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The War on Terror and the War for Officer Talent: Linked Challenges for the U.S. Army

July 7, 2008

In a speech at Harvard University in 1943 Winston Churchill observed that “empires of the future will be empires of the mind.” He might have added that the battles of the future will be battles for talent. In 1997, the consulting firm McKinsey conducted an important study entitled the “War for Talent,” which researched the subject of talent management and provided critical recommendations for the personnel management of any institution seeking excellence and ultimately success in its defined missions and tasks. This research was updated in 2000 and formed the basis for a subsequent book on the subject.

The lessons of this consultancy’s study are pertinent to all branches of the military and provide a useful prism for specifically examining the U.S. Army’s current officer management challenges and recommending much-needed improvements to how it retains and acquires its commissioned talent. Such changes could well be one of the main keys to victory in the continuing “Long War” against terrorism. Given the pressures of the strategic threat environment of the future, the central role played by landpower in current and future conflicts, and the mandate to substantially increase the size of the Army in the next five years, this paper proposes “best practice” talent management solutions for better staffing the officer corps—both active and reserve—in order to field an expanded and skills- and capabilities-oriented force for the future. The triad of recommendations consists of simple talent-oriented retention measures, a concerted recommissioning initiative, and expanded direct commissioning opportunities.