MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program (MVP) and Cyberonics Announce Veteran and Transitioning Military Re-careering Workshop

 

MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program: Recareering transitioning military and veterans into compelling careers in the life sciences. (PRNewsFoto/MedTech BioTech Veterans Program)    

 

Continuing the successful series of nationwide recareering workshops, the MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program (www.mvpvets.org) is announcing the seventh Veteran and Transitioning Military Recareering event for 2014.  The program, which is free for veterans and those transitioning from the military, helps veterans find careers in life sciences companies, is partnering with Cyberonics in Houston to host 10 veterans in a daylong seminar which will provide insights into the Medical Device industry, partnering with mentors, a job skills workshop, and interaction with hiring managers and Human Resources professionals from the the company.  The company and the industry have many positions in areas such as supply chain, supervision, management, human resources, and other functional areas that they are eager to fill with veterans and those transitioning from the military.

A press release about the event follows:

HOUSTON, Oct. 14, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — On November 19, 2014, Houston, TX-based Cyberonics, Inc. (NASDAQ:CYBX; www.cyberonics.com) will partner with the MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program (www.mvpvets.org) to conduct a re-careering event for transitioning military and veterans in south Texas.

Military personnel in transition from service and honorably discharged veterans are invited to apply for the opportunity to participate in this free one-day seminar that will include active one-on-one mentoring, resume building and personal engagement with hiring managers seeking to employ program participants.

The event brings veterans and transitioning military together with mentors from the medical technology industry while they participate in active sessions that include resume review and refinement, job interview training and rehearsals, creating a professional online presence in social media, and networking.  Cyberonics will also consider participants for internship opportunities.

Space is limited, and pre-registration is required to ensure that participants get a seat at the event.

Details:

Date:  November 19, 2014

Time:  8:00 a.m.4:30 p.m.

Location:  Cyberonics Building, 100 Cyberonics Blvd., Houston, TX 77058

Cost:  There is no cost for veterans and transitioning military.  All materials, breakfast, lunch, and parking are provided free of charge.

Registration:  Transitioning military and veterans interested in participating in the program can register at the MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program website (http://www.mvpvets.org/mvpvets-event-interest-form).  Pre-registration is required, and space is limited to 10 participants.

About Cyberonics:

Cyberonics is a medical technology company with core expertise in neuromodulation.  The company developed and markets the Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) Therapy System, which is FDA-approved for the treatment of refractory epilepsy and treatment-resistant depression.  The VNS Therapy System uses a surgically implanted medical device that delivers pulsed electrical signals to the vagus nerve.  Cyberonics markets the VNS Therapy System in selected markets worldwide.

About the MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program (MVP):

The MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program is a nonprofit organization with the mission to bring 5,000 veterans and transitioning military into the Life Sciences by 2018.  A fiscally sponsored 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity, MVP brings active training and mentorship together with an integrated collaborative online portal and eLearning from the Life Collaborative in a concerted effort to help those who have served the country in uniform re-career into meaningful and impactful careers in the MedTech, BioTech, Pharmaceutical, BioFuels, and Wireless Medical Technology sectors.

If you are in the Houston area and would like to participate, please do sign up!

 

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A Perspective on the VA

As a veteran, I have been observing the ongoing events at the Department of Veterans Affairs with more than a passing interest.  Secret lists, overwhelmed medical facilities, a seemingly impenetrable bureaucracy, misguided compensation for questionable management practices – the hits just never seem to keep coming when it comes to news about he VA.

As a veteran, I am also a consumer of the VA’s programs: I was fortunate to be able to use the GI Bill for school, I go to a VA medical clinic for my checkups, and I engage with VA representatives who work hard every day to help veterans find jobs.

For me it is an interesting dichotomy.  I am neither a VA basher nor a VA cheerleader, but instead I am simply one of the approximately 22 million men and women in the United States who fall under the purview of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  And, to be quite honest, my experience has been a good one.

Because of the VA I was able to attend the University of Colorado to pursue my bachelor’s degree and, twenty years later, the University of Southern California and attain a Masters degree in Business Administration.  The nagging physical conditions that I incurred as a result of 27 years in uniform are covered by the VA medical system, and I have never had a really negative experience in obtaining care or the quality of the care that I have received.  I bought a house using a VA loan.  Twice.  I have a host of benefits as a result of my service; things ranging from access to state and federal parks for free (or at least at a discount) to increased opportunities for my children when they pursue college on their own.

The VA has some real problems, of that there is no doubt.  Eric Shinseki, an honorable man, retired general, and decorated combat veteran, was necessarily sacrificed on the altar of responsibility that comes with being the man in charge, and his ouster certainly sends a clear message that the VA will be accountable for its performance.

As it should be.

But let’s not forget for a moment the millions of veterans who are receiving the benefits that they have earned by wearing the cloth of the nation, the overwhelming majority of which are administered by dedicated and professional men and women who work at the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Overgeneralization paints those who work diligently and assiduously with the same brush of those who are dishonest and unengaged, and to paint them all with the same brush does a disservice that the countless dedicated and hard working people at the VA do not deserve.

So remember that the VA is doing a tremendous amount of really great work for veterans even though some elements of the organization have failed to meet their obligation.  There is a baby in that bathwater- make sure it doesn’t get thrown out!

 

What employers are really looking for

I have been fortunate to participate in no small number of veteran employment panels in which human resources professionals and corporate recruiters share their insights with veterans.  Time and again the same question invariably is posed to the panel:

“What are employers really looking for?”

That really is the million dollar question, and it is invariably answered with a single word:

“Skills.”

It sounds simplistic, but it’s true.  Employers are seeking to fill holes in their organizational chart, and those holes must be filled by people who are qualified to perform the tasks and assume the responsibilities that come with the job.  Those who have served in the military are certainly ready to assume the responsibility that comes with a position within a company; after all, responsibility is what wearing a uniform is all about.  Responsibility to protect and defend the nation and its citizens, responsibility to  comrades in arms, and the responsibility to effectively lead others with both compassion and professionalism.

A sense of responsibility and commitment is part of being in the military, and it doesn’t vanish once they hang up their uniforms.  It is a part of their character.

What veterans and transitioning military lack, however, are skills.

Let me back up a moment to explain what I mean.  In the military each and every man and woman is expected to master not just one, but two sets of skills: those skills that define their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS – such as artillery, administration, maintenance, etc.) and those skills that define their military service.  They can learn everything from how to drive a tank to how to fly a stealth bomber through their technical training regimen, but before they get the keys to an M-1 Abrams Main Battle Tank those who sign up must first begin the acculturation and training process that brings them into the martial fold.

They get to go to bootcamp.  Or OCS.

Whether as a recruit or an officer candidate, the privilege of wearing the uniform must be earned through the successful completion of an intense entry level training program.  Regardless of which service a person joins, he or she must go through the crucible of acculturation that forever changes them from a civilian to a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine.  Once the right to wear the uniform is earned the newly minted graduate ships out to their MOS school, which is where they learn how to perform their specific job.

It doesn’t end there.  Throughout  a person’s military career (whether it be three years or thirty), he or she is continually learning about leadership, reinforcing a committed work ethic, and being a member or leader of ever growing teams in addition to increasing their technical expertise.  In short, military professionals are developing their skills continually from the day they join until the day they leave.  The skill sets of those in uniform don’t stop expanding until they get out.

It is the skills that come from being in the military that employers are looking for.  In the words of an army veteran and CEO of a multimillion dollar medical technology company:

“I want to hire people who were just like I was when I left the military.  Eager to learn, eager to work, and eager to be part of a team that is out to accomplish something.  I want to hire veterans because I know they will work hard and I don’t need to teach them how to work with other people.”

In short, the business world is looking to hire people with the skills that come with being a military professional.

The problem is that so many veterans only identify themselves by their MOS skills and as a result they sell themselves short.  They only see themselves as an infantryman, an truck driver, or a bulk fuel delivery specialist, and they present themselves as such.  I don’t know how many times I have heard “I’m just a dumb grunt.  Nobody is hiring grunts in the civilian world!”, but it’s somewhere in the thousands.  And that is the problem.

Veterans need to present themselves to employers as solutions to their manpower problems, and a big part of being the solution are the “soft skills” that those in uniform possess.  Things like commitment, sense of responsibility, work ethic, and leadership.  The corporate executives and hiring managers I speak with are unanimous in their desire to hire people with those qualities, and those are qualities that all veterans (except for the knuckleheaded few) possess.

Veterans and those transitioning out of the military will be more successful in their search for a new career if they can present both the soft skill set that the acquired while in uniform and the skills that meet the needs of the company. The rub, however, is how to learn the specific skills that the employer is looking for.

Those are the skills that I referred to earlier.  Job- or industry-specific skills.

There are many ways that veterans can build their specific skills set, and a great many of those ways are completely free.  Veterans can research the requirements for a job or industry that they like through websites like careerbuilder.com and monster.com.  They can meet with people already in the industry through networking events such as the Marine Executive Association, NavNet, or social networking groups such as meetup.com.  They can participate in local company and industry sponsored programs such as the Business 101  or nationwide programs like the MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program (MVP).  By conducting research, networking with others, and taking advantage of free industry sponsored training a veteran can tangibly begin to fill the gap in their skills and make themselves more competitive for the great jobs and careers that are out there.

There are a lot of ways to build the skills that employers are seeking.  All you need to do is get started.

A truly insightful look into the 1st, 2d, and 3d order effects of breaking the military retirement promise

This is a repost of Tony Carr’s exceptional piece on the effects, both intended and unintended, of breaking the nation’s commitment to its military retirees.  The implications of changing the COLA for the military retirement plan go infinitely deeper than simply saving the taxpayer six billion dollars.  In my humble opinion this article is the best yet written on the COLA debate, and you can go to the original posting at John Q. Public.

Risk and Promise: Strategic Advice for Congress

Since 1973, America has relied on volunteers to fight its wars, and they have relied on America to take care of them when the fighting is over.

Led by Paul Ryan and Patty Murray but abetted by Barack Obama, Congress recently gambled with our nation’s future for an extremely modest short-term gain. In doing so, it was given aid and comfort by knowledge-starved pundits, axe-grinding editorial boards, and self-anointed armchair analysts everywhere, as it  left the military and veteran community standing with their jaws on the ground in despairing disbelief.  Exploiting pressure to strike a budget compromise, Ryan and Murray entered into an unholy alliance to reduce veteran pensions – including those already vested under previous covenants – by an average of $84,000 to $120,000.  They obscured this act, as often happens when attempting to mislead, by employing complex-sounding budget doublespeak to minimize the magnitude of the associated moral breach as well as the consequences to veterans and families.  In a way, this debacle can be seen as part of our nation’s continual inability to comprehend and bear the costs of being a global superpower with quasi-imperial interests secured by less than one-half of one percent of its population.  But the particulars in this case suggest something more disturbing lurking behind the standard wallet-grabbing Congressional milieu: a startling absence of strategic deliberation.  When such a deficit impairs elected leaders responsible for national security, potentially grave consequences attend.

Good strategists always ask of any potential course of action two key questions.  First, what will this do for us?  And second, what will this do to us?  Given the dearth of statesmanly impulse at the national level in modern America, it is perhaps unsurprising that in crafting the recent budget, Paul Ryan and Patty Murray asked only the former question, leaving the latter for others to worry about.

The provision at issue retroactively renegotiated the deferred compensation of more than two million military veterans – including tens of thousands still serving in harm’s way — who did their duty in reliance on promises around which they structured their lives. The vast majority of these veterans endured historically abusive operational tempos. Most will carry with them the invisible scars of war for the rest of their lives, running up against psychological limits that in subtle but consequential ways – ways no one who hasn’t served could possibly understand even if veterans were immodest enough to attempt explanation.

Many transitioned out of military service (or will in the future) to find that their skills and capabilities did not translate well in the private sector.  This can slow earnings growth, making an earned military pension critical during the adaptation to civilian life in a down economy.  Those retirees fortunate enough to preserve their marriages have typically dragged spouses through a dozen or so relocations, never giving them a chance to establish professional footing.  This is key, not just in terms of the sacrifices rendered by military families, but in economic terms; in modern America, two incomes are now required to generate the same standard of living one income provided thirty years ago, and this is often beyond the reach of retired military families who have led very abnormal lives prior to retirement.

The All-Volunteer Force relies heavily on the 17% of its members who choose to serve for a career, most of whom are NCOs.

The shorthand employed by Ryan to sell his beloved pension cut envisions healthy, well-adjusted, fattened mercenaries stepping into corporate America to collect millions during the balance of their working years.  How he arrived at this vision boggles the imagination; most retirees struggle to integrate into a new workplace with skills that don’t directly translate while trying to keep pace with competitors roughly half their age.  73% of retirees are noncommissioned officers whose pensions are barely sufficient to keep them above the poverty line.  As a rule of thumb, these people are figures of sympathy rather than valid targets of the socialistic “they don’t need it anyway” notion behind Ryan’s sales pitch.

Ryan and Murray obviously weren’t thinking about these issues.  They also weren’t thinking about the fact that every veteran who has retired since the year 2000 made a decision upon reaching 15 years of service: either turn down a $30,000 career status bonus and retain an inflation-protected pension upon reaching retirement, or accept the bonus and also accept a 1% annual reduction in cost-of-living adjustment with a one-time “catch-up” at age 62.  Most veterans chose inflation protection, which ends up being worth far more in most calculations than the bonus. In summarily removing inflation protection from all military pensions, Congress breached the contract formed with those who turned down the 15-year bonus.  It did this without holding a single committee meeting or public hearing. In a clear signal it wasn’t thinking strategically, Congress did this in a back room not populated by the joint chiefs, who claim to have been surprised by the provision altogether.

But this all makes sense if Ryan and Murray were only asking “what will this do for us?” And it did a couple of things.  First, it bought them the public acquiescence of the service chiefs, who are desperate for funds given the limits of sequestration imposed without mission relief.  Their only option to preclude mission failure is to hold open the gate while others raid the pensions of the very people whose interests they’re charged to safeguard.  This perversely explains why they said nothing as a provision impacting the career decisions of every active duty and retired member of the military sailed through uncontested.

But what the provision really did for those who championed it was to lay the groundwork for a new funding stream to perpetuate pork barrel spending.  If this provision sticks, Congress will have retroactively renegotiated the compensation contracts of more than two million war veterans during a time of war.  If a promise of this magnitude can be rendered so cheap with so little effort, nothing is sacred. This will create broad legitimacy for further pension and benefit raiding, making this just the first of many breached promises and a lucrative source of cash by which Congress can purchase electoral advantage.  It does this by funding needless bases and infrastructure (to supply jobs in their districts), by acquiring and continuing to operate needless weapons (again, jobs), and by continuing to support the nation’s promiscuous involvement in wars of choice that are a boon for defense contractors and war profiteers . . . and therefore, a steady source of votes and contributions.  Footnote: this is an election year.

The Ryan-Murray pension-raid was not a “mistake” as some have claimed and as I’ve suggested elsewhere is a fallacious notion.  It was a calculated breach of the faith for short-term political advantage.  Ryan, Murray, Obama, Hagel, and the rest of those who pushed and supported this knew they were acting immorally, but were willing to accept doing so out of a rational calculation of what it would do for them.  What they didn’t ask is what it might do to them . . . or more importantly, what it might do to us, the nation they claim to lead.

In the modern age, politicians tend to be tacticians rather than strategists.  They’re interested in winning a series of short-term battles that supply them with talking points for use in the next election.  This is so because getting elected has replaced principled leadership as the contemporary political raison d’etre.  By extension, raising campaign funds has come to dominate the activity of elected representatives, displacing time and focus essential to strategic reflection. But in failing to take a sober, adult look at the future when making decisions, politicians assume huge risks on the behalf of the nation as they collect rewards that fall narrowly to them.  When it comes to the legal heist recently carried out against veteran pensions, the risks are enormous.

Alienating today’s warriors risks destroying the willingness of others to step forward in the future.  Military service is very much a family business; it’s difficult to find an active member who isn’t acting on the example of a relative or ancestor. Military service immerses individual warriors in a system of values rooted in honor, trust, and commitment.  This makes them particularly sensitive to moral compromises.  Ordinarily content to serve with quiet obedience, military members will not hesitate to sound off when they see an obvious moral wrong perpetrated (and woe betide us as a country if ever they became blithely accepting of such wrongs).  They’ve shown in the past few weeks that attempts to breach trust with them will not go unnoticed or unmarked.  The implication for politicians is clear: when you break a promise, you’re tampering with the delicate formula upon which the strength and vitality of the all-volunteer force is based.  The consequences to future American security could be severe, and should be studied carefully before risking even the perception of a moral breach.  Pension formulas were last disturbed in the mid-1990s, creating a retention crisis that sent the joint chiefs panicking to the Hill, where they persuaded Congress to restore a 50 percent, inflation-adjusted retirement package.  All we’ve done since then is ask even more of our volunteers, and nothing suggests they are today any less sensitive to these kinds of budgetary shenanigans.

Politicians claim a choice between readiness and personnel funding, but this is a false choice. Tampering with promised pensions could fundamentally injure readiness by hurting morale and chilling volunteerism.

But there’s a deeper and more insidious risk already touched upon, and that’s the risk attendant to avoiding genuine reform of our defense institutions.  It’s true that current defense spending is unsustainable.  It’s not true that this is a result of personnel costs.  They’ve remained constant at about 25% of defense spending since 2001 (despite two manpower-intensive wars) and are down from 30% of spending since 1991.  Other elements of defense spending have grown explosively over the same period of time.  The nation has expensively fast-tracked new capabilities from scratch as a result of being caught strategically off-guard by 9/11 (this, in turn, is attributable in part to the recklessly rapid pace of intelligence downsizing in the prior decade, which afforded America reduced global awareness as the calculus of national security shifted wholesale). It has also fielded costly new weapons systems in an attempt to contend with an uncertain future, virtually all of them coming up short of expectations and over budget as a result of a dated acquisition process riddled with misplaced influence and needless red tape.  Meanwhile, unneeded bases remain open and their facilities remain operating due to Congressional obstruction, and no serious discussion concerning service roles and missions has been undertaken in nearly three decades.  As a result, the services are tripping over one another with duplicate weapons and capabilities, a bonus for defense contractors but an injury to taxpayers.

If Congress is once again permitted to step over dollars to save dimes and mask the waste lurking in defense spending, we’ll continue tracing along the path of unsustainability without addressing it.  Eventually, those masked costs will come due, and it won’t be Ryan or Murray who pay for it, but every citizen who loses security.  To be fair to some counterarguments, there is a real need to study military compensation and benefit structures and ensure they fit within our means.  But this should be forward-looking in order to keep the faith with those who already kept their end of the compensation bargain, and it should be preceded by a genuine attempt to address the structural reforms Congress is avoiding.  If Americans really want to see a drastic reduction in defense spending, they must encourage their representatives to stop obstructing a Base Realignment and Closure Commission and to charter a Roles and Missions Commission. Moreover, Congress should bind itself to the recommendations of both in order to avoid the political mischief that has characterized previous reform efforts and led to the current morass.  But even more than that, if Americans want to see drastically reduced defense spending, they should stop electing and emboldening politicians who send American troops into wars without fully advertising the costs of doing so.

This is the greatest risk of all — a risk potentially fatal to our national life.  We’ve developed a nasty habit in the modern age of waging war without paying for it, and that has set us on a long road to ruin.  We’ve yet to pay for the wars fought in the last 12 years, having pushed the costs off on future generations by borrowing against the national debt (save for the $6B pick-pocketed from those who did the fighting).  No raised taxes (in fact, tax rates are at a record low as Congressional conservatives who voted overwhelmingly to authorize wars and troop surges complain about the national debt). No war bonds. No draft.  No appeal to our richest citizens to finance an expedition.  We’ve been at war for a dozen solid years without asking Americans at-large to make a single material sacrifice. Now we turn to veterans and expect them to foot the bill.

Veterans understandably refuse to willingly do so, not only because it is unspeakably wrong for them to have been asked in the first place, but because they understand covering up the cost of war is dangerous to our way of life.  When war no longer carries even the faintest whiff of sacrifice for the vast majority of citizens, they will readily support it without rigorously considering its necessity or the manner of its execution.  This is a path to endless war, and when we have warred enough that our interests have become overextended and we’re bogged down with inescapable obligations we can no longer sustain (hints of which are noticeable already), national collapse becomes inevitable.  It’s not a new story historically, and we’re not so exceptional that we can avoid it.  Paying our veterans what we owe them is one of the ways we feel the pain of having supported going to war (and by extension, failing to prevent it), and for that reason more than any other, we must pay what we owe . . . even (and perhaps especially) if doing so feels inconvenient.

So as Congress returns to session, it seems like a good moment for some unsolicited strategic advice, even if it disturbs the self-congratulatory saccharine party Washington has undertaken in the wake of a signed budget. Congress, you can either have an honorable military, or one that accepts broken promises.  You can either have a cheap military, or the world’s best.  And you can either have an expensive but secure way of life, or something less.  Oddly, doing the morally right thing leads to the best outcome in each of these choices, proving that strategy and morality need not be misaligned. Reconciling the two is matter of considering not only what a course of action does for you, but what it does to your country.  Thinking about it this way should compel a swift amendment to restore the promises made to our veterans and their families.

Posted by Tony Carr on January 2nd, 2014.  You can view the original here.

Well said.

TRICARE service centers to close soon

During my transition from active duty to the civilian world I found myself in the position of deciding just how I would procure health insurance for my family and I.  As a uniform wearing Marine my healthcare was covered by the local aid station, clinic, or hospital, but once I hung it all up that option vanished when my ID card switched from “Active” to “Retired”.

I have never had to make such a decision before; after all, medical care was part of the benefits package for those in uniform.  Fortunately, at my local Naval Hospital there was a TRICARE service center.  In the TRICARE service center was a real live human being who was both cheerful and helpful, and after spending a half hour or so with her I was able to make the right decisions and sign up for TRICARE Prime so that both my family and I would be covered once my HMMWV chariot turned into a pumpkin.

Unfortunately, that service center and the 188 others that are spread across the continental United States will be closing next year.  They will be replaced by a call center.  Although TRICARE states that customers will receive better service by calling a 1-800 number I somehow doubt it.  There is nothing like sitting down with a real person to get your questions fully answered.

Sadly the cheerful and helpful lady who helped me out will likely be out of a job next year.  Although TRICARE administrators project a $250 million savings by cutting the centers, the cost in terms of jobs and true customer satisfaction are going to be high.

At least in my humble opinion.

It’s here! Orders to Nowhere is now a book!

It’s finally here!  The first edition of Orders to Nowhere is available in print.  It will be six to eight weeks before it shows up in bookstores, and a week or so before it hits Amazon.com.  If you want to avoid the wait, you can order it straight from the printer by clicking the cover:

Orders to Nowhere

Since you are a loyal reader and follower of the blog that got it all started, you can use the discount code ZVGYFQ28 and save 10% off the cover price.

Thank each and every one of you for reading and following my journey through transition!

Here it comes: the big drawdown

It seems that every day brings news about the future of the military, and today was certainly no exception.  The Army, according to a Thomas Ricks’ post in Foreign Policy, is about to start separating officers from the service.  (Click here to read it)

There has been a lot of howling about how sequestration is causing the downfall of the military, and that the danger of a hollow force is only a manpower cuts away, but in all practical reality the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan make a smaller military inevitable.  It happens after every major conflict; the US Army numbered under 400,000 active and national guard troops in 1939, but by the end of the Second World War it had swollen to over 8,000,000. At the start of the Korean War some five years later the army was down to 630,000.

One of the principal reasons that the drawdown in the near future is different from those from prior wars is the composition of the force.  There are no draftees in today’s military.  Each and every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine volunteered to serve his or her country, and as a result more of them are likely to want to stay in the military than their predecessors.  At the end of the First and Second World Wars the armed forces (which were filled with draftees and wartime volunteers) shrunk naturally as people headed back to the lives they interrupted to go to war.  The same can be said for Korea and Vietnam to certain extent, as draftees were critical to expanding the armed forces to the size needed to fight those wars.

Today, though, we have no draftees.  Instead, we have a highly trained force of military professionals who have dedicated themselves to a career in the military.  Sure, the majority of first term enlistees serve one hitch and get out, but a significantly larger percentage want to stay.

Therein lies the rub.  As the military inevitably shrinks, the number of job slots that military folks can fill will decrease.  For the enlisted component of the armed forces, the length and terms of the enlistment contract can be used to decrease the size of the force; the military branches can make it more restrictive and difficult to reenlist. It is an effective manpower shaping tool.

For officers, however, the rules are very different.  Generally speaking, junior officers (ensigns and lieutenants) serve an initial contracted period (during which they are considered “reserve” officers), which is very similar to the enlisted side.  If they want to stay in, however, instead of reenlisting they compete for transition to from “reserve” to “regular” status.  Once an officer becomes a regular, his contract disappears and his term of service becomes “indefinite”.  This means that they are in until they 1) retire 2) quit 3) fail to get promoted or 4) die.  There is no enlistment contract to use as a force shaping tool.

During stable periods this is no big deal.  The services have staffing models that pretty accurately predict the size that the force needs to be, and they can manage the number of officers based on the number they are allowed to have by law, natural attrition, and accession of new officers.  During unstable times, though, like right now as we finish up a couple of wars, the models come apart like a trailer in a tornado.

The military had to significantly change its shape and size to fight the protracted counterinsurgent wars.  Many more boots on the ground were needed, which means that privates and second lieutenants were getting hired at the rapid rate (meaning much were donning the uniform than usual), and as time went on they got promoted to become sergeants and captains.  Enough time, in fact, that many of the officers became regulars.

Now that becomes a problem.

The enlisted side can be shaped using enlistment contracts, but the regular officers are immune from that shaping tool.  Instead, to reduce the number of officers (which is necessary to retain the proper shape of the force) the branches must figure out a way to get them to leave.  There are a lot of programs that are used to entice officers to leave (early retirement, “getting out” bonuses, etc), but when those do not get enough officers to leave the axe comes out.

In the Marine Corps the axe is the Selected Early Retirement Board (SERB).  Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels who fit a particular set of conditions are considered for retention or retirement.  Even though they can, by law, serve until their service limitations of 30 and 28 years respectively, the Marine Corps does not need them around for that long.  If they are selected for early retirement by the SERB, then they have about seven months to transition out to retirement.  The reason that such senior officers are targeted in the Marine Corps is that by lopping off people at the top it frees those below them to move up.

The Army is apparently about to do the same thing, except for a much junior set of folks: captains and majors. From Ricks’ blog post (a portion of letter sent from a senior officer to his or her juniors):

“You may already know, but there are going to be Officer Separation Boards (OSB) and Enhanced Selective Early Retirement Boards (E-SERBs) for Army Competitive Category Captains in Year Groups 2006-2008 and Majors in Year Groups 1999-2003 beginning in March 2014.

Initial word is that the OSBs and E-SERBs will select less than 10% of the considered majors and captains in year group 2008 and less than 20% of the captains considered in year groups 2006 and 2007.

I am meeting with the officers in the battalion affected that are physically at Ft. [DELETED] to discuss their Professional Development and future officer actions and will provide them an assessment of their potential for future service and potential risk of being selected for involuntary separation, and will help prepare their files for the boards. Additionally they are contacting their HRC Branch Representatives for an assessment. I recommend you find a trusted senior officer to do the same.”

The writing is on the wall.  Despite the promise of an exciting career in uniform, many officers are going to get the axe.  Is it good?  Is it bad?  I dunno.  In the mafia, they say that “it’s just business”.  The military needs to shrink, and it is not sequestration’s fault.  How the shrinking is done, however, says a lot about the moral contract between the institution of the military and those who serve within it.

Food for thought.