Army Cutting Nearly 4000 Captains and Majors

As we transition to a peacetime force, the Army is going to force some 4000 mid-career officers to retire early.

Army Times (“Army will cut almost 4,000 captains, majors–Early retirement, separation boards convene this spring“):

Almost 19,000 captains and majors will be screened by separation and early retirement boards this spring as part of the ongoing drawdown of the active-duty Army.

The Officer Separation Board and Enhanced Selective Early Retirement Board could select up to 20 percent of the considered population for separation from the Army — that’s about 3,800 people. However, not everyone in the group will have enough time in service to qualify for a 15-year retirement.

Officers subject to these boards are Army Competitive Category captains in year groups 2006 to 2008 and majors in year groups 1999 to 2003. Eligible officers must have at least one year active-duty time in grade and not be on a promotion list to the next rank.


More than 10,000 captains will be affected by the boards; about 9,700 will be screened by the OSB, which is for officers with fewer than 18 years of federal active service, and about 700 will be screened by the E-SERB, which is for soldiers with 18 or more years of federal active service, according to HRC.

Almost 8,500 majors will be affected by the boards. Of those, almost 7,000 will be looked at by the OSB, and about 1,500 will be screened by the E-SERB.

Officers with 18 or more years of service who are selected for separation will be allowed to serve until the first day of the first month of their 20th year of active federal service, earning them full retirement benefits, said Hillary Baxter, chief of the leader development division at HRC.

If these officers decide to leave active duty immediately, they will be offered Temporary Early Retirement Authority benefits, Baxter said.

TERA, which Congress authorized the military services to use as a force management program through fiscal 2018, allows troops with at least 15 but less than 20 years of active service to receive the same benefits as those who retire with 20 or more years of service, except that their retirement pay is reduced accordingly.

It’s tough to tell people who have faithfully and honorably served for more than a decade, many through multiple combat deployments, that their services are no longer required. But this approach is far better than the one applied in the post-Cold War drawdown, in which only those officers up for promotion were subject to involuntary separation. The result of that process was that many solid officers were shown the door while less-than-stellar officers from other year groups were not only retained but, because the force expanded again after 9/11, essentially guaranteed promotion through lieutenant colonel.

While still a blow to those who wished to continue serving, it’s softened considerably by the fact that these officers will be separated with either full or partial retirement benefits.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    My back-of-the envelope calculation suggests that’s a pretty good chunk of captains and majors. There are about 200,000 total commissioned officers.

    How about generals? Doesn’t cutting the number of captains and majors upset the balance pretty severely?

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    It seems to me it would have been more productive to start with the generals and work down.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Hah! Finally found what I was looking for. This should put things in some perspective. Half of the commissioned officers are either captains or majors, about 125,000 in all.

  4. Electroman says:

    The military goes through a devastating boom-and-bust cycle as far as commissioned officers are concerned. I saw many good men RIFFed after Desert Storm. The only thing that saved me was that I was an S-4 (logistics) and good at it, something that the military always seems to need.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Please note that the table to which I posted the link is all branches, not just the Army. But it does provide perspective.

  6. DC Loser says:

    Been there, done that. I was in the big Cold War year group of 1983 that was devastated by the post-Cold War drawdown. I was lucky in that I successfully made the transition to a civilian position in the DoD and did well in hindsight. But I agree that they compounded the problem and had to promote those behind us at almost 100% rates to make up for the loss when they needed more officers after 9/11.

  7. 11B40 says:


    I just hope that this doesn’t turn into a pogrom to drive women, sexual dysfunctionals, Islamaniacs, and other lovers of our liberty out of our Army. But, on the other hand, “Forward”.

  8. Just Me says:

    Seems like asking for volunteers might help.

    But I see no big deal with regards to drawing down the number of officers-if they aren’t needed. The army (military in general) isn’t a jobs program-it is designed to meet the defense needs of the country and if those needs mean fewer officers then those are the needs.

    The process should be fair but cutting them loose seems to be expected.

  9. JKB says:

    @Just Me:

    No it is not a jobs program. But then neither are Boing, Walmart, etc., when they lay off workers due to a change in business requirements.

    The Army is tricky because it is up or out. If the economy turns to good, they’ll see those reaching the 10 yr mark start to leave in numbers. Then we’ll hear about retention bonuses and scrapping the latest retirement reform.

    It is the cycle, whatta ta gonna do about it?

  10. grumpy realist says:

    @Just Me: The standard problem (at least in business) of asking for volunteers is all the people who you really want to hang on to (because they’re great) decide to jump ship and look for greener pastures and you’re left with the deadwood.

    Been there, seen it….

  11. James Joyner says:

    @grumpy realist: Yup. Meant to address that point because it’s exactly what happened in the 1990s: the very worst and many of the very best took the buy-outs.

  12. JKB says:

    @James Joyner:

    It’s tricky in any organization. Many people remain out of habit. But when you toss everything up in the air, even those you’d like to keep asleep wake up. Some see it as time to move on since the org isn’t showing any loyalty so no reason not to look out for yourself.

    They do seem to be sticking with the early retirement/full retirement at his point. That will still cause plenty to see 20 as the exit point for the next few years rather than continue the game.

  13. superdestroyer says:

    The last time the military lowered head count, the economy was booming and many younger officers were happy to be getting out. Now the young officers will be getting out of the military during a time of high unemployment and at a time when the federal government and government contractors are downsizing.