I'm writing today as an active-duty Soldier.
The war in Iraq is on many folks' minds today, what with the spending authorization bill landing on the President's desk and the fourth anniversary of the "mission accomplished," erm, "major combat operations have ceased" moment.
Here's what's happening in the real-live, active-duty, no-shit Army:
People are pissed off. They're angry because they want to retire, but they don't want to go back to Iraq again. They're angry because the quality of incoming recruit is lower and lower, and there's little that anyone can do about it, because its all a "numbers game" being played by TRADOC (Training and Doctrine Command, the part of the Army that runs initial recruit training). They're really pissed about the 15-month deployments.
In fact, let's talk about that one for a minute.
A couple of weeks ago, DoD announced that Army units would now rotate to the CENTCOM AOR (Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locales in the Middle East) for 15-month tours. That announcement was made at 0900 EST. By final formation in my unit at 1715 CST, everyone knew about it and was already pissed off beyond belief. A key comment: "Well, when I rotate to (unit) I will have about 15 months left to ETS, so I'll go back to Iraq one more time, and then I will give Uncle Sam the middle finger."
ETS means "end of term of service." Its a magic word in the Army. Most of us memorize our ETS dates the same way that prisoners memorize the date they first become eligible for parole (the similarities between Army life and prison life are many, BTW). And getting more apparent. But more on that later.
The job I work in is pretty "special" for the Army. It requires lots of extra training and it isn't something that just anyone can do. Time was, you couldn't enlist for this job. You had to spend a couple of years in the Army and then you could apply to be accepted for re-classification. Problem is, this job has direct impact on the fight we're engaged in, and its not something that a lot of people want to do right now (its dangerous). So the Army has been having a harder and harder time finding folks who will do this job. So now they will take 18 year-old kids off the street and send them to the long (difficult) training program (over a year in many cases).
The dropoff in quality is becoming readily apparent. Many of the new kids will do fine, and be a credit to the service. Unfortunately, just as many are dirtbags with no commitment to professionalism or themselves beyond simple childish selfishness. Often they can't be bothered even to stay in shape for their PT tests. Merely "passing" an Army PT test is no big deal. Many line units I have been assigned to have put out that their internal standards are higher than the 60% minimums established by the Department of the Army.
Example: For a 19 year-old male, the minimum passing score is:
42 push-ups in 2 minutes, 53 sit-ups in 2 minutes, and complete a 2-mile run in 15:53.
For a 19 year-old female the 60% standard is:
19 pushups (2 mins), 53 sit-ups (2 mins) and 2-mile run time of 18:54.
If you're interested, you can look this stuff up at:
Anyhoo, the standards aren't that stringent. But recruits are failing them at a rate of about 10-20% in my MOS. And this is (was) an "elite" MOS!
Now, NPR ran a story this morning about how the Army is still managing to meet recruiting and retention goals which I found fascinating:
And maybe we are, but it is the result of fudged numbers and planning devoid of any sense of reality. Moreover, the numbers in my job for junior NCO's are beyond horrible. People with prior service but little experience in my MOS are being put into E6 (Staff Sergeant) positions less than a year out of the schoolhouse. And now the troops they are leading are well, to put it mildly, a cut or two below what we're used to seeing. Like I said above, I don't want you to think that there aren't great people in the Army. There are. But their numbers are dwindling, as these are the folks who are saying "screw it" and ETS-ing rather than re-enlisting. These are the folks who, in other times would be pinning on E6 rank, going to Officer Candidate School or Warrant Officer School, and leading troops.
Just as often the ones who re-up are in over-strength MOS's (the ones which aren't so "dangerous," or the ones which aren't that technically difficult), who find themselves being involuntarily re-classified into new jobs for which they may or may not be suited.
The Army is doing as good a job as can be expected in terms of keeping warm bodies in the job slots it has. It is doing less well in terms of maintaining the highly professional, tactially and technically proficient force it fielded in 2003.
In terms of "supporting the troops," don't believe the hogwash. (Most of you don't, anyway.) The troops in the line don't think that we're accomplishing anything in Iraq. Most would like to go back to Afghanistan and actually try to get something done against Al-Qaeda, but by and large most folks above the rank of PFC and below the rank of colonel (I think you have to sell your soul to reach O6) see the Iraq war as the side-show that it is and hope it will end soon. I know one guy who intentionally went to Special Forces selection (a long process) and now is in the selection process for my job (another long process) and is, in effect, waiting out the Administration. In the old days people like him would be held in contempt, now, we understand, a little.