This speaks volumes about how idiotic this war is. It also validates a point I made to the neocons here about why young people are joining the service. It's not because of patriotism, it's because of schooling. At least, it appears that's the reason for officers to join. The regular non-officers are joining more for a paycheck. IMO.

Young Officers Leaving Army at a High Rate
Published: April 10, 2006

WASHINGTON, April 9 Young Army officers, including growing numbers of captains who leave as soon as their initial commitment is fulfilled, are bailing out of active-duty service at rates that have alarmed senior officers. Last year, more than a third of the West Point class of 2000 left active duty at the earliest possible moment, after completing their five-year obligation.

It was the second year in a row of worsening retention numbers, apparently marking the end of a burst of patriotic fervor during which junior officers chose continued military service at unusually high rates.

Mirroring the problem among West Pointers, graduates of reserve officer training programs at universities are also increasingly leaving the service at the end of the four-year stint in uniform that follows their commissioning.

To entice more to stay, the Army is offering new incentives this year, including a promise of graduate school on Army time and at government expense to newly commissioned officers who agree to stay in uniform for three extra years. Other enticements include the choice of an Army job or a pick of a desirable location for a home post.

The incentives resulted in additional three-year commitments from about one-third of all new officers entering active duty in 2006, a number so large that it surprised even the senior officers in charge of the program. But the service's difficulty in retaining current captains has generals worriedly discussing among themselves whether the Army will have the widest choice possible for its next generation of leaders.

The program was begun this year to counter pressures on junior officers to leave active duty, including the draw of high-paying jobs in the private sector; the desires of a spouse for a calmer civilian quality of life at a time when the officers can be expected to be starting their families; and, for the past two years, the concerns over repeated tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Army has had a far more difficult time in its recruiting than the other services because the ground forces are carrying the heaviest burden of deployments and injuries and deaths in the war.

One member of the West Point class of 2000 who left active duty last year is Stephen Kuo, who took a job with a medical equipment company in Florida. Mr. Kuo said his decision was based on "quality of life." He is now recruiting classmates for his company.

"With the rotation of one year overseas, then another year or so back at home, then another overseas rotation it does take a toll on you," said Mr. Kuo, who served a year in combat in northern Iraq. "Plus, I was not enjoying the staff jobs desk jobs I was looking at for the next 8 to 10 years. Furthermore, the private sector had many lucrative offers."

But the chance at a free master's degree persuaded Brandon J. Archuleta, a West Point senior, to sign up for an extra three years in uniform.

"Education is extremely important to me, and I know I want a master's degree at the very least," Cadet Archuleta said. "The Army has a wonderful relationship with some of the top-tier graduate schools, especially in the Ivy League. I want to attend a school of that caliber."

In 2001, but before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, 9.3 percent of the Army's young officers left active duty at their first opportunity. By 2002, the number of those junior officers leaving at their first opportunity dropped to 7.1 percent, and in 2003, only 6.3 percent opted out. But the number grew to 8.3 percent in 2004 and 8.6 percent in 2005.

The statistics are even more striking among West Point graduates, who receive an Ivy League-quality education at taxpayer expense and, in the view of many senior officers and West Point alumni, owe the nation and the Army a debt of loyalty beyond the initial five years of active duty.

The retention rate at the five-year mark for the West Point class of 1999 was 71.9 percent in 2004, down from 78.1 percent for the previous year's class. And for the class of 2000, the retention rate fell to 65.8 percent, meaning that last year the Army lost more than a third 34. 2 percent of that group of officers as they reached the end of their initial five-year commitment.

That is the highest rate of loss over the past 16 years among West Point officers reaching the five-year mark. For young officers receiving their commissions in 2006, the Army will guarantee slots in the most sought-after branches of the service aviation, armor or intelligence, for example in exchange for an extra three years in uniform.

Similarly, if a young officer wants an initial posting to a desired location or an opportunity to earn a master's degree, the Army will guarantee either choice in exchange for three more years of active duty.

The West Point graduating class of 2006 responded at levels even higher than anticipated by senior officers at the military academy, with 352 of the 875 seniors 40.2 percent signing on to the program as they approached the date in late May when they would be commissioned as second lieutenants.

"It is an amazing response," said Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox Jr., the West Point superintendent. "It has exceeded how I thought the class would respond."

Across the entire Army this spring, 3,420 newly commissioned junior officers are expected to enter active duty, according to the Army's personnel office. Of those, 1,124 about one-third have agreed to serve an extra three years in uniform under the new program.

According to Army statistics, 718 signed up to choose their career track, 289 contracted for the graduate school opportunity 257 of them from West Point and 117 wanted to pick the location where they, and their families, would be based.

The graduate school program was carefully structured to keep officers in uniform even beyond the extra three-year commitment.

After completing a master's degree program, an officer also has to repay the Army with three months of service for every month back in the classroom. This could push some officers beyond an automatic 8 years of service, toward 12 years at which point, goes the thinking of the senior officers who devised the program, they may decide to stay in for a full 20.

"Today's officers make a career decision to come or go at the three- or four-year mark, while a decade ago they made it closer to the seven- or eight-year mark," said Lt. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, the Army's senior personnel officer.

"One of the salient issues in this information age is that if they are going to be competitive when they leave the Army whether at the 4-year mark, the 10-year mark or after 20 they have to maintain critical skills," General Hagenbeck said. "They want to have graduate schooling."

The cost of the program will depend on how many young officers enter graduate school in a given year, but Army personnel managers say that whatever the individual annual tuition fees, they are far less than the cost of training and preparing a new officer. The Army will cap individual tuition at $13,000 per year, although the service has already negotiated with a number of schools to waive the difference in fees.

At the five-year mark in their career, Army captains usually are in command of a company, a junior leadership position putting them at the center of the day-to-day fight. The Army needs even more company-level officers today, as it expands the number of its deployable brigade combat teams.