#1 – Pay People at Shitty Duty Stations an Incentive Pay
The old days of telling people to suck it up once they get assigned to shitty duty stations should be over tomorrow. It is unavoidable that individuals will eventually get assigned to the duty stations that no one wants to go to, so the Army should start paying them more while they are at those locations in order to make sure that going to an undesirable location isn’t the breaking point for retention.
A simple way to implement this is a monthly incentive pay to soldiers stationed at undesirable posts. There could be several tiers. Three makes sense to me: Undesirable (Polk, Irwin, Wainwright, etc.), Middling (Campbell, Bliss, Brag), Desirable (Carson, JBLM, Hawaii, OCONUS). The soldiers at the undesirable locations would receive the greatest amount of additional pay, and the desirable locations would receive no additional pay. The middling duty stations, like their favorability as a location to live, would receive some amount of money in the middle.
Without being unreasonable, I think something in the realm of $500-$750 a month is reasonable for all ranks. Before the fiscal hawks come and yell at me, let’s take a moment to remember the size of the DOD’s budget. Okay, good. If this is a people business, we must take care of our people. This will encourage that CPT (P) or SGT (P) that a tour at NTC or at Wainwright is not as bad as it could be.
#2 – Get Rid of All Timelines for Promotions from 1LT through Major (aka make the Officer Promotion System more similar to the NCO Promotion System)
A competent person can enlist right out of high school, and seven years later, if they’re razor sharp and lucky, can be an E7, a senior NCO. The NCO Promotion system, although imperfect in other ways, is more of a meritocracy than the slow march through time that is the Officer Promotion System.
If nearly everyone gets promoted to 1LT, and nearly everyone gets promoted to CPT, and nearly everyone (that stays in for it) gets promoted to MAJ, why are there any artificial barriers affecting the timelines it takes for individuals to get those promotions. If the Army wants to get the right people into the right jobs, it needs to remove the biggest impediment, a rigid promotion structure, to get competent people into the jobs that they should be in.
If it takes 8-10 years to become a major, and good captains are getting out at the 5-8 range because they are frustrated with the Army, the Army is wasting its own human capital. If people could get to positions and ranks where they can affect more change sooner, perhaps they would be more willing to stay in longer, knowing that they don’t have to suffer through a rigid promotion structure for no reason at all (or at least very many not so good reasons probably proffered by current field grades).
But how difficult would it be to manage all officer promotions on a fluid timeline at a department of the Army level? Very difficult… which leads us to our next point.
#3 – Decentralize Officer Promotions from Department of the Army to the BDE/Division/Corps Level
It’s as simple as brigade commanders, or a board organized by a brigade commander, approving promotions from 2LT to 1LT; division commanders, or a board, approving promotions for 1LT to CPT; and corps commanders, or a board, approving promotions for CPT to MAJ.
The boards can be mandated to meet at a minimum of once or twice a year, or whatever timeline that works. Theoretically, you could have someone commission and then be a major in 4 years, depending on the frequency of the boards meeting. I’m sure there are people out there (mostly beneficiaries of the put in your time and be a LTC after 20 years group) that would argue that the PME the Army forces Officers to learn as they come through the ranks is essential to success at higher echelons, but I’d argue that’s probably not true at all. But, let’s say it is a factor. Here’s a simple solution: offer online versions of all the schools (the COVID-19 Pandemic is showing us that that idea isn’t impossible). Maybe make attendance at the physical schools more desirable, but if you make an online version that can be done simultaneously with the regular demands of work, you achieve a much higher degree of fluidity in the careers of officers.
#4 – Make OERS much Simpler
I was told by my career coach/branch manager at HRC that the only thing they look at in OERs during promotion boards is the block indicated and the enumeration by the Senior Rater. So, if those are really the only things that matter for the vast majority of packets considered, why not get rid of everything else? The OER is a cumbersome form and annoying process for everyone involved. If the people who are responsible for evaluating it only care about one specific portion of it, why not get rid of everything else?
With that however, comes the acknowledgement that performance should not only be evaluated by the ability to please one’s boss. Solution? Make the rated officer beholden to more groups, and make the evaluation of each one of those groups equal in weight. It is impossible to please everyone, so the averages of the scores will be more meaningful than the current system in which all you have to do is make sure your boss is happy with you. If peer and subordinate ratings are included, OERs will become infinitely more valuable than they currently are, and simpler as well.