Given the current flow of information from the Department of Defense, one might assume that there aren't enough ranks in the military to properly control and command our armed forces. After all, while already having nine enlisted grades, there are often reports of the services trying to approve a tenth grade, to be reserved for the top enlisted man (or woman) in a particular service. On top of that, the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps are inundated with an oft-confusing "warrant officer" system that is, to be quite honest, redundant and pragmatically unnecessary.
Both of these quirky little facts, combined with an officer system that contains up to eleven ranks (ten in peacetime), and what we actually have is a system that is too large, overwrought, and bad for business. Particularly when it comes to discipline.
While the majority of what I'm going to rant about concerns the enlisted ranks, let's go ahead and gloss over the officer system.
Eleven ranks. With the exception of the Navy, the rank structure for officers proceeds like this:
1. Second Lieutenant
2. First Lieutenant
5. Lieutenant Colonel
7. Brigadier General
8. Major General
9. Lieutenant General
11. General of the Army (Air Force - the USMC has no equivalent).
What's the problem, you might ask? Well, for starters, this rank system is designed to deal with an armed force based on a regimental system. A system that we quit using nearly a century ago. But to spell it out, let's take a look at the "natural progression," shall we?
In the Army and Marine Corps, units commanded by officers progress as such:
1. Platoons - commanded by Second Lieutenants
2. Companies (or their "regimental equivalent" - basically, whether it's cavalry, artillery, or infantry) - commanded by Captains
3. Battalions - commanded by Lieutenant Colonels
4. Brigades - commanded by Colonels, or, depending on the make-up, Brigadier Generals (which is where the name "Brigadier" originated)
5. Divisions - commanded by Major Generals
6. Corps - commanded by Lieutenant Generals
7. Armies - commanded by Generals
There are more above armies, but unless another true world war breaks out, they're not likely to be used ever again. Indeed, even the "basis unit" has shifted downward to brigades, rather than divisions.
Anyway, take a look at that unit/officer chart. Where are, for instance, the natural positions for First Lieutenants and Majors? I understand that I'm asking you to infer a lot on your own, and I will probably follow this up with another article explaining the inherent problem with those ommissions, but just bear with me.
From that chart alone, and without any other justification, we have two officer ranks too many. More evidence, including some implied above, would also suggest that colonels should shift down to battalions, leaving brigadier generals in their natural position of commanding brigades, allowing the lieutenant colonel rank to also be ommitted.
Ugh... on to the enlisted ranks.
Here are the Army/Marine Corps ranks for enlisted:
1. Private / Private
2. Private / Private First Class
3. Private First Class / Lance Corporal
4. Corporal (Specialist) / Corporal
5. Sergeant / Sergeant
6. Staff Sergeant / Staff Sergeant
7. Sergeant First Class / Gunnery Sergeant
8. Master Sergeant / Master Sergeant
9. Sergeant Major / Sergeant Major
Those soldiers and Marines reading this will know there are some variations to some of these ranks, but, again, bear with me.
Okay... nine ranks... and for what?
To put this in perspective, let's look at the basic infantry squads in both the Army and Marine Corps.
In the Army, the basic infantry squad is a nine-man unit, with a squad leader and two teams consisting of a team leader, grenadier, automatic rifleman, and rifleman each.
The squad is commanded by a Staff Sergeant (E-6), while the teams are commanded by Sergeants (E-5). The remaining six soldiers are a mix of Privates (E-1 or E-2), Privates First Class (E-3), Specialists (E-4), or Corporals (also E-4).
So, basically, the building-block unit of the Army has three Non-Commissioned Officers, and six other enlisted. A 1:2 ratio. Keep in mind, the non-NCOs can consist of all E-1s or all E-4s, or any variation in-between and thereof.
Where's the rank structure? Where's the top-down? How fucking stupid is that? Six separate grades for nine people?
The Marine Corps' setup is, undeniably, far more logical. A basic Marine Corps infantry squad is thirteen men, with a squad leader and three teams consisting of a team leader, an automatic rifleman, an assistant automatic rifleman, and a rifleman each.
The MC squad is commanded by a Sergeant (E-5), while the teams are commanded by Corporals (E-4). The remaining nine soldiers are a mix of Privates (E-1), Privates First Class (E-2), or Lance Corporals (E-3).
Though still a bit of a muddled mess, there is far more of a semblance of a proper rank structure in the Marine Corps squad than is found in the Army squad.
However, in both systems, we have revealed at least two too many enlisted grades at the squad level.
Here is how it should progress:
1. Privates - in charge of nothing
2. Corporals - in charge of fire teams
3. Sergeants - in charge of squads
4. Staff/Gunnery Sergeants - Platoon Sergeants
5. Master Sergeants - Company First Sergeants, etc.
6. Sergeant Majors - Senior Battalion(+) enlisted.
An elimination of three enlisted ranks, a streamlining of the enlisted chain-of-command, an increase in respect for the lower enlisted ranks, and a true merit-based promotion system.
Counter-arguments against doing such a thing (besides the totally irrelevant and inane "tradition" argument) will probably focus on the ability to promote soldiers to increase their wages. While I'm always for making more money, do we really want soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen shooting for promotions ONLY because the next rank pays more? Fuck no, we don't. We want sergeants who WANT to be sergeants, because they WANT the power and responsibility that comes with it... not because they want another $200 or $300 a month. And regardless, that problem is so easily fixed, I'm going to point out how in the next paragraph.
The Army and Marine Corps' pay and promotion system is already heavily computerized, and separating pay grade from rank would be as simple as modifying the computer software. Hell, in that aspect, the military could create as many pay grades as it deems necessary, all while leaving the rank structure streamlined, intact, and with a clear chain-of-command. It's high-time we start streamlining things and bringing back respect for our ranks.
(Yes, I'm just glossing the surface, and, yes, I realize this post is a little chaotic, but hopefully your eyes are opening a little bit. Feel free to hammer me with questions and arguments.)
* This is the first part of what will hopefully be a nine-part entry in the River of Mnemosyne challenge that's happening over at The ...
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