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Kennedy Questions Secretary Geren, General Casey on Army Strain


Location: Washington, DC


(As Prepared for Delivery)

Retention and Recruitment in the Officer Corps

Our Army is universally recognized as the finest in the world because of its outstanding capability, but the Army is struggling today to recruit and retain personnel, especially in the officer corps.

Our professional military officers need to have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of tactics, technology, and leadership. They must also be able to bring all aspects of national power to bear to win the likely forms of warfare in the years ahead. To do so, they must be well-versed in diplomacy, information, economics, linguistics and cultural awareness.

It is often said that we "train for certainty" and "educate for uncertainty." Especially in this new era of uncertainty, good soldiers and good leaders cannot be developed haphazardly. We must do our best to develop them through proper training and, most importantly, through proper education.

The Army is currently facing a shortage of 3,000 officers or more, and the shortage is overwhelmingly in the mid-grades: senior captains and majors.

Our senior captains and majors perform a difficult job, and they're essential to the effectiveness of our fighting force. We need more of them urgently, but we can't wave a magic wand and create them. It requires a great deal of time and effort. It takes ten years to grow and educate to the rank of major and fourteen years if that major is an academy or ROTC graduate.

Ending that shortfall will take more than just time since our accession system is in trouble as well. The Army's propensity rates are abysmal. Propensity measures overall youth attitude toward military service. It is currently 8.6 percent compared to the historical average of between 20 and 25 percent. Our nation's youth don't want to sign up for the job. They don't want to bear the burdens of such service.

To make up for low accession rates, the Army usually relies heavily on Officer Candidate School. Since the start of the Iraq war, we've doubled the number of people brought into the officer corps under this program, but the Army can't continue to rely on it, since the system is stretched too thin already and can't accommodate any more people through its doors.

West Point has already been allowed to increase enrollment and cannot be tapped for more graduates and ROTC failed to meet its goals in the previous two years by a total of 1,227 individuals.

The Army also recently announced that it failed to meet its goal of retaining 14,184 Captains and had retained only 11,933, despite an aggressive campaign that offered cash bonuses of as much as $35,000, plus the ability to choose their next assignment, or attend military-funded graduate school in exchange for continued service. All told, 67.6 percent of those eligible for the program agreed to serve an additional one to three years in the Army. The goal was 80.5 percent.

What we see is a perfect storm gathering in our officer corps: a current shortage, an inability to bring in enough new officers, and difficulty in retaining them.

In December, I sent a letter to you with Senators Biden, Bayh and McCaskill, urging you to develop a plan to efficiently and effectively manage your accession pipeline. In developing the plan, we suggested that you conduct a thorough review of the Army's professional military education and career progression and selection programs.

We also expressed our concern over the decentralization of officer accession programs and the quality concerns in the Army's selection and recruitment policies.

Secretary Geren, your response to our letter detailed some long-term solutions to these problems, such as pre-commissioning retention programs and increases in West Point and ROTC production. For many of us though, our concern is more immediate.

To date, we've seen military successes in Iraq. But if we can no longer field an adequate number of mid-career officers, do we run the risk of undermining military successes?

Even with a significant drawdown and withdrawal of our troops in Iraq, the Army will continue to face a shortage of officers. With this shortage most notable at the mid-grade officer level, we are losing the combat-hardened leaders we most need to retain and that will be the general officers of tomorrow. Given these problems, how will the Army meet future mission requirements and fulfill its transformation initiatives?

Stress on the Force

Mr. Secretary, as I've said on many occasions, Iraq requires a political solution and not just a military one. General Petraeus has recently declared military successes, but we've yet to see sufficient political progress.

Our troops are the finest in the world and they'll shoulder any burden asked of them. But we have a responsibility to them as well. We can't keep asking them and their families to make endless sacrifices in support of a policy that has failed - after nearly five long years - to yield sufficient political results and achieve lasting stability in Iraq.

Many of us are concerned about the long-term impact on our military and problems with recruitment. I'm concerned that the Army's ability to carry out its mission will be in jeopardy if we lose sight of what it takes to build an effective fighting force and ignore the strains and stresses we ask our soldiers to bear.

Last year, the Army offered financial bonuses to 48 percent of enlistees. The Army Advantage Fund grants up to $40,000 for a home or a start-up business for enlistees signing up for five years of active service. Lesser incentives are available to those signing up for three or four years of active service.

The strain is evident in many ways.

The Army strives to ensure that 90 percent of its enlistees have high school diplomas. Last year, only 79 percent of enlistees achieved the goal.

Army conduct waivers have more than doubled since 2003. Felony conviction waivers have increased 24 percent. Serious misdemeanor waivers have increased by 168 percent. These numbers obviously highlight the strain we've placed on our Armed Forces.

As you said before this Committee last November, General Casey, "While we remain a resilient and committed professional force, our Army today is out of balance for several reasons. The current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply."

We're asking our volunteer soldiers and their families to bear increasing burdens, such as repeated deployments to combat zones for 15 months at a time. The stress of these deployments puts immense strain on our soldiers and their families, and it's beginning to show across the force.

I'm pleased to hear that you've agreed to shorten deployments to twelve months and eventually to eight months, with 18 months at home.

Precisely when will that policy be implemented? I think our men and women in uniform deserve to know.

And how will it be implemented? As I understand it, the policy change would require us to reduce the number of brigades from 19 to 10. Is that correct and what's the timeline for doing so?

Social side effects

I'm deeply concerned about the personal toll the war is taking on our men and women in uniform.

Recent reports of increased suicide rates, domestic violence and mental health problems should raise the alarm bell for us all.

Before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Defense set up a task force on domestic violence, but it was disbanded when we invaded Iraq.

An examination of the more than 150 cases of fatal domestic violence or child abuse involving service members and new veterans shows that more than a third of them had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan or other regions.

The Administration's priorities have clearly shifted and they haven't devoted the resources necessary to avoid these problems.

In 2007, the Army suicide rate was the highest it has ever been. In 2006, Army suicides rose to 17 per 100,000 soldiers, and that number increased by 20 percent in 2007, when 121 soldiers committed suicide. That's more than double the numbers reported in 2001, before we sent troops into Iraq.

Given all these facts, what is the health of the Army? How much longer can we continue at this operational tempo?

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