Thursday, April 17, 2008

Middle Heavy Weights

The Employment section of your typical local newspaper is peppered with two kinds of placements requiring a large number of applicants to find the best of a large number of candidates for jobs with a wide range of qualifications, and those for jobs that have a narrow range with little in between. Sales and computer jocks are big users of advertising space.

In the military, the same principle applies to strategic personnel planning for combat operations. Armies are always short good infantry, in no small part due to the high casualty rates, but even without high casualties, combat needs boots and rifles on the ground. On the other end of the spectrum are the technicians for which time is required to train and gain experience. Top of the lists of these are doctors and pilots.

The Germans and Japanese ran out of good pilots to man the planes they produced. They keep their best pilots in action which ran up some impressive scores, but the quality of the pilots that followed couldn’t match the pilots the US produced. The US produced so many pilots that some were transferred to fight as infantry.

The Army Reserve was originally formed to build a pool of medical personnel right after WW 1. Army and Navy Reserve pilots called to active duty in WW 2 included Jimmie Doolittle. The same occurred in Korea where recalled pilots flew against the Chinese and North Koreans.

The experiences of WW 1, WW 2, Korea and the current unpleasantness show that the depth of the strategic personnel reserve wasn’t big enough for big wars or long ones. Fillers beyond the initial commitment of Capstone aligned Guard and Reserve units were to be drawn from a draft or from a massive recruitment program to fill from the bottom.

In Vietnam and in operations today, the middle ranks got stretched with the grade of O-3 nearly invisible it’s so thin. In 1970, the time in service for an Army Captain was less than 24 months. It is dropping fast today because of the length of combat and voluntary nature of a voluntary force. In Vietnam the stretch came early as the twentieth anniversary of WW 2 years came and went at the same time the Army expanded for the war.

The same thing happened in Vietnam for the NCO ranks. Sergeants used to being squad and platoon leaders were thrust into First Sergeant jobs, while privates with extra training were fielded with E-5 stripes. Needless to say, there were weaknesses in the cohesion and expertise of small units. It’s a good thing that much of the shortage of expertise was addressed with NCO formal education that grew out of the “Shake and Bake” Instant NCO program.

A strategic personnel program then should focus on in depth backup for skills and grades that take time to produce. That means middle grade officers and NCOs, technicians, pilots, medical personnel and a host of others familiar to the needs of the service. Tables of organization should make room for more in the middle and expert ranks as well as other programs to maintain this experience. The Reserve forces (Federal) should be middle heavy and exercised in leadership positions under operational conditions.

The immediate impact of a program to build, preserve and maintain combat essential skill sets is that the career programs for Reserve forces should not mirror the career patterns traditionally associated with the Active forces. The aggregate skill sets for mobilization, full or partial should match those contingencies requiring rapid and/or sustained fill.

And, we need pools of qualified infantry.

This means a paid and trained IRR. It means drill pay for individuals and a system to provide opportunities to train with units of any component.

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