Artillery: May 6, 2004


The U.S. Army, under pressure from Congress to grow larger, has been offered surplus airmen and sailors. The U.S. Navy and Air Force are letting people go. Just as in the civilian economy, new technology is spreading rapidly in the armed forces. The generals and admirals have not, as in the past, tried to hang on to as many bodies as possible, but have instead raised recruiting standards and moved troops from declining career fields to growing ones. But even with all that, the navy and air force see themselves downsizing over 20,000 sailors and airmen in the next few years. So its been suggested that these surplus troops be given the option to transfer to the army. Actually, this has always been possible, and its not uncommon for people in the armed forces to run into someone who had earlier been in another service. Military recruiters have long been prepared to offer such prior service recruits attractive deals (like keeping all, or most, of their previous rank, as well as their years of service, for retirement purposes.) 

The major difference with the new proposal is that sailors or airmen would not wait until their current enlistment was up before they went to see the army recruiter. No, the army recruiter would come to them and review each sailor or airmans records and qualifications to see what available army jobs they qualified for. So far, this all makes sense. If the army has to expand, and the other services have surplus people, why not make it easier for sailors and airmen to transfer?

There are several immediate problems. First, if the navy and air force no longer had jobs for these folks, what makes you think the army does? The three services share a lot of job categories that are identical (starting with obvious stuff like truck driver, and going on to people who operate satellite communications, or medical, equipment.) Each service also has some unique jobs, like parachute infantry, submarine crewman or fighter pilot. But the majority of people in all the services do jobs that exist, usually with a different name, in the other services. So whats the problem? Well, the people being forced out of the navy and air force are the ones who could not, or would not, qualify for a new job. The army feels like its being tagged as the employer of last resort and the sailors and airmen being fired feel like they are taking a step down. This brings up another issue; service culture differences. Each of the services has a different feel to it. The army is considered the grungiest of all (even the marines are considered spiffier, maybe its the slick dress uniforms they have.) 

However, it might work. The sailors and airmen being shown the door might be willing to try out the army. Many of these folks are career people, who want to serve twenty years and get that pension. As for the lifestyle differences, the reality is that most soldiers work and live in conditions not much different than the other services. Its true that the air force generally has a higher standard of living, but sailors live pretty cramped and constrained lives when they are at sea. However the moneys the same in all the services, and the army always had a reputation of being easier to make rank (get promoted) in. Thats because of the higher turnover in the army. The army says that if there were a transfer program, they would set up a special transition training program of a few weeks to cover the combat skills the army imparts in its basic training, but the air force and navy does not. This transition training could also impart the special customs and habits of the army. There are a lot of little differences.

Even without a special transfer deal, any of these displaced sailors and airmen will still be able to go visit an army recruiter and apply for a job.




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