- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By 2LT Alexander Guittard, USAR
Best Defense guest reservist
When you apply for a job, you can expect that, at some point, someone will examine your resume and ask themselves, "Will this person be a good fit in our organization?" The Army, unfortunately, does not ask this question when determining branch assignments for newly commissioned ROTC officers. This process lacks human analysis and instead relies heavily on non-standardized academic evaluation data.
As a result, the Army is failing to assign ROTC-commissioned officers in a manner that best aligns the new lieutenants’ capabilities with the needs of the Army. While this may be a source of professional frustration for our junior officers, the ROTC branch assignment process should be a source of concern for the Army as a whole. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in university tuition and military training for ROTC cadets, the Army’s branch assignment process fails to maximize the return on our investment in our ROTC cadets.
In order to determine branch assignment, Army ROTC cadets are evaluated on a range of performance criteria and ranked on a national Order of Merit List (OML). In general, those near the top of the list are more likely to receive their first choice of branch while those further down may find themselves subject to the needs of the Army. The single greatest input in the calculation of OML standing is a cadet’s cumulative academic GPA. In this process, the Army treats all GPAs equally. The problem with this is that, in reality, not all GPAs are equal. A 3.5 in criminology from a third-tier university is not equal, neither in terms of intellectual rigor nor in value to the Army, to a 3.5 in applied science from a top institution. In my observation, cadets recognize this and tend to congregate in easier academic fields that often have little to do with their future occupation as an officer but give them a greater chance of being assigned to their desired branch.
The examination of a cadet’s academic record would require the introduction of a missing factor in branch assignment: human analysis that asks the question, "Will this person be a good fit in our organization?" By not asking this question and relying so heavily on non-uniform academic evaluation criteria, the Army is missing an opportunity to assign personnel in a more efficient manner. Some real life examples would be a cadet who speaks fluent Arabic and has a MA from a Middle Eastern university but is assigned to the Infantry rather than Military Intelligence, or the assignment of a cadet with a business degree and experience in accounting to the Chemical Corps and not Finance, Logistics, or Adjutant General. While the skills of both of those officers could be useful in their current assignments, the Army is failing to maximize the return on its investment of education and training.
This problem could be solved, or at least mitigated, through the institution of a selection board comprised on officers and NCOs of the cadet’s desired branch who would ask themselves the question, "Will this person be a good fit in our organization?" Combat Arms boards, for example, could give greater weight to experiences that are important to success in their organizations, such as being a student leader or a captain in a varsity sport, while Military Intelligence could give greater weight to factors such as language proficiency or a degree in area studies. The boards could even be convened during the annual Warrior Forge exercise at Ft. Lewis, where all third-year Army ROTC cadets are already evaluated.
To be clear, the objective of this criticism is to improve the Army’s personnel management and not to suggest that the goals of individual officers should transcend the needs of the Army. However, I believe that the Army would be well served by reexamining the way in which is assigns career paths to junior officers. The introduction of selection boards that assess the suitability of individual cadets for their desired branches would produce better returns for the Army’s investment in its ROTC cadets by disincentivizing academic laziness and contributing to a more efficient officer corps with a higher level of professional satisfaction.
2LT Alexander Guittard is a Military Intelligence officer in the US Army Reserve. He is a recent graduate of Boston College, where he majored in Islamic Civilizations and Societies and Political Science and received his commission through Army ROTC.