February 19, 2008

Honey, pack up your Ivy League J.D. and give notice to the boss cuz we're moving to Watertown

Lost in the hubbub over the admittedly ridiculous emo-boy picture accompanying that article in the Kansas City Star on John Nagl was this quote:

Why is the Army having such a hard time holding on to its young officers?

"It used to be that Army officers tended to marry inside the family, the daughters of other officers. But as people become more mobile, they’re doing the wacky thing I did, which was to marry the girl I met at Oxford. The hardest job in the Army isn’t being a soldier; it’s being married to one."

The first time Abu Muqawama noticed anyone write about this was when Andrew Tilghman did in his excellent cover story on the exodus of junior officers in the Washington Monthly. Tilghman wrote:

Perhaps the most powerful new element affecting officers' willingness to stay in the Army is the shifting dynamic of marriage and the roles of men and women in the family. Even in the rather traditional realm of Army culture, fathers now expect to be more actively involved in raising their children, and women tend to be less deferential to their husband's career. Among baby boomers, officers' wives were usually homemakers. Today, however, many officers' wives are doctors or lawyers or have degrees in international affairs, and there are few opportunities for them in places like Kentucky or West Texas.

When Abu Muqawama opined about this, saying he had quite simply never dated a woman that would have accepted the Army wife lifestyle, some people wrote in and told him to stop whining. Okay, fair enough. The Army is a service, we all get that, and if the Army wanted us to have wives they would have issued them. But you certainly can't be angry with a young officer who has already served his country proudly in Iraq and now wants to leave the service so he can go meet some nice, smart girl in law school who will date him now because he's not going to move in the next year. What are you going to tell that young officer? That he's not a patriot? He's done his duty for the country in Iraq when his peers have been drinking beers at the Hawk and Dove and working in some congressman's office, and if he wants to leave the Army to find a nice wife with a master's degree from Cornell and shared interests, let him.

In the Washington Post today, Laura Dempsey -- currently serving with her husband at Fort Drum (bless) -- has a must-read op-ed on this subject.

I know the challenges that Army wives face. I've been a lawyer and an Army wife for 10 years. In that period, I've moved seven times. I've taken four different bar exams and held five different jobs. My income has been taxed in at least five states. My children have had five different nannies. I think it's safe to say that military wives like me face career obstacles that few civilian wives could appreciate.

Now, America, tell long-suffering Laura Dempsey (currently lost in a snow drift somewhere east of Sackett's Harbor) to stop whining. We dare you. The bottom line is, the U.S. Department of Defense needs to adjust its personnel system and fast. The personnel system was designed -- we are not kidding you -- in the 19th Century. This whole nonsense where U.S. Army officers move every year and a half is crazy. It quite simply assumes the officer's spouse does not work and exists only to support her husband (or his wife -- yet another thing the personnel system didn't somehow anticipate in 1890). And now, the U.S. Army is bleeding is most talented officers by the dozens. Someone needs to get serious about this.

P.S. Abu Muqawama thinks Pervez asked his pal Fidel to resign last night so that it would take the world's eye off of the Pakistani election.