The U.S. military has been using member (soldier, sailor, airman, marine) opinion surveys since World War II. Survey results are often embarrassing for senior commanders. The generals and admirals can face media and Congressional scrutiny and criticism for problems revealed in the surveys. Since September 11, 2001 the American military has been at war. This conflict is not one long campaign but a series of separate wars of varying intensity, lasting for a few years before evolving into something else or ending. The four military services (army, navy, air force and marines) all experienced these two decades of conflict differently.
The army was most frequently and heavily involved. This meant the army suffered most of the casualties and spent the most time in combat zones. As difficult as that was, the army had few problems attracting new volunteers. The United States ended conscription in the 1970s and had learned how to do something unique in American history; recruit a lot of troops in peacetime. Modern warfare consists of a small minority of fighters who actually try to kill an enemy and avoid getting killed. In the army about fifteen percent of the troops are fighters, or at least armed and in the combat zone. The other 85 percent provide all sorts of support. The marines have a similar structure, but with a higher percentage of fighters while the majority of marines still provide support. The air force has the smallest number of personnel actually exposed to combat, especially if there is little or no opposition in the air. That’s been the case for over half a century.
The navy has seen the least combat in the last two decades while, at the same time, been the most involved in performing difficult duties much of the time. Sailors assigned to ships spend a lot of time at sea, far from home. About 42 percent of navy personnel live and work on ships and it is considered a difficult way to spend your time in the military. The ships are complex systems containing lots of equipment that has to be used and maintained by the crew. It is difficult and often tedious work. Typically ships spend a third of their time on overseas deployments lasting from three to six months or more. Another third of their time is spent preparing for deployments by spending short periods (a few days to two weeks) at sea just for training and more time in port getting ships ready for deployment. Another third of the time ships are in port for extended repairs or so crews can take their 30 days annual leave (vacation) or just be with the family if married. Time spent at your home port with families is called “dwell time” and in the navy there is never enough of it. The less dwell time and more time deployed, the fewer sailors re-enlist. Too little dwell time is a problem in all the services but worst in the navy.
The shortage of dwell time and 2018 reduction in retirement benefits (by about 20 percent), the increase in ideological instruction (to make sailors less sexist and prejudiced), and a general loss of confidence in senior leadership has reduced morale and the percentage of sailors who remain in the navy, especially after they have re-enlisted at least once. The loss of so many experienced sailors and the difficulty in recruiting new ones without lowering standards is further reducing readiness and the ability of the navy to keep ships at sea. The admirals can’t/won’t say no to Congress, which must approve the promotions for admirals. Congress has become increasingly active and successful in micromanaging the way the military is run. This has not worked out well as it causes the best military personnel to get out or not join in the first place.