Recent graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point are choosing to leave active duty at the highest rate in more than three decades, a sign to many military specialists that repeated tours in Iraq are prematurely driving out some of the Army's top young officers.How bad are the numbers?
According to statistics compiled by West Point, of the 903 Army officers commissioned upon graduation in 2001, nearly 46 percent left the service last year -- 35 percent at the conclusion of their five years of required service, and another 11 percent over the next six months. And more than 54 percent of the 935 graduates in the class of 2000 had left active duty by this January, the statistics show.
The figures mark the lowest retention rate of graduates after the completion of their mandatory duty since at least 1977, with the exception of members of three classes in the late 1980s who were encouraged to leave as the military downsized following the end of the Cold War.
But the sharpest increases in those leaving the military were among those whose commitments expired in 2005 and 2006, as many units were going back to Iraq and Afghanistan for their second and third tours. In each of those years, covering the classes of 2000 and 2001, about 35 percent got out at their earliest opportunity.Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that the Bush White House is looking for somebody to take over as "war czar", to run the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns - and getting no takers:
The rate was significantly more than the classes from 1977 to 1986, which averaged 18 percent. For those who graduated between 1990 and 1999, 29 percent left after their five-year commitment.
The White House wants to appoint a high-powered czar to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies, but it has had trouble finding anyone able and willing to take the job, according to people close to the situation.The other generals noted in the article are retired Army General Jack Keane ("one of the primary proponents of sending more troops to Iraq" who "presented Bush with his plan for a major force increase during an Oval Office meeting in December") and retired Air Force General Joseph Ralston, a former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
At least three retired four-star generals approached by the White House in recent weeks have declined to be considered for the position, the sources said, underscoring the administration's difficulty in enlisting its top recruits to join the team after five years of warfare that have taxed the United States and its military.
"The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," said retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks,' " he said.
Yep, I feel a whole lot safer now. </sarcasm> Especially since I just saw this gem from the Army Times:
Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Wednesday that all active Army soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest of the Central Command area of operations will spend a total of 15 months in theater.That's a twenty-five percent increase in tour length, with no corresponding increase in recovery time. Back in my day, the Navy aimed for no more than one-third of a unit's time spent on deployment (six months out, six months recovery and maintenance, six months working up), and I could have sworn that the Army had (or used to have) a similar policy. Gates' new plan is for combat outfits to spend at least fifty-five percent of the time deployed!
Insane. Just completely insane. This administration is doing everything it can to wear out the armed services.