A Better Response to the Recruiting Crisis
Maintaining standards is more important than "making mission"
Over time, the standards that a person must meet in order to enlist in one of the armed services of the United States have varied considerably. At times when recruits abound, the qualifications required of them go up. When, however, recruits are hard to find, these requirements go down.
Unfortunately, the further standards fall, the greater the tendency of people to view the barracks as a refuge for losers in search of “three hots and a cot.” This stigma, in turn, discourages the enlistment of people able to surmount a much higher bar. In other words, like the debasement of currency, a reduction in the prerequisite virtues required of recruits is a short-term solution with ruinous long-term costs.
In addition to discouraging the enlistment of men and women of quality, the acceptance of large numbers of substandard volunteers fosters the rise of dysfunctional organizational cultures. Thus, rather than pushing their subordinates to “be all they can be,” leaders devote their best energies to keeping them out of trouble. Rather than focusing on the finer points of enfilade and defilade, commanders waste their time on visits to the brig (or stockade), the award of non-judicial punishment, and the enforcement of increasingly picayune rules.
Because of this ‘multiplier effect’, the armed forces would be much better off if they held kept their standards high, even at the cost of considerable gaps in the ranks. After all, a clever commander can turn a unit composed entirely of NCOs and officers into an academy for the study of tactics. If, however, every second or third place in the ranks is filled with a half-wit or a hoodlum, both the commander and his deputies will be too busy playing baby sitter, policeman, and social worker to devote much attention to the arts and sciences of war.
Similarly, if a handful of quality recruits find themselves in units composed largely of NCOs, they will enjoy many opportunities to prepare themselves for service in positions of greater responsibility. If, however, capable men and women find themselves surrounded by the aforementioned half-wits and hoodlums, the people who should be serving as their role models and mentors will be otherwise engaged.
Should the proverbial balloon go up at a time when qualified recruits are in short supply, a unit composed largely of leaders can be deployed in the manner of a battalion tactical group. That is, a platoon of three sergeants and nine corporals would become a complete squad and a company of twelve sergeants and thirty-six corporals would make a full platoon.1
Of course, one might argue that the battalion tactical groups that took part in the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the winter and spring of 2022 suffered greatly from a lack of dismounts. While this may well have been the case, the absence of desantniki seems to have resulted from a low ratio of professionals to conscripts. In other words, the Russian practice of forming units composed entirely of NCOs and officers would work better for Americans than it did for the Russians.
Some manpower mavens would, I suspect, take umbrage at the sort of policy described in this post. In particular, they would express concern about the effect of gaps in the ranks on the “pipelines” designed to provide the forces of the future with NCOs of various trades, ratings, and specialties.
In anticipation of such complaints, I would remind the personnel people that a lad or lass who can barely perform the duties of a private probably lacks the makings of a first-class NCO. To underline this point, I would tell tales of “seventies trash,” persons who, having enlisted (or been commissioned) at a time when standards were low, did to America’s armed forces what barnacles do to a ship: taking up space, slowing things down, and lowering expectations.
For Further Reading:
This example presumes a company organized in the manner of a Marine rifle company of the second half of the last century. However, the basic principle applies to any unit in which the ratio of NCOs to non-rated personnel is roughly one to two.