Filling the Ranks: Transforming the U.S. Military Personnel System

Article excerpt

Filling the Ranks: Transforming the U.S. Military Personnel System, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSI) Studies in International Security, edited by Cindy Williams. MIT Press (, 55 Hayward Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 021421493, 2004, 376 pages, $50.00 (hardcover), $25.00 (softcover).

Normally, one does not expect too much from an anthology made up of chapters written by various authors. Usually, the quality varies from chapter to chapter, and die resultant book often lacks cohesion around any central themes. Filling the Ranks is the exception that proves the rule. From cover to cover, it is well written and edited; the various authors are first-rate experts; and the book coheres around the theme of how the United States might convert its Cold War military personnel system to one more suitable and affordable for the new century.

There is little doubt that the system needs an overhaul and even less doubt that the task is a difficult one. Motivators are different; the required talents are often quite different. The other superpower is gone. Another peer competitor is not on the horizon. US armed forces are no longer forward deployed, for the most part. Rather, they have become more expeditionary in nature. The draft is gone, and the supply of high-quality males is limited. Women are increasingly a major factor and now are a growing element in the combat forces of the Air Force and Navy. Forces are older, and more of them are married. Requirements for technologically capable people have continued to grow in a steady, upward curve. Potential adversaries include not only the states of old but also all sorts of nongovernmental organizations posing a wide variety of threats at all points of the compass. It seems that quality has become relatively more important than quantity. Yet, die Cold War personnel system goes on with its associated obligations that make it an increasingly expensive consideration-but it is supported by a host of groups reluctant to accept radical change.

The distinguished contributors to Filling the Ranks include Owen R. Coté Jr., Aline O. Quester, Stephen Peter Rosen, Bernard Rostker, Elizabeth A. Stanley-Mitchell, and others. Most of diem are from leading research institutes, Ivy League schools, or government. Prominent among them are people from the Center for Naval Analyses.

One of the best essays, by Coté, predicts the kind of operational and technical world we will face as the century goes on. He estimates that the disappearance of die Cold World and the conventional military hegemony of the United States will increasingly lead to conflicts that avoid American strength. The conflicts will be more varied and harder to define, which in turn will require decentralization of both the operational and acquisition worlds. That means recruiting not only junior officers and enlisted personnel with a wider set of capabilities than those of the past, but also those willing and able to assume greater decision responsibilities. One implication of that requirement is the need to decrease costs through more-flexible pay systems since the United States can no longer afford to pay people in unskilled fields at the same rate required to attract and hold individuals with technological and operational skills of a higher order.

The chapter by Rosen, one of America's foremost scholars on military innovation, is most impressive. He understands that real personnel reform will require a difficult culture change. The present leadership has a lifetime investment in learning and experience that it is understandably reluctant to sacrifice for unproven virtues. One of Rosen's examples of obvious reforms difficult to change is the US individual replacement system in place since World War II. …