The news media has finally jumped on the military recruitment crisis. The smart, intelligent, witty and dashingly handsome readers of this blog that look just like you already knew it was coming because of all the previous reporting here. But let’s say you weren’t so smart, intelligent, witty and perhaps only average in your looks. Let’s say that this not-nearly-as-good version of you wanted to know the truth, because the media likes to blow up a small story into something big to make money. Would there be a way to figure out if the military was really struggling to recruit new members?
Well, stand-in dumber-version-of-you reader, there is, because you can use the military’s readily available instructions to figure out just that! But first, we need a primer on military recruitment and promotion.
Military manpower is a big pyramid scheme, with lots of young blood on at the base of the pyramid, and fewer crusty old folks at the top ranks. Most military members only serve for 3-5 years, getting out for the much greener pastures in the civilian world. The one’s that stay in have some pretty good incentives: guaranteed pay, a pretty cool mission, a chance to get skills and experience on fancy, taxpayer funded weapon systems, and that sweet, sexy uniform that entices all the ladies.
Well, and the guys too, I mean, its 2022 and we have to be all inclusive.
Anyway, this pyramid scheme of manpower relies on a big influx every year of new recruits. We’ve already talked at length about why normal recruiting isn’t working. If recruitment sags, the military has other tricks to keep its numbers up, namely by making it more difficult for people to leave. They can do this by not letting people leave early, or even go so far as to force people to stay.
Let’s say that hypothetically we recruit a lot more people then we really need. Instead of showing them the door, the military can allow other members a chance to leave early. OR the military can tighten down on physical fitness standards, which they can use to boot people out. OR they can create some new stupid rule that will piss people off, which will cause more existing members to leave. These rules are like the handle on a water faucet that you can adjust so the water flow is just right.
Knowing this, guess which way the handle is moving?
Let’s look at the Navy, which releases NAVADMIN messages. These are bland, dull administrative things that nobody except slightly-inebriated Sailors actually read. At the end of June, the Navy released NAVADMIN 142/22 titled FISCAL YEAR 2022 ACTIVE COMPONENT ENLISTED FORCE MANAGEMENT ACTIONS (CORRECTED COPY), because I guess the admin person made a mistake and had to correct it.
Doesn’t inspire much confidence in our administrative people!
Anyway, let’s read the message.
1. The purpose of this NAVADMIN is to implement key force management personnel policy actions in the enlisted active component to ensure the Navy remains fully manned and operationally ready. References (a) and (b) are hereby updated for enlisted personnel. For those who have decided to separate, please review reference (c) for additional career progression opportunities in the Navys Selected Reserves. Navy encourages all qualified Sailors to stay Navy. See your career counselor for more information. While we strive to retain all qualified Sailors, commanding officers should continue to exercise their obligation to document performance and adjust their recommendation for retention, accordingly. 2. Sailors are encouraged to look for selective reenlistment bonus (SRB) updates frequently to take advantage of the opportunities published on the Navy’s SRB website at: https://www.mynavyhr.navy.mil/References/Pay-Benefits/N130D/. Please keep in mind SRB levels may be adjusted up or down depending on rating health.
OK, not much here. Maybe this section was put in to put the inebriated Sailors to sleep?
3. Early Separation Cancellation. Effective immediately, all enlisted early out programs and new time in grade requirement waivers are hereby cancelled. Service commitments such as enlistment contracts, service obligations for accepting permanent change of station orders, advancements, bonuses, training, etc., will be fulfilled. Service members experiencing difficulty in fulfilling obligated service requirements are encouraged to work with their chain of command and respective detailers to examine available alternatives to complete their obligation. a. Commanding officers still retain the 90-day early out authority for policy outlined in references (d) and (e). b. Service members previously granted approval will not be affected by this policy change. c. Service members interested in pursuing commissions in the Navy are still encouraged to submit requests. As always, these requests will be considered on a case by case basis. d. United States Space Force applicants are not affected by this policy change.
Well, that’s a change! No early-out options. Definitely closing the faucet handle.
4. Delaying separation or retirement. The Navy is accepting applications from enlisted personnel who desire to delay their separation or retirement. The deadline for application submission is 31 August 2022.
How about that! Did you want to rethink getting out? Well, now you can, just delay that separation or retirement for another year! Unless you didn’t take the COVID vaccine, in which case you better be part of the class-action lawsuit or else you’re out on the street!
The rest of the NAVADMIN is the dirty details of who can or can’t apply. Another NAVADMIN to look at is 172/22, titled: ACTIVE DUTY ENLISTED ADVANCE-TO-POSITION PROGRAM UPDATE. No corrected copy, looks like they got this one right the first time. I’ll summarize it: enlisted members can apply for billets one paygrade above their current one.
That sounds good right? Let people take on more challenges early? You might think that, until you realize the reason this is happening is because there isn’t enough people at that paygrade to fill all the slots…meaning the Navy is desperate to fill them, even if it means sticking otherwise not-as-qualified individuals in there to meet their numbers.
By the Navy’s own admission, it is hitting a personnel wall that it can’t seem to scale. One contributing reason might be all the “smart people” in the room telling us we could use part-time people, cut back on pay and benefits, and magically we’d have a better, cheaper Navy. I’m not making this up, see every single report that Beth Asch authored at RAND. She’s one of many “smart people” that writes up nice looking reports about policy that influences many people in Washington DC, but don’t seem to understand the nuances associated with a job where you actively kill people while they try to kill you. Since the military services did put into place many of RAND’s recommendations, how’s that working out?
The next steps I expect to see is the military suspending physical fitness separations. After that, expect waivers galore for things like tattoos and prior non-violent felonies. After that…expect stop-loss and calls to bring back the draft.
2023 is going to be even worse. So buckle up and hope we don’t go to war with China.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency, because those people will simply point you to some RAND report to justify their actions.
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