Attrition: Recession Is Good


November 27,2008: Largely because of the rising unemployment, the U.S. military is seeing any recruiting and retention problems it had, melting away. The U.S. Army, for example, is ending its bonus campaign, to try and keep captains (rank O-3 of ten officer ranks) in service. Starting last year, the army offered $20,000-$35,000 bonuses to 7,000 captains, to get them to stick around. The army got 16,000 of 21,000 eligible captains to sign up for another three years, and is ending the bonus program.

Captains had been leaving the service at higher than desired rates for nearly a decade now. There are several reasons for this. First, there were better opportunities in the booming civilian economy. These captains have been in the army less than ten years, and are far enough away from the 20 year mark (when they are eligible for a half-pay pension), to be able to leave without feeling much fiscal pain. Then there's the war, and the constant trips overseas. Captains usually have families, with young children, and wives who are overwhelmed when left alone with the kids. The kids are only young once, and even with Internet access, there's a lot you miss if you're away.

The U.S. Marine Corps recently began offering a $4,000 bonus for captains who will stay in when their contracts expire this year. Normally, the marines lose about 500 captains each year. This is a major loss, as it takes at least four years of service, training and experience to create a captain. The hope was that the bonus would persuade 300 captains to stay in. This is necessary because the marines are expanding from 186,000 troops, to 202,000 over the next three years. They also have the largest number of combat experienced captains since the early 1970s, and they want to keep these officers in, as their battlefield knowledge will stay with them throughout a 20-30 year career. This can save lives, because this experience is invaluable as these officers train and lead troops in the future. Because of the rising unemployment rates nationwide, plenty of marine captains decided to stay in.

There's still a generation gap between the junior officers (the captains are the most senior of that lot) and the generals. The younger officers have had it with the "zero tolerance" and political correctness crap. Actually, a lot of that has been ditched because of the wartime conditions. But there's still the feeling that your boss will hang you out to dry if the media makes a fuss about something you didn't do, but someone thinks you did.

Recruiters, meanwhile, are finding more young people willing to consider a military career. The military has an opinion survey taken annually, at the end of the school year, among people in their late teens and early 20s, to see if they are considering a military career. This years survey had 22 percent more positive responses. Many recruiters are finding themselves taking in twice as many recruits as the same time last year, and higher quality ones at that. The army, for example, now gets recruits who are 83 percent high school graduates, versus 79 percent a year ago. After years of tough wartime recruiting, the recruiting sergeants and officers have a year or two of smooth sailing, before the economy springs back.





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