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Rumsfeld Supports Extended Careers, Longer Tours

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 8, 2005 – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he'd like to see sweeping changes to the military services' personnel systems.

In particular, Rumsfeld said, he'd like to do away with the system that forces military people out at the prime of their careers and moves people between jobs too quickly.

The system that moves people up then out when they are "at the peak of their capabilities" does the country "a big disservice," the secretary said during a recent interview with the Pentagon Channel.

Rumsfeld said he's frequently frustrated to see top-notch servicemembers, many just 38 or 40 years old, forced to leave the military -- taking with them extensive experience that they could share with others. "Why would we do that?" he said. "Why wouldn't we want that person around, and the confidence and knowledge and experience" the individual brings to the table.

Yet, despite widespread recognition of what such servicemembers are still capable of contributing, Rumsfeld said the personnel system "just keeps shoving them up and out."

This just doesn't make sense, particularly at a time when people "live longer and are healthier longer," said Rumsfeld, who at 72 is the oldest man to serve as U.S. defense secretary.

Rumsfeld acknowledged that not everyone wants to extend their military careers, but he said those who do "should not be penalized or prevented from doing that."

The secretary said he'd also like to change the system that moves people too quickly from one job to the next. "We've found an awful lot of wonderfully talented people who have moved through their positions too fast," he said.

This cuts down on the learning process and their ability to master a job, he said. "How do you learn? You learn in life by doing things and sometimes making mistakes, being there to see the mistake (and) correcting the mistake," he said.

Spending too little time in one job cuts this process short and keeps people from getting the in-depth experience they need to master the job, Rumsfeld said. "You spend some time getting familiar with (a job), some time doing it, then some time leaving. And you don't really get very good at it, and you are rarely around long enough to get down to the second and third level of knowledge and confidence."

Rumsfeld said allowing those who want to serve longer in the military and extending the tours of those who do could contribute to "a vastly better military."

Extending duty assignments would increase servicemembers' competence in their jobs, save the Defense Department in permanent-change-of-station-move costs, and reduce the disruption constant moves impose on the military.

At the same time, extended tour lengths would reduce the disruption military life imposes on families. "We bring families in today, not just military personnel, and to the extent that we can keep people with fewer permanent changes of station, there is less disruption on kids in school and less disruption for spouse employment practices," Rumsfeld said. "And that's a good thing."

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

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