Two Army NCOs Sound off About Retention in the Army

March 24, 1999

Comment: #249

Discussion Thread:  #s 246 & 247


[1] Email from a SSG in Korea, "Retention in the Army," March 24, 1999. Attached

[2] Email from a MSG at Ft Sill, "RE: #247 - READINESS - An Outsider Synthesizes a Structural Portrait of Decay ... and Wonders: What is Going On?", March 23, 1999. Attached.

The two references to this message present slightly different perspectives on the Army's retention problems. There are broad areas of agreement and hints of disagreement, but each is a valuable perspective, because its is REAL. Each author is an experienced NCO (but with different MOS's - one combat and the other combat services support, I think) and is struggling to cope with these retention problems on a day to day basis. I won't summarize them, because they are well worth comparing and contrasting by careful reading.

Chuck Spinney

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Reference #1

Email from a Staff Sergeant in Korea

Date: Wed, 24 Mar 1999 04:14:01 -0800 (PST) From: SSGxxx Subject: Retention in the Army To: Chuck Spinney <>

Chuck, I passed around the clip on personnel problems in the army it got a lot of agreement. The good news for me is that with all of these people getting out, my chances for promotion are increasing. Since my next assignment will be as a training instructor at Fort ZZZ, it will be nice to know that I will have a light course load, and should be able to finish off my master's degree, and maybe even spend some quality time with my wife.

The bad news is that the army is in a position where we will not be able to get rid of our duds. As the recruiting standards are lowered, the number of duds will increase. It always has and it always will. I hate to say this so bluntly, but we are almost in a position where we have to kiss private's asses in order to maintain a certain manning level. Not every where of course, but since the pressure is on to keep everyone, the junior leaders have to spend a disproportionate about of time taking care of the problem children instead of being able to develop the hard charging, highly motivated soldiers.

One more word on these reenlistment bonuses you hear so much about. The only people that are eligible for them are those soldiers with less than 10 years of service. After 10 years, the army figures that they have you, so there is no need for additional incentives. Also, if you are a SSG or above, after 10 years you are considered in a career status, and do not have to reenlist anymore, so no more bonuses.

People may join the Army for material gain. They do not stay in it for material gain. They stay in it because they like it.

Reference #2  

Email from a Master Sergeant at Ft. Sill

From:MSG xxx To: "'Chuck Spinney'" <> Subject: RE: #247 - READINESS - An Outsider Synthesizes a Structural Portrait of Decay ... and Wonders: What is Going On?

Date: Tue, 23 Mar 1999

Interesting comments, Mr. Spinney. Thanks for sending these comments on Readiness to us. I've shared the Army one with our personnel people here and with my Battalion's sergeant major and personnel sergeant. We'll see where it goes from here.

A couple comments about readiness and such for you. As a soldier, I'm troubled by all this news about servicemembers leaving and such. I can tell you, I was personally encouraged by the extension of retention periods for most grades in the service. This was an item a past CSM of the Army was working on and I know he's glad to see it: though the circumstances driving it aren't what he had in mind, I'm sure.

I was talking with a young staff sergeant just yesterday and he was talking about leaving the service at 20 years. I asked him why and he said it was because of shrinking benefits. "When I came in," he said, "My family received (virtually) free medical and dental care. They could be seen on post. Now, we have to pay and we have to go downtown."

Interesting comment, eh?

The IG here is currently looking into retention: this is a sign of the Army's concern and a search for a systemic cause of people leaving. One cause that I saw mentioned in your readiness dispatches and in numerous other sources are back to back deployments. These, of course, can be hard on the soldiers and the family members. The Army readiness dispatch also mention that 50% of Army PCSs are to Korea. These PCSs are hard on marriages. We may want to look at increasing the # of family members in Korea. I can tell you that my impending deployment there is one reason I decided to leave the service at the 22 year mark. My wife doesn't use e-mail, and rather than face an extended separation and all the troubles that bring, I opted to leave the service. I'm sorry to say that, but it's the honest truth. I'm finishing up my bacchelaureate degree, and I'm marching out the door. It's too bad, cause the service missed their chance at having me be an E-9. Their loss.

I asked a visiting general the other day about recruiting challenges. I asked if the service had tried appealing to sense of duty to recruit personnel. It was his contention that this didn't work presently, unfortunately.

A recruiting handbook I saw about six months ago gave reasons to enlist in the Army. The recruiters use the acronym MATRESS to remind recruiters of the reasons to cite: Money, Adventure, Training and Travel, Education, Service and other reasons are what they state. (R for Recreation?) At any rate, it means that there are many reasons to join the service and many reasons to stay and the recruitment and retention NCOs have to use all of those to attract people.

Ultimately, I think, we may have to resort to the draft again to man our forces. This, during peacetime conditions like these, may not be a bad thing. It would certainly help man our forces and it would give a great deal of our fellow citizens an opportunity to see military service up close and personal. Given the choice between being drafted and being told where to go and enlisting and selecting where you go, I think, would swell the ranks of voluntary enlistments.

XXX MSG, USA Fort Sill, Oklahoma