Wed, Aug 09, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Convincing military officers to stay

By Yao Chung-yuan 姚中原

According to reports, Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬) has said that all sergeants serving at that rank for two years can return to their original unit and serve as a second lieutenant platoon leader, based on a recommendation by a superior officer and having participated in a 10-week training program.

Feng has apparently decided that individuals can start registering to do so in the middle of this month and start their training next month in preparation to become an officer in early December.

For several years, military academies in Taiwan — especially the Republic of China Military Academy, which is something of a bellwether in this regard — have been hard-pressed to recruit sufficient numbers of students.

This year, in an effort to make up for the low recruitment numbers last year, the academy increased its available places to 518. Only 49 percent of these places — 254 new recruits — were filled.

Additionally, there is a serious deficit of platoon leaders, which has already affected morale and battle preparedness.

For example, the Lanyang Area Command Tank Battalion has long been waiting for nine commander positions to be filled, with the ridiculous situation arising where there is no way these places will be filled for some time.

If the sergeant promotion initiative does indeed go ahead, it will not only solve the present ground-level personnel problems, it will also encourage many others to enlist.

However, the issue of how to select outstanding officer material and how to carry out the training is something the Ministry of National Defense is going to have to seriously consider.

China’s military has faced similar personnel deficits. In 1998, the Chinese Communist Party initiated a nationwide plan to cultivate more students. This was the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) so-called reserve officers training corps.

A total of 116 private and state schools participated when it was initiated and it is still running.

To date, the program has produced at least 12,000 military officers, neatly solving the problem of a long-term shortage of military academy graduates.

In addition to taking the problem of officer shortages seriously, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense has in recent years placed great importance on the overall improvement and cultivation of its military officers. That is to say, PLA training is not confined to military considerations or the military level, and a number of courses on strategy — including international security and international politics — are taught to give officers a more well-rounded international perspective.

Research shows that, as of 2010, more than half of the PLA’s military officers of a certain rank have had some kind of overseas experience.

Another serious concern in the crisis of military talent in Taiwan is that not only are the most outstanding and promising people reluctant to register for military academy entrance examinations, but some are even reluctant to stay in the armed forces for long.

One case is former captain Lee Wu-ling (李武陵), the first Taiwanese to graduate from the US Military Academy at West Point and whose training cost the Ministry of National Defense millions of New Taiwan dollars.

Lee left the military early, not long after he returned to Taiwan following his graduation.

One hardly needs to mention the string of negative reports concerning the armed forces that have emerged over the past few years, nor the constant changes being introduced to reduce military personnel numbers, both of which have also contributed to the mass exodus of outstanding officer material.

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