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DoD Examines Captain/Lieutenant Retention

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2001 – Visit the DoD "Recruiting and Retention" web site at http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/recruiting/ for an in-depth look at recruiting and retention in the new millennium.

Officer retention patterns are changing, causing the services increasing worry about continuation rates, particularly among O-3s.

Anecdotal reports to DoD officials suggest Army, Air Force and Marine Corps captains and Navy lieutenants are leaving the military in numbers not seen since 1973 -- the founding of the all-volunteer force. If the stories are accurate, the services might find trouble ahead when it comes time to pick promotion-worthy O-3s -- they prefer large candidate pools, but might not have that luxury in some specialties.

A hot economy is partly to blame, said service officials, but exit interviews with departing officers seem to indicate a growing disenchantment with military life.

Army officials said departing officers most frequently mentioned operations tempo and personnel tempo as major irritants during exit interviews. The officers said they saw deployed time growing and felt they couldn't take even more time away from their families.

The problem does not appear to be as acute in other services, except in certain technical and aviation specialties.

Navy Vice Adm. Patricia Tracey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy, said another contributing factor may be the services misreading their needs and not making enough O-3s to start with during the drawdown. In some important skill areas, she said, some services won't have as many O-3s as needed to allow them the O-4 promotion selectivity they'd like.

She also noted a slight change in the continuation patterns of service academy and ROTC graduates. DoD is watching that situation -- there's no panic, she said.

"The track record's not long enough for us to know exactly how big that problem is. It may be an anomaly that corrects itself in the next several years because of other things we are doing," she said.

But there is really little that any higher headquarters can do in respect to retention. "Retention generally is not an issue you can address from a headquarters level," she said. "It's really difficult to make systemic changes that address this type of issue."

"You really do have to have a command climate ... that is conducive to retention, that's conducive to people really being excited about continuing military life," Tracey said.

Some news stories say that junior officers are leaving because the military "isn't fun anymore." "I've heard that for 30 years, that it isn't fun anymore," Tracey said. "I haven't yet been able to figure out exactly what the systemic issues are that would need to be addressed."

Other young officers complain that a "zero defect" mentality in the military leads senior officers to "micro- manage."

"Look at the people who are in command right now. These are the men and women who were the survivors of the downsizing," Tracey said. "The commanders' attitudes have to have been colored by that experience -- they saw who retired early or who was asked to leave, she said."

"So some attention to reinforcing their role as mentors and to preparing their junior officers for the environment they will serve in -- not the environment that current O-5 and O-6 commanders experienced when they were junior officers - - is probably merited," Tracey said. She admitted, though, that the zero-defects attitude has been a "pretty pervasive and constant drumbeat for the past several years."

She said she hasn't seen a zero-defects mentality in the selection boards she has participated in, but said the view persists and DoD must overcome it.

"Commanders must restore a sense of trust in the system," she said. "The department needs people who are willing to take prudent risks and it must prove that it's the kind of organization that rewards people who take risks that are prudent and well-thought out, whether they lead to success or failure."

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Related Sites:
DoD Working on Retention Challenges
DoD Working Against Tough Recruiting Environment

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