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Army's Top NCO Discusses Recruiting, Retention, Optempo

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2004 – The Army is not concerned about recruiting and retention for fiscal 2004, but the service will keep a weather eye on future trends, said Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston.

Preston also said the Army transformation plan should make deployments more predictable and more manageable. "I watch recruiting and retention very closely," Preston said during an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service July 23. He said for active duty accessions the service is above 100 percent for fiscal 2004. This is with a bump up from 72,500 new soldiers in 2003 to 77,500 this year.

The chief enlisted adviser to the Army chief of staff said it is important that the Army have these additional people. The increase will help make transformation of the service a reality, he said.

For the Army Reserve the picture is also fairly clear. The component is at 98.7 percent, "well on the glide path for accessions."

However, for the Army National Guard accessions are at 87.2 percent. "What we think is that you have a lot of active duty soldiers who are re-enlisting to stay in the Army," Preston said. "Those that are getting out are not necessarily going in to the National Guard or (Army) Reserve."

Much of this shortfall is offset by the service's success in retention. "On retention, the National Guard was at 118 percent, so the two kind of balance each other," Preston said. Overall retention for the Army Reserve is at 101 percent.

On the active duty side, the overall Army retention rate is more than 100 percent. This overall rate is broken into three categories initial, mid- career and careerists. The first term re-enlistment rate is over 100 percent of goal. The careerists are at or over 100 percent also. The mid-career soldiers those between six and 10 years of service are experiencing a dip in re- enlistments.

The service will continue to closely monitor the recruiting and retention issue. The Army will not hesitate to use enlistment bonuses, selective re- enlistment bonuses and other incentives to get people to join the service or to entice seasoned soldiers to stay.

The Army is also working on optempo. Right now the service has supplied to Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, what he needs for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The service is working to make the deployment schedule more predictable and less frequent.

The sergeant major said the service is doing well "as far as mobilizing and training those units to go in for the mission." The situation is a bit more problematic for the Guard and Reserve, he said.

"What people don't understand is that a lot of those (reserve) units are not necessarily manned 100 percent (all the time)," he said. If the Army mobilizes a Guard battalion, for example, it may have to fill up the unit before it can deploy. Preston stressed the Army will not deploy a unit without a full complement and without the best training and equipment the United States can provide.

The sergeant major said transformation of the service will pay dividends in the future. He said the 3rd Infantry Division, the unit that led the charge into Baghdad last year, will return to the country with a whole new look. In addition to new equipment, the division will have four maneuver brigades rather than three.

Preston said the 101st Airborne Division is set to go through a similar transformation and the 10th Mountain Division will also get another brigade. "That means that just this year we'll add a division's worth of forces to the Army," he said.

He said this transformation "should take some of the pressure off the low- density, high-demand type of units."

The sergeant major, who previously served as the sergeant major of then- Combined Joint Task Force 7 in Baghdad, will return to the region shortly.

Contact Author

Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston

Related Sites:
Army National Guard
Army Reserve
U.S. Central Command
3rd Infantry Division
101st Airborne Division
10th Mountain Division

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