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Troops Link Retention to Pay, Education, Family Time

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29, 2000 – Pay is still important to service members, but troops also consider educational opportunities and a desire for more family time in their deliberations whether to stay in the military.

Navy Vice Adm. Patricia Tracey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy, noted military pay remains an important retention factor, especially in today’s all-volunteer force, which includes growing numbers of service members with families.

“People don’t come here to make money … there is something else that motivates people to serve,” Tracey said during a Dec. 7 Pentagon interview. “But, it is [also] a married force.” Military parents, like any others, want their children to have better opportunities than they had, she added. Officials note that surveys show that service members with 10 years of service usually stay for a career. These older service members are often married with children.

“Because we don’t control how much we pay -- we have to convince Congress and others that we need pay raises -- it is easy to get behind on a pay table and not keep pace with what is happening in the private sector,” she said.

Tracey said service members will get a 3.7 percent across- the-board pay hike effective Jan. 1 and targeted pay increases for members in E-5, E-6, and E-7 pay grades in July. She added that across-the-board raises scheduled for the next five years should also improve service member compensation.

“The pay raise this January and raises for each subsequent January up through 2005 are going to be [set] at a half- percent above the employment cost index, which should be above the inflation rate,” Tracey said. “It should be a ‘catch-up’ kind of a raise.”

Tracey said the July 1 raises for NCOs in pay grades E-5 to E-7 with eight to 24 years of service will increase their pay $30 to $60 a month. This is a start, she remarked, noting personnel officials are concerned that more needs to be done.

“It is a part of the pay scale that flattens out -- a place where retention is the most volatile and where we need to pay some specific attention,” she said. The Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation will address this issue.

Senior DoD officials are taking other measures to retain qualified service members, who, Tracey said, are becoming more interested in continuing education programs and spending more time with their families.

“The Center for Naval Analysis did a study a couple of years ago in which it was confirmed that in-service, off- duty education was linked to higher retention rates,” she said.

Secondly, Tracey said, DoD has recruited “a very, very high-quality force” at a time when more high school seniors are enrolling in college. Service member desire for higher education “is a natural part of the caliber of the people that we are recruiting,” she added.

All the services are investing in increased educational and vocational training opportunities to satisfy service members’ hunger for knowledge and college diplomas, Tracey said. The Army recently unveiled an initiative that harnesses information technology to offer online classes for soldiers. The Navy has formed partnerships with 16 colleges to offer distance learning degrees to sailors and Marines. The Air Force is working on a Federal Aviation Administration certification program for its aviation mechanics.

These education and training programs, Tracey remarked, are good for soldiers, Sailors, Marines, airmen -- and the services they represent.

“It is in our interests to keep a continuing education opportunity in front of our people, to keep them investing in themselves, because they gain cognitive skills that are important to us in a smaller force. That force is very busy, and doing a much wider variety of things than originally envisioned,” she said.

Since its inception in 1973, the all-volunteer military has increasingly become a married force, Tracey noted. This has not only caused DoD to commit more resources to improve housing for both married and single service members, she said, but to find ways to allow often-deployed troops to have more time with their families.

Data and surveys suggest that people who are deployed “are among the highest-retained people that we have,” Tracey said. However, “there is a limit to how often you can ask people to go and for how long,” she added, noting that other surveys show retention declines with succeeding deployments, especially when they occur with little warning, or “back-to-back.”

“Sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines like to do what they were trained to do. There is nothing inherently negative about being deployed,” Tracey said. “But unexpected deployments, deployments that last an indefinite length of time, and deployments that come too close together are the biggest retention issues.”

In the last decade, every service has worked at building predictability into deployments to enable service members to spend more time at home, she said.

“The Navy and Marine Corps, because they are (shipboard) deploying forces, have always had those kinds of systems,” Tracey said. “The Army and Air Force are new to this and have done a pretty good job of getting rotational systems in place.”

Tracey noted Congress has passed legislation requiring DoD to monitor and measure the time each service member spends away from home on deployments and training exercises. Guidelines call for a flag officer in a service member’s chain of command to be made aware of deployments of 180 days or more out of a year. A three-star or higher has to approve deployments of more than 220 days out of a year. People deployed for 400 days in a 24-month period would be paid “high-deployment-per-diem” of $100 per day.

“We had been measuring the time spent on deployments and training in the aggregate by unit, but not by individual except in the Air Force,” she said. “Now, every service has to measure it by individuals.” DoD began collecting these data in October, Tracey said.

The object is to manage people’s time so they don’t break the time limits, not to avoid paying them $100 a day, she said. She estimated DoD will have enough time and data sometime in 2002 to know whether anyone crossed the deployment threshold.

Tracey reiterated that career military people often serve for reasons other than pay, yet compensation continues to be a retention factor in both good and bad economic times.

“Retention is not driven purely by when the economy is hot and when it is not,” Tracey said. “It is a matter of needing to get the pay about right. Pay is not what really motivates people to stay, but on the other hand, you have to get pay right or people will leave because they can’t afford to stay.”

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