Families are the real casualties in the recent roll out of the Assignment Interactive Module-2 (AIM-2).
While Human Resources Command (HRC) purports that this tool will enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the officer management process, the reality is that the tool is a bust. Delays and inefficiencies in the tool have resulted in unit miscommunication, confusion, and ultimately, a failed system that leaves too much uncertainty for too long for families who have already sacrificed too much.
Military families are adept at managing the inefficiencies and uncertainties of active-duty life. As a spouse, I’ve spent sleepless nights following days of black out communication and I’ve prepared for untimely death with rituals of paperwork and life insurance repeatedly. That is an uncertainty I willingly accept. Military families are also well-versed in the sacrifices required due to the needs of the Army. Personally, our family has endured multiple deployments, moves, professional licensure hurdles for me, and geographical separation through unaccompanied tour. The addition of this unnecessary uncertainty and complete disregard of families in the new officer management process is unacceptable.
The Army is preparing to launch a pilot program that could fundamentally change the way the service manages its soldiers and matches people to their next assignments.
AIM-2 may seem a dream to those in HRC; however, for my family and others, it’s added significant additional stress and turmoil. Currently, after weeks of delays, “the marketplace” is closed, pending briefs to HRC about the “success” of the tool. Soldiers can expect their orders sometime in February 2020, two months from marketplace closure, for a June 2020 move. You read that right. Three months (or less) to prepare to move. Selections and rankings currently exist in a black hole known only to those at the helm. This is not what military families deserve. We deserve better. A minimum of six months of knowledge of where the next duty station not only eases stress levels, but more importantly, allows families the opportunity to prepare for that move in terms of spouse careers and children’s academic needs.
The grievous aspects of AIM-2 are most apparent in areas of concentration (AOCs) that are small, where soldiers are known by name to their assignment officers, branch managers, and consultants. Previously, a good assignment officer or branch manager knew their soldiers and their families’ needs well. This tool eliminates that personal connection. That elimination is perhaps the most glaring error in the tool. It demonstrates a blatant lack of consideration of those needs.
In the case of my family, AIM-2 cannot tell the receiving unit that we are two years away from retirement. It cannot take into account the fact that we will be uprooting a high schooler for two years of his academic career, taking him away from a school in which we fought hard to get him the accommodations he needs for a learning disorder. AIM-2 does not recognize that I will be leaving two years unserved in an elected position on the school board where I fight for the needs of all kids, but especially military kids. Nor does the tool realize that I am a licensed clinical psychologist and that as yet, there are no laws that cover reciprocity in any state I may move to, nor anything that allows me career continuity. AIM-2 does not take into account the financial costs to the military of a move from both coasts (due our current geo separation) and then a move right back to where we are, because AIM-2 does not know we plan to retire here. None of this makes sense financially or ethically, but AIM-2 is an automated tool that alienates families and disregards their needs. Not only that, but it’s has leveled up the difficulty by placing all of it within a black hole timeline.
Military families like mine deserve stability and transparency in the selection and move process. If the Army really wants to improve efficiency and effectiveness in officer management, they would do well to remember the needs of the spouse and the family. We have given up, sacrificed, compromised and compensated for far too many things over the course of our own service as spouses and families. There is a minimal amount of dignity and respect required that would provide us ample notice for moves and that would at least pretend to take our needs into account. Talent retention is not simply an HRC game. Spouses have considerable influence. The next officer management tool might take that into consideration. If not, soldiers with families like mine may decide to take their talent elsewhere, where those needs can be better met.
Dr. Jennifer McDonald is an Army spouse of over 15 years. Her family is currently in the third year of a geographical separation, with multiple deployments over the course of their Army service. She is a clinical psychologist and military behavioral health consultant to the U.S. Army Medical Research Directorate-West at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, with areas of focus in sleep and performance and military spouse well-being. McDonald owns a private practice and serves on her local school board and advocates for the needs of families and children.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Defense or the United States Army. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.