November 28, 2007

Gap Years for Soldiers?

We all know that fighting insurgencies is exhausting work. Almost five years into the Iraq War, more and more soldiers are "burning out" and leaving the Army. (58% of the West Point Class of 2002 elected to leave active duty after completing their minimum service requirement.*) What to do? Retired British Army Colonel Tim Collins has an idea: encourage soldiers to take a year off.

Abu Muqawama cannot say this is a bad idea, though it would wreak havoc on personnel systems. U.S. Army officers, though, should be able to do this anyway. They should be able to leave the service, take 12 to 24 months off (go to graduate school, work for a congressman, smoke pot on a beach in the Sinai, whatever) and then re-enter the military. Junior officers could do this just prior to the advanced course, and it wouldn't even hurt their career time lines too much, would it? They would just jump into a different year group upon their return to active duty, right?

Hugh Shelton, actually, did this. He had a break in service after Vietnam. And it sure didn't hurt his career.

*In an earlier version of this post, Abu Muqawama quoted the attrition rate among YG 2002 USMA graduates as 48%. He was wrong, and had remembered incorrectly -- and too optimistically. The correct percentage is a galling 58%. By way of comparison, the attrition rates in YG 2001 and YG 2000 were 46% and 35%, respectively.