Let’s refocus and ensure US military is the world’s most effective and respected fighting force

In a world beset by the specters of geopolitical instability and rapidly advancing technology, the United States military should be a bulwark of strength and focus. It should reflect the finest virtues of our society – courage, integrity, and above all, readiness for the grim business of war.

And yet our armed forces find themselves increasingly entangled in a web of bureaucracy, political interference and a pervasive lack of mission clarity.

Remember when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin commandeered headlines by declaring a military-wide stand down to root out supposed White supremacists and right-wing extremists? The order was predicated on the false claim that veterans were significantly overrepresented among those arrested in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The effects of this slanderous charge against those who serve their nation in uniform were as predictable as they were unsettling: a decline in recruitment and morale.

One of the most glaring issues currently afflicting the United States military is an unsustainable proliferation of generals and admirals, particularly when contrasted with the overall size of our armed forces.

A provision in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) proposed slashing the number of general and flag officers by 25%. The issue was framed as a necessity because the size of the officer corps had become “increasingly out of balance with the size of the force it leads.”

During World War II, the officer-to-enlisted ratio was far less skewed than it is today. Back then, the number of general officers per troop was approximately one for every 7,000. In stark contrast, the current ratio is nearly one in 1,600. This disproportionate growth in upper-tier leadership has real consequences. It clutters the chain of command, adds bureaucratic layers to decision-making, and consumes taxpayer dollars that could be better allocated elsewhere.

The Declining Quality of Officer Leadership

We’re not just facing a quantity issue; there’s a quality problem, too. According to a report by Brookings, the intelligence quotient among Marine Corps officers has seen a worrying decline. This is not merely an indictment of the individuals holding these positions but a glaring warning about the systems and criteria we use to place them there.

Urgent Reforms for a Modern Military

The time for incrementalism has passed. Here’s what we need to do:

Rethink ROTC and Officer Programs: The inertial reliance on college degrees as a qualification for officer candidacy needs to be scrutinized. Many of the finest military minds in history never set foot in a college classroom. The same rethinking is happening rapidly on the civilian side as college enrollment declines in relation to the shrinking value of a college degree.

Prioritize Military Education: The push to enroll senior officers in advanced civilian educational programs has not only failed to make the military more palatable to left-wing elites, but it has also diluted the warfighting expertise of our high-ranking officers. More military studies, and fewer master’s degrees in the liberal arts, would be a start.

Meritocracy Over Bureaucracy: Those who remain in leadership roles should be there because they are the best, not because they have been around the longest. And yes, those who merit their positions should be paid accordingly.

From Enlisted to Commissioned: The knowledge and experience that come from years in the enlisted ranks are too often overlooked when considering candidates for officer roles.

Warrants for Specialization: In this era of specialized warfare—think cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and advanced reconnaissance – the role of warrant officers should be expanded and come with pay reflecting their unique skills.

Accountability at the Top: Every general or flag officer position should be justified rigorously. The Department of Defense should be required to identify not just which general and flag officers they want to give up, but which ones are indispensable for mission success.

Revive the Warrior Ethos: Above all, our armed forces should cultivate and maintain a culture of excellence. This culture should be characterized by the values that make the military an elite institution: discipline, courage and a focus on mission above all else.

Our military should be a force capable of rapid response, tactical ingenuity, and above all, unyielding effectiveness. But this will only be possible if we free it from the chains of bloated bureaucracy, misguided political endeavors, and an increasingly disconnected leadership cadre.

Let’s refocus on what matters most – ensuring America’s military remains the most effective and respected fighting force in the world.