Army Chief Milley: US ARMY AT RISK – Tens of Thousands of Soldiers Out of Action, 20,000 Permanent Undeployables

Nathaniel F
by Nathaniel F
Sgt. Marshall Lane competes in a ruck march. Image source: U.S. Army photo by Spc. Khadijah Lutz-Wilcox, USACAPOC, public domain.

In his testimony before Congress on Thursday, Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley put forth a concerning picture of the readiness of the United States Army: Soldier readiness is below half that of the Army’s goal, and tens of thousands of soldiers are reportedly non-deployable, many of them permanently. The reason for this state of affairs is medical – Milley testified that 90% of non-deployable soldiers were out for medical reasons, with most of those being orthopedic. According to Milley, 20,000 non-deployables (over 2% of the total personnel in the Army) have been assigned permanent non-deployable status and are being processed through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES). A portion of Chief Milley’s conversation with Senator Jack Reed is transcribed below:

Reed: “General Milley, Army readiness, uh, Brigade Combat Teams, as I understand that now, is roughly 30%, is that a fair judgement about the readiness status?”

Milley: “Roger, that’s correct. The exact readiness I’d be happy to brief you or your staffs – it’s classified – but as an order of magnitude, sure.”

Reed: “Sure, we’re in that ballpark.”

Milley: “And the goal of course is 66%.”

Reed: “66%. And what are the two or three key steps that you have to take, you think, to get from where it is today to that 66%?”

Milley: “Yeah, there’s several of them, but the long, the most significant right now, the drag, if you will, is manning. Many of these units are not at the full manning level, and that drags down their readiness, in terms of the reporting system we have. But also in terms of going out to training and/or deployment. So if a unit would have a significant amount of non-deployables, though we’ve dropped that number by two
thirds over the last 5 years, but there’s still a significant amount of non-deployables, so if we fill units at 95%, and we have 10% non-deployables it takes you to 85%, you take away the day-to-day grind, you’re down to 80% or less that goes out to training. That is not a good thing. You should at least be 90-95% when you go out to training, you go to the Combat Training Center. So manning is the critical drag
on the system. We have made improvements because of the money you gave us in terms of spare parts and maintaining the equipment better, so that’s a good news story there, but the manning has continued to drag. So with the Authorization ’17 to take us to 476, what we want to do is make the existing force structure whole, there are some minor force structure increases in this budget request, but we want to make the force structure that does exist complete, whole, and fully ready, before we move on to the next step which is expanding the Army.”

Reed: “And, in that regard, I understand 10% of the non-deployable personnel are non-deployable for medical reasons.”

Milley: “About 85-90%, actually are medical, the rest of them are legal and other reasons.”

Reed: “And how are you trying to get at that? Is there something in terms of enhanced training or lifestyle or anything else? That seems to be a significant problem.”

Milley: “Yeah, the majority of those are orthopedic-type injuries. Most are recoverable with some extended profiles. So they are non-deployable in the short term. Total Army, out of the million-plus troops, about 20,000 – about 2% or so – are hard down; they’ll never be able to deploy. And those we’re working through the IDES system, and the number of days it takes to process them has come down from well over a year in the 370s-390s in the range of days, we’ve got it down by a hundred days to 270, so we’re trying to chip that away so that reduces the number of permanent non-deployables down and the VA then picks up their care. There’s several things we have to do internal to the organization.”

Reed: “One of the things I assume you have to do is improve recruitment and retention. In order to get to your – just to fill up the current existing force structure, is that accurate?”

Milley: “Our recruitment and retention are, at this point, meeting the goals. Last year we had 100% across the board, to date this year we’re about 80% or so for recruitment, and about 75% to date – of course the year’s not finished yet – on retention. With the increase in end-strength authorization to 476, we significantly increased the recruiting and retention missions. I think we’ll be within 1%, plus or minus of achieving that by 1 October.”

The figures Milley quotes do not seem to be much changed versus reports from this time last year, which quoted a figure of approximately 100,000 non-deployable soldiers in the Army. If that is still the case, it would mean that almost a tenth of the Army is unable to fight due to medical reasons. Milley did report, however, that the rate of non-deployables has been cut by 2/3rds over the past five years, likely substantially due to rotation of soldiers since the scaling back of US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What this seems to indicate is that the injury rate for the average soldier in the Army is too high, creating a severe readiness problem. How could the injury rate be reduced? Possible methods include better physical conditioning, better medical oversight for Army units, and a reduced soldier load.

Nathaniel F
Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. He can be reached via email at

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  • FT_Ward FT_Ward on May 30, 2017

    Royal Marine basic is probably the hardest recruit training. The link is for a TV program on it. Notice they need a company devoted to physical therapy for the recruits for it's three commandos (battalions).

    Is it possible to train the infantry to a state of fitness where people carrying 100 lbs + will be mobile. Not if you want 150 + battalions. Units would look like a NFL off season program crossed with preparation for climbing Everest. Many people would not be able to keep up. Many would not want to play. BTW I'm not saying the RMs are mobile with 100 lbs + but they are closer than anyone else.

    Could you reduce the loads? Probably not. As armour got lighter people would want more coverage. As weapons got lighter they'd want more ammo.

    But here's a few ideas to perhaps cut down on injuries. Stop moving on concrete, gravel and asphalt during training. March and run on the softest ground you can find. Cover the concrete running paths on bases with woods chips. March cross country. Run on grass.

    Stretch after a warm-up. Like elastic bands the body stretches better when warm. Then do you work out.

    Leg strength is much more important than upper body. Prioritize hill runs and squats etc ahead of push ups and pull ups.

  • Flyr Flyr on Jun 03, 2017

    The truly deployable are being ground down mentally and physically by multiple deployment and the marginally deployable ranks increased through political correctness.

    The big push should be to broaden the pool of durable deployable troops with political correctness taking a distant back seat. Troops returning from deployment should not find all the good opportunities taken by non deployables

    I'm old enough to remember when the pull up bars were removed from the chow lines because some soldiers were intimidated.

    Perhaps we should also be adding a significant bonus for being deployable ( or recovering from injuries suffered during deployment)

    How would the NFL teams change their recruiting and training if they were limited to say 10 roster additions a year