Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is looking to allow civilians with strong resumes and valuable skill sets to “laterally” enter the military with starting ranks as high as O-6.
The controversial idea is a piece of Ash Carter’s “Force of the Future” scheme for personnel reform, which was revealed on June 9th as a way for the US Military to bring in more talent- particularly in more technological fields, according to Military Times.
Supporters of the concept claim that the move will fill the gaps in the military where manpower has fallen short of highly-skilled professionals that can only be found in abundance in the civilian sector.
Meanwhile, critics say that the concept erodes the military tradition of growing its own leaders from a distinct culture and social fabric, which many feel is the reason for the military’s effectiveness. In addition, it may create a faction of military leaders who are intrinsically disconnected from the rest of the service.
“They will enter a culture they don’t know, understand or potentially appreciate,” said Dakota Wood, a retired Marine officer and military expert at the Heritage Foundation. “The Marines around them will likely be challenged to appreciate them as they would a fellow Marine.”
If Congress approves the measure, several challenges will be faced in the development of the program, with matters of training, promotions and retention being of great concern. However, one of the greatest concerns is also one of the simplest- a matter of dollars and cents.
Under the current military pay structure, a laterally-entered colonel or captain with one year of service would make considerably less money than a servicemember of equal rank who has put in 20 years or more. In addition, the current military retirement system doesn’t offer much for short-term service. With military wages already being on the suffering end of the widening gap with their civilian sector counterparts, there may not be much incentive to “cross over”.
While the Navy is the most enthusiastic about the idea, the Air Force and Army are more on the fence over the issue. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps seems to be showing the most resistance.
Carter has taken note of critics, saying it is unlikely that laterals would affect jobs that have no civilian counterparts -such as infantry or combat aviation- and would only apply to fields such as cyber warfare.
Now, I have to say we can’t do this for every career field- far from it,” Carter said. “It will probably never apply to line officers, as they’ll always need to begin their military careers as second lieutenants and ensigns. But allowing the military services to commission a wider segment of specialized outside talent … will make us more effective.”
For now, each individual military service would have to decide for themselves where to place laterals, seeing where they would be most useful- and excluding them from where they may prove a hindrance.
“There are some cultural issues,” said former Pentagon personnel chief Brad Carson, who helped write up the reforms. “People who come in won’t just have to have the skills. They’ll have to have a military bearing and understand the military ethic. You don’t just get that by walking in off the street.”
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