Attrition: Once A Sailor, Always A Sailor

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November 12, 2007: It seemed like such a good idea when, three years ago, the U.S. Army established the Blue to Green program. This was an attempt to persuade some of 70,000 navy and air force personnel being laid off (as the navy and air force cut their strength), to move over to the army. It was expected that at least one or two thousand sailors and airmen a year would switch. Didn't work out that way, as they have only gotten less than a thousand, total, so far.

The biggest obstacle seems to be cultural. People join a specific military service because of the uniforms, customs and unique experiences they will find there. Moreover, the navy and air force personnel are not used to deploying (being sent overseas and living rough while over there), as much as the army does. Media coverage of army non-combat troops engaged in combat is also a big turn off. People don't join the navy or air force for that sort of thing.

The army has tried addressing those fears, by pointing out that most non-combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are not involved in any combat. But if you are in a transportation or military police unit, you can expect to get shot at. Most of the navy and air force people considering finishing their twenty year careers (and getting a half pay pension) by transferring to the army (with their rank and time in service intact) are not in transportation or military police jobs, but other non-combat skills that will keep them away from the fighting. But there's still that business about, "going into the field" (everyone gets in a vehicle and goes "camping" for a few days, or more.) Culture clash is only one of the things killing "Blue to Green." A robust civilian job market, which is eager to hire the well trained and disciplined sailors and airmen, provides an attractive alternative to the army. Despite the low turnout, the army continues the program. The sailors and airmen who did make the switch have done well, and brought years of military experience with them.

The army has also tried bonuses. That started out $2,500, but this year was increased so that transferred officers can receive a $10,000 bonusonce they complete their transition training. The army is particularly interested in junior officers (O-2 and O-3, and some junior O-4s), who are willing to train for infantry, armor and artillery service. The army is also looking for officers who already are working in supply or human resources jobs. Thus the army is taking advantage of the fact that, with the downsizing going on in the navy and air force, sweetening the pot with higher bonuses might bring in some young officers who have gotten past the first few years of service, and are looking for a more demanding military career, with better promotion prospects.

Moreover, after five years of war, the army gets a lot more respect from the other services. The army guys now come across as bright and resourceful, and they are getting most of the action. Meanwhile, thousands of air force and navy personnel have been sent over to temporarily handle support jobs for the army, so there are first-hand reports being passed around the air force and navy Officers Clubs.

But it isn't working, and the lesson learned is that once you join a military service, you develop an attachment to it that is very difficult to break.

 


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