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.