The Best Defense

Hey, JOs: Want an interesting career plus a life? Come to the Guard and Reserves

By Brig. Gen. James D. Campbell

Best Defense Guard columnist

One of things I find most interesting, and even objectionable, in the entire discourse between these two senior officers is the fact that, clearly, neither of them recognizes or even considers the reserve components as part of "the Army."

Many of the talented young officers and NCOs who are choosing to leave the active force are, in fact, transferring to the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve. So in that sense, "the Army" isn't losing these experienced young leaders. That is, we're not losing them if our active counterparts view the Guard and Reserve as part of the wider team. Even more of these junior leaders would choose the Guard and Reserve if active duty senior leaders actually tried to present service in the Reserve Components as a viable option for those who want to keep serving but also want stability for their families along with different career and educational opportunities. Unfortunately, as judged by these essays in FP, most senior Army leaders don't ever even think of the reserve components as really part of "the Army." Personally, along with many of my peers I left the regular Army in the early '90s after almost 10 years of service and have been in the Guard ever since. I've managed to have a full, reasonably successful career, and have gotten to do a lot of things on the civilian side I never would have done had I stayed on active duty.

This paradigm of leaving the reserve components out of the equation has all sorts of corollaries: The refusal, for example, of senior Army leaders to consider that, based on the recent Reserve Forces Policy Board report showing that the reserve components (RC) cost only one-third the amount of the active components (AC), shouldn't we seek to grow the RC as we must shrink the AC in order to retain the military capability and force structure at less cost, and therefore have a flexible "surge" capacity for emergencies? Aside from the fact that this is effectively what we have done post-conflict throughout the entire history of our nation, the cost pressures alone would dictate that it is a very intelligent option. In addition to saving force structure and capability, we would also be saving enormous numbers of proven, combat-experienced officers, NCOs and soldiers by keeping them in the uniform and having them around for the long term. Unfortunately, what we are hearing from senior Army leaders is that they want to keep the AC as large as possible, even if that means cutting the RC -- an idea that flies in the face of fiscal reality, the past 12 years of actual operational experience, U.S. military history and tradition, and serves as yet one more glaring reminder that our current generation of senior leaders has never accepted the RC as equal, capable elements of the overall force. Cutting off the nose to spite the face...

I invite all high-caliber junior and mid-grade leaders in our Army (and Air Force) who are seeking a change and want more stability for their families, more interesting assignment and career opportunities, and challenging educational opportunities to look into joining the National Guard in their home states or the states where they'd like to live. We have been the key component of our nation's military since 1636, we are in many ways the sole remaining repository of many of the best traditions of the service, we listen to our people (we have to in order to keep our high-performing, traditional part-time leaders in uniform), and we are still on the front lines around the world. We are also still the only part of the force which can legally and rapidly respond to assist our local communities when they are in need.

BG James D. Campbell, Ph.D. is the adjutant general of the Maine National Guard.

The Best Defense

If military leaders were serious about retaining talent, they'd collect some numbers on who is leaving and why

By Maj. Peter Munson, USMC

Best Defense commission on junior officer management

The recent battery and counter-battery of general officer articles on talent management in the face of a military drawdown is doing little to advance the debate toward any solution -- or even agreement on the problem. The debaters are undermined by their hyperbole. Surely, not all of the military's best officers are leaving. On the other hand, from the volume of complaint, it seems sure that there is something awry with talent management in the armed forces. A more qualified assertion would be that more top talent is leaving the military than should be the case. Yet, as deeply as I believe this statement to be true, I cannot prove it. Therein lies the greatest problem: a personnel system that seems not to have a measure of its success or failure in retaining talent vice retaining numbers.

The sad fact of the matter is that we lack the data to fully define the talent management problem, so there is no way to come up with meaningful proposals for solutions. This is a debate characterized by hyperbole and personally charged anecdotal evidence because real data on the phenomenon are almost completely lacking. The fact that the armed forces do not apparently collect data on departing servicemembers for talent management purposes is telling. There is a healthy stable of data available on each servicemember: performance evaluations, standardized testing, civilian and military school standings, physical fitness tests, and so on. Correlating these data to retention and separation propensities should be a relatively easy thing, but as far as I can tell, this work has not been done and it seems not to have been released into the public domain.

Yet, even with the existing data, we have a problem. While we have top-down performance evaluations, physical fitness, and IQ-like intelligence test data, these data leave out what may be the most important dimensions of leadership. There is no widespread data on emotional intelligence, personality type, or 360-degree perspectives on military officers, even though these tests are readily available and could easily be done for those screening for key billets, or for a sample population of separating officers. These would also be an extremely useful statistic when considering who is getting out and who is staying in.

Absent these data, we have to rely on works like that of Tim Kane, former Air Force officer, Ph.D. economist, and author of the book Bleeding Talent: How the US Military Mismanages Leaders and Why It's Time for a Revolution. Sadly, the lack of data left Kane to rely on opinion polling -- what people perceived about the talent of those leaving the military and their reasons for doing so -- rather than first-order data. This method left Kane's conclusions open to dismissal by the powers that be, but the indictment is really on a system that has no knowledge of its own talent challenges.

As long as there are no publically available data on these issues, each side in the debate about talent retention in the military is informed only by their personal choices and the anecdotes that validate that choice. There cannot be a truly informed debate without some facts to start from and, inexplicably, these facts are completely lacking. If senior military leaders were serious about talent retention, these data would already be at their fingertips.

Peter J. Munson is a major in the U.S. Marine Corps. Though selected for lieutenant colonel, he is leaving the Marine Corps with sixteen years of service this summer. He is the author of War, Welfare & Democracy: Rethinking America's Quest for the End of History (Potomac, 2013).