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The Bunker: Getting ‘em in, through, and out

The Bunker logo, done in military stencil, in front of the Pentagon building

The Bunker, delivered to our subscribers Wednesdays at 7 a.m., is a newsletter from the desk of National Security Analyst Mark Thompson. Sign up here to receive it first thing, or check back Wednesday afternoon for the online version.


This week in The Bunker: The Pentagon produces troops and weapons (strategy, not so much). Come to think of it, how the Defense Department assembles troops isn’t all that different from how it makes weapons; and more.

‘THE RECRUITING ENTERPRISE’
Army decides it needs to do more to sign soldiers up

After the Pentagon lost track of some atomic weapons in 2007, defense officials began referring to the “nuclear enterprise(PDF). It struck The Bunker at the time that the use of the word “enterprise” was a cut-rate way to show just how seriously the Defense Department was taking MIA-bombs. So it was not a good sign recently when the Army rolled out “a transformation of its recruiting enterprise.” The service’s official press release heralding the change used the phrase “recruiting enterprise” four times, but neither Army Secretary Christine Wormuth nor General Randy George, the Army chief of staff, used it in their quotes in the handout. That’s because real people don’t talk that way. But apparently the Army’s PR shop decided it’s a good — if discounted — way to show the service is serious about signing up more soldiers.

They’ve got a lot of work to do. Make no mistake about it — recruiting for the U.S. Army can sometimes be a tough business, both for the recruiters and the recruited. The Bunker has written in the past about serious problems for recruiters, including sexual misconduct and even suicides. The Army hasn’t met its enlistment goal in nearly a decade, and fell short by 25% — some 15,000 troops — in 2022. Only 23% of U.S. youth are eligible to enlist, and only 9% of U.S. youth have any interest in donning uniforms.

The Army’s brand-masters began retooling their design in March. “The brand’s new look and feel consists of a reengineered five-point star logo — (the box has been removed to reflect the limitless possibilities in the Army) coupled with the return of the popular ‘Be All You Can Be’ tagline,” the service said. “The logo and tagline are a part of a full-brand ecosystem that helps tell the Army story visually and verbally, including a new custom font, an expanded color palette, new iconography, photography, motion graphics and more.”

On October 3, the service said it will create a professional recruiting force as well as shifting its focus from fresh high school graduates to those with some college or job experience. “Right now, 50% of our new recruits are high school graduates,” Wormuth told NPR. “There is a much bigger pool that we need to be fishing in.”

While most Army recruiters are non-commissioned officers who are “voluntold” to do the job, the Army will create a corps of professional recruiters. They’ll boast a new Military Occupational Specialty — 42T — “talent acquisition specialist.” Apparently, “recruiter” — the official name for, well, Army recruiters — doesn’t adequately reflect the new enterprise. “To write in plain, vigorous language one has to think fearlessly,” George Orwell said, “and if one thinks fearlessly one cannot be politically orthodox.”

THE PAYCHECK
Troops are doing pretty well, thanks

You can’t be blamed for thinking that U.S. troops are underpaid. Stories about economic insecurity, the need for food stamps, and lousy barracks suggest that members of the U.S. military are paid too little. It’s one reason House Republicans have been pushing for a 30% raise for the junior enlisted ranks.

Yet according to a new report (PDF) from the Congressional Budget Office, it isn’t true. “An analysis by CBO has found that compared with their peers in the civilian sector, military personnel are well compensated,” the congressional number-crunchers said. “On average, enlisted personnel receive cash compensation that is higher than that received by about 90% of civilians of the same age and education.” That’s higher than the 70% goal set by the Pentagon.

“Under current military pay scales, the most junior troops make about $21,000 in salary,” Leo Shane III reported at the independent Military Times, before wading into milper speak: “Individuals with ranks E-4 and above and those who have served for at least three years can earn around $31,200 in basic pay, the equivalent of $15 an hour for a 40-hour work week.”

Beyond that, the CBO said, “service members receive a larger share of their overall compensation in the form of noncash and deferred benefits than do most people employed in the private sector.” In addition to their take home pay, troops receive health care, housing stipends, educational and veteran benefits, and a host of bonuses to keep them in uniform. “Evidence suggests,” the CBO added, “that many service members greatly underestimate the full value of those deferred benefits.”

BRASS PARACHUTES
Generals swap uniforms for defense-contractor civvies

It’s like a car stuck on a slippery road. Its wheels spin at 100 miles an hour, but it goes nowhere. It could be a metaphor for the U.S. military, which despite spending trillions has a proven allergy to victory. A key reason may be that more than 80% of the top brass, when their military careers are over, go to work for Pentagon contractors. That is not a recipe for the kind of radical retooling that the U.S. military needs.

Twenty-six of 32 four-star generals and admirals — the military’s highest rank — went to work for defense contractors after retiring recently, according to an October 4 analysis by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “If past experience is any guide, this new influx of former military officials into the arms sector will distort Pentagon spending priorities and promote higher military budgets than would be the case absent their influence on behalf of their corporate employers,” William Hartung and Dillon Fisher maintain.

This is the Pentagon’s perpetual revolving door, a legacy of greasing the skids for military contractors that the Center for Defense Information has long tried to slow down. A military pension tops out at 100% of basic pay for life for those serving 40 years, a sum pocketed by many four-star generals and admirals. So they don’t need the money. It’s simply a way to pad their pensions and confirm the brittle status quo.

WHAT WE’RE READING
Here’s what has caught The Bunker’s eye recently

War Paint

Speaking of Pentagon paychecks, an artist who refused to register for the draft has been painting giant war murals inside the Defense Department’s financial headquarters which issues those checks, the New Yorker reported October 5.

Heads up, America

Emulating the U.S., Israel relied heavily on missile defenses, walls, and intelligence to defend its border, which failed miserably October 7 when Hamas launched attacks from the Gaza Strip, killing more than 900 in Israel. CNN tried to figure out what went wrong October 8.

High marks

The 66,000 children attending Defense Department schools “quietly achieve results most educators can only dream of,” the New York Times reported October 10.

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