Supporting Fires: A Call for Articles on Talent Management


Military and civilian leaders are fond of saying that the greatest asymmetric advantage for the U.S. military is its people. However, it is clear that attracting and finding these people — and then retaining them — is more challenging than ever.

In the messy wake of the 9/11 wars, with war raging in Ukraine and China growing more aggressive with each passing day, the military challenges facing America are considerable. The United States stands at the precipice of a dual-sided arms race and will have to grapple with how to deter two large countries in geographies that span the globe. There are also secondary challenges — ranging from North Korea to the enduring threat of terrorism — that demand careful attention.

All of these threats require well-trained and experienced soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and guardians — and more of them than the U.S. armed services have today. As such, it critical to find ways to improve personnel policies and practices across the board.



In response to this need, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness has announced an innovation challenge for talent management. This effort is designed to have a positive impact on talent recruiting, retention, and promotion of talent.

War on the Rocks wants to help with this effort and encourage people to write for our pages about this critical topic. We want to hear original, creative ideas that reconsider the status quo, shake widely held assumptions, and take on the conventional wisdom about recruitment and retention. As with previous War on the Rocks calls for articles, we want detailed, realistic articles from experienced voices. Radical ideas and recommendations are welcome. Please note: These are just unofficial supporting fires for the official Pentagon effort. We haven’t coordinated this with the Defense Department, but we sure do hope that people there read what we publish on the topic.

With the above in mind, please address one or more of the following prompts. Normal War on the Rocks submissions guidelines apply. In your pitch, please clearly identify which prompt you are addressing:

1. Recruitment: The Department of Defense is aware of the need to challenge old assumptions about recruitment and accession. While there is already a lot written about these challenges, most of the conversation tends to focus on the need to make military pay more competitive and to increase the opportunities for military families who move with their enlisted family member. This conversation is either too abstract or too narrowly focused on a single issue. With this in mind, consider the following:

  • How will recruitment challenges impact the way in which the Department of Defense implements the National Defense Strategy? How will these issues impact strategic competition and upend planning assumptions for the U.S. military in 2030 and beyond?
  • Are the recruitment and accession challenges different than they were in the past and, if so, what new tools are needed to address them?

2. Specialization: The U.S. government needs to attract new and different kinds of talent to hone key technologies and implement future warfighting concepts. With this in mind:

  • What specialties does the U.S. military need most? Are there specific talents that each service should individually focus on recruiting, or are there overlaps in key skillsets that could be used to maximize efficiency throughout the joint force?
  • How should the U.S. government recruit and attract these people? Do institutions need to change to attract new and specialized talent or can existing procedures be updated to carry out this task?

3. Promotion: The meritocratic promotion system is intended to incentivize hard work and professionalism with the promise of career advancement. It is important to understand how institutions assess those who they seek to promote and evaluate whether their current tools are best suited for the retention of talent. With this in mind:

  • Does the promotion system need to be updated to retain personnel and attract specialists critical for the future of the U.S. military?
  • Do services and processes need to change to retain personnel who typically leave the force early, or to promote voices that challenge orthodoxy in creative and constructive ways?

4. Wild Cards: It is also important to challenge assumptions and think outside the box. Does the Department of Defense need a dramatic overhaul, or a new model that departs considerably from how things are currently done? With this in mind:

  • What “wild card” solutions would allow the military to attract more recruits, then retain and promote them?
  • Are there lessons from the private sector that could be used to modernize aspects of the military’s approach to recruitment, retention, and promotion?



Image: U.S. Army photo by Spc. Alvin Conley, 19th Public Affairs Detachment