Defense Secretary Ash Carter has a plan to increase “lateral entry” into the military’s high-ranking officer positions by allowing lifelong civilians with specific skill sets to enter the officer corps as high as the O-6 pay grade. This highly controversial proposal is part of Carter’s “Force of the Future” personnel reform. He claims it is necessary in order to fill manpower shortfalls, however, the plan is being criticized as a slight against the military’s tradition of growing its own leaders and cultivating a fighting force with an extremely tight social fabric.
Carter’s reform was first unveiled on June 9, 2016. It was drafted with the goal of bringing in top-tier talent for military positions. Carter argues that the current rank-n-file cannot meet the demands of the country’s military cyber warfare and space programs. He believes brining in highly skilled professionals will not only fill these roles but also create greater “permeability” between the active-duty military and the civilian sector. If the reform is passed it will authorize individual military services to expand lateral entry for civilians up to the rank of colonel.
Critics argue that allowing civilians to “jump” directly into military roles could have a negative impact on the carefully cultivated military culture that many active-duty soldiers and veterans hold dear. Others argue that it will eradicate career paths for active-duty service member. The proposal has raised questions about training, pay scales and career paths for civilians and active-duty soldiers.
A retired Marine officer and military expert at the Heritage Foundation commented on the possible threat these “fast-tracked” civilians could pose to military culture. He cited fears of possible misunderstandings between gruff-talking military personnel and politically correct professionals, a possible lack of respect between service members who have slowly been climbing the career ladder and civilians who step in at a moments notice and other culture clashes. The retired Marine stated to Militarytimes.com:
“They will enter a culture they don’t know, understand or potentially appreciate, The Marines around them will likely be challenged to appreciate them as they would a fellow Marine.”
Other concerns have been raised concerning how civilians entering the service will effect pay scales. A civilian entering the military at the rank of colonel will receive far less compensation than a service member of the same rank and twenty years of military service. Fears of civilians being brought in to fill roles at reduced rates to save money and reduce budget expenses have been raised. The ever present military readiness crisis and constant budget cuts have caused many service members to question the future legitimacy of the military careers they are pursuing.
Carter commented on the possibility of military roles being replaced by civilian workers but did little to put many service members fears at ease. He claims that lateral entry would have little to no effect on military roles with no civilian counter part, such as infantry or combat aviation roles, but refused to say the same for other positions. He stated to Military times:
“Now, I have to say we can’t do this for every career field — far from it. It will probably never apply to line officers, as they’ll always need to begin their military careers as second lieutenants and ensigns, but allowing the military services to commission a wider segment of specialized outside talent … will make us more effective.”
Carter has countered many of these fears by assuring service members and opponents of the bill that many professionals won’t simply drop their careers to perform their same duties without having some military background or an active interest in military culture. This answer was not sufficient for opponents of the bill. Concerns about an officer not having enough experience to know how to properly wear a uniform, who to salute and an inability to understand the slang and acronyms commonly used by military personnel.