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Making a Difference Fuels Retention in Space, Cyber Commands

Dec. 10, 2019 | BY C. Todd Lopez , DOD News

More than anything, making a difference and staying on mission are the keys to retention in U.S. Space Command and U.S. Cyber Command, the senior enlisted leaders for those two organizations said.

Service members sit at computer screens.
Cyber Shield
Soldiers, airmen and industry partners conduct network surveillance during Cyber Shield 19 training week at Camp Atterbury, Ind., April 7, 2019.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. George B. Davis
VIRIN: 190411-Z-XR817-037

"Retention is a challenge that we face in Cyber Command and with our cyber workforce," Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Scott H. Stalker, the senior enlisted leader for Cybercom, said during a briefing yesterday at the Pentagon. "What we’ve found is there are a lot of factors to keeping that talent in and keeping them on the mission."

One way Cybercom retains talent is that the military services offer certain bonuses, up to $90,000 in some cases, to those qualified, Stalker said. Some offer special duty assignment pay as well, up to $1,500 a month in some cases, he added.

"But what we found is, with all of that, you are going to keep in manpower, but not necessarily talent," he said. "So we have go to look at our high-end talent, our top 25%. What are the things that keep them in? And more often when I talk to them, they want to have stability. They want to do something that is important and hard."

Stalker said there’s no shortage of hard, challenging work at Cybercom and the National Security Agency, both at Fort Meade, Maryland.

Four service members in uniform sit at a blue-draped table facing an audience of reporters.
Troxell Meet
Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, third from left, hosts a Pentagon news conference on the emerging warfighting domains of space and cyber, Dec. 9, 2019. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman, U.S. Space Command senior enlisted leader; Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Scott Stalker, U.S. Cyber Command senior enlisted leader; and Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Patrick F. McMahon, U.S. Strategic Command senior enlisted leader; joined Troxell to speak as part of the annual Defense Senior Enlisted Leader Council.
Photo By: Army Sgt. James K. McCann, DOD
VIRIN: 191209-D-SW162-1349

"So we really focus on the job that they have to do — not so much 'Here’s more money, we’ll keep you in,'" he said. "We want them to know that what they are doing is relevant. ... When it comes to targets like China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and violent extremist organizations, on a daily basis they are employed. They are working hard. That's what they want to be doing. They want to be on mission doing their job. I’d say that's probably the same in most domains. They want to do the job they came in for."

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Roger A. Towberman, the senior enlisted leader for Spacecom, said the command's work is so exciting that he's not really concerned about retention of the force — or even about recruitment.

A long-exposure photograph of a night launch of a missile, which leaves a trail of light.
Missle Launch
A Standard Missile-3 Block IIA missile launches from the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex at Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, Dec. 10, 2018.
Photo By: Mark Wright, DOD
VIRIN: 181210-D-ZZ999-005

"From a space perspective, there’s never been a better time to be in this business," he said. "Getting people excited about space isn't one of our current challenges. People are really excited. They are asking all the time. They want in. They want to be a part of it. And so I am not too concerned with retention, certainly not in the short term. There is just so much work to do, and it's such an exciting business to be in right now. We've got lots of folks ready to step up and help us out."

Towberman said he sees first hand the new talent that’s coming through the door — and he's impressed with what America has to offer.

"What’s really interesting is [that] the raw material we're getting from America has never been more incredible," he said. "The digital natives that are coming into the military today are exactly the warfighters we need for the future. And it's more about figuring out how to unleash the talent and capability that's within them than it is kind of teaching them things."

Army Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the young Americans coming into careers in space and cyber have other options, but the military provides something else that keeps them interested.

"I will tell you most of these high-end warriors like cyber and space, ... they want to make sure that what they are doing is having an impact," he said. "That they belong to a team that is cohesive, and they know that they are valued members of that team, and finally that their families are being taken care of. They are at a place they want to serve, and they are comfortable doing it."

"So more and more," he continued, "as we move forward and we look at these critical skills we have to be in the talent management business, as opposed to potentially a personnel management business."