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Building a F.A.S.T. Force: A Flexible Personnel System for a Modern Military

The Brief

This report presents a comprehensive package of 39 bipartisan proposals to improve the effectiveness of military personnel policy. Taken together, the recommendations contained in this report aim to prepare the military to confront the threats of the future while also keeping promises made to today’s service members and meeting the needs of military families. A Fully engaged, Adaptable, Sustainable, and Technically proficient (F.A.S.T.) military will ensure the future force is as strong as the one the United States has fielded for the last 70 years.

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The success of the U.S. military, a professional force with a global mission, depends on its ability to harness the dynamism of American society to meet evolving strategic threats head-on. As the United States confronts an increasingly challenging security environment and as Americans’ expectations and lifestyles change, the nation cannot afford to manage its military using policies designed for a bygone era. Yet, that is exactly what is happening. It is long past time for lawmakers and Pentagon leaders to fundamentally reform the personnel systems that manage America’s uniformed service members and the civil servants who support them. The “one-size-fits-all” force that won the Cold War needs to be updated to one that fully engages all of American society, adapts to new threats, is sustainable over the long term, and is technically proficient.

ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL: A PERSONNEL SYSTEM TRAPPED IN THE PAST

The military uses a 70-year-old “one-size-fits-all” personnel system that brings young people into the military in their teens and 20s, puts them into a rigid command-and-promotion structure, and removes all but the most-senior-ranking service members by their early 40s. This system has served the military well over the years, but has critical shortcomings.

Weaknesses of One-Size-Fits-All:

  • Prohibits the military from rapidly acquiring needed skills or knowledge

  • Limits the development of technical expertise

  • Fuels the unsustainable rise of personnel costs

  • Misallocates talent and minimizes individual strengths and skills

  • Kicks people out of the military at their peak

  • Discourages experienced, high-demand talent from joining

  • Obstructs transitions between active/guard/reserve/civilian

  • Inhibits professional creativity in favor of standardized career paths

  • Expands the civilian-military divide

  • Prevents military spouses from finding and keeping meaningful employment

  • Favors uniformity over individual merit and performance

A F.A.S.T. Force for the Future: Recommendations


This report presents a comprehensive package of 39 bipartisan proposals to improve the effectiveness of military personnel policy. Taken together, the recommendations contained in this report aim to prepare the military to confront the threats of the future while also keeping promises made to today’s service members and meeting the needs of military families. A Fully engaged, Adaptable, Sustainable, and Technically proficient (F.A.S.T.) military will ensure the future force is as strong as the one the United States has fielded for the last 70 years.

  • F-1: Make it easier for military spouses to find and sustain a career, especially when relocating.
  • F-2: Create an online database to automate and increase service-member influence over future military assignments.
  • F-3: Enhance and expand the Selective Service System to include all young American adults.
  • F-4: Require Selective Service registrants to complete the military vocational aptitude test.
  • F-5: Expand the Reserve Officer Training Corps program to all levels of higher education, including postgraduate and community-college students.
  • F-6: Improve and synergize online military recruiting efforts by creating a cross-service common application and expanding web-based recruiting tools.
  • F-7: Improve access to and quality of Defense Department-provided child-care services.
  • F-8: Create on-base child-care coordinators to advocate for military families in the local community and to build private-public child-care partnerships.
  • F-9: Provide proactive institutional career guidance to service members before they complete their initial service obligation to increase retention.
  • F-10: Conduct exit interviews to evaluate the quality and rationale of separating service members.
  • F-11: Align, where relevant and possible, military training with civilian professional licensing and certification requirements.
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