As the Army works its way to an active-duty end-strength of 460,000 over the next 12 months, every soldier must be ready to deploy when needed, the Army’s top personnel officer said.

"The Army is people, and people are our most important asset, they’re our most important weapon," said Lt. Gen. James McConville, the deputy chief of staff for personnel (G-1). "We want to maintain a very high quality force that can fight and win the nation’s wars. What this means is that every soldier is critical, every soldier needs to be able to get on the field and play their position, both home and away."

The Army is on track to shrink to a total force of 980,000 soldiers by the end of fiscal year 2018, McConville said. The regular Army will end up with 450,000 soldiers, while the Army National Guard will have 335,000 and the Army Reserve 195,000.

"We’re coming down from a peak of 1.33 million to a 980,000 force, so this will be the smallest Army we’ve had since World War II," McConville said.

The target end-strength numbers for 2017 are 460,000 for the active Army, 335,000 for the Guard, and 195,000 for the Reserve, he said.

To meet those numbers, the Army is scheduled to conduct involuntary separation or early separation boards in fiscal 2017, McConville said.

On average, 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers each year are affected by involuntary separations, he said.

"Most of the drawdown has been done by reductions in accessions, bringing less folks in," McConville said.

For officers, most of the involuntary separations affect those who have been passed over twice for promotion.

"Our promotion rates are less than they were when we were growing the Army," McConville said. "We’re running about 10 percent below normal at the company-grade level and about 20 percent to 25 percent below normal at the field-grade level."

McConville said he expects promotion rates to "slowly move up" as the Army conducts more early retirement boards for colonels and lieutenant colonels.

For 2017, there are plans to conduct selective early retirement boards for colonels, lieutenant colonels, warrant officers and some captains, McConville said.

"For me, in this job, one of the most difficult things that we have to do is ask soldiers that have served honorably during a time of conflict to leave the service," he said. "We really don’t want to do that, but the drawdown numbers force us to do that."

A U.S. Army infantryman assigned to 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment rides in the gunner position of a Stryker armored vehicle during a parade welcoming the Soldiers to the city of Brasov, Romania, during the unit’s Cavalry March, part of ‪‎Operation Atlantic Resolve. Demand for soldiers around the world continues to increase even as the Army continues to get smaller.
Photo Credit: Sgt. William A. Tanner/Army

Enlisted soldiers have not been as heavily affected, as the Army has adjusted its recruiting numbers, McConville said.

This past year, the Army did not conduct any Qualitative Service Program boards for sergeants first class and master sergeants, he said. There are no plans to conduct any QSP boards in 2017, either, he said.

QSP boards screen for involuntary separation those noncommissioned officers in specialties that are over strength or have stagnant promotion opportunities, or both.

"We do not want to do QSPs if we can help it because we’re taking qualified NCOs who happen to be in an overstrength [military occupational specialty] and asking them to involuntarily leave the Army," McConville said.

The Army will continue conducting Qualitative Management Program boards, McConville said.

"The QMP is not a drawdown tool, but it tends to work that way because it does reduce the force," he said. "With QMP, we’re sending before boards soldiers that have derogatory information in their files or haven’t been able to meet their professional military education standards. They’re basically not qualified in their MOS."

U.S. Army Soldiers, assigned to 2d Cavalry Regiment, conduct a 12-mile ruck march during a unit spur ride near Camp Albertshof, Germany, Dec. 9, 2015. The Army is requiring commanders to better track their soldiers' readiness to deploy.
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Jennifer Bunn/Army

The Army also is requiring commanders to better track the readiness of the soldiers in their formations, McConville said.

As of July, about 148,000 soldiers across the total Army were non-deployable, according to data from McConville’s office. That’s a 5 percent increase from the 10 percent non-deployable rate from the last two years.

The reason for the spike is tied to a recent policy change that emphasizes timely medical and dental exams, which, if left incomplete, can render a soldier non-deployable, according to McConville’s office.

About 90 percent of the time, soldiers are non-deployable for medical reasons ranging from serious injuries to an outdated dental exam.

"If your dental stuff is not done, they report you as non-deployable," McConville said. "If you haven’t done your periodic health assessment, you are non-deployable. It doesn’t really mean you’re non-deployable, it just means you haven’t done something, which is very different than someone who’s [seriously ill or wounded]."

In the Regular Army, almost 60,000 soldiers, or 13 percent, are non-deployable. The Guard has about 51,000 non-deployable soldiers, or 15 percent; the Army Reserve has more than 37,000 non-deployable soldiers, or 19 percent.

"Units feel this because we’re manning units somewhere around 95 percent to 100 percent, so if they have 10 percent who are non-deployable, they’re going to have a challenging time meeting the mission," McConville said.

By more closely tracking soldier readiness, and bringing up to date those who can become deployable if they complete something as simple as a dental exam, McConville said he expects non-deployable numbers to go down.

"The Army of the past was on a force generation model, which meant you kind of knew when you were [deploying]," he said. "Now we’re on a sustained readiness model, which means you need to maintain your organization within a band of excellence. Soldiers need to be ready to go. They need to be deployable, they need to have all their shot records up to date, because you just don’t know when you’re going to go."

Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.

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