By Roxanne Bras
Best Defense department of innovation
If you're in the military and have a good idea, do you know where to go? As recent debates erupted over whether the military encourages innovation and retains talent, I asked friends this question. Many had vague notions about programs at Leavenworth/IDEA Program/Quantico, but not a single person said he had confidence in this process. Now the plural of ‘anecdote' is not ‘data,' but in the absence of a survey about junior leaders' confidence in senior echelon responsiveness, I'm going to venture a guess that the low confidence exhibited by my peers is not spurious.
But we've debated this before, practically every month. Compare all the junior officer blog posts saying that good officers are frustrated with a geriatric bureaucracy to all the senior leaders' assurances that everything is fine. What do you get? I don't know, because these discussions quickly become personal, distracted by red herrings, and unsupported by data.
So is the military encouraging innovation? We can write about it, or we can test it by reaching out to emerging leaders and listening to their ideas. A group of junior officers has come together to try and do just that. We're organizing the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF), a three-day conference at the University of Chicago, because we believe that our peers have great ideas, strategies, and inventions that can make our military better. And we hope that senior leaders will work with us in this process; this conference is developed in a spirit of duty to our military and its continued improvement, not disloyalty or arrogance.
(Un)fortunately, this conference couldn't be better timed: The military's run out of money. Now it must really think. DEF hopes to provide a place where junior leaders can come together to propose new ideas, network with people from different services and ranks, and learn how to translate ideas into action. General officers and civilian entrepreneurs are also attending, keeping us from just preaching to the choir.
And so you don't think we fully drank the Kool-Aid, we'll admit it: Slogans and buzzwords about innovation and change can sound starry-eyed. But the process of moving from brainstorming to actionable innovations is messy and hard to capture in a bumper sticker. That's why we want to move this conversation to a physical space where we can get together, discuss ideas, and help create road-maps for implementation.
Please take few minutes and check out www.def2013.com, then register and come to the conference! If you have an idea, no matter how random, technical, or high-level, submit it to our Ideas Competition. We'll be picking the best innovations, and the winners will be able to share their ideas at the conference. We've also arranged for an excellent series of speakers, and lots of time for small groups and informal discussions. Sign up for more information, tell us what you think on our Facebook page, get involved, and we'll see you in Chicago.
Roxanne Bras is a captain in the U.S. Army, and a member of the DEF board. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
I bet you haven't heard of most of them!
(Thanks to John Mill.)
By Jesse Sloman
Best Defense office of Junior Officer Issues
Millions of electrons have been spilled in the last few months on the subject of junior officer retention. As a company grade officer in the Marine Corps, I've been following the widening debate with great interest. Although assertions of a crisis in the JO community have yet to be proven empirically, the volume of interest this topic has generated speaks to its importance as a national security issue. It's also clear that questions about retention resonate among my generation of officers, many of whom are currently mulling their own decisions about whether to remain on active duty.
Despite this outpouring, one critical factor in manpower retention has remained unexplored: quality of life for spouses, over 90 percent of whom are women. Relationship status and spousal satisfaction are crucial influences on a servicemember's decision to stay or leave the armed forces, yet these issues have so far been largely overlooked. As women take on ever greater roles in American professional life -- they now make up a larger share of the national work force than men -- their attitudes and expectations will be increasingly at odds with the traditional role of the military spouse. This is especially true for the spouses of junior officers, most of whom possess bachelor's degrees, strong employment prospects, and belong to a generation of women who have been raised with the assumption that they have as much right to long and fulfilling careers as their husbands. I have seen this dynamic firsthand among my peers. Two of the most promising lieutenants I know, including one who graduated at the top of his TBS class, are planning to curtail their military careers primarily out of consideration for their wives.
Consider the difficulties a young educated woman faces when her husband commissions into the armed forces. As she watches her friends enter the workforce and embark on their new careers, she will almost certainly be forced to move to an entirely new community with little in the way of local employment options. If she is lucky enough to find a good job, her excitement will undoubtedly be tempered by the knowledge that within a year or two she'll be forced to move and start over. Every time she begins a new job search she'll be competing against not just all the other recently arrived spouses, but also against non-military locals who employers know will not be leaving in the near future.
The numbers attest to the difficulties spouses face in finding employment. A 2004 Rand Corporation study found that military spouses are less likely to be employed than their civilian peers and earn less money when they are employed. This holds true even when they are compared against civilian spouses with similar employability characteristics. Given these obstacles, it's little wonder that 85 percent of military spouses say they either want or need work. Of those who are employed, it's not uncommon to find spouses working in positions for which they are manifestly overqualified. I know a former government lawyer currently employed at a nearby unit as a Family Readiness Officer, a job that does not even require a bachelor's degree.
None of these issues is new for military spouses, but it is surely not lost on them that today they are being largely excluded from one of the most important demographic shifts in American history. As Hanna Rosin, journalist and author of The End of Men, explains: "For the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce [has] tipped toward women, who now hold a majority of the nation's jobs.... Women dominate today's colleges and professional schools -- for every two men who will receive a B.A. this year, three women will do the same. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women."
To its credit, the Department of Defense has taken recent action to try and improve spousal employment with the creation of the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) initiative in 2009. SECO is made up of three programs: the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) tuition assistance program, the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), and the Military Spouse Career Center. Unfortunately, a 2012 Government Accountability Office report noted that, "DOD is not yet able to measure the overall effectiveness of its spouse employment programs," so it is impossible to know if they are proving beneficial.
I suspect that, given the obstacles arrayed against it, SECO will prove inadequate to the task of providing JO wives with fulfilling long-term employment. Instead, the military may need to come up with more radical measures, such as reinstituting homesteading and increasing the number of unaccompanied tours to locations suffering from limited employment opportunities. Another option is to ensure that spouses' careers are given weight when assigning servicemembers to new duty stations. There are significant practical obstacles to both of these ideas, but over time they may grow to be considered preferable to the problems brought on by spousal discontent.
Ultimately, effective solutions will only be possible when there is widespread recognition that the military's current social model is a legacy of a different time. Today's young women will be increasingly unwilling to sacrifice their professional ambitions for their husband's military career. The choice for young officers will become stark: Stay in the military and make their wives unhappy, or get out and give them a chance to pursue their dreams as well. Unless positive measures are taken to increase spousal satisfaction, I fear more and more JOs will choose the latter.
Jesse Sloman is a lieutenant in the Marine Corps currently based in Okinawa, Japan.
In our cynical age it is easy to forget that sometimes the newspapers get it right. I was struck while reading George Orwell's diaries by the reports he cites in August 1939, just weeks before World War II began in Europe.
The Manchester Guardian comes off particularly well. It reports that month that "German mobilization will be at full strength halfway through August & that some attempt to terrorise Poland will be made."
A few days later, Orwell notes, the same paper's diplomatic correspondent predicted that "Spain will almost certainly remain neutral in case of war."
He may be retiring, but he remains quotable: "It's not an easy course. It's not designed to be. We're not here to get you in touch with your inner child."
Sgt. Maria Asenbrener/DVIDS
For the genre of "hard-won but sometimes humorous military wisdom," "Charlie Sherpa" mentioned these in a comment on the lessons of helicopter pilots, but they are too good not to run as a separate post.
1. Continually ask: "Who else needs to know what I know?"
2. Continually ask: "Who else knows what I need to know?"
3. Never speak with complete authority regarding that which you lack direct knowledge, observation, and/or suppressive fires.
4. Never pull rank over a radio net.
5. Let the boss decide how he/she wants to learn.
6. Let the boss decide how he/she wants to communicate.
7. "I am responsible for everything my commander's organization knows and fails to know, learns and fails to learn."
8. Know when to wake up the Old Man. Also, know how to wake him up without getting punched, shot, or fired.
9. The three most important things in the TOC are: Track the battle. Track the battle. Track the battle.
10. Digital trumps analog, until you run out of batteries.
11. Always have ready at least two methods of communication to any point or person on the map.
12. Rank has its privileges. It also has its limitations.
13. Let Joe surprise you.
14. Don't let Joe surprise you.
15. The first report is always wrong. Except when it isn't.
16. The problem is always at the distant end. Except when it isn't.
17. Exercise digital/tactical patience. Communications works at the speed of light. People do not.
19. The warfighter is your customer, and the customer is always right.
20. Bullets don't kill people. Logistics kills people.
21. Knowing how it works is more powerful than knowing how it's supposed to work.
22. Cite sources on demand. State opinions when asked.
23. Work by, with, and through others. It's all about empowerment.
24. Do not seek the spotlight, Ranger. Let the spotlight find you. Then, make sure to share it with others.
26. Humor is a combat multiplier. Except when it isn't.
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.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.