11 ways the military can build a stronger, more modern force

The U.S. military personnel system is badly outdated and must be reformed dramatically to allow the armed services to recruit and retain men and women with the skills needed to deal with today’s vastly different threats and technology, a high-profile panel of defense experts said March 20.

Experts want to reform a military personnel system that hasn’t been changed significantly since 1947. (Photo: U.S. Army)

A new report developed by 25 former military and civilian defense officials — including top enlisted leaders, former generals and lawmakers on defense committees — for the Bipartisan Policy Council emphasized giving the armed services much greater flexibility to manage their personnel than they’re allowed to do now.

The existing personnel system “is outdated. The last time it was changed was in 1947, coming out of World War II,” said former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, one of the four co-chairmen of the study.

“We’re at a time that if we don’t reform our personnel system, we will begin to undermine our defense,” Panetta warned.

To increase flexibility, the report recommended:

1. Letting people stay longer

Everyone knows chiefs run the Navy. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The experts recommend replacing the traditional “up-or-out” structure and its rigid timelines for promotion with a “perform to stay” model for advancement.

2. Entering as a staff officer or NCO

Instead of coming in as a buck private or 2nd lieutenant, the report suggests allowing lateral entry at advanced rank for individuals with critical skills, such as those with cyber and information technology expertise.

3. Going back and forth

The experts suggest letting service members more easily move between active and reserve status and allowing temporary breaks in military service for education or family reasons.

4. Reform military compensation

The authors suggest replacing the current military pay table — which provides increases for longevity and increased rank — to “ensure compensation is commensurate with increased responsibility and performance.”

5. Kick malingerers out

The experts say the services need to institute annual involuntary separate boards to “remove low performers in over-manned specialties.”

6. Reform TRICARE

The authors suggest increasing TRICARE enrollment fees for military retirees to cover 20 percent of coverage cost, and waiting until 2038 to grandfather all current service members.

They also suggest offering a new TRICARE option for dependents that would leverage a private employer’s contributions and reduced TRICARE cost.

7. Healthcare reform

The military experts recommend establishing pilot programs to test use of commercial health insurance benefits for reservists and their family members, military retirees and family members.

The report also suggests increasing access to higher quality of Defense Department-provided child care.

8. Help the spouses

The study authors recognize how important it is for the military to maintain a strong work-life balance. (Photo: U.S. Military)

The study authors also want to improve ways to help military spouses get and keep jobs, including giving service members more say in duty station changes.

9. Boost the force

And to reduce the stress on families from the high operational tempo, the report recommends adding military personnel.

The report also calls for greater efforts to expand the military’s outreach to a broader segment of Americans, including:

10. More ROTC

Army ROTC cadets attempt the Ranger obstacle course. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Expand Reserve Officer Training Corps program to all levels of higher education, including post-graduate and community college.

11. Women in the draft

Require women, as well as men, to register with the Selective Service and make all registrants take the military entrance examination.

To enable the services to increase end strength and provide the training and tools service members need, the report’s authors emphasized the need to repeal the 2011 Budget Control Act, with its arbitrary limits on defense spending, and return to a regular budget process that would enable defense leaders to plan ahead for the forces and equipment they need.

The committee that conducted the study and drafted the report included five retired flag or general officers, a retired Marine Corps master sergeant, former high-ranking officials from the Defense Department and other federal agencies, former members of Congress who served on the Armed Services Committees and the chief executive of Blue Star Families, a support organization.

The report is titled “Building a FAST Force,” with the initials standing for Flexible, able to Adapt and to Sustain the force and to be Technology oriented.

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