Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Best And Brightest" JOs Getting Out?

Via Instapundit, Washington Monthly has an article examining why the "best and brightest" young officers are getting out of the Army. It included a statistic that, frankly, doesn't pass the smell test:

In the last four years, the exodus of junior officers from the Army has accelerated. In 2003, around 8 percent of junior officers with between four and nine years of experience left for other careers. Last year, the attrition rate leapt to 13 percent.
Those of us in the Submarine Force are certainly used to the higher number -- as I discussed before, the Sub Force is designed to need only about 38% of JOs to go on to a Department Head tour. Of note, a graph in this long report indicates that the Army currently has over 50% retention at the 7 YCS (Years of Commissioned Service) point -- and this is without offering hardly any officer retention bonuses.

What I wanted to discuss this weekend was the old meme that "the best JOs always get out" that is frequently heard on the boat. I knew quite a few good JOs who got out as soon as they could -- along with others who got out after post-JO shore duty -- but, from my perspective, they weren't always "the best". Now, I recognize my perspective as an officer who stayed in may be slightly warped, so I'm looking for your input: Did the "best" JOs generally get out? Or were they considered the "best" mostly by the people who didn't like the Navy much anyway, and saw their own attitudes reflected in the early-leaving officers they admired? The comments are open...

Bell-ringer 0024 29 Dec: Chap has more over at his place; he also looks at the IA angle. As one of the earlier Individual Augmentees (2003), I can say it looks like the Navy has really improved on the IA program in the last few years, and I really hope the Sub Force does a better job of making sure it's administered fairly than they do with the normal detailing process re: the "golden boy" officers.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my experience, that's a difficult call to make. I knew many excellent JOs on the boat who decided to get out, and many who decided to stay in. Additionally, I knew department heads who I thought were great, and some I considered nigh-incompetent.

As a dirty blueshirt, I can say the exact same thing about senior enlisted personnel.

I guess that for many people, the decision to stay in or get out often has more to do with their own personal goals and needs than it does their ability.

12/22/2007 12:05 PM

Anonymous ex ssn officer said...

On my first boat, while I was (unbelievably, certainly to me) the top-ranked J.O. and stayed in for a DH tour, the "real" best J.O. in my unbiased judgement got out to get married and go do the MBA thing at Wharton. Was at his wedding and have seen him since graduation; there's no doubt that he's never entertained a serious second thought about his choice.

On my second boat, as a DH, "the best" (and NAM-awarded early on, at my insistence) JO stayed on for an SSN command tour. He's still on active duty, and with substantial (and very cool) responsibilities.

However, looking back at my SOAC class versus who stayed on to make flag rank, there's no question that while a bright one or two has made it, "the best" are gone.

In fairness regarding the top-of-the-class guy, it'd be pretty tough to top a tour as C.O. of Parche -- I'd think any shore tour as a 2nd-tier politician would pale in comparison.

12/22/2007 12:18 PM

Anonymous ex-ET nuke said...

As another former blueshirt, the "best" JO's I saw get out were the ones who knew how to get their guys motivated to get the job done with a minimum of BS and maximum of effort and quality. These were the kind of officers who should have stayed in, because they "got-it" when it came to truely leading and not just managing/harrassing their divisions.

12/22/2007 3:00 PM

Blogger Pig Boat said...

I'll try to be impartial, as I got out after my JO shore tour. A snapshot of the JOs I served with and whose fate I know:

The COJO when I came aboard was a great officer, knew how to relate to his guys, and got them to want to work for him. He got straight out, no shore tour, and went to law school.

My Sea Dad, hella smart, good officer. Went on to shore tour at NR, DH/XO tour on NR-1, still in.

Next senior JO, great guy, keen intellect, could relate to and lead anyone. Went to shore tour at the White House, managed to stretch it for a few extra years as the detailers basically gave him a pass because of where he was. But, when he finally had to leave that shore tour, he got out rather than go to SOAC.

Bubba who got to the boat a year before me was decent guy, but temperamental. He went on to a DH tour, not sure how much farther he went.

Two guys who reported aboard at the same time I did. First, great guy, nuke engineer, hella smart, guys loved him. He got right the hell out, as soon as he could. Second guy was a nice enough guy - although he was responsible for one of the few times I truly feared for my life on board. He stayed in for a shore tour and super JO tour, but then got out.

Two guys that got on board about 6 months after me were both prior enlisted, good guys, and both were staying in until they retired.

Me? I like to think I was a decent JO - I was top rated over the guys I reported aboard with, if that means anything. I got out after shore tour because when I got back from deployment my 3 year old was *pissed* at me, and my 1 year old didn't recognize me.

So, I would say it turned out to be a mix. A few great guys stayed in, a few not so great guys stayed in. It depended more upon life situations than overall ability, I would say, just as the anonymous dirty blueshirt said ;-)

12/22/2007 9:18 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stayed in -- so somewhat baised.

Only two JOs left from my group.

One was the brightest officer onboard ... he had a life plan and went after it.

The other was the most bitter ... still seems to be bitter on the outside.

But all were pretty damned good nevertheless.

The guys with the the 100 reasons they were going to get out ... all stayed. A pattern that has held thru my every tour.

In my opinion, the two hardest workers ... head down, get it done types ... stayed in ... and both are now a sub CO and PCO.

So ... yes, we do seem to lose he brightest ... but the BEST ... that is a hard call and we'll never know.

12/23/2007 8:18 AM

Blogger Whizzer said...

As a blueshirt with 10-1/2 years in, I have seen some of the best JO's leave the service early. But looking at the quality of some of my DH, I would have to say not all of the best got out because I have had few damn good department heads. Never had a horrible Engineer, but saw a waste of a Weps once.

I would have to say the problem of the best leaving early is more endmic in the blueshirt ranks where civilian pay so severely out strips military, but I am a lowly nuc.

12/23/2007 11:04 AM

Blogger Vigilis said...

"In the last four years, the exodus of junior officers from the Army has accelerated. In 2003, around 8 percent of junior officers with between four and nine years of experience left for other careers."

Need anyone be reminded that this includes many West Point graduates who have completed their mandatory, post commissioning service after obtaining superlative educations at taxpayer expense. This IS NOT an Army crisis. IT IS a taxpayer crisis.

Before even reading the underlying "Washington Monthly" article, I wondered if the other careers would be revealed as law school. Not only is Kapinos in law school (which I believe was his plan from the start), but I notice that a male West Point graduate was cited instead of a female (where the bail out incidence is even higher).

Taxpayers must insist that 10 year service after graduation be the expected norm. Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up to be royally being gamed by the sons and daughters of the political and lobbyist class (lawyers).

12/23/2007 6:41 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Taxpayers must insist that 10 year service after graduation be the expected norm."

There are a number of serious deficiencies in that statement. A few of them are discussed below.

"Taxpayers" have little collective will and virtually no idea what's actually good for them. Instead, they essentially oppose all tax increases and support all tax cuts. To expect taxpayers to comprehend and act on this sort of minutia (as they might perceive it) is futile.

Also, the people that you would be asking to make that ten-year commitment are about twenty years old. And you're asking them to commit for a period equal to roughly half of their live as they would then know it. It's hard enough to get them to commit for seven years (the remaining two years at the respective Service Academy, followed by five years minimum commissioned servce), but you want to raise that to twelve years (two years at the Service Academy, followed by ten years minimum commissioned service)? I suggest that the effect on Service Academy applications and commitments after the first two years would be both substantial and strongly negative.

Additionally, where did ten years come from? Is there some underlying rationale for that particular number? Does a solid foundation exist for a one-size-fits-all solution? Any such change has both positive and negative consequences, have you considered what they might be? Any such change also has unintended consequences, have you tried to figure out what they might be? Without more, the statement in question is utterly devoid of value.

Finally, we are already royally being gamed by the sons and daughters of the political and lobbyist class [i.e., the Kennedys, Clintons, Gores, and Bushes]. But that's a problem distinct from the one being discused here. Nor do I see how changing the minimum commissioned service requirement will have any effect on Chelsea Clinton's plans to be the second female President of the United States.

12/24/2007 9:25 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was one of two who got out from my group (did the Ivy MBA). The other guy who got out was the "best" as I could see it; he was a smart Mr. Motivated type, and he just got worn down by the stupid, demoralizing crap that is part and parcel of submarining.

Most of the guys who stayed did it for the financial reasons (or at least that's what they said). Two were prior enlisted, one wanted to get a MA at NROTC, three wanted to go EDO, one said PG school was too good an offer to pass up. The three guys who stayed for the "right" reasons were "I want to be an admiral" types. Good luck to them.

From what I saw, it's mostly risk-aversion that keeps people in the Navy. Everyone knows that submarining sucks, but it's the devil you know. (And it pays pretty well, all things considered). The ones who get out have the smarts and confidence to try something completely different. That's why, as a group, JOs who leave seem to be the "best and brightest."

There are quite a few smart/confident COs/XOs running around out there (I worked with a few while riding boats), but I'd say that they are the exception rather than the rule.

12/24/2007 10:38 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was a JO (early 80s), submarining was a lot of hard work, but there also was a lot of compensatory fun and excitement involved--at least on the fast-attack boats. On Fridays, for example, happy hour at the Subase Pearl O'Club effectively was mandatory for all officers not on duty. Amidst the drinking and seas stories, JOs actually enjoyed themselves, learned some submarine history, and took away valuable lessons. They also made personal connections that often lasted far beyond their tour.

In my opinion, virtually all of that type of fun, camaraderie, and excitement is now long gone. The drudgery is still there (and it may be worse than ever), but there's nothing to adequately compensate for it. Money alone is not enough.

Some JOs will always get out and some will always stay in. The question is--what about the guys on the fence? As much as anything, a life of drudgery with no fun or excitement may be a prime factor in causing the fence-sitters to get out. And many of those fence-sitters are solid officers.

12/24/2007 1:46 PM

Anonymous Alternative View said...

I agree totally with the previous poster. JO retention is dependent upon environment and command climate.

When I was a JO (97-00), my CO had two standing orders, (1) Be safe and (2) Have fun; and he meant it. We had a lot of fun and ran the ship pretty well (except for bumping an ice keel...that was scary). One key point is before his COC, life was pretty miserable for the junior JO onboard (me). I would have gotten out of the Navy in a second if I had the opportunity (just like many of the above posters).

There was another bit to his philosophy that is worth noting: the chiefs' job was to run the ship, do the maintenance, and train the crew; the Captain's job was to (1) drive the ship, (2) fight the ship, and (3) train the JOs and DHs (and XO, I guess) to do (1) and (2).

Tell you what, it worked. I have never seen such ownership in a crew. When you walked into a PO2 or PO3's space, he was quick to let you know that it was his space, and that he would help you with any issues you had.

Out of our 9 or so JOs that went to decom, we have the following breakdown, we had 7 JOs stay in, and we are all in various stages of our career now.

Bottom line: The CO/XO team sets the climate and has a huge impact on retention (but we all knew that. I plan to use my COs leadership style as I move on. While I understand some of the above posters who have nothing good to say abt the sub force, I also understand that it can be a highly rewarding experience that I hope to pass on to those who follow me.

12/25/2007 1:20 AM

Blogger Chap said...

Alt.view, good points. Right out of my boot camp, I once had a crusty surface master chief tell me that over 90% of the guys he tracked got out because of their present command more than anything else. I have no idea how he got his numbers, but the concept rings true to me.

One other thing--some people are better than others at linking why we do what we do to the real world. Once, on station, an RO asked the senior management on board why we were here doing what we were doing.

If you can't answer the question so well that it doesn't need asked, there is perhaps a problem, eh?

Anyhow. Further thoughts over at my place.

12/26/2007 1:16 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pig Boat or any other officer reading this:

Pig Boat mentions in his comment about one JO who did a "super JO tour". What is a super JO tour?


12/26/2007 12:35 PM

Blogger blunoz said...

A "super JO" is an officer who has completed their JO sea tour, does not want to go to SOAC and become a DH, but still has some time left in their service obligation to the Navy. In other words, a dolphin-wearing, Engineer-qualified guy who COULD go on to be a DH if he wanted to, but instead just wants to finish his time and get out.
For example, I have a super JO on my boat now. He finished his JO sea tour, signed a 3-year contract for the nuke bonus and went off to shore duty. Then he changed his mind about doing a DH tour and decided to get out. So at the end of his 2 year shore duty, he still had one year left on his contract, but was unwilling to go to SOAC and accept the 3 year service obligation after SOAC. Instead, they sent him to me to help our watchbill manning through decom. He's a stellar officer and would make an excellent DH, so I'm disappointed that he has his resignation letter in. At the same time, I'm very blessed to have him on board right now - especially since the detailers took away my SOAC-grad Nav and Weps as soon as we arrived in the shipyard. SOAC is a graduate course in submarine tactics anyway, so my super-JO really is serving in the capacity of a department head now.

12/26/2007 7:14 PM

Blogger Chap said...

Heh. Ain't that always...the only REAL department head is the teakettle O-4.

Funny how when you get orders to Nav/Weps they tell you how equal you are...until it's slightly inconvenient.

12/26/2007 9:05 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the equality of department heads issue, when RADM William P. Houley (then COMSUBGRU 2) visited SOAC classrooms--where the desk of each department-head-to-be had a nametag that included the boat and billet he was going to, "Wild Bill" was infamous for going around the room, pointing to each officer, and saying "You will screen for command" (to those going to ENG billets) and "You won't screen for command" (to those going to NAV/OPS or WEPS billets).

This was one of the nicer things for which he was known. He even bragged about it, in between the incessant verbal flogging of his LT aide.

For those interested in a little research, the Admiral's biography is listed in the dictionary under "tool."

12/27/2007 7:40 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Does Myrna still tend bar at the Subase O'Club?

12/27/2007 11:11 AM

Anonymous ex SSN Eng said...

Ah, yes. Wild Bill. A class "A" (so to speak) New Yorker, Houley's bark was actually worse than his bite.

Case in point: the man never served as an Eng himself.

However, Wild Bill accomplished a thing or two as an SSN C.O. during the peak Cold War days, so I'd cut the little guy a little slack.

Also, while I'm in no way a fan of either Houley's abuse (which I've also received my case involving a favorite, on-the-bridge-only leather flight jacket) or the "dolphins + stars = gee-I-must-be-an-asshole-now" mental midgetry that has been all too common in the submarine world, I'd encourage us to not bash even those of that ilk by name here. It just doesn't speak well of those who throw mud by name, plus those so-named would probably still take pride in it, anyway.

Happy New Year, everyone. Remember focus on the good stuff -- there's plenty of it out there in life.

12/27/2007 5:56 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the record: Wild Bill was Eng on Alexander Hamilton.

He was Big Al Konetzni's CO on Bates when VADM K was Eng.

Opposites must have attracted.

12/28/2007 6:40 AM

Anonymous ex SSN Eng said...

Thank you for the correction. Somehow, Wild Bill being an Eng on a boomer does make a world of sense to me.

12/28/2007 8:38 AM

Anonymous Former SSN JO said...

I'll be getting out mostly because I don't like the politics and crappy quality of life. There are so many things that could be changed, and I've had plenty of folks from my divisions on the boat try to convince me to stay because the "sub force needs officers like me." I don't like the way the politics run, the absolutely terrible QOL, or the IA situation.

Honestly, the East Coast subs treat their guys like absolute dog crap. And they wonder why retention sucks...

1/03/2008 9:34 PM

Anonymous ex ssn eng said...

The world appears to be at your I'd counsel you to focus on the good stuff, and let go of any bitterness. You'll always be a (former) submariner.

The clear fact, of course, is that the submarine force doesn't need all of its JOs. If they all stayed in, the Navy wouldn't quite know what to do with itself...except, of course, to let people go on their terms over time.

All the bad stuff -- and let's all be honest, there is plenty of that to go around in the submarine service -- is behind you, so celebrate your upcoming changes, and give thanks for the good times you did have...of which there were one or two, I'm sure.

Shake it off,'re done. From this and any number of other former submariners and/or current civilians, I thank you for your service.

1/04/2008 11:38 AM


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