Attrition: The Unkindest Cut Of All


January 10, 2012:  The U.S. Army has to get rid of thousands of sergeants. This will be a great loss, as it takes years of service for a soldier to achieve the skills necessary for promotion to NCO (sergeant) rank. All this is because the U.S. Army has been ordered to reduce strength 7.5 percent, to 520,000.   RIF (Reduction In Force) is what the military calls a layoff and the army hoped to avoid this. By offering early retirements, buyouts, and increased retention (being able to renew your contract) standards, the army hoped to avoid just summarily firing people. But with so few soldiers leaving, the army must now decide who to force out. This is particularly crucial with NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers, or sergeants), who are 21 percent of the troops and a key component of the most effective armed forces.

The most important opportunity during these situations is to select and keep your best people, while you get rid of less capable troops. This is especially important with your career officers and NCOs. But it's bad for morale when you start cutting people loose before they have put in their twenty years (and qualified for a pension). That's where the buyout (partial payment for the lost pension benefit) comes in. The biggest problem is deciding who is worthy of staying. This has always been a tricky process, and past efforts have tended to come up short. This time around the personnel bureaucrats think they can do a better job. Time will tell.

The U.S. Army is now screening most of its NCOs (ranks E-6 to E-9), and is going to discharge (honorably) those with the lowest evaluations or who are in overstaffed job categories and refuse to retrain. This technique has been around for over a decade as the Qualitative Management Program (QMP), but was suspended when Iraq was invaded, when it became clear that the army would need every NCO it could get. With the Iraq war over and the army being downsized, the QMP is back.

Actually, the QMP was revived, in a small way, two years ago when the army reviewed 19,000 of their senior NCOs, and forced 33 to retire. It's believed that, because so many NCOs have been in combat in the last decade, and under a lot of stress, the ones who were not up to the job had already left and questionable sergeants still in service were cut some slack. The army expected more of this program, and estimated that at least 400 NCOs would get the ax. Despite the fact that many of these NCOs are eligible for retirement (they have served at least twenty years), more than that will have to be cut. The new evaluations will try to pick those the army can most afford to lose.


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