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Special Ops Working to Retain Seasoned Operators

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2005 – A new incentive package is expected to help the military better compete against other federal agencies and the private sector for skills possessed by special operations forces, according to DoD’s top official on special operations and low-intensity conflict.

Assistant Secretary of Defense Thomas O’Connell said the new incentives, announced in February, are designed to help stem the loss of highly trained operators from the force at a time when their skills are critically needed in support of the war on terror.

Overall, recruiting and retention within special operations is on track, and schoolhouses that train them “are full,” O’Connell said during an interview with the Pentagon Channel and the American Forces Press Service.

The problem area, he said, rests with special operators with 18 or more years of service with extensive training and experience under their belts. “We have seasoned operators that are clearly much in demand by other government agencies … [and] the civilian community,” he said.

The new retention incentive package is aimed at keeping these experienced Army Special Forces, Navy SEALS and special warfare combatant crewmen, and Air Force combat controllers and pararescuemen in uniform. It provides:

  • special duty assignment pay of $375 a month for special operators in the ranks of E-4 through E-9 in specific billets;
  • a critical skills retention bonus for senior enlisted servicemembers and warrant officers that ranges from $8,000 for a one-year commitment to $150,000 for a six-year commitment; and
  • assignment incentive pay of $750 a month for enlisted members and warrant officers with more than 25 years of service who agree to remain on active duty for at least 12 more months.
In addition to the new incentives, the military services will continue to offer special operators selective re-enlistment bonuses, as needed, according to U.S. Special Operations Command officials.

“Our investment in these professionals is great, and the experience gained through years of service makes them invaluable assets to our nation’s defense,” said Army Lt. Col. Alex Findlay from U.S. Special Operations Command’s personnel directorate, in announcing the new incentive package. “Younger replacements can be trained, but experience is irreplaceable in the current worldwide war on terrorism.”

While taking measures to retain its seasoned members and maintain its retention goals, Special Operations Command isn’t willing to lower its standards to attract recruits, O’Connell said.

Army Gen. Bryan D. Brown, who heads U.S. Special Operations Command, expressed similar views during March 1 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We cannot dilute the high standards of our people,” he told the committee. “That is the bedrock of our capability.”

To maintain these standards, O’Connell said special operations has “a very high cut” for members who go into its training programs. And those programs, he said, present “the most difficult, the most rigorous, the most advanced and the most demanding training in the world.”

It’s also “risky in many respects,” O’Connell said, but acknowledged that the risk factor is believed to be one factor that attracts people into special operations in the first place.

“And I think their success on the battlefield says that our recruitment [and] our training techniques are successful,” he said.

O’Connell said he and Special Operations Command “welcome all volunteers” into special operations forces. To help give prospective special operators the best chance of meeting stringent requirements, many are now receiving advanced training before they enter the program. This, O’Connell said, helps get them “up to the level so that they have the highest chance of success.”

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