The New York Times hosted a provocative discussion today regarding the “bloated” officer corps, particularly the number of flag officers. I took the contrarian view, but one that I think resonates in light of a future that will be decided more by brains than brawn. I don’t disagree with the other participants, but I do think they are asking the wrong question. My summary argument:
Nobody knows what the optimal ratio of generals will be in 2025, let alone 2040. If the Pentagon wants to plan for that future, the smart strategy is a flexible personnel structure that can accommodate more, or less, expertise as needed. Maybe the next war will be dominated by drones, maybe cyber, maybe the electro-magnetic spectrum, or maybe analytics. In any scenario, the Pentagon deserves flexibility to hire talent at all ranks.
Allowing combat veterans now at Google, G.E. and General Atomics to return to uniformed service after a decade or two away is the big change America needs to establish a flexible force. It’s called continuum of service, banned by central planners today. But it’s anything but a radical idea.
Guess who rejoined the U.S. Army after 17 years out of uniform? He retired in 1758 as a major, but was asked to return as commander of the Continental Army in 1775. His name was George Washington.