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Space Command Chief Cites Retention Challenges

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 10, 2001 – While the U.S. military's top officer on space issues knows the importance of satellite imagery to worldwide national security missions, he also appreciates the value of the military and civilians under his command.

"What really concerns me is recruiting and retaining the right people," Air Force Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, U.S. Space Command commander in chief, said during a March 28 interview with the American Forces Information Service. That concern transcends even worries over his budget and whether the command is harnessing technology properly, he said.

USSPACECOM and three other organizations under Eberhart's command have "great people, and we're proud of them," he said. The general also commands the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Air Force Space Command and is the Department of Defense manager for Manned Space Flight Support Operations headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

The recruitment and retention of "the right quality of people," he said, is of paramount importance to technology-oriented organizations such as his. Eberhart said the military so far has done a good job of recruiting quality people in spite of difficulties caused by the recent, robust economic times.

"The challenge is retaining them," he said. "Other people want them, too, and other people are willing to pay a lot more than we can." He said civilian employers want troops who've received valuable technical training and have experience under their belts.

Some people, Eberhart said, believe that bonuses and higher salaries can solve military recruiting and retention issues. They're only part of the solution, he noted.

"We're working those type of things, but remember, bonuses don't go with you in retirement," he said. "When you retire, you go back to your base pay, and that is not lost on our people."

However, Eberhart believes most people join for reasons other than money. "If they were truly in it just for the money, they'd never come to us," he said.

Service members need "to be properly trained and equipped so they have state-of-the-art equipment (and) have challenging and rewarding things to do," Eberhart said.

"We have to make it very clear to them that we appreciate what they're doing and that they're doing important work for our nation," he said. Retention success is also tied to the quality of support provided to members' families, which expect available, affordable childcare, quality healthcare and housing, he said.

Essentially, he noted, service members' contributions to the nation's defense are priceless.

"We're never going to be able to pay them what they are worth," Eberhart said. "You just can't pay someone enough to say to them: 'Be on the flight line tomorrow morning at 5 o'clock, and we can't tell you where you're going or how long you're going to stay.' But they ought not to suffer serving this nation."

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