The Washington Post has a small but important story on American military advisers. The new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has just visited Fort Riley, Kansas, where advisers for Afghanistan and Iraq are trained. He stressed how important these advisory teams are. Ultimately they are our only responsible “exit strategy,” because they can help turn the Afghan and Iraqi armies into forces capable of keeping order largely on their own.
The problem is that the army doesn’t traditionally reward advisory work. It tends to promote officers who lead American troops, not those who advise foreign troops—even if the latter mission is, in the grand scheme of things, more important.
The Post account has some telling quotes from mid-level officers:
“It’s not a dead end, but it slows down your career,” said Capt. Richard Turvey, 35, of Muncie, Ind.
“I became an officer to be a commander; now I’m going to have to wait longer,” agreed Capt. Mark Johnstone, 33, of Denver. “The teams are taking us from our traditional roles as artillerymen.”
“We have to have certain jobs to be competitive.” said Maj. Jason Jones, one of a group of army majors attending school at Fort Leavenworth who voiced reluctance to join the training teams. “That takes me out of the cycle. In essence, it sort of hurts you,” Jones said.
Promotion prospects for those who serve on the teams remain uncertain, said Maj. Kealii T. Morris. “The jury is still out” on how promotion boards will treat officers who serve on the teams, he said.
The army needs to make clear to its promotion boards that this type of service will be valued as highly as more traditional combat duty. One positive step in this direction would be to implement Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s idea for an Advisory Corps within the army—something I’ve previously advocated on contentions. Unfortunately, the army so far has resisted this innovation. It will take concerted pressure from the outside—especially from the Secretary of Defense, but also from lawmakers on Capitol Hill—to reform an out-of-touch personnel system that isn’t providing the skill sets we need to win the war on Islamofascism.