Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Thursday, April 12, 2007

  Iraq debacle causes West Point grads to quit in droves

In the last two years the rate at which recent graduates of West Point are leaving the military has shot way up. The cause appears to be disaffection over the disastrous occupation in Iraq, particularly the impression that Army officers have that there's no end in sight.

New graduates of West Point have a commitment to serve for at least 5 years, and in some specializations the obligation can be longer. Therefore the West Point classes of 2000 and 2001 are the latest ones that may be used to assess the Pentagon's frequent claims that it is not facing a crisis in the retention of officers. The rate of retirement in those two classes has been about 50%. That's vastly higher than the normal retirement rates after the five-year period of obligation (which typically have been between 10% and 30% since the 1970s).

The Boston Globe reports today on the retention crisis (hat-tip to Fester at NewsHog.

Recent graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point are choosing to leave active duty at the highest rate in more than three decades, a sign to many military specialists that repeated tours in Iraq are prematurely driving out some of the Army's top young officers.

According to statistics compiled by West Point, of the 903 Army officers commissioned upon graduation in 2001, nearly 46 percent left the service last year -- 35 percent at the conclusion of their five years of required service, and another 11 percent over the next six months. And more than 54 percent of the 935 graduates in the class of 2000 had left active duty by this January, the statistics show...

"Iraq is exerting very strong influence on the career intentions of junior officers," said retired Lieutenant General Daniel Christman, a former superintendent of West Point, who recently outlined the war's toll on young officers in a speech to West Point alumni in North Carolina.

NPR interviewed one of these grads, Kevin Craw, who has an eight-year obligation to the Army. He stated that he planned to leave the military as soon as his eight years is up, and added that he and his classmates are leaving mainly because of the mess in Iraq.

"I think there's one main reason, and that reason is Iraq, and the repeated deployments that we all face as officers...especially, looking at the news, there seems to be no end in sight. And I think that plays a major role in decisions to exit the Army."

Craw adds that the main reasons his classmates cite in choosing to leave the Army are the repeated deployments and now the extended deployments in Iraq. This despite the fact that officers' salaries are high and the military has devised many incentives to retain active duty officers. Last year alone, the Pentagon spent over a billion dollars in such incentives.

The Army paid more than $1 billion last year in bonuses to attract and keep soldiers in the service, more than three times the total amount of bonuses paid before the Iraq war began.

Higher bonuses show the increasing costs of maintaining the troop strength of the Army, the service branch that sends the most troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. The job is made more difficult by the service's plans to grow by 7,000 soldiers a year through 2012. The Army plans to hit its goal with more recruiting and higher retention...

The total paid in retention bonuses has jumped the highest and is almost six times higher than in 2002, when the Army paid $127.8 million. Last year, the Pentagon paid $736.9 million in retention bonuses.

Two-thirds of all soldiers who re-enlisted in 2006 received a bonus compared with 27% in 2002, Army records show. The average re-enlistment bonus in 2006 was $13,824; in 2002, it was $10,114.

NPR also spoke with Col. Casey Wardynski, representing the Pentagon, who repeated the same talking-points he's been delivering for years: That military retention remains strong. West Point's spokesman, however, was less eager to make things up.

West Point spokesman Francis J. DeMaro said he could not explain why more young officers were opting to leave the Army, and declined to comment further.

The flood of junior officers out of the Army strongly resembles the worst years in the 1970s, after the debacle in Vietnam. Rebuilding the US military after that was slow and painful, and the same will transpire again in the next decade. Training each year's class of junior officers at West Point and beyond takes a major commitment of resources. As the nation looks on, seemingly paralyzed and unable to stop him, George Bush is whittling away at what desperately needs repairing.

crossposted from Unbossed

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  • This is Kevin Craw from the NPR interview. I've reported back to Army duty through the involuntary call-ups you may have heard about. Here is a blog with my story:

    By Blogger Kevin Craw, at 6:01 PM  

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