Attrition: More, Please, Sir

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January 23, 2008: The U.S. Army has been able to achieve an extraordinary feat, by sustaining it's strength in a long war (longer than World War II) using only volunteers. The main reason for this success was the willingness of troops already in uniform to stay there. Reenlistments have been higher than before the war on terror began in 2001. The invasion of Iraq resulted in even higher reenlistment rates.

 

The army sets goals each year, for the percentage of troops who will re-enlist when their current enlistment (usually for four years) is up. This past year,  about 14 percent of troops in each combat brigade were expected to re-enlist. Nearly all brigades exceeded this figure, with the most spectacular being the 4th brigade of the 25th Infantry division, which had 37 percent of its troops reenlist.

 

The consistently higher re-enlistment rates were the result of several things. First, there was patriotism and a feeling that the wartime service was making a difference. Most of the troops re-enlisting had been to Iraq or Afghanistan one or more times. They had seen for themselves what was going on, and believed in it. Then there was the money. Reenlistment bonuses averaging  $10,000 (depending on rank and job) for the 64,000 troops that re-enlisted last year. These bonuses, plus combat pay increases the average soldiers pay by 10-20 percent. It helps.

 

Then there is the fact that the troops are professionals and they like their work. It's challenging, even though only fifteen percent have combat jobs. But the benefits are great (including retirement on half pay after twenty years) and you get respect from those you know and work with. The media snipes a bit, inventing dark fantasies explaining this unexplainable re-enlistment rate. But that's easy to ignore, and the troops just keep signing up for more.