military,
authorizes record funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, contains
measures to ensure our military is diverse and inclusive, and makes key investments to
address the threat of climate change and bolster energy resiliency across the Department
of Defense, and takes full advantage of our diverse talent pool to meet the complex national
security challenges of today and tomorrow.

House Armed Service Committee NDAA FY22 executive summary

What the heck is this? HBCUs? Diversity? Climate Change? Seriously?

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have got to be laughing at this.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about getting research money to HBCUs to support weapons and tactics development. Why not? It would be awesome to see an HBCU open a cyber center, or contribute to space warfare, or some other highly technical area. That would have long reaching benefits, encouraging young black kids to aspire to be great engineers and scientists. There is a lot to love with ideas like that, and its a win-win for the Department of Defense.

But how is that the highlight? Defense is about combating our enemies and helping our policy makers negotiate peace from the best possible position. Think about World War 2. Could we have negotiated a lasting peace with Hitler or the Japanese Emperor without being in a position of strength? I’d argue that half of the reason Hitler rose to power in the first place was that he saw weakness and pushed against it. The same could be said for Putin today as he gazes at Ukraine, challenging the US and its NATO allies to do something.

Nothing in those opening paragraphs radiate strength. As you dig through the document, the increases in equipment are buried, but they are paltry. We’re getting 13 additional ships, if they can be built on time. We really need another actual shipyard, yet that piece of vital infrastructure isn’t in the bill, since it would compete with companies that already have a lock on shipbuilding (and the Congress-people on their payroll to prove it). If you need proof of how bad it is, just check our CDR Salamander’s blog.

From CDR Salamander

But most disingenuous is that military personnel are going down in numbers. Yup. Hidden away in the actual text is a decrease in manpower:

With regard to military end strength, the number of Army soldiers would drop by 900 (to 485,000) compared to this year’s levels and the Marine Corps would cut its troop numbers by 2,700 (to 178,500). That’s in line with White House end strength plans. The Navy’s end strength total would drop by about 900 (to 346,920), about 700 more sailors than the White House requested. The Air Force would see a decrease of about 4,200 personnel (to 329,220), about 1,000 more airmen than the administration requested.

From Military Times

If we’re already not doing a good enough job keeping up with China, how on earth will we do that with less people, specifically less people in the Navy and Air Force, the services that will take the brunt of any Pacific conflict?

This year’s NDAA is a joke. It’s laser locked on social justice issues while missing all the important items needed for any future conflict. Sadly, it’ll likely take a war where we lose thousands of service members before Congress will shelve the pet programs and get serious about winning.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. If you liked this article, please consider supporting the author by buying his book on Amazon, also available as an audiobook on Audible.

Answering that question depends what you think a cult is.

The magazine Wired has produced a number of fascinatingly good articles and videos with interesting stories, and one of this weeks YouTube videos hit the mark yet again. Dr. Janja Lalich is a survivor of a political cult, the Democratic Workers Party, and she answers a number of cult-related questions in her video. Her responses are both focused and enlightening.

Dr. Lalich defines a cult as having 4 characteristics

  1. A charismatic leader that is typically a narcissist
  2. A transcendent belief system that has the answers to all questions
  3. A System of Control that controls behavior
  4. A System of Influence that plays on emotions to encourage conformity

Dr. Lalich also separates cults from religion in that religions encourage freedom and independent thought while having guidelines to live by, whereas cults enforce their guidelines.

Given her definition, let’s see how today’s military stacks up:

  • The charismatic leader part is a mixed bag. On one hand, the glitz and glamor that many of the flag and general officers decorate themselves in definitely contributes to a feeling of awe for these people. However, many of them aren’t very charismatic or engaging. The narcissist trait is definitely present in the military’s worst leaders.
  • The transcendent belief system is spot on. The military has a set of rules for everything. Haircuts? Check. Restrictions on your first amendment rights? Check. Poke-mon Go? Check.
  • Control is achieved through the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which can still punish offenses like adultery and conduct unbecoming of a gentlemen that aren’t considered offenses in most civilian systems.
  • Influence is achieved through awards, assignments, and promotions. If you conform with the rules and stay out of trouble, you tend to promote.

3.5 out of 4 is pretty close. The only questionable point is leadership, and that doesn’t surprise me. Every time I’ve had a bad military leader, military life felt oppressive. Dr. Lalich talks about how all people have doubts when they are in a cult, but they get put on a shelf. If too much builds on the shelf, it collapses.

I think shelves are now starting to collapse in bigger numbers than before. The military has the setup to become a cult, and it is only good leadership that prevents this from happening. But military leaders continue to get put in hard circumstances. How do you explain the Afghanistan withdrawal to your soldiers? Or the poor maintenance our ships receive at a shipyard to your Sailors? Or how almost nobody was fired for massive scandals like the mismanagement of Arlington National Cemetery? You simply can’t, and young people asking hard, pointed questions won’t be satisfied by the bland responses from a Pentagon press secretary.

At some point, the good people get tired and leave, making way for those all too happy to defend the status quo. We’re seeing that happening now. The vocal ones, like Lt. Col. Scheller, make the news, but quietly, we’re going to see more and more people simply walk. The military is designed to replace people. The Marines will find another person to fill Lt. Col. Scheller’s spot. The person will at least be adequate, but anyone taking that roll is going to think twice about speaking out or showing too much independence.

That lack of independent thought will make the military stick to what it knows. We shouldn’t be surprised that the military is slow to embrace ideas like autonomous vessels, AI and robotic fighters. When you’re the best, or at least you think you are, you keep doing what was done in the past. Thus, it shouldn’t surprise people that the Navy still uses an antiquated program designed in 1998 to administer personnel reports, instead of moving to a secure cloud based system, or at least something resembling Microsoft Word.

We will eventually pay dearly for these mistakes, even if it isn’t so obvious now.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. If you want an epic story to read in the meantime, please check out my book on Amazon.