Rank and expendibility

I didn’t check the statistics but I think it’s right.

Greater numbers (wonder about higher percentages) of lower ranking personnel die in combat.

Are they expendible because less is invested in their training? Is it their lower individual value to the success of the campaign?

Does it all boil down to socioeconmics?

Expendible? I wonder if the Mothers of our fallen brothers and sisters use this word?

Former Army Officer here (retiring rank of Captain) and I can say that there certainly isn’t an attitude that enlisted men and women are “expendable” or that officers are on a pedestal.

There is however a recognition of facts. An officer’s life is more important in the heat of battle than the lives of enlisted men. A good officer would recognize that keeping HIMSELF alive is the best chance for all of his men to perform well and get out of combat alive. You’re the one trained to lead, although NCOs are also very valuable in combat situations.

In Vietnam IIRC 2nd Lieutenants actually had the highest casualty rate of any rank.

Modern figures I have no idea, but remember there are going to be a lot less officers killed overall because there are a lot less officers in the Army.

I appreciate your reply, M.H.

Are the NCO’s more valuable when considered collectively or individually?

Why no armies with 100% of troops trained at the officer level?

The initial premise may not even be true. It definitely is true that soldiers will intentionally target opposing officers when possible, so their casualty rate may be higher than enlisted men.

Possible. No statistics yet. I’ll go look for some.

Well I didn’t formulate policy so I’m basically just going off my own experience and common sense. But basically, you can’t run a platoon, company et cetra of men if all of them are trained to be the leaders.

Certain units in the military (especially sepcial forces) are trained so that each member is supposed to be very independent minded and to disregard certain things that normal soldiers do in relation to the chain of command.

For the regular 11Bs though there needs to be an understanding of who’s the CO, and how orders must be obeyed immediately and without question, because the COs decision making must always come above your own.

Now I don’t really know what is up with the “Army of One” slogans as that is after my time, but I’m speculating that is just propagand BS to try and increase recruiting.

On a related note, do the frequencies of some types of injuries vary with rank. Do military surgeons use such information in diagnostics?

IIRC the first KIA in Iraq was a Marine officer leading his men in battle.

In a combat unit, if you loose one or two infantry soldiers the loss to the eficacy of the unit is probably less than the loss of one or two officers. Is that because there are more of them, or are there more of them because of that? It also seems that replacing soldiers is more disruptive to the function of the unit the higher in rank you go. In war, the unit probably recoves faster if a new private joins the it than if a new captain does.



CACCF Record Counts by Military Pay Grade, as of 12/98 Military Pay Grade Number of Records
Enlisted (E1-E9) 50,312
Officer (O1-O8) 6,602
Warrant Officer (W1-W4) 1,278
Unknown/Not Reported 1
Total 58,193

Putting aside the moral dimension for just a second soldiers, of all ranks are expected to risk life and limb to carry out the mission. It’s pretty much the job description. Looking at it that way, every soldier is “expendable”, if you insist on using that term.

But as Martin Hyde points out, warfare is a practical business and the mission is put in bigger jeopardy if the commanding officer or the key NCOs are put out of action. The Old Man is the one with the maps and the plan and the radios, he’s the one who can call artillery support to save our butts, he’s the one who knows what the neighbour units are doing and he’s trained in thinking of all this while the bullets are whistling. It makes sense to keep him alive.

There’s a difference between commanding and leading.

A commander of infantry will - generally speaking - not be in the thick of things. He’s supposed to sit in a command post, surrounded by sandbags and armed men. In most armies, commanders start at the company level - captains, majors and above. Commanders do not take part in the actual fighting unless something’s gone wrong and some effort is made to keep it that way - so in a sense, you can say he’s less expendable than a frontline grunt.

A leader, on the other hand, will most often be right there among the fighting men. Leaders are expected to demonstrate personal courage, they are within earshot of the people with the rifles who do the dirty work and within range of the enemy. I suspect that their casualty rate is actually higher than that of the enlisted soldiers. The platoon or squad leader may be more busy screaming orders than firing weapons, but he’s expected to be able to do both.

I’m not sure of the statistics, but the casualty rate amoung platoon leaders, 2[sup]nd[/sup] Lt., is pretty high.

I think casualty rates among infantry officers varies by rank because of the nature of the job. The platoon leader is actually in the forces at the point of contact and is expected to be right up front. The motto at the Fort Benning infantry school for officers is “Follow Me.” The Company Commander, a Captain’s post, is normally further back because of the need to direct the actions of three platoons plus supporting units as well as communicating progress (if any) and the need for help up the chain of command. The Battalion Commander, Major or Lt. Col., even further back because of the need to communicate with three companies and regimental HQ. Et certera, et cetera.

The further back you are, the less lethal the atmosphere although a good friend of our family, a Company Commander, was killed in Italy by a sniper when well behind the lines since his company was in reserve at the time.

Ever seen a video tape of rioters vs. riot police? The rioters are generally in great numbers compared to the police, yet they get their asses kicked fairly predictably. I’ve seen quite a few clips where a relatively small number of riot cops break the line of protesters and send them running frantically.

It takes leaders to turn a mob into an army. Officers serve to organize and think tactically on a level above that at which a soldier needs to operate. If this took no skill or ability, then losing an officer would be no worse than losing a grunt; but I’ve never heard one seriously suggest that tactical thinking under pressure is not a significant skill. If a unit loses an officer, and if there is no one who can step up and take that role, then the unit becomes a mob.

The only exception I’ve read of was the Roman army. In some cases, a losing general would throw himself into the enemy lines and commit suicide in sight of his troops. From what I’ve read (no specific cites that I can think of off hand), losing the commander is certain death. The difference was that the Romans had a corp of experienced, professional NCOs: the centurians. One documentary about J. Caesar (sp?) said that in his early career, the centurians won the battles in spite of Caesar. Absent that professional officer corp, Caesar would have been dead meat very early on.

Also be sure to look at mere NUMBERS of people at various ranks. For instance, for every 2ndLt there are 15 or 20 Privates, PFCs, and LCpls, 8 or 9 Cpls, a few Sgts, and a Staff Sergaeant or Gunny. For every Captain there are four 2nd and 1st Lts. There are more people in the lower ranks so by pure chance more will be killed.

Back when I was in the Marine Corps (late 80’s, early 90s), I think there were about 20,000 Officers, and 160,000 Enlisted, round numbers. 1:8 ratio. Keeping in mind Higher HQ tends to be Officer Heavy, the “front line” ratios would be higher.

The military runs off a Triangle structure, the higher in rank you get, the fewer people at that rank, generally speaking.

I seem to recall that there was a story that unpopular platoon leaders regularly got fragged by their own men, but that could be b-s.

Thanks for all the replies. My assessment of the general tone is that

  1. Officers are courageous and often place themselves in harms way (no argument here)

  2. Officers perform an indispensible role in combat (again no argument).

Also plain, however is that more enlisted men die in combat. Whether a higher **percentage ** of PFC’s die than 2nd lieutenants, I don’t know (though I’d love to see stats, Googlers).

My contention is that the disparity may not be of necessity but of expediency. Every nation has limited resources. We try to do the most with what we have. The officer-enlisted hierchy is an efficient (thought perhaps not the only efficient) means to field a fighting force. You invest heavily in the training of a small percentage of the fighting force then use these officers to shepard the troops with considerably less training. The downside of this strategy, however, is the inevitably greater loss of life towards the bottom of the hierchy. Since the hierchy also reflects socioeconmoic status, losses concentrate within the working classes.

I believe we’d save lives by investing far more in the training of ALL soldiers. Something akin to having an entire fighting force of Seals and Green Berets. Weed out men incapable of completing this training, as they’d just be cannon fodder anyway.

Admittedly, maintaining such a force requires more resources per recruit (possibly more than we could afford???). In addition, fielding a large enough force with such great expertise poses difficulties. Has it ever been tried, though?

Without imposing value judgments, can we discuss the possibility that while our military organizational strategy is efficient (efficiency here measured as AKU (ass-kicking unit) per dollar spent) it embraces the notion of the greater expendibility of the enlisted man when national security is on the line.

AFAIK, soldiers do receive a lot of training. Not everybody has the ability to be a special forces guy or gal, and people in the military have jobs to do, they simply couldn’t train 24/7. Being a Green Beret is different from being a grunt. You need soldiers to be good at being soldiers, not commandos. A friend of mine was in the 82[sup]nd[/sup] Airborn and his assessment of SEALS was that they were a bunch of undiscliplined fucks. People with the disposition to be commandos may not make good main-force soldiers and good soldiers may not have the disposition to be commandos.

An infantry man has a different job from an officer. I don’t have a citation, that’s why I didn’t mention it before, but I’ve heard (I think from an authorative source) that 2[sup]nd[/sup] lieutennants (sp?) have high casualty rates because it’s their job to stick their heads up and get a look-see at what the hell is going on.

I’ve done some searching and I can’t find much. At the Pork Chop battles 86% of officers were wounded, but I can’t find a comparable figure for the enlisted. In the Spanish-American war the casualty rate for officers was twice that of the enlisted men. Evidently the Redcoats were known for high officer casualty rates as well.

This thread is rapidly divirging from GQ and into GD territory, but let me make two observations:

  1. I do not believe your assertion that enlisted men suffer a higher casualty rate than front line officers. I have never served in combat, but nothing in the training I received suggested that junior officers had any better chance of survival than the people who served along side them.

  2. The US spends something like $186,000 per annum per soldier. The UK spends about $180,000. By comparison to their historical counter-parts, modern soldiers receive elite-level training. Most military strategies and tactics place a very high value on all soldiers, regardless of rank, even if only for the most mercenary of reasons: the military has a great deal of money sunk into training and equipping them.

no nation can afford to restrict its hiring policy to just officer-material; the pool of talent just isn’t that big, even in a population the size of the USA. And even if you do, you’re better off spreading that talent around some to make it go further. The military tends to recruit from the lower socio-economic groups who have a motivation to escape poverty and unemployment that makes them put up with separation from family members, spartan living conditions and numerous petty restrictions on personal freedom that come with military life. This inevitably brings in more followers than leaders. ‘Elite’ units like SF usually have higher standards and many if not all their members could have been junior leaders in regular outfits, a fact which leaves them open to charges of “skimming off the cream” and leaving the rest of the army/navy/marines deficient.
Proper training is expensive, and needs to be ongoing, whereas all-singing, all-dancing kit is a onetime buy that makes it an attractive alternative to the beancounters. Here, the wish to substitute gadgets and button-pushing for training and professional skill are seen as a very American failing.