EXCLUSIVE: Amid Recruiting Woes, Officers Allege The Army Is Preventing Their Scheduled Discharge

(Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP via Getty Images)

Michael Ginsberg Congressional Correspondent
Font Size:

The U.S. Army is changing its terms of service guidelines and denying soldiers scheduled discharges, a letter signed by 61 aviation officers alleges.

Recruitment and retention failures have beset all five branches of the U.S. military in recent years, with a 2022 Pentagon study finding that 77% of Americans aged 17 – 24 are unfit to serve due to obesity, drug use, or other health issues. The Army missed its 2022 recruiting target by 25%, and Secretary of the Air Force Gen. Frank Kendall said in March that his branch is likely to miss its 2023 target by 10%.

The recruitment and retention failures impact all parts of the military, including its most elite units, multiple news outlets have reported. In an effort to compensate for personnel limitations, the Army is changing its service requirement guidelines for some officers, according to a letter 61 aviation officers submitted to members of Congress. The officers assert that by reinterpreting contract language, the Army is preparing to tack on three years of service to the seven or eight years the airmen were initially promised.

Army Aviators have been misled by HRC [Human Resources Command], the USMA [U.S. Military Academy] and ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Course] Aviation Branch Representatives, and our Career Managers on the exact length of our service contract,” the officers wrote to at least 11 members of Congress. They are “request[ing] an inquiry into the U.S. Army’s Human Resources Command (HRC) due to significant mismanagement relating to the enforcement of Active-Duty Service Obligations (ADSOs) for Army Aviation Officers.”

Read the letter here:

BRADSO Congressional Letter w Encl Compressed Redacted -2 by Michael Ginsberg on Scribd

The Daily Caller gave three letter signers anonymity to speak candidly about their experiences attempting to navigate the discharge process.

All three signers emphasized the service contract’s confusing language, with two noting that military lawyers had trouble understanding its terms. (RELATED: Air Force Tackles Recruitment Woes With New Body Fat Standards)

“It was a contract we signed as cadets in ROTC or at West Point,” one aviation officer told the Daily Caller. “Those contracts are kind of sketchy because they technically don’t exist. It’s a made-up document. It’s not a Department of the Army form.”

It’s “definitely a vague document,” a second officer agreed, noting that a Judge Advocate General attorney he consulted gave him an interpretation different from the Army’s and the officer’s. That officer said that all contract signatories were not in a position to question the language of the document when they signed.

“We’re 20-year-old cadets and they’re briefing me that [the three-year Branch of Choice Active Duty Service Obligation (BRADSO)] will be served consecutively to my commissioning course,” he said.

The heart of the issue is when the soldiers must serve their three-year BRADSO. Until recently, the Army allowed aviation officers to serve their BRADSO concurrently with their flight school Active-Duty Service Obligation. The Army recently changed the rules to require the officers to serve the BRADSO consecutively, adding three years to the officers’ service times.

The Daily Caller obtained a video filmed in 2020 of an HRC officer saying that the BRADSO would be served concurrently to the flight school ADSO.

“You’re ADSO upon graduation … you’re not going to have to do three [years] after,” he said, in reference to the BRADSO. The officers note several instances like this one of them being told that the BRADSO would “run concurrently with the flight school ADSO.”

All three officers told the Daily Caller that they were alerted to the changed interpretation in February 2023.

Army HRC did not provide a response to the Daily Caller’s request for comment by publish time.

The Army’s recruitment and retention struggles have particularly impacted the aviation officer corps, the three signatories told the Daily Caller. Aviation officers do not fly as much as their subordinates, and stop flying almost entirely once they get promoted to the rank of major. The lack of flying opportunities is a key reason for retention issues, the officers emphasized. (RELATED: School Shutdowns Hurt Army Recruitment And Created A National Security Risk. Here’s How)

“Every company commander I’ve had in five-seven years has left. None of them have made a career of it,” the first aviation officer said. Company commanders are typically captains. Some officers want to exit the service before they get promoted to major, which, for most, is effectively a grounded desk position. “I don’t want to do that.”

FORT CARSON, CO – MARCH 31: Cavalry scouts with the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team land in a Blackhawk helicopter as they participate in Operation Steel Eagle on March 31, 2022 in Fort Carson, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

“If flying was a guaranteed position for us we would stay,” the third officer added. He said that so many captains are leaving at the end of their service obligation that the Army has begun promoting captains as early as six months ahead of schedule. The Daily Caller was not able to independently verify that assertion.

Members of Congress have repeatedly sounded the alarm on the military’s personnel crisis, with Republicans like Indiana Rep. Jim Banks and Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw suggesting that extensive diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are causing recruitment to drop. Some reports have highlighted extensive drug use and lack of physical fitness among the military age population. A 2018 Heritage Foundation report argued that increased rates of obesity in children and teens could drive a national security crisis.

The offices of North Carolina Sen. Ted Budd, Texas Rep. John Carter, North Carolina Rep. Chuck Edwards, and Pennsylvania Rep. John Joyce confirmed receipt of the letter.

All three officers emphasized that their post-service plans will be significantly disrupted if the Army goes through with the guidelines interpretation.

The first officer explained that moving bases has been difficult for his wife, who works remotely and is planning to stay long-term in the area where he is currently stationed. He plans to fly for commercial airlines after leaving the Army, but worries that three extra years in the military will harm his civilian career.

“It’s telling when there are 130 people that all have the same complaint,” he said. “We know our names are going to be on that [letter]. I know in my heart I’m doing the right thing. This is what is best.”

The second officer explained that he has several family commitments that he will struggle to fulfill if ordered to serve another three years.

“I’ve been planning this for eight years,” he said. “My foot is out the door and they’re changing it up on me.”

The third officer likewise emphasized the strain on his marriage. His wife is unable to work remotely, so they spend significant time apart. He blames the Army for not being more forthright with soldiers about its requirements.

“We are told to uphold all things moral, ethical, and legal. This is not ethical and it’s not done in good faith,” he said.