Secretary of Defense James Mattis instituted a new retention rule for troops. Now service members must be deployable or in his words, “get out.”
Mattis feels that too many are carrying the load for all, with about 11% of all current troops on active duty, in the Reserves or in the National Guard classified as non-deployable. That amounts to 235,000 individuals out of the 2.1 million total troop force.
The thought behind this new rule is for the good of the military family. Mattis, rightly, remarks that “we may enlist soldiers, but we reenlist families.”
High Tempo Missions
Mattis is right: too many of the same service members have been deployed over and over again for the last 17 years. I’ve seen more friends and neighbors pull almost back-to-back deployments than I care to count.
This high operational tempo leads to burnout for troops and families. It’s hard to stay motivated with a “go team” mentality when your group is always doing the grunt work. Even when often deployed troops are home, it can be hard to settle into family life. Disconnecting from the mission and rejoining a different pace of life can be a struggle.
Military spouses and children feel the burn too. Too many families have almost become single parent homes due to the frequent absence of one parent. Military spouses of deployed troops feel constantly on edge, just waiting for that knock. The mental load is heavy and all too real.
It’s only right to equally spread the burden among all service members. Part of doing your job means being able to fulfill all portions of that position. Military troops must be ready to deploy in support of the mission. It’s simply not fair to rely on the same people over and over again.
Deployable, Not Deployed
At this juncture, I feel it’s important to note one key phrase in Mattis’ rule. He states that troops who have been non-deployable for 12 or more months must separate. He does not expressly state that all troops must actively deploy within the same time frame.
This is an important difference.
Not all positions require the same tempo of deployments. Each military job is very specific about the requirements needed and the potential operational tempo. An infantryman is likely to face a different deployment schedule and mission than a doctor or a pilot or a mechanic.
What Mattis is asking for is simply that troops remain at the ready. I think that this is reasonable. We expect our teachers to stay up to date with the best classroom practices. We expect our lawyers to know about new laws.
Military troops should put their checks in their deployment boxes.
This means maintaining an acceptable level of physical fitness, ensuring that medical and dental exams are complete and continuing to develop in their assigned billet. None of this seems out of order.
For troops that are non-deployable due to their own lack of follow-through, like missing vaccinations or poor PT scores, they should be asked to leave. Part of the job is being mission ready and they were unable to meet that requirement. It shows a lack of commitment.
Of course, this assumes that these services are readily available both physically and in actuality. Appointments for medical and dental care are often hard to come by. Individuals should need to show their good faith efforts to complete their duty before being asked to leave.
Not Considerate Enough
There are exceptions for troops who are injured in the line of duty or in the field. Mattis has given assurances that troops who meet this requirement will be given alternate assignments and retained. This is only fair. It shows a willingness to support those who have suffered a workplace injury. This caveat helps to reenlist families.
What doesn’t help to reenlist families is the lack of guidance regarding pregnancy and the postpartum period. Female service members are likely to be non-deployable for at least 40 weeks when you account for pregnancy alone. If we consider the time needed to recover from childbirth, that puts most women over the 52-week mark.
Is Mattis suggesting that women, who have recently given birth, be asked to leave the military?
This doesn’t seem right and certainly doesn’t support military families. Studies vary, but several have found that full recovery postpartum takes longer than the typical maternity leave of 12 weeks. Asking a new mom to leave her place of employment due to childbirth seems cruel and unusual.
There needs to be additional guidance regarding pregnancy and childbirth. Reasonable and medically sound timelines for a return to full duty should be implemented and explained.
Family Friendly Rule
While this rule is still in its infancy, the intention is good. Spreading the workload by ensuring a highly deployable force is fair. It removes an undue burden from troops who have faced repeat deployments as a result of others in non-deployment status. It also forces troops to take their deployment status seriously.
Some specifics need to be clarified and it is really too soon to say just how this rule will actually impact deployments. But on its face, it seems like a good way to clean up the Armed Forces and ensure that we are ready to face today’s challenges.