Number of soldiers forced out of Army by misconduct soars
When the decision was made to cut the size of the 370,000-strong naval force in 2004, the number of sailors who left due to misconduct and other behavior issues grew. In 2006, more than 8,400 sailors left due to conduct issues.
As the size of the Navy began to stabilize — it's now at about 323,000 — the number of problem sailors leaving also began to decline steadily, dropping each successive year to a new low of about 3,700 in 2013.
In nearly one-third of the cases each year over that time period, the problems involved drug and alcohol use. More than 1,400 cases each year involved a "serious offense" or civil or criminal court case.
The Navy has become known as the most transparent service, often quicker to publicly fire commanders for misconduct or poor leadership. But the number of Navy officers forced out has remained relatively constant, ranging from 84 to 107 annually for the past eight years. The bulk of those were for what the service calls "unacceptable conduct" or unfitness for duty.
The Air Force, which is smaller than the Navy and Army, reported far fewer cases of airmen leaving for misconduct, both for officers and enlisted service members. The number of officers separated from service since 2000 due to a court-martial ranged from a low of 20 in 2001 to a high of 68 in 2007. For enlisted airmen, the number ranged from a high of nearly 4,500 in 2002 to a low of almost 2,900 in 2013.
Data for the Marine Corp, the military's smallest service, was not broken out by officers and enlisted personnel. Overall, it showed that Marines leaving the service due to misconduct was about 4,400 in 2007, but has declined to a bit more than 3,000 last year.
Those forced to leave for commission "of a serious offense" has nearly doubled from about 260 to more than 500 over the past seven years. The number of Marines who left after court-martial has dropped from more than 1,300 in 2007 to about 250 last year. The Marine Corps also grew in size during the peak war years, and is now reducing its ranks.
Across the services, leaders are trying to deal with complex questions about how to identify and correct the problems.
"I don't think there is one simple answer to the issue of ethics, values, a lapse in some of those areas," said Hagel during a recent briefing. "Was it a constant focus of 12 years on two long land wars, taking our emphasis off some of these other areas? I don't know."
He said he is appointing a top officer to work with the services on the problem, and he will be addressing the topic at regularly scheduled meetings with his military leaders.
The military services have been adding more lectures on ethics in their schools, and are also targeting top officers.
"We are talking to senior leaders about the consequences of power and how that changes somebody's personality," said Odierno. "Some don't realize it's happening to them."
Lower-ranking service members are being asked to evaluate their higher-ranking superiors as part of the annual performance reviews. That process is slowly being expanded.
"As we conduct operations around the world we represent the United States with our moral and ethical values," said Odierno. "We believe we should be held to a higher standard."
Follow Lolita C. Baldor on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lbaldor