The Personnel Crisis Has Arrived, Part 2.5
In the column preceding this one, I identified four primary sources of how the US Army is going to lose tens of thousands of personnel over the next year, and the sum of 102,000 personnel is staggering. As I compared it to World War Two battles and campaigns, I had hoped that readers with some historical knowledge would understand that this is not an apples to apples comparison due to the size of the US Army in World War Two versus today. A friend asked that I get into that a bit just to show how bad the current personnel crisis is going to be versus the World War Two Army. Another friend brought up another salient point — the US Army employs close to 250,000 civilian personnel (not contractors, that’s an endless rabbit hole of people) and asked if I could look into that and determine if there are issues within the civilian corps of Army personnel. I have, and to no one’s surprise, there are.
General Albert Wedemeyer is not known to many outside the US Army, and perhaps even fewer within the US Army. He was not a dashing and brash young officer, nor was he a storied commander leading amphibious assaults on the beaches or directing armored thrusts deep into enemy territory. As this Washington Post obituary explains, “President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked the War Department for a blueprint of how to win the war that seemed certain the United States would soon have to fight. The largest problem was deciding what should be done first and what could wait. Marshall gave the task to Gen. Wedemeyer, who was then a staff officer in the War Plans Division. The result became famous as the “Victory Program.” Wedemeyer and his small staff figured out how large the Army could be — not how large the Army wanted to be — based upon competition from other services and critical wartime industries which required skill manpower such as farming, fossil fuel extraction, manufacturing, mining, and shipbuilding while creating a force that was sustainable over time in two major theaters of combat while maintaining a large enough training base to train replacement personnel and units. His story was captured in this little book which is both fascinating and instructive entitled, “An Unknown Future and a Doubtful Present: Writing the Victory Plan of 1941.”
A slight divergence if you may. The US Army prior to 1941 was tiny, a product of the isolationist foreign policy that dominated the 1920s and 1930s for certain, but more due to the complete and utter lack of funding and resources due to the Depression. As of September 1st, 1939, as seen here, the Regular Army consisted of 189,867 personnel. An additional 200,000 poorly trained and equipped troops and units came out of the Army National Guard, and another 100,000 personnel were out of an ill-formed Army Reserve (it actually wasn’t called the Army Reserve until 1954, but that’s another story for another time.) So there were less than half a million personnel within the Total Army, and many of them were old, in poor health, and generally unable to meet the demands of modern warfare, so they were let go by Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, including 600 officers.
By 1945, the US Army had grown to immense size, with approximately 8.267 million personnel within the ranks. In less than six years, the US Army had increased in size 16 times from less than 500,000 in 1939 to a shade over eight and quarter million in 1945. A truly amazing feat, requiring the best minds, an immense commitment by the American people, and an industrial base that ended the war as the largest in the world by several orders of magnitude.
So why does that matter? Well, today’s Total Army is less than 1.1 million personnel overall, and there’s no steady stream of draftees and volunteers entering the system. An unprogrammed loss of 102,000 personnel, on top of the roughly 80,000 new soldiers required just to maintain the 1.1 million Army, will have outsized impacts across the military and more than likely, to you, the reader as well. If the Army National Guard, using one example, forces 40,000 personnel out due to COVID-19 vaccine refusals, there’s almost certainly going to be an impact to domestic operations. That’s the lexicon used when National Guard forces are activated by their respective Governor to respond to hurricanes, riots, floods and the like. The 40,000 person loss won’t be spread out evenly across the 54 states and territories of course, those losses will be concentrated in the Gulf Coast states and the Deep South where the vaccines have been viewed with extreme skepticism from the start. I don’t even want to get into the more advanced analytics that need to be worked through, such as MOS-specific data (which jobs will be hit the hardest) or ethnic and racial data. All of this needs to be completed of course, and the initial effects, not to mention the second and third order effects, of losing roughly 10% of the Total Army will be immense, problematic, and next to impossible to recruit replacements for those leaving the Army.
And this brings me to the topic of Army Civilians, and their roles within the Army. Many Army Civilians, especially those in the “GS 13–15” ranks (these are senior civilians, equivalent in rank to field grade officers in uniform), are prior service or retired Army officers. As described in this piece by GovernmentExecutive.Com in 2018, “Nearly 1.5 in ten federal employees are eligible to retire today, according to data maintained by the government’s human resources office, though in five years that number will spike to three in 10.” These are pre-pandemic numbers, mainly driven by the Baby Boomer demographic retiring out of the workforce. In addition, the article states, “All told, about 14 percent of federal employees are currently eligible to retire, according to data provided to Government Executive by the Office of Personnel Management. In five years, that is expected to jump to 30 percent.” There was already a brain drain and experience drain occurring prior to the pandemic, and the pandemic accelerated retirements to an even higher level. You can see the actual statistics for DoD in that article as well.
In a recent Government Executive article, the authors looked into the newest attrition rates within the Federal agencies, and it’s not great news for the Army. As written, “The Veterans Affairs Department had the highest attrition rate in government, at 7.1%, followed by the Army, Air Force and Treasury Department.” The Army is now dealing with a higher than average loss in personnel within their civilian ranks as well. It is not known how many civilian personnel are leaving, either voluntarily or involuntarily, due to COVID-19 vaccine refusals. In any case, the Army’s civilian corps is now facing an aging out of its most experienced personnel, and it’s close to the top in the lack of job satisfaction as seen in the Government Executive article linked in this paragraph.
I hope that these last two articles have given some additional context to show the immense hurdle the Army is facing in order to maintain the all-volunteer Army. In the next installment of this series, I will examine why people are deciding to not enlist, why the Army and DoD have a ton of responsibility in making this problem worse, and some of this will shock, and anger, you.