Memo 11.04.2022 7 minutes

Fire the Secretary of the Army

Senate Appropriations Committee Examines The Army’s 2023 Budget Request

With a recruiting shortfall of 25%, the U.S. Army’s total force will be undermanned by 15,000 soldiers. Leadership needs to be held accountable.  

In the private sector, if an employee fails to meet his job requirements, he is likely to be reprimanded or fired. Imagine that an HVAC tech gets called to install 30 units throughout the month. Instead of installing 30, he only installs 22. The HVAC tech missed his goal by about 25 percent. His boss will probably start looking for a new tech.  

The U.S. Army just missed its recruiting goal by 25 percent. As a result, the total force of the Army will be undermanned by 15,000 soldiers.  

So who’s responsible? Who is ultimately in charge of recruitment for the entire U.S. Army? There is an easy answer found in Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which pertains to the Armed Forces. The code lays out in plain English the responsibilities of the Secretary of the Army. The first responsibility listed is “Recruiting.” It falls directly under the Secretary of the Army, who was chosen by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.   

When I was in the Marine Corps, my commanding officer would hand me my job description, which had a list of key responsibilities. Whichever was listed at the top was obviously the one that I would focus my attention on first. The current Secretary of the Army, Christine Wormuth, clearly missed the memo that recruiting should be her top responsibility. Furthermore, the Secretary’s additional responsibilities include organizing, supplying, equipping, training, servicing, mobilizing, and demobilizing. What all these follow-on responsibilities assume is that the first one gets accomplished. It’s hard to organize and mobilize without the soldiers to do so.   

Having missed her recruiting goal by 25 percent, the Secretary of the Army has failed miserably. Since it is a matter of America’s national security, this failure should be a big deal. While the shortfall is being covered in the media, no one is calling for Secretary Wormuth’s resignation. But she should either resign or be fired.   

Secretary Wormuth is the first female Secretary of the Army. The media has made a point of emphasizing this fact, so it must be important. Additionally, the Biden administration has pledged that our government needs leadership that “looks like America.” Whether they can do the job is a secondary concern.    

Title 10 says nothing about gender as a pre-requisite for the office. On the other hand, the job qualification does say, “The Secretary shall, to the greatest extent practicable, be appointed from among persons most highly qualified for the position by reason of background and experience, including persons with appropriate management or leadership experience.” The Senate must have agreed with Biden’s assessment that Secretary Wormuth was the “most highly qualified” person because they confirmed her nomination. Maybe they were looking at a different resume, but the one in her Army bio doesn’t scream “appropriate management or leadership experience.”     

In fact, there is hardly any leadership or management in her background, nor is there any military experience. It is true that a few previous occupants of her office lacked military service, but they typically had a history of executive leadership roles in industry or other parts of government. Secretary Wormuth has worked in and out of the Clinton and Obama Administrations in the capacity of a civil servant. In between her time in government, she worked at the RAND Corporation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Her bio states that she “led the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review.” Is that really the stellar leadership that makes her most highly qualified?  

There is no management experience in Wormuth’s background either. “From 2014-2016 she served in DOD as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy,” her bio states, “where she advised the Secretary of Defense on the full range of regional and functional national security issues.” Readers will remember this period as the time when ISIS took over broad swaths of Syria and Iraq. They established a caliphate and ruled over 10 million people. They recruited people from all over the world to join their cause. They also carried out high profile terrorist attacks in Paris and London and inspired attacks on the U.S. homeland in Orlando and San Bernardino. It wasn’t until 2017 that U.S. coalition-backed forces finally pushed ISIS out of Mosul. Maybe Secretary Wormuth had some great advice on how to deal with this national security threat. If she did, all her memos must have been misplaced or ignored. 

Beyond her ineptitude and lack of experience to lead the Army, the biggest reason she should be fired is simply that her priorities are not aligned with her job description under Title 10. Wormuth published her six objectives in a letter to the Army dated February 8, 2022. Her sixth objective was to “strategically adapt the way we recruit and retain talent into the Army in order to sustain the all-volunteer force.” Recall that Title 10 lists recruitment as the primary responsibility of the Secretary of the Army, not the last. Additionally, she writes, “we need to tell the Army’s story in new ways to ensure we remain the first choice for Americans who want to serve their country.” These “new ways” aren’t working, evidently. 

So, which of her objectives came before recruiting? Her third objective was to “to continue our efforts to be resilient in the face of climate change.” In her own words, climate change, which is not mentioned in Title 10, was a higher priority than recruiting.  

With a straight face, Secretary Wormuth will talk about the Army being apolitical. In a CNBC interview she said, “You don’t swear an oath to either political party. You don’t swear an oath to a specific president. You’re swearing an oath to the Constitution to protect the nation.” What part of “climate change resiliency” is helping to achieve the objective of supporting and defending the Constitution?  

She writes further, “the Army must adapt its installations, acquisition programs and training to be able to operate in a changing environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our future readiness depends on it.” Does it depend on it more than being undermanned by 15,000 soldiers?  

Wormuth’s fifth objective is “to reduce harmful behaviors in our Army.” She says, “To do that we must develop and institutionalize prevention-oriented approaches that year after year will reduce the frequency of harmful behaviors such as sexual harassment and assault, extremist activity, racism, and domestic violence. We need to do more to prevent suicide in the Army.”  

Claims that the Army has problems with extremism and racism are baseless. As of 2020, the U.S. Army active component had nearly half a million members in their ranks. Inevitably there will be bad apples. From my experience in the Marines, I oversaw entry level training with 1,000 Marines per year. Occasionally there were some oddballs. But most of the problems with a force that large typically involve alcohol. DUIs are a bigger problem than extremism or racism. Statistically, 10 percent of the population has alcoholism. For the Army this means up to 50,000 of their active soldiers are likely alcoholics. As a practical matter, commanders will have their hands full with DUIs more than soldiers saying mean things in private chats with their buddies.   

Secretary Wormuth has never served in the military. She has never commanded a unit. While this is not disqualifying in itself, she clearly does not grasp the impact of the recruiting shortfall. The operational tempo of the Army will not change just because they missed their numbers. Instead, the personnel doing the day-to-day operations will be undermanned and overworked. Inevitably they will be asked to do more with less. The consequences of doing more with less in the military have been lethal. The pressure always gets applied to the lowest levels. The people at the top rarely feel the impact but sooner or later the problems manifest themselves in something catastrophic.   

Unfortunately, Secretary Wormuth will not suffer the consequences of failure. No one in Congress or in the press is calling for her resignation. Perhaps they are afraid to be called sexist. After all, we were reliably told how historic her appointment was. Thousands of potential female soldiers didn’t get the memo that they could see themselves in her. Or maybe they did see her and were simply uninspired.  

Unless people say something and hold Army leadership responsible for failure, then the problem will persist and even get worse. My bet is that Secretary Wormuth will serve her term and then go back to the private sector. The doors will be wide open to her after her historic tour in office. No one will question her failure after she pushed back so vociferously against racism and climate change.  

The only door that should be opened to Secretary Wormuth is the one showing her the way out. If she had prioritized recruiting talent, maybe she should get one more chance to try her “new ways.” The American people won’t see the effects of her failure as clearly as we were told to see Secretary Wormuth’s gender. But the impacts will be felt at some point, and they will not be good.    

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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