Attrition: Old Soldiers Stick Around


March 3, 2006: The U.S. Department of Defense now believes that older is better, at least when it comes to NCOs and officers. The Pentagon wants to encourage more military personnel to stay in uniform for up to 40 years. To that end, the Department of Defense is asking Congress to approve extending pay rate tables from 30 to 40 years. Currently, once you pass 30 years of service, you no longer get raises based on length of service. There is another proposal in play, that would change the current "half pay at 20 years and 75 percent pay at 30 years" retirement plan to add " 25 percent at ten years" and " 100 percent at 40 years". This would encourage younger troops to stay for ten (and then maybe go for 20 or 30), and make it more attractive for the most experienced troops to go for 40 years.

Ever since World War II, the U.S. military has encouraged a "youthful force." In addition to "up or out" (get promoted after so many years in a rank, or be laid off), officers and NCOs were encouraged to retire at 20 years or, at most 30. But things have changed in the last sixty years. People not only live longer, they stay fit as they grow older. It's not unusual to see NCOs in their 50s keeping up with troops in their 20s during runs and other demanding physical tasks.

The 40 year career would not be open to any old soldier that wanted it. You can stay in for 40 or more years now, but need approval from the Pentagon. The new pay scale would make more older troops willing to stick around if asked. In fact, the number of older NCOs and officers worth keeping around is small. But these are men and women with extraordinary capabilities. These are people you don't want to lose, even to age. The talents they have are usually people skills, which tend to improve with age. Putting together, and managing, teams is what the military often has to do in a hurry. In cases like this, one or two people, who are really good at it, can make an enormous difference. Military history is also full of soldiers in their 60s and 70s who ran circles, at least mentally, around everyone else. Since the military has been all-volunteer since the 1970s, the overall quality of the force has improved, and that, along with healthier old age, has produced a lot more old soldiers worth keeping around.




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