Sailors, Airmen 'Go Green'
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2004 "Go Green" isn't just the slogan of environmentalists anymore.
The Army is increasing its end strength and Operation Blue to Green is one method being used to assist in reaching the desired end strength, said Lt. Col. Roy Steed, recruiting policy branch chief at the Army's personnel headquarters.
The Army is hoping to turn personnel reductions in the Navy and Air Force to its advantage with the Blue to Green program announced by the Defense Department on July 29. The goal, Steed said, is to recruit re-enlistment- eligible servicemembers in grades E-1 to E-5 who are leaving the Navy or the Air Force but wish to stay in uniform.
While some are concerned this increase is only temporary, these new soldiers are being recruited for the long term, to complete a career in the military, Steed said. If the time comes for the Army to scale back the additional end strength and return to its normal size, Blue to Green soldiers won't be targeted, Steed emphasized.
"They're part of the Army," Steed said. "They'll be treated just like any other soldier. There's no way you'll go back and identify these people and they would be the first to leave. They're now soldiers." Normal attrition would bring the Army back down to its normal strength, he explained.
So far, the program is seeing some success. The first "class" has begun its four-week Warrior Transition Course at Fort Knox, Ky. Ten former sailors, two former airmen and three former Marines will complete the newly conceived course as an orientation to the Army combined with training in some basic combat skills.
"It is not a basic-training environment," Steed said, noting the participants are treated like noncommissioned officers.
The transition course is for all prior-service personnel requiring basic training and was specifically tailored for those coming from another service. It will give these new and returning soldiers the required basic combat skills and also provide them indoctrination into the Army culture. Those whose current military skill does not convert to an Army specialty will attend advanced individual training after they complete WTC, Steed said.
Candidates must be eligible for an honorable discharge, be physically fit, meet Army height and weight standards, accept a minimum three-year term of service and have the approval from their current service, according to the Army's Blue to Green Web site. Also, an eight-year total active/inactive service obligation still applies.
A recruiter can help candidates navigate the ins and outs of making the leap between services. Recruiters also can explain the benefits of switching services, Steed said.
Joining the "Army of One" is an opportunity for servicemembers to continue to serve and use their already acquired skills, or receive new training, he noted.
One benefit of Blue to Green is that the Army's goal is for the new soldiers to carry not only their rank, but also their date of rank with them to the Army. Normally, Steed said, someone joining the Army from another service would have his or her first day in the Army as a new date of rank. The date affects soldiers' rank among people in the same pay grade and determines when soldiers become eligible for promotion.
The Army has taken great strides to minimize the disruption of dependents as a servicemember is progressing through the program, Steed said. Families are being allowed to stay in their current military housing while the candidate goes through training, and will move to their new duty station only after the candidate's training is complete.
There are also re-enlistment bonuses if the candidate meets certain criteria, though there is no specific bonus for participating in Blue to Green.
It was none of these benefits, however, that enticed Senior Airman Louis Umensetter, currently stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., to land in the Blue to Green program. He already was looking into transitioning to the Army because his wife, Army Spc. Amanda Umensetter, is a soldier stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas.
He never hesitated, he said, and the transition has been pretty painless.
"It's been pretty smooth. I've never seen paperwork go through so fast in the military. I thought it was going to take at least two, three, four months," Umensetter said. But from start to finish it took three weeks.
"I got my reply back from the Air Force I think in 48 hours, whether I was going to get to do it or not," he said.
Umensetter and his wife met while both were stationed in Korea. She said they have been married seven months and have never lived in the same place. Being in the different services made it nearly impossible to be stationed together, he said.
"It's exciting," the Army specialist said about being able to do "married things" like shop for apartments and furniture with her husband when he arrives in Fort Bliss in November. "I'm (a little) nervous."
While his wife was his main reason for making the switch between services, she wasn't the only reason, Umensetter said. In Korea, he was stationed with an Army unit. "I loved every day of it," he said. "(The Army) is a little more my speed."
With four years under his belt, Umensetter plans to finish his 20 years in the Army, just as he would have in the Air Force. He's set to report to the Fort Knox course at the end of September.
The benefits don't all belong to the candidates. The Army, in recruiting former sailors and airmen, gets to build its end strength with experience.
That, Steed says, is a good thing for many reasons, not the least of which is that being able to put new soldiers through the four-week WTC as opposed to the regular nine-week boot camp saves the Army five weeks of training.
For more information on the Blue to Green program, candidates should talk to their recruiter or visit the Army's Blue to Green Web site.