The Army is taking a hard look at the number of Soldiers who are designated as non-deployable and also at possibly reducing the frequency of permanent-change-of-station moves, Secretary of the Army Mark Esper said at a meeting with service organizations.
Esper spoke at the Military/Veteran Service Organization and Non-Federal Entity Partner Roundtable in the Pentagon Feb. 6.
Before his remarks, Esper thanked the MSO/VSO members, noting that they do an outstanding job — out of the limelight — advocating for Soldiers and their families on quality-of-life and readiness issues.
The organizations also share the Army’s story with the American public and lawmakers, most of whom have never served and know very little about issues that are important to Soldiers and the Army, he added.
More than 100,000 Soldiers are currently in a non-deployable status, Esper pointed out, adding that they are “hurting Army readiness.”
A business would not survive if 10 percent of its workforce could not perform its core mission, he said, yet the Army continues to carry these Soldiers on its rolls.
It’s also a health-of-the-force issue. For every Soldier who cannot deploy, someone must take that person’s place, and that puts a strain on an already over-deployed force.
Getting non-deployables transitioned out of the Army is “an approach I hate to do,” but it has to be done, he said. However, he also noted that the Army will do everything it can to help get as many Soldiers as possible changed to a deployable status.
For some, it may be very easy to do, he said — something as simple as getting some dental work done, for example. But for others, there’s no easy fix. Many are on extended profiles and will never be able to deploy.
The Army is also taking some proactive measures to reduce the number of Soldiers who get injured in the first place, he said. For instance, the Army is changing its physical fitness program to focus more on functional movements designed to strengthen the body in ways that reduce injuries. The Army is also looking to provide physical trainers at the small-unit level to provide better coaching on fitness and injury prevention.
Many Soldiers are PCSing every two or three years, which concerns Esper.
“Changing duty stations too often hurts families,” he said.
Spouses can’t find employment or get their jobs cut short, and kids are yanked from schools. In an effort to keep their kids in school or hang on to a good job, some families have opted for the Soldier to become a geographical bachelor, he said. That can’t be good for the family.
In addition, frequent PCS moves hurt team cohesion. Imagine a football team with a 30 percent turnover of players every year. It would be hard to win games that way, he said.
Besides that, frequent PCS moves cost the Army money, he added.
On the other side of the coin, moving can be good for career growth, he said, noting that in the private sector it’s a given that to climb the corporate ladder, one has to move on or stagnate.
Since issue of PCS moves is multifaceted and not cut-and-dried, any change would have to be studied carefully first, he said.
Perhaps a solution might be to offer Soldiers a choice of staying put or moving. Those who move might further their careers more than those who stay, but those who stay might have some compelling reasons to do so, such as caring for a sick relative, he said. For them, staying put would boost morale.
Esper touched on a number of other issues, including deployments.
More people are deployed today than when he served in the Army three decades ago, but the American people don’t really know that because fewer Soldiers are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, causing them to think there are fewer deployments overall.
The secretary also acknowledged that deploying too frequently takes a toll on family life and also impacts retention.
The Army is in a period of growth and met its recruiting mission last year, but it will take time for the numbers to increase. According to Esper, once the Army reaches those numbers, the frequency of Soldiers deploying will decrease.
In the meantime, the Army is examining certain missions around the world and asking hard questions about the size or necessity of continuing those missions, he said.
The Army is also looking at increasing home-station training times, he added.
Another topic that the secretary highlighted the importance of was the budget process and its negative impact on the Army — continuing resolutions in particular, as well as another possible government shutdown.
Reservists in particular felt the impact of the last shutdown, he said. They missed work to go train and then the government shut down, so they missed training as well.
That can’t be good for readiness, he said.
The MSO/VSO attendees told the secretary that they would try to carry that message to the American people and to Congress. The secretary thanked them for their support of Soldiers.