Overstretch watch: Sergeants not earning their stripes

iStockphoto.com With all the recent talk of withdrawal and the surge, it’s easy to forget that the U.S. military remains stretched dangerously thin. The latest evidence? Unqualified soldiers are being promoted to sergeant, Salon reports. Given that noncommissioned officers are at the core of combat ops and training, this could be a big problem. Called ...

593616_080730_stripes5.jpg
593616_080730_stripes5.jpg

iStockphoto.com

With all the recent talk of withdrawal and the surge, it's easy to forget that the U.S. military remains stretched dangerously thin. The latest evidence? Unqualified soldiers are being promoted to sergeant, Salon reports. Given that noncommissioned officers are at the core of combat ops and training, this could be a big problem.

Called "paper boarding," the expedited promotions process can have some pretty nasty results. Officers lacking proper training and experience are often ill-equipped to deal with the realities of battle leadership. One of Salon's military sources recounted some paper-boarded officers who "freaked out" in battle, resulting in an incident that left their platoons badly shaken. Plus, guys who get an unfair job boost aren't likely to make friends with the older recruits who had to earn their stripes. If there is anything crucial in combat, it's keeping up morale -- and looking out for the guy next to you.

iStockphoto.com

With all the recent talk of withdrawal and the surge, it’s easy to forget that the U.S. military remains stretched dangerously thin. The latest evidence? Unqualified soldiers are being promoted to sergeant, Salon reports. Given that noncommissioned officers are at the core of combat ops and training, this could be a big problem.

Called “paper boarding,” the expedited promotions process can have some pretty nasty results. Officers lacking proper training and experience are often ill-equipped to deal with the realities of battle leadership. One of Salon‘s military sources recounted some paper-boarded officers who “freaked out” in battle, resulting in an incident that left their platoons badly shaken. Plus, guys who get an unfair job boost aren’t likely to make friends with the older recruits who had to earn their stripes. If there is anything crucial in combat, it’s keeping up morale — and looking out for the guy next to you.

Along with paper-boarding, the military has used some other questionable tactics in the past few years to deal with its retainment and recruitment woes. In 2005, stop-loss policies (compulsory retirement postponments), along with lower standards for criminal background checks and officer competency, became common practice. Some longtime sergeants have noted serious declines in standards as a result, like the promotion of soldiers considered “trainable” rather than ready to lead. The huge reduction in the number of occupational specialty shortages (such as for artillery expertise) also draws attention to the military’s hiring and promotion frenzy. Since 2005, 74 percent of those vacancies have been filled. This might be good in theory, but it calls vetting practices into serious question.

With plans to add 65,000 soldiers to its ranks by 2010, the Army is going to be on the lookout for more sergeants and junior officers (particularly if Afghanistan gets more U.S. troops). Lets hope the promotion process gets a bit more stringent in the meantime.

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