By Debbie Gregory.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter proposed allowing highly skilled civilians in the middle of their careers to “lateral” into the military and become senior uniformed officers, like colonels.
In a recent speech at the Pentagon, Carter unveiled the idea as part of a far-reaching initiative to change how the military recruits and retains people with expertise in fields like cybersecurity.
“As we all know, generations change, technologies change, labor markets change,” Mr. Carter said. “That’s why one of my responsibilities now — and a job for all of us in the years ahead — is to make sure that amid all this change,” the Defense Department “continues to recruit, develop and retain the most talented men and women America has to offer.”
The proposals — known as Force of the Future — would require congressional approval, and officials on Capitol Hill quickly cast doubt on whether legislation could be passed before January, when President Obama’s term will end and Carter is likely to be replaced.
The idea is controversial, to say the very least. And while it’s not universally embraced, there is interest in Congress and among some of the military’s uniformed leaders in exploring how the services could apply this concept to the enlisted force.
The Force of the Future’s goal is to help the military bring in more top talent, especially for high-tech career fields focused on cyber warfare and space.
The potential civilian leaders would “enter a culture they don’t know, understand or potentially appreciate,” said Dakota Wood, a retired Marine officer and military expert at the Heritage Foundation. “The Marines around them will likely be challenged to appreciate them as they would a fellow Marine.”
If approved by Congress, the individual military services would be allowed to expand lateral entry up to the rank of colonel, or in the case of the Navy, up to captain.
While the Marine Corps appears to be the most skeptical, the Navy is the most enthusiastic about Carter’s proposal. The Army and Air Force say they will consider high-level lateral entries if the change is approved. Individual military services would work out the details for themselves.
Critics argue that those with prior military experience are the best candidates for leadership because they are familiar with military culture, and would acclimate and find acceptance from the rank and file far more quickly.