Only a quarter of the Army’s officers and enlisted soldiers believe the nation’s largest military branch is headed in the right direction — a survey response that is the lowest on record and reflects what some in the service call a crisis in confidence. The detailed annual survey by a team of independent researchers found that the most common reasons cited for the bleak outlook were “ineffective leaders at senior levels,” a fear of losing the best and the brightest after a decade of war, and the perception, especially among senior enlisted soldiers, that “the Army is too soft” and lacks sufficient discipline.
The study, ordered by the Center for Army Leadership at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, also found that one in four troops serving in Afghanistan rated morale either “low” or “very low,” part of a steady downward trend over the last five years. But the most striking finding is widespread disagreement with the statement that “the Army is headed in the right direction to prepare for the challenges of the next 10 years.” “In 2011, [active duty] agreement to this statement hit an all-time low,” according to the survey results, a copy of which were provided to The Boston Globe. “Belief that the Army is headed in the right direction is positively related to morale.” In 2010, about 33 percent of those surveyed didn’t agree with the statement; the number was 38 percent in 2006.
The apparent lack of confidence poses a new set of challenges to the Army as it undergoes budget cuts and shrinks its ranks. The Army’s top officer, General Raymond T. Odierno, says he is taking the findings to heart. “It is very important for us to be introspective, and we are committed to continual self-assessment,” Odierno told the Army Times newspaper in a statement. A major concern that the survey identified was whether the Army would be able to keep top-notch leaders as it cuts its ranks, as well as fears it would be stretched too thin to meet unforeseen demands. Junior officers were particularly concerned about retaining good leaders.
The active-duty Army, which is currently about 570,000 strong, is preparing to reduce its ranks by about 90,000 soldiers in the coming years, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down and the Pentagon budget is subject to a government-wide belt-tightening. “Comments on downsizing the force reflected concerns by leaders that troop reductions would significantly impact the Army’s ability to respond to future conflicts,” the study’s authors wrote.
The Army has historically surveyed attitudes within the ranks to improve professional education and training. But since 2005 it has undertaken the empirically based Army Leader Development Survey each year in an effort to identify trends and leading indicators for leadership problems and signs of dissatisfaction.
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