Becoming Brass: Issues in the Testing, Recruiting, and Selection of American Military Officers
Eitelberg, Mark J.
Laurence, Janice H.
Brown, Dianne C.
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Excerpt from Summary: America’s military officers, leaders of nearly two-million uniformed warriors and technicians, managers of multi-billion dollar budgets, have been described in the popular press as “the mind and soul of the vast machine that is the chief guardian of the nation and the democracies of the West.” They are called “brass”—three-hundred thousand men and women who have pledged “life, fortune, and sacred honor” in service to their country, trained in the management of violence, holding a mighty key to the success or failure of the nation’s defense. Who are the people who occupy such an unusual position of influence over our lives, and how were they chosen for the task? What tests or measures of ability are used for selection? How do officers fit into the general stream of American life—before, during, and after their time in service? These are all important questions that have somehow managed to escape public scrutiny. In Becoming Brass, Eitelberg, Laurence, and Brown explore the answers to these questions, looking specifically at the following: the demographic characteristics of officers and their comparative “quality,” as measured by scores on the SAT; current trends and prospects in officer recruiting and the possible influence of testing on the future composition of the officer corps; and the major routes by which individuals become officers, paying special attention to the role of standardized tests in the process. In addition, the authors attempt to weigh the benefits and burdens of military service for officers—opportunities gained and lost—demonstrating the unique nature of the military as an institution and the profession of arms as a way of life. Through the aid of a new and unique data base (linking Department of Defense personnel files with historical records maintained by the Educational Testing Service), Eitelberg and his associates were able to analyze the SAT scores of about 56 percent of all officers commissioned from 1975 through 1985. Comparisons between the scores of officers and those of the general population indicate that the scores of officers are considerably higher. By converting SAT point scores to percentile scores, the authors were able to further study the comparative performance of officers on the test. Of particular interest, about 75 percent of Army officers commissioned from 1975 through 1985 scored above the 50th percentile, in addition to 78 percent of Marine Corps officers, 83 percent of Air Force officers, and 90 percent of those in the Navy.
This document includes the full text of the report. It is preceded by a summary and a 2020 update by author Mark J. Eitelberg.
RightsThis publication is a work of the U.S. Government as defined in Title 17, United States Code, Section 101. Copyright protection is not available for this work in the United States.
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