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Officials Urge Congress to Protect Recruiting, Retention Incentives

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2009 – Recognizing the likelihood of defense budget cuts, senior defense and military leaders urged Congress today to protect incentives they call critical to recruiting and retention.

Curtis Gilroy, the Pentagon’s accessions policy director, emphasized the importance of bonuses and other enticements that help to attract qualified candidates from the 25 percent of the recruitment-age population that qualifies for military service.

As the Defense Department and military services look for ways to pare recruiting and retention programs, Gilroy urged the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel subcommittee to resist wholesale cuts that would have a negative long-term impact.

Gilroy conceded that the bleak labor market and flailing economy are likely to help the military fill its ranks with quality recruits. “As the economy continues to dip and unemployment rises, recruiting should be somewhat less difficult. We know this,” he said. “But the economy is not the only driver of our recruiting and retention programs. We have other significant challenges that are facing us today.”

Adult influencers are less likely to recommend military service to young people than four, three, or even two years ago. The propensity of young people to join the military has dropped. Meanwhile, there’s been a declining pool of eligible, qualified young people who want to serve.

Gilroy pointed to shortcomings he said disqualify about three-quarters of all recruitment-age youth: obesity and other health problems, physical fitness deficiencies and lack of a high school diploma or equivalent, among them.

“We have a crisis in this country,” he said. “When we add up all these disqualifiers, we find that only 25 percent of our young people today ages 17 to 24 are qualified for military service.”

Lt. Gen. Ronald S. Coleman, deputy Marine Corps commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, joined Gilroy in emphasizing the importance of incentives that help the military recruit from this select group. Coleman called these incentives key to the Corps’ success in growing its end strength to 202,000 Marines by the year’s end, two years ahead of schedule. “Enlistment incentives make these achievements possible,” he said.

Likewise, he called the Marines’ selective re-enlistment bonus program “the foundation of our retention efforts.” Coleman noted that 36 percent of first-time Marines re-enlisted in fiscal 2008, up from the previous year’s historical high of 31 percent.

“Increased funding and flexibility authorities that you provided are essential to the strength that your Marine Corps enjoys today,” he told the subcommittee members. “We will continue to rely on them as we grow and maintain [the Marine Corps end strength of 202,000] and work to shape the Marine Corps for the 21st century.”

Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel, agreed that recruiting and retention incentives have helped the Army fill its ranks with quality soldiers despite the longest period of conflict in U.S. history.

“As a result, for the past two years, we met or exceeded our recruiting and retention goals for the total Army,” he said.

But Rochelle said those successes can’t be taken for granted. “The eligible population to serve in the armed forces has declined, and we must continue to work hard to attract and retain the very best,” he said.

Gilroy urged the subcommittee to avoid a repeat of the late 1970s, mid-1980s and late 1990s. When the economy weakened and recruiting and retention became less challenging, recruiting budgets got axed, with long-term consequences.

“These lessons from the past showed us it is easy and quick to cut budgets during times when recruiting and retention are successful,” he said. “But we also learned from those lessons of the past how difficult and how time-consuming and how expensive it is when we need to ramp up when recruiting and retention failed as a result of those budget cuts.”

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Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Ronald S. Coleman
Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle

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