Chu Testifies on Military Personnel Issues
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 15, 2002 High-tech weapons are great, but they're not worth anything if the military cannot attract and retain the people needed to run these systems, a senior defense official told Congress March 13.
David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, understands this point and discussed what the military is doing to attract and retain the highly qualified men and women needed to fight the war on terrorism.
In a prepared statement, Chu told the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee that the services made their quality and quantity goals for the most recent fiscal year, but the recruiting environment remains challenging.
"An asset is that the military ranks first as the most respected American institution," he said. "However, while the quality, dedication and professionalism of the men and women in uniform command such respect from all Americans, this respect currently does not translate to an increased willingness to enlist or to encourage others to serve."
All components -- with the exception of the Air National Guard -- made their goals for fiscal 2001, but it was not easy, he said. He said the cost-per-recruit increased to an all-time high of $11,652. "The number of field recruiters remained at its highest point in the last decade with just over 15,000 production recruiters," Chu said.
The recruiting figures for fiscal 2002 show the services again making recruiting goals. The Air Guard again lags behind the other components.
Chu said the events of Sept. 11 have not translated into large numbers of high-quality recruits flocking to the military. While the attacks on New York and Washington have increased the propensity of youth to consider military service, he said he's not counting on this increased propensity. Recruiting in fiscal 2002, he said, will remain challenging.
On the officer side of the house, "the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps met their numerical commissioning requirements in fiscal 2001, while the Navy was at 96 percent of goal," Chu said.
The Navy and Air Force experienced shortfalls in certain specialties. "The Navy missed its goals in pilots, naval flight officers, civil engineers, chaplains and most medical and medical support specialties," Chu said. "The Air Force was short navigators, intelligence officers, weather officers, physicists and engineers."
He said both the services have faced these shortage problems for years. The services and the Defense Department are working together to ensure the recently authorized officer critical-skills accession bonus can be pinpointed to address these shortfalls, he noted.
Retention on the enlisted side has turned a corner, and the services are keeping the number of people they need, Chu said. Again, however, retention rates lag in certain specialties and skills, such as communications and computers, aviation maintenance, information technology, electronics, intelligence linguistics, and air traffic control, he added.
Officer retention problems persist, but Chu hopes the Critical Skills Retention Bonus will address some of them. The bonus, part of the fiscal 2001 authorization act, is still too new to assess yet, he said.
The Air Force is the first service to submit a bonus proposal. It identified developmental engineers, scientific and research specialists, acquisition program managers, communication-information systems officers and civil engineers as those officers who would be eligible for retention bonuses upon completion of their initial active duty service obligations, Chu said.
Chu said personnel tempo is as much a DoD concern today as it was before the military began fighting America's war against terrorism.
"Deployments are part of military life and (they) could well increase as the war on terrorism unfolds," he said. "We are fully aware, however, of the effects of excessive time away from home on the morale, quality of life and ultimately, the readiness of service members."
As a result, he said, the department implemented revised personnel tempo guidance, and the services are working to control the amount of time their personnel are deployed away from home station or outside the United States.
Chu said the new system started in fiscal 2001. He anticipates the new system will be fully implemented by the end of fiscal 2002.
"The new system will standardize definitions requiring that perstempo be measured at the individual level and that a 'deployed day' be a day when, in the performance of official duties (training, operations or temporary additional duty) an individual does not return to his or her regular billeting area at his or her permanent duty station," he said. "This new system will contribute significantly to the department's efforts to assess and mitigate force management risk."
Chu said U.S. combat experiences in Afghanistan lead him to believe it is time to increase support to low-density/high- demand units so they may meet the demands placed upon them.
"For years, the department has been accepting risk in these weapon systems and it is time we resolved this issue," he said. "It is imperative that we commit the necessary resources to address these critical shortfalls as soon as possible." Low-density/high-demand units are relatively small with critical skills, such as special operating forces, airborne warning and control crews and translators.
Overall, the end strength for the services in the fiscal 2003 defense budget request increases 2,300 from the fiscal 2002 authorization. "The Army continues at an end strength of 480,000; the Navy projects a slight decrease from 376,000 to 375,160; the Marine Corps increases from 172,600 to 175,000; and Air Force remains steady at 358,800," Chu said.