[Marxism] The US Military: Defeated By Its Own Junior Officer Corps?
M. Junaid Alam
mjunaidalam at msalam.net
Sun May 22 11:15:45 MDT 2005
Officers Plot Exit Strategy
Many young lieutenants and captains, key leaders in combat, are
deciding against Army careers in light of the open-ended war on
By Mark Mazzetti
Times Staff Writer
May 22, 2005
KILLEEN, Texas — Army Capts. Dave Fulton and Geoff Heiple spent 12
months dodging roadside bombs and rounding up insurgents along Baghdad's
"highway of death" — the six miles of pavement linking downtown Baghdad
to the capital city's airport. Two weeks after returning stateside to
Ft. Hood, they ventured to a spartan conference room at the local Howard
Johnson to find out about changing careers.
Lured by a headhunting firm that places young military officers in
private-sector jobs, the pair, both 26, expected anonymity in the
Instead, as Fulton and Heiple sipped Budweisers pulled from Styrofoam
coolers next to the door, they spotted nearly a dozen familiar faces
from their cavalry battalion, which had just ended a yearlong combat
tour in Iraq.
The shocks of recognition came as they exchanged quick, awkward glances
with others from their unit, each man clearly surprised to see someone
else considering a life outside the military.
"This is a real eye-opener," said Fulton, a West Point graduate who saw
a handful of cadets from his class. "It seems like everyone in the room
is either from my squad or from my class."
More than three years after the Sept. 11 attacks spawned an era of
unprecedented strain on the all-volunteer military, it is scenes like
this that keep the Army's senior generals awake at night. With thousands
of soldiers currently on their second combat deployment in Iraq or
Afghanistan and some preparing for their third this fall, evidence is
mounting that an exodus of young Army officers may be looming on the
It is especially troubling for Pentagon officials that the Army's pool
of young captains, which forms the backbone of infantry and armored
units deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, could be the hardest hit.
Last year, Army lieutenants and captains left the service at an annual
rate of 8.7% — the highest since 2001. Pentagon officials say they
expect the attrition rate to improve slightly this year. Yet interviews
with several dozen military officers revealed an undercurrent of
discontent within the Army's young officer corps that the Pentagon's
statistics do not yet capture.
Young captains in the Army are looking ahead to repeated combat tours,
years away from their families and a global war that their commanders
tell them could last for decades. Like other college grads in their
mid-20s, they are making decisions about what to do with their lives.
And many officers, who until recently had planned to pursue careers in
the military, are deciding that it's a future they can't sign up for.
The officers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan just wrapped up a year
of grueling counterinsurgency operations — a type of combat the U.S.
largely avoided after its struggle in Vietnam and that many in the
Pentagon believe is the new face of war. They were in Iraq during last
spring's uprisings in Fallouja and Najaf, June's transfer of power to an
interim Iraqi government and block-to-block fighting during the retaking
of Fallouja in November.
These officers have, in most cases, more counterinsurgency experience
than any of their superiors. And they are the people the Army most fears
The officers interviewed for this article are proud of what they
accomplished in Iraq and Afghanistan. And they are generally optimistic
that the two nations can eventually emerge as functioning, if unstable,
Those just returning from Iraq ended their combat tours on a positive
note with successful parliamentary elections in January, which had been
the singular focus of their deployment.
Yet their pride is tempered by uncertainty about what lies ahead in an
unconventional war in which victory may never be declared.
"The undefined goals of the war on terror are making it really hard for
the Army to keep people right now," Fulton said.
By the time they make captain, young officers are usually approaching
the end of their four- or five-year commitment. Army spokesman Lt. Col.
Bryan Hilferty said the attrition rate for junior officers was not yet
alarming, and the Army had several initiatives in place to help retain
those deciding whether to make a career out of the military.
The Pentagon hopes that by next year, a significant troop reduction in
Iraq will allow the Army to slow the pace of troop deployments, giving
soldiers two years at home for every year in battle.
Yet Pentagon officials admit it is uncertain that this can happen by 2006.
"I still don't know if we can make it," said a senior Army officer at
the Pentagon. "You tell me what Iraq is going to look like next year."
Meanwhile, the Army is dispatching combat units to Iraq and Afghanistan
after soldiers have had just one year at home, a pace that is taking a
toll around the country.
Timothy Muchmore, a civilian Army official at the Pentagon and a retired
tank officer, said he was worried about an exodus of young officers. He
summed up the problem this way:
"You take a junior officer, you send them overseas for a year. They win
a lot of medals, and they're a hero. But when you send them back a
second time, the odds go up that they won't make it home alive and it
becomes even harder on their family. Are they any more of a hero for
having served a second time? No.
"The guys returning from Iraq and Afghanistan believe they have done at
least the minimum for the security of their country, and they are proud
of their service," he said. "But the world is now their oyster."
*Inside the overheated conference room at the Howard Johnson in Killeen,
Fulton and Heiple listened to a well-rehearsed pitch about what the
world might have to offer.
At the front of the room, Andrew Hollitt, a beefy, gregarious former
Army officer turned headhunter spoke in marketing terms about how eager
private-sector employers were for young, combat-tested officers and
senior noncommissioned officers.
"You are a commodity that brings a tremendous amount to the table," he
told the packed room, sipping from a can of Budweiser. "I can sell
something that I believe in. And it's people like you."
The Lucas Group was not trying to persuade them to leave the Army,
Hollitt said, only to present them with another set of options.
"I am red, white and blue on the inside," the recruiter assured the
In a telephone interview after the recruiting session, Hollitt said he
had yet to see the same volume of young soldiers contact the Lucas Group
as he did during the late 1990s, when the military drawdown forced the
Pentagon to slash its numbers and push young officers out of the service.
At the same time, he said, the pace of Army deployments was clearly
having an effect — and that the quality of those leaving was very high.
"I am seeing the highest caliber of candidates now that I have seen in
five years of doing this," he said. "The companies we work with are
absolutely, unbelievably impressed."
Employers such as General Electric Co., Home Depot Inc. and others are
always on the lookout for managerial talent, Hollitt said, and mid-level
commanders tested in war are considered experienced leaders.
By the time they make captain, he said, the officers usually have
command experience leading an infantry or armor company, which forces
them to make life-and-death decisions on a daily basis.
After the session was over, Heiple and Fulton were wary about what they
had just heard. And it was not that the average starting salaries of
$50,000 to $70,000 were much more than they had earned in Iraq when
combat pay and bonuses were included.
Instead, one of their biggest concerns about working in the civilian
world was that it was "cheesier" and less serious than what they
currently do for a living.
"I kind of worry that the corporate world is a lot like 'Office Space,'
" said Heiple, referring to the 1999 movie that parodied American office
*The 1st Cavalry Division was considered for the assault on Baghdad in
2003 but ended up staying stateside as commanders in Washington and the
Middle East decided to pare down the invasion force.
When the division was notified that it would be heading to Iraq in 2004,
a year after the fall of Baghdad, the 1st Cav's officers thought they
had missed out on the action.
"I thought we were going to be the third string of the JV," Heiple said.
Far from being over, the war in Iraq had entered its bloodiest stage,
and Heiple and Fulton's battalion was in charge of patrolling Baghdad's
restive Al Rashid district. Their unit had the Sisyphean task of trying
to secure Baghdad's airport highway, the road many in the battalion
called the "shooting gallery" because of the constant attacks against
Over time and through grim experience, they learned the brutal rules
that govern counterinsurgency warfare.
They point with a certain amount of pride to a January incident that
occurred soon after the battalion's most respected and indispensable
Iraqi interpreter, Ethar, was assassinated.
Ethar had been lured to an insurgent safe house by another Iraqi
interpreter who had been paid off by insurgents. There, Ethar was
brutally beaten and shot in the head. Soldiers found his body while on
News of the death hit the battalion hard, and they planned their
revenge. Acting on information from an Iraqi source, the battalion hit
multiple targets around west Baghdad in a single night, which some of
the battalion's officers only half-jokingly called "the night of justice."
"We took down the whole cell" in a night, Fulton recalled, capturing or
killing all the insurgents on their target list.
"It was personal, and it felt really good," he added.
Heiple, a native of Jonestown, Pa., said he would not have traded for
anything the experience of leading troops in combat or of earning the
1st Cavalry's trademark Stetson hat and gold spurs — given to cavalry
soldiers when they have served in a combat zone.
Yet, with these achievements behind him, the Notre Dame graduate said he
was looking for a life with more stability. Heiple decided while he was
in Iraq that he would leave the Army when his commitment expires next
month. He plans to move with his girlfriend to Austin, where he hopes to
attend law school at the University of Texas.
Heiple's decision to leave the Army did not come suddenly. At 26, he
felt his window of opportunity to change careers was closing. The more
he thought about it, the more convinced he became that he wanted to
follow a different path.
"I can only wait so long," Heiple said.
Fulton spent eight years of his youth in the Congo, where his father
worked as a bush pilot. His family relocated to Haiti in 1990 and spent
three years there before they were evacuated before U.S. troops landed
on the island in 1994.
Fulton then moved to Redlands, Calif. When he was in high school there,
the military piqued his interest and he visited an Army recruiting
station. His test scores led one recruiter to suggest that he instead
apply to West Point. During his senior year, the late Rep. Sonny Bono
(R-Palm Springs) nominated Fulton for his military commission to the
armed forces academy in New York state.
Fulton returned from Iraq in March and went on a cruise to Mexico with
his wife during his 30-day leave. His wife, Fulton said, wants him to
leave the military more than anything.
In June, the two will move with their 3-year-old son to Ft. Knox, Ky.,
where Fulton will begin a six-month course on commanding armored units.
He will still have a year left of his Army commitment when the course is
completed, yet Fulton admits that given the Army's current pace of
deployments, he is leaning toward leaving the service.
"If West Point didn't have a five-year commitment," he said, "I'd
probably be pursuing something else right now. I know my wife would like
me to choose something else immediately."
*Careers in the balance
*A college graduate with an Army ROTC scholarship usually owes four
years of active duty to the military, along with a period in the Army
Reserves or National Guard. A West Point graduate owes five.
Army officials know that if they are able to persuade captains to remain
in uniform a few years past their initial commitment, the odds are good
they will eventually commit to a full 20-year military career.
But in the words of one Army captain, a West Point graduate who spent 10
months in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004 and plans to leave the Army next
year: "A lot of guys making their decision at the five-year mark are not
making their decision for [just] the next three years. They are making
their decision about whether to make a career out of the military.
"The guys in my age group are looking ahead and deciding that's not a
life they want to live."
Mid-level officers around the country are confronting the same choice.
The 1-34 armor battalion of the 1st Infantry Division returned last year
to Ft. Riley, Kan., after a year in Iraq's so-called Sunni Triangle, the
region of heaviest conflict. The battalion is expecting to return to
Iraq later this year, and many young officers are choosing to get out
Capt. Eric Emerling, the battalion's fire support officer, is one of
three captains who decided to leave after returning from Iraq. Emerling
said he initially looked forward to a career in the Army. When he
returned, his superiors offered him command of an artillery battery, a
milestone promotion for a career officer.
But he and his wife decided in January that they did not want to commit
to a future of "repeated deployments for the next 13 years."
"What tipped the scale is that I have a 2-year-old daughter. I want more
stability for her," Emerling said by telephone, his little girl in the
background competing for her father's attention. "I missed the first
half of her life. I'm not willing to do that again."
The 27-year-old captain is moving to Connecticut, where he has a job
with a landscaping company. He said he was concerned about the Army's
future, with many of the military's young leaders planning their exits.
"I see how many people are getting out here at my local unit level. It's
a bit of a worry," he said. "We lost a lot of lieutenants and captains."
*Life outside the zone
*Heiple and Fulton live in an apartment complex in Georgetown, Texas, an
Austin suburb 30 miles south of Ft. Hood's main gate. When searching for
housing after they returned from Iraq, they specifically sought
apartments some distance from the base.
Killeen, with its infrastructure catering to thousands of soldiers and
their families, provides constant reminders of military life. But in
Georgetown, a soldier walking the streets in desert camouflage is a rarity.
The young officers are coming to the end of their post-deployment
"reintegration" period — several weeks of administrative briefings and
counseling sessions before they are allowed to leave post for 30 days to
visit friends and family.
With their feet propped up on a coffee table piled high with newspapers,
DVD cases and back issues of the Economist, Heiple and Fulton watch
"Matrix Revolutions" on the recently purchased 50-inch flat screen
television in the living room of their neighbor — Capt. Vincent Tuohey,
another member of their battalion just back from Iraq.
With distractions such as basketball, bars and new electronic equipment,
there is plenty for the young officers to focus on besides their time in
Iraq, or on the steady stream of violent news out of the country.
Said Heiple: "You don't purposefully avoid the news. But you don't go
out of your way to find it, either."
Tuohey, a Harvard graduate from Annapolis, Md., who earned a master's
degree from Cambridge University in Britain, served the last year as an
executive officer for a cavalry unit in west Baghdad.
Like all of the soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division who just returned
to Ft. Hood, Tuohey is readjusting to life outside a combat zone.
He is edgy sitting in traffic, having taught himself in Iraq to maneuver
his Bradley fighting vehicle to avoid city traffic and the inevitable
insurgent attacks. The first time he got into a car when he returned to
Ft. Hood, his heart began racing and he broke out in a sweat.
Tuohey was a lieutenant during his deployment in Iraq and is proud that
most of the decision-making for counterinsurgency missions fell to the
Army's youngest officers.
"At no time before has the Army had LTs [lieutenants] who have made
decisions like that on a daily basis," he said.
As he sees it, the military now has an entire generation of young
officers who are battle-hardened and knowledgeable about battling
Even in Iraq, he said, senior commanders were keenly aware of those
officers who might be considering leaving the military and applied
various degrees of pressure to persuade them to remain in uniform.
They appeal to the sense of mission, Tuohey said, and the sense of
purpose of military life that doesn't exist in the outside world. And
they usually bring up an example of a friend who left the Army only to
regret the decision.
Yet Tuohey, who was promoted to captain upon returning to Ft. Hood, said
he was not sure whether he would stay in the Army when his commitment
ended next year. He said he was tempted to work on Wall Street.
It's not the money he's after. It's the fact that an Army that was
gutted after the Cold War was promising him a future of perpetual
deployments fighting a war that could last for decades.
That is not a future he is sure he can commit to.
"What's the end point?" he asked. "When do you declare victory?"
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