WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Ash Carter said his Force of the Future program is necessary to ensure the Defense Department continues to attract the best people America has to offer.
The secretary told students at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs last week that one of his core commitments “is to help more of our fellow citizens make that difference in the world and in as many ways as possible.”
“Throughout all this, the one constant has been that our military’s people have always mastered change with excellence — continuing to defend our country and help make a better world,” he said.
“But that excellence is not a birthright,” the secretary said. “It’s not guaranteed, and we can’t take it for granted in the 21st century.”
America’s advantage is tied to its people, Carter said.
Carter announced the idea of the Force of the Future in one of his first speeches after taking office in February. The secretary visited many corporations and learned from leaders in academia and elsewhere.
“Throughout this process, we’ve always been mindful that the military is a profession of arms,” he said. “It’s not a business. The key to doing this successfully is to leverage both tradition and change.”
Carter said the department is also creating the Defense Digital Service, which will bring in talent from America’s technology community to work for a specific period of time, or for a specific project, to apply a more innovative and agile approach to solving DoD’s complex information technology problems.
“Also, to make sure we benefit from innovative entrepreneurs who aren’t technologists but have advanced skills we need, we’re going to bring in resident entrepreneurs, who will work with senior leaders on some of our most challenging projects for two years at a time,” he said.
Carter also wants to enable DoD personnel to leave for a time, learn new skills, connect with new ideas, meet innovators and then bring that back to the department.
“I want more people to have these kinds of broadening opportunities — to be able to get off the escalator for a time, and get back on — without hurting their career, but instead helping it, which after all makes sense,” Carter said.
Another off-ramp program is the Career Intermission Program. This allows service members to take a sabbatical from their military service for a few years to get a degree, learn a new skill or start a family.
Carter said he’ll ask Congress to make this program permanent.
The Force of the Future also includes updating and modernizing military retirement, he said.
“Right now our troops have to serve 20 years before getting any retirement benefits, but 80 percent don’t serve that long, which means they leave with no retirement benefits at all,” Carter said. “But we’ve changed that, and starting in the next few years, we’ll be able to offer a portable 401k-like plan, which all who serve can take with them whenever they move on to whatever’s next in life.”
Carter also announced a series of initiatives using data to make military life more attractive. The department will expand a pilot program using a LinkedIn-style application to match service members to assignments.
“We’re also going to improve our data-crunching and how we leverage big data to inform our personnel policies,” he said.
Carter said he wants the department to recruit from the broadest possible pool of talent.
“If we don’t, we risk becoming isolated and insular, and that’s not the path to success in today’s security environment,” he said.