Despite Challenges, DoD Meeting Retention, Recruiting Goals
By Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 14, 2005 America's all-volunteer military is performing well in its first protracted warfighting challenge, and recruiting and retention remain solid, a top Defense Department official told a House Appropriations defense subcommittee here today.
While there is no doubt that parts of the total force face challenges, during fiscal 2004 the services attained more than 100 percent of the department's 181,308 accession goal, recruiting 182,825 active duty recruits, Charles S. Abell told the subcommittee. Abell is principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
While meeting quantitative goals is important, Abell said, "the quality of the cohort is critical."
"We need the right mix of recruits who will complete their term of service and perform successfully in training and on the job," he said.
Abell said the quality of recruits has two dimensions: aptitude and educational achievement. "We value higher-aptitude recruits because they are easier to train and perform better on the job," he said. About 80 percent of those with high school diplomas complete their first three years of service, as compared to a 50 percent completion rate for those without a high school diploma, he added.
Over the past 20 years, the military services have met or exceeded DoD's benchmarks for quality recruits. Both quality and aptitude remained high in 2004, with 95 percent of all new active duty recruits holding high school diplomas, and 73 percent scoring above average on aptitude tests, Abell said. As of last month, only the Army had failed to meet its accession goal, but Army quality levels remained strong, he noted. "We remain cautiously optimistic that the Army will achieve its recruiting goal of 80,000 soldiers by the end of the fiscal year," he added, with improvement expected after the traditionally difficult spring period.
As for retention, Abell told the committee that the Army and Marine Corps had met or exceeded their fiscal 2005 retention goals. Navy and Air Force retention levels were higher at the outset of 2005 after lower numbers during the last quarter of fiscal 2004 due to initiatives aimed at reshaping and rebalancing the force, he said.
Four of the six DoD reserve components met or exceeded recruiting goals in 2004, Abell said, but the Army Reserve and Army National Guard are having trouble. "While we have seen steady improvement in the first five months of the fiscal year 2005," he said, "most reserve components are struggling to meet their recruiting goals," he acknowledged. "The Army National Guard achieved 74 percent of its recruiting goal through February 2005, and the Army Reserve achieved about 84 percent of its goal."
Abell pointed to a variety of factors that account for the difference, among them less encouragement to join the military from parents, teachers and other influencers of young people due to the realities of war, an improving economy, and lower unemployment rates. He said DoD's efforts to recognize the value of service through bonuses, stronger incentives, hardship duty pay, expedited citizenship applications and other benefits should help over time.
But while recruiting in the reserve components may be lower than desired, "retention in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve remains very strong," Abell said. "Attrition in 2004, and thus far in 2005, is consistent with pre-global war on terror levels, and is actually considerably lower than pre-war levels in the Army Reserve. We expect attrition to remain within acceptable limits."
Abell told the subcommittee that congressional support continues to be key. He cited the across-the-board 3.5 percent pay raise, housing allowance improvements that brought average member out-of-pocket expenses from 3.5 percent to zero, and the targeted increases in pay and allowances for servicemembers in Iraq, Afghanistan and other dangerous places as examples of the support Congress has given. "We are also pleased with the related increases in pay and allowances and bonuses for our members in the reserve component," he said.
Conversely, Abell said, reductions in last year's special pays and selective re-enlistment bonuses "have presented challenges to retain servicemembers essential for meeting our military and humanitarian missions around the world."
"The Army and Marine Corps personnel programs are significantly challenged as they try to meet their increased authorized end strength this fiscal year," Abell said. "As we face these challenges, we seek your continued support in the forthcoming mid-year review and any associated reprogramming."