By Lt. Col. Robert "Butch" Bracknell, USMC
Best Defense department of personnel reform
The Department of Defense needs to advocate for and implement certain reforms to ensure the Department is getting maximum return on manpower investments. Most notably, the 20-year retirement permits officers, including senior noncommissioned officers, to request placement on the retired list in the prime of their careers, denying the Department of Defense an opportunity to reap the benefits of 20 years of development and experience.
Smarter manpower management would find a way to extract additional value from a retirement-eligible servicemember by incentivizing his retention, perhaps in a reserve status, until service limitations.
In 2010, the Defense Business Board issued its report "Modernizing the Military Retirement System," recommending comprehensive restructuring of the military retirement system. The report concluded that comprehensive reform is warranted, and that a new retirement system based on an annual contribution model like the Thrift Savings Plan could contribute to military retirement sustainability. Citing unsustainable rises in costs, fairness to servicemembers who separate prior to retirement vesting, and the relative generosity of the military retirement system compared to civilian retirement systems, the board's Task Group that executed the study recognized that the "binary nature" of the system "creates a strong incentive for personnel to leave shortly after 20 years." The authors observed "in some areas of specialization, military servicemembers are only then reaching their peak performance."
After their initial service obligation, typically four to five years, and occasionally up to 10-12 years or more, active duty members take one of three options: (1) they remain on active duty, (2) they move to the reserve component of their service, or (3) they resign or allow their enlistment contracts to expire and separate from the armed services permanently. Active servicemembers can retire from active service after 20 years, which entitles them to 50 percent of their base pay as pension, where "base pay" varies in terms of calculation depending on the statutory retirement calculation system that applies to a servicemember's pay entry base date ("Final Pay", "High 3", "Redux", etc.). Each year served above 20 years raises the pension by 2.5 percent. Thirty years is the normal maximum career limitation, entitling the servicemember to 75 percent of his base pay in retirement (at 30 years, the usual "service limitation"). In unusual circumstances, certain colonels (with specific and unique qualifications) and general officers can continue to accrue 2.5 percent "bumps" in retirement pay up to a 100 percent base pay retirement benefit.
Reserve servicemembers who elect to continue participating until they have satisfied reserve retirement eligibility criteria obtain the same retirement benefit based on years of accrued service, participation "points," mobilization time, etc., but the benefit generally is deferred until the retired servicemember reaches age 60. A typical career path for one of these servicemembers is to serve four to eight years on active duty, then move over to the reserves to complete a reserve military career while pursuing a "primary" civilian career.
As I contemplated my own retirement from active duty at year 21, I realized I could be ready for new professional challenges. Simultaneously, I realized not only that I had not completely whetted my appetite for military service, but also that I had developed expertise and skills that could still benefit my nation in uniform. I explored my options; my manpower managers informed me that I could move to the reserves, just as if I had only completed four, six, or eight years of military service (an initial service obligation, or an initial obligation plus one or two assignments thereafter). The problem with this plan is that I would be sacrificing completely a $45,972 pension (based on 2013 retirement at O-5 with 21 years) for the privilege of continuing to serve. I love service as much as any Marine who ever wore the uniform, but my family cannot afford to forfeit a vested $46,000 annuity so that I can continue to serve as a reserve Marine.
The stark choice between an active duty career beyond 20 years and a reserve career that only makes financial sense if the servicemember moves to the reserve component earlier in his career, rather than later, counsels that there ought to be an accommodation for servicemembers caught in the middle. A the retirement-eligible officer with specialized skill, experience, and training, who is willing to continue serving as a reserve officer should be permitted to do so, without incurring a substantial financial penalty for the privilege.
Assuming my post-military career prospects are such that I am not going to remain on active duty to year 28 or 30, if I retire and walk away, taking my O-5/21 year/52.5 percent benefit with me, I am also depriving the Marine Corps of 21 years of accrued active duty expertise, nearly four years of cumulative post-9/11 overseas and deployed experience, and a substantial investment in my graduate education and fellowships. If I move to the reserve component, I forfeit a vested $46,000 pension. No rational economic actor would take this deal. As a result, if I retire this year, some other agency or company will reap the benefit of the Marine Corps's investment in developing me as a senior leader and technical expert for the past 21 years. There is no middle ground that would allow the military to reap that benefit, instead of some third party entity.
Moreover, the current system encourages the services to fill their reserve ranks with relatively inexperienced personnel -- an average officer who serves as an active infantryman for four years and as a reserve officer for 12 years is almost always less experienced and less competent at his military trade than an average officer (with similar intellect, talent, etc.) who spends all 16 of those years on active duty. Similarly, the officer who spends 25 years on active duty is deprived of the rich experience of life in the private sector or in another government agency. The absence of post-military experience may yield a less mature business sense for finance, logistics, and process management when compared to a reserve component peer officer who spends four years on active duty and 21 years as a chief financial officer or production manager at General Motors or Boeing. These two communities might be bridged by allowing career active officers to retire and continue service in the reserve component, as a career active duty/career reserve "hybrid." Such officers might represent the best of both worlds: abundant active duty experience, augmented by post-retirement private or other government sector experience that would benefit the third "tier" (the last 10 years) of the officer's combined active and reserve military career. Perhaps there ought to be a third "hybrid" personnel category that allows this to happen.
When an officer vests at 20 years and becomes retirement eligible under this notional system, he might have 3 options, instead of only 2 (stay on active duty or walk away). Those three options would be (1) stay on active duty, (2) walk away, (3) a hybrid option in which the board-selected officer could continue post-retirement as a reserve component servicemember while being paid the active duty pension already earned. In a case like mine, for example, once selected by a combined, proportional board of active and reserve officers, the officer would retire at year 20 and begin immediately to collect his "normal" (50 percent) pension. He would continue to serve for another 10 years as a reserve component officer while starting his second, post-active duty career. At the end of that 10 year reserve portion of his career, the retirement benefit would be adjusted incrementally and proportionately to account for the additional service beyond the 20 year mark. In fairness to those who stay on active duty, any increase to the hybrid officer's ultimate retirement pension would be fractionally adjusted; a smaller accrued benefit would vest in comparison to the hybrid's active duty counterpart who stays on active duty until year 30. At year 30, he would be eligible to collect 75 percent of his base pay, and the hybrid who retired from active duty at year 20 might collect some smaller amount -- perhaps only 57.5-60 percent at year 30 (0.75-1 percent premium per year served, rather than 2.5 percent per year). This would account for the 50 percent the hybrid would have already earned, plus some marginal additional compensation for the willingness to commit another 10 years in the reserve component. The formula might be adjusted to compensate for periods of mobilization; for example, if within that 10 year period of reserve service, an officer is mobilized for a major theater conflict for 2 years, then his active retirement would plus up to 55 percent, and the other 8 years of his reserve career might be compensated in retirement at the "normal" 0.75-1 percent rate. This notional officer eventually would retire with 22 years of active service (55 percent) of base pay, and his benefit would increase at age 60 to account for the other 8 years of reserve service (0.75-1 percent over eight years, for a 6-8 percent plus-up -- equaling 61-63 percent of base pay retirement annuity).
Purists may intone: "Bah, humbug. Pick one or the other. This is waffling. This is indecisive. This isn't the way we do things." Duly noted. But if the goal is to maximize return on investment, and to extract more value and service out of high-value, well-trained experts -- COIN experts, counterterrorism practitioners, logisticians, engineers, foreign area officers and regional experts, resource managers, aviators, strategists, cyberwarriors, physicians, etc. -- who have earned the right to walk away through 20 years of service, then we need a new paradigm for doing so. Modifying force management statutes and regulations to permit a new category of "hybrid" officer would improve the experience quantum in the most senior reserve ranks and would temper the loss of institutional knowledge and expertise when exceptional officers retire at year 20. There likely are multiple ways to realize additional return on our institutional manpower investment that fit each service's unique needs for manpower capabilities. This is but one of them.
Providing a third "hybrid" option in the future that makes financial sense to the servicemember while retaining talent for the total force is a win-win proposition. As we look forward to figuring out how to lean out the services and get the most return on our defense investment, it is clear the Department of Defense wastes an inordinate amount of human capital by allowing it to walk out the door at year 20 without providing any option for continued return on that 20-year investment. Proposing authority to Congress to modify the military retirement scheme to allow a 20-year retirement plus reserve continuation permits the Department to honor the "20 year deal" while extracting additional service value out of officers during the last third of an officer's potential 30-year career.
This option is far superior to letting talented, capable officers simply walk away at the 20-year mark with an annuity and a gold watch, taking 100 percent of their abilities and experience with them to a new employer.
"Butch" Bracknell is a Marine lieutenant colonel on active duty, but perhaps not much longer.
In a footnote in the Orwell diaries, I learned that more British civilians were killed by enemy action during World War II than were members of the Royal Navy (60,595 vs. 50,758).
Meanwhile, in other news related to World War II, for the first time in nearly 70 years, there is not a single American tank on German soil.
I like this list below. First, it is a good summary of the wisdom and humor in one military field.
Second, it is typical of a military genre -- the grim but humorous compilation of hard-won knowledge. I've seen multiple copies of a similar one on infantry ("Friendly fire, isn't"), but would like to see other examples you might have.
EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW IN LIFE I LEARNED AS A HELICOPTER PILOT IN VIETNAM.
1. Once you are in the fight, it is way too late to wonder if this is a good idea.
2. It is a fact that helicopter tail rotors are instinctively drawn toward trees, stumps, rocks, etc. While it may be possible to ward off this natural event some of the time, it cannot, despite the best efforts of the crew, always be prevented. It's just what they do.
3. NEVER get into a fight without more ammunition than the other guy.
4. The engine RPM and the rotor RPM must BOTH be kept in the GREEN. Failure to heed this commandment can affect the morale of the crew.
5. Cover your Buddy, so he can be around to cover for you.
6. Decisions made by someone above you in the chain-of-command will seldom be in your best interest.
7. The terms Protective Armor and Helicopter are mutually exclusive.
9. "Chicken Plates" are not something you order in a restaurant
10. If everything is as clear as a bell, and everything is going exactly as planned, you're about to be surprised.
11. Loud, sudden noises in a helicopter WILL get your undivided attention.
12. The BSR (Bang Stare Red) Theory states that the louder the sudden bang in the helicopter, the quicker your eyes will be drawn to the gauges. The longer you stare at the gauges the less time it takes them to move from green to red.
13. No matter what you do, the bullet with your name on it will get you. So, too, can the ones addressed "To Whom It May Concern."
14. If the rear echelon troops are really happy, the front line troops probably do not have what they need.
15. If you are wearing body armor, they will probably miss that part of you.
17. Having all your body parts intact and functioning at the end of the day beats the alternative.
18. If you are allergic to lead, it is best to avoid a war zone.
19. It is a bad thing to run out of airspeed, altitude, and ideas all at the same time.
20. Hot garrison chow is better than hot C-rations which, in turn, is better than cold C-rations which, in turn, is better than no food at all. All of these, however, are preferable to cold rice balls, even if they do have the little pieces of fish in them.
21. Everybody's a hero...On the ground...In the club...After the fourth drink.
22. A free fire zone has nothing to do with economics.
23. The further you fly into the mountains, the louder those strange engine noises become.
24. Medals are OK, but having your body and all your friends in one piece at the end of the day is better.
25. Being shot hurts and it can ruin your whole day.
26. "Pucker Factor" is the formal name of the equation that states the more hairy the situation is, the more of the seat cushion will be sucked up your ass. It can be expressed in its mathematical formula of S (suction) + H (height above ground ) + I (interest in staying alive) + T ( # of tracers coming your way)
27.The term 'SHIT!' can also be used to denote a situation where high Pucker Factor is being encountered.
28. Thousands of Vietnam Veterans earned medals for bravery every day. A few were even awarded.
29. Running out of pedal, fore or aft cyclic, or collective are all bad ideas. Any combination of these can be deadly.
30. There is only one rule in war: When you win, you get to make up the rules.
31. C-4 can make a dull day fun.
32. There is no such thing as a fair fight -- only ones where you win or lose.
33. If you win the battle you are entitled to the spoils. If you lose, you don't care.
34. Nobody cares what you did yesterday or what you are going to do tomorrow. What is important is what you are doing -- NOW -- to solve our problem.
35. Always make sure someone has a P-38. Uh, that's a can opener for those of you who aren't military.
37. Flying is better than walking. Walking is better than running. Running is better than crawling. All of these, however, are better than extraction by Medevac, even if it is technically, a form of flying.
38. If everyone does not come home, none of the rest of us can ever fully come home either.
39. Do not fear the enemy, for your enemy can only take your life. It is far better that you fear the media, for they will steal your HONOR.
40. A grunt is the true reason for the existence of the helicopter. Every helicopter flying in Vietnam had one real purpose: To help the grunt. It is unfortunate that many helicopters never had the opportunity to fulfill their one true mission in life, simply because someone forgot this fact.
If you have not been there and done that you probably will not understand most of these.
I am told this about the misconducted West Point superintendent, Lt. Gen. David Huntoon. Apparently there was an investigation of his relationship with a woman he brought in as director of strategic communications, whose influence was resented by some faculty members. But the Army keeps on stonewalling and saying only that he was cleared on that -- but won't drop the other shoe and provide information on the misconduct charge that the DOD IG did substantiate.
So what was he nailed on? I asked someone in the know. He told me this:
In the end, all they got him for was, he offered to take care of her cats....[But] the chief of staff wound up doing it. He had to buy cat food. So, after all the investigating, all they got him on was coercing a subordinate to do personal favors.... It's ironic because Huntoon has been all about the ‘image' of West Point.
Tom again: A bigger concern to me -- and to some civilians at West Point -- is the effect that the image campaign has had on the academic freedom of faculty members. I asked about that, and the person I was talking to said, "I think it's fair to say, there is concern that we cannot speak freely. We get messages all the time: ‘Don't talk about this.' There's a lot of concern about image."
A little transparency here would go a long way. But apparently the Army cares more about the feelings of its generals than about informing the people who pay its bills.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Unless these dogs are high on methamphetamines, the footage has clearly been manipulated, sped up as they launch over walls and through half-lit rings of fire moving at herculean speeds. As the handlers shout and make angry gestures, the dogs pounce on paper likenesses of South Korea's defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin (NoKo's "Enemy No. 1"). Tactically speaking, these dogs -- of which there appear to be only five or six -- have all the precision and training of a rabid mob. I suppose that might be frightening in its own right, but it would be a mistake to assume a military dog is a super threat just because he/she is savage. The really "dangerous" dogs are the ones who are impeccably controlled by their handlers.
So, who should be afraid of North Korea's war dogs? Probably no one.
I sent the clip over to a career dog handler over at the USAF Academy, Kennel Master Chris Jakubin, who after viewing the footage of NoKo's dogs attacking stuffed mannequins said it had the intimidating power of a Benny Hill skit. All it needs, he said, is the music.
I always read the Pentagon casualty notices and MIA notices. This one jumped out at me yesterday, as it would to anyone familiar with the history of the Chosin Reservoir campaign.
Lt. Col. Don Faith, Jr. was the unfortunate leader of one of the biggest disasters in American military history, taking over command of the Army regiment on the east side of Chosin after the commander of the 31st Infantry Regiment was killed and the other two battalion commanders were badly wounded. The regiment, badly outnumbered and hampered by inept general officers, suffered a 90 percent casualty rate. Its colors now are displayed in Beijing, I am told.
However, the sacrifice of the Army regiment bought much-needed time for the Marine division consolidating on the west side of the reservoir.
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that a serviceman, who was unaccounted-for from the Korean War, has been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Army Lt. Col. Don C. Faith Jr. of Washington, Ind., will be buried April 17, in Arlington National Cemetery. Faith was a veteran of World War II and went on to serve in the Korean War. In late 1950, Faith's 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, which was attached to the 31st Regimental Combat Team (RCT), was advancing along the eastern side of the Chosin Reservoir, in North Korea. From Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, 1950, the Chinese People's Volunteer Forces (CPVF) encircled and attempted to overrun the U.S. position. During this series of attacks, Faith's commander went missing, and Faith assumed command of the 31st RCT. As the battle continued, the 31st RCT, which came to be known as "Task Force Faith," was forced to withdraw south along Route 5 to a more defensible position. During the withdrawal, Faith continuously rallied his troops, and personally led an assault on a CPVF position.
Records compiled after the battle of the Chosin Reservoir, to include eyewitness reports from survivors of the battle, indicated that Faith was seriously injured by shrapnel on Dec. 1, 1950, and subsequently died from those injuries on Dec. 2, 1950. His body was not recovered by U.S. forces at that time. Faith was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor -- the United States' highest military honor -- for personal acts of exceptional valor during the battle.
In 2004, a joint U.S. and Democratic People's Republic of North Korea (D.P.R.K) team surveyed the area where Faith was last seen. His remains were located and returned to the U.S. for identification.
To identify Faith's remains, scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) used circumstantial evidence, compiled by DPMO and JPAC researchers, and forensic identification tools, such as dental comparison. They also used mitochondrial DNA -- which matched Faith's brother.
By "Misha N. Komand"
Best Defense guest correspondent
How can we really enjoy the benefits of mission command without the inputs? You don't just 'do' mission command (just as you don't just 'do' Army design methodology). The Germans didn't just 'do' Auftragstaktik.
No, it was built on a culture that held junior officers on up to rigorous accounting of academic and military ability. The Army thinks it can incorporate the benefits of an idea by simply incorporating (or poaching) the good terms or ideas of others, and not have to pay the price in selecting and educating the right officers. There will be no true mission command without a cultural change starting with accountability in education (centering on military history) and better selection and shaping of the officer corps.
"Misha N. Komand" is an active duty Army officer serving on the periphery of the American dream.
Maj. Charles Wagenblast, a military intelligence reservist, brought home this story from Afghanistan about an Afghan colonel:
One of the colonels that we both knew had been accused of raping a chai boy, badly. They all have chai boys, it's not some perverted thing, it's just what they do. Women are for juma. The only time you interact with your wife is on Friday, the rest of the time it's chai boys. He had been raping this chai boy, which is normal, but he had hurt him really bad. That caused the medical people to get involved and other forces. So he's there in front of the judge, who is an imam. It's religion mixed with law, the whole code of law would fit in a pamphlet and then there's the Koran there on top of it. Anyway, his defense was, "Honestly, who hasn't raped a chai boy? Ha ha ha." And the judge goes, "You're right. Case dismissed."
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released/DVIDS
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.