Rank creep is almost more pernicious than mission creep.

What am I talking about? Glad you asked. Friday’s New York Times had an article titled:

Generals Wary of Move to Cut Their Ranks

I did some searching for a bit between some other tasks to see if I could find the total number of flag officers (Generals and Admirals) in the US military during World War Two. I was finally able to find this article from Armed Force Journal of June 2008 discussing General Officers being removed from command for cause (incompetence) and finally found this:

We should, to place this period in context, run the numbers. In World War II, 16 million men served in uniform. Of those, roughly 70 percent were in the Army (a force that, at the time, included what we now call the Air Force.) The U.S. had a population of 131 million people, and we lost in combat some 407,000 of the men who were in uniform.

Now, about the generals. During World War II, there were roughly 1,100 generals in the Army….

Sixteen million men in the military and 1,100 generals. Now compare this information with the following from the Times article linked above:

According to the Pentagon, there are now 963 generals and admirals leading the armed forces, about 100 more than on Sept. 11, 2001. Meanwhile, the overall number of active duty personnel has declined to some 1.5 million from 2.2 million in 1985, even though the Army and Marine Corps have grown since the Sept. 11 attacks, to carry out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I just ran some quick math on those figures. In WWII, there was roughly one general officer for every 14,545 troops. Today there is roughly one general officer for every 1,557 troops. According to the Times article

The salary cap for generals is about $180,000, up from $130,000 a decade ago, according to Todd Harrison at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a private research group in Washington. Like all officers and enlisted personnel, generals have the benefit of the military pension system, which gives everybody who serves 40 years a pension equal to their full pay.


Salaries and benefits, however, are the least of it. The biggest costs are created by the generals’ staffs — including security details, senior advisers, communications teams, schedulers and personal aides. Mr. Harrison said that the annual cost of salary, benefits and staff for each of the military’s highest-ranking generals and admirals — 40 four-star and 146 three-star — easily exceeded $1 million.

I know from personal experience from my days in the Accounting Office at Hickam AFB, HI about some of those general office benefits. I was responsible for a quarterly report to higher headquarters for CINCPACAF’s (Commander In Chief, Pacific Air Forces) "Major Force Program 09" accounting which was basically the Commander’s expense account. At the time, in the early ’80s the CINCPACAF account ran approximatley $20K per annum. It was used to purchase gifts for visiting foreign generals or gifts for CINCPACAF to give to counterparts when he traveled throughout the Pacific. It was also allowable for CINCPACAF to take his wife and generals visiting from the mainland out to dinner and charge it back. Dinner for four at a top restaurant in Honolulu at the time could run $500 easily.

One of my proudest moments when I was doing this accounting was when CINCPAC (Commander In Chief, Pacific) was forced to pay back a few hundred dollars to the accounts for CINCPACAF. One of the allowed charges was that a commanding general (or admiral) could charge lunch and some entertainment back to the hosting general’s account "incidental to a staff assistance visit." What CINCPAC was doing was driving down the mountain from his headquarters a couple of times a month, having lunch at the Hickam Officer’s Club then playing a round of golf and charging it all to CINCPACAF’s accounts. I complained loudly and finally someone listened.

The Times article quotes mostly retired generals. But we’ve already seen the levels of entitlement in many general officers, just in the last few months (see McChrystal, Stanley and Chambers, James E.).

Yes, fewer general officers would mean more people retiring at lower ranks. More retiring at Major (O4) rather than at Lt Col (O5) or Col. (O6) or as general officers. In many organizations when I was on active duty, positions that had formerly been held by commissioned officers had been transitioned to senior enlisted, many of whom had worked and gotten a Bachelor’s degree or even a Masters. Fill some of the officer positions with Chief Master Sergeants (USAF)/Master Chief Petty Officers (USN)/Sergeant Majors (USA and USMC). These individuals know their jobs, know how to lead, usually have the respect of those both above them in rank as well as those below them. The United States military does not need to have nearly as many general officers today as in WWII for an army today that is not even a tenth as large as the WWII military.

And because I can:

[Ed. note: bumped from Aug 27, 2010 @ 13:56]