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Army Reserve Concerned About Prior-Service Recruiting

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2004 – Army Reserve officials are concerned by a downward trend in recruiting, and said they are studying the reasons so they can put remedies in place.

The Army Reserve will still make its strength goals for fiscal 2004, but recruiting prior-service personnel for the component is down.

In fiscal 2002, the Army Reserve exceeded both its recruiting mission for prior-service individuals and those with no prior service. The final numbers were 109 percent for those with no prior service and 105.8 percent for those with prior service. In fiscal 2003, the no-previous-service quota remained strong, but prior-service recruiting came up a little short, at 97.8 percent.

"Currently, we're still on line to make our nonprior-service mission," said Maj. Gen. Charles E. Wilson, deputy chief of the Army Reserve Command at Fort McPherson, Ga. "But for prior-service recruiting the numbers are down."

Overall, the Army Reserve prior-service recruiting mission is down 9 percent from last year's numbers. In June, the component hit about 86.5 percent of its prior-service recruiting goal.

The Stop-Loss program is responsible for some of the shortfall, Wilson said. That program stops people in deploying units or those with critical military occupational specialties from getting out of the service or from moving. "Stop- Loss hurts, because it means soldiers who would be candidates for the Army Reserve are not being released from active duty, so that limits our pool," Wilson said.

Other Army Reserve officials said uncertainty about mobilizations and deployments also is working against the service.

Attracting and retaining prior-service personnel is key to the success of the Army Reserve. "We don't want that slippage for a number of reasons," Wilson said.

One reason is to mitigate the experience drain. Active-duty soldiers bring a wealth of experience to reserve units, he said. They also come to the units fully trained. "There is no learning curve for these soldiers," Wilson said. "The skill sets have already been developed on active duty."

It is also less expensive to recruit prior-service personnel. "Do the math," Wilson said. "It costs us $60,000 to $100,000 to bring a citizen in off the street and put them through training, and everything associated with making them soldiers -- uniforms, food, health care and so on."

It makes more sense for the Army Reserve to capitalize on the prior-service pool of manpower. Officials said the service will look at all aspects of the selective retention bonus and adjust it accordingly.

Part of the problem is that there is a time lag in the process. "There's a four- to seven-month delay before we really understand what the impact of current operations are" on recruiting and retention, Wilson said.

Wilson said officials constantly gather data to stay ahead of the trends. He noted the Army Reserve has done this for years. But, he added, "recent operational requirements have driven it more to the forefront."

He said the whole concept of a reserve soldier is changing with the new threats confronting America. The service is aiming at a "1-in-6 ratio" for reserve service. In other words, Wilson explained, a reservist may be mobilized one in every six years.

This idea -- built around the Army Reserve Expeditionary Force -- would build stability and predictability into the force, he said.

Not mobilizing or deploying the Army Reserve may work against retention also. "We're finding soldiers who have been used in the (continental United States) and (overseas) are staying with us at a higher rate than those soldiers who haven't been used," Wilson said. "These soldiers have volunteered to serve their country, and when we ask them to do it in an effective way they stay with us."

The idea of rebalancing the active and reserve forces making sure each component has the right mix of specialties -- hasn't had a significant effect on recruiting or retention yet, Wilson said. But, he added, "It has raised the level of apprehension and confusion on the part of what does that mean to a soldier."

Soldiers want to know if they will have jobs in the Army Reserve or if they will be able to make a career in the component. "As long as (the idea of rebalancing) is hanging with no execution, it creates a specter of confusion and unpredictability," Wilson said.

He said the Army Reserve will continue to monitor recruiting and retention trends closely. The component has made changes and will continue to make changes as needed to attract the best recruits and keep the most experienced and professional noncommissioned and commissioned officers, he said.

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