November 24, 2004
article is provided courtesy of DefenseWatch,
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By Nathaniel R. Helms
Despite the U.S.
Army's best efforts to hang on to its active duty, Reserve and
National Guard soldiers, recent trends suggest that a major retention
crisis is looming, particularly in the reserve component.
In Missouri, considered both a stalwart center of patriotism and
sure source of eager young National Guard troops, recruitment rates
have fallen by 16 percent this year, according to MOARNG spokesperson
1st Lt. Tammy Spicer. Similar declines in recruitment numbers are
evident in the Deep South and the rest of the Midwest, usually bastions
of National Guard strength in both peace and war, said Mike Cline,
executive director of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard
of the United States in Washington, D.C.
Cline, a 26-year active Army and Guard veteran and a retired master
sergeant, told DefenseWatch that declines in both recruitment and
retention are particularly apparent in the Northeast and Western
states, especially New York, New Jersey, California, Washington
"They're saying enough is enough, I didn't join the Guard to be
on active duty," Cline observed. "About 95 percent of complaints
we are getting here is from a family member left behind. The caregiver
is gone. Who is going to fix the washing machine, the lawn mower?
There is a reduction in income and then there are problems."
Spicer countered with Guard numbers that show Missouri not only
made its DoD-mandated troop strength for the last fiscal year, but
surpassed it by 27 soldiers. However, others, including military
historian Donald Heidenreich, Ph.D., a college professor and retired
ANG major, questioned whether Missouri's ability to maintain its
troop strength at slightly above mandated minimums is truly a bright
indicator. The patriotic surge of martial enthusiasm that initially
swelled National Guard roles in the wake of 9/11 has flattened.
The reality of a long slog in the war in Iraq has dampened enthusiasm
for donning the Army's uniform, several recent surveys show.
The downward trend officially came to light in a voluntary survey
conducted by the Department of Defense last spring, which used a
variety of measures to determine where Army recruitment and retention
are heading. If the trends observed in the May study continue, the
Army may soon find itself without the necessary manpower to fulfill
its mission in Iraq without resorting to drastic measures like the
involuntary draft - a notion the Bush administration has insisted
is not in the cards.
The biggest problem revealed in the study is retention. In May 2004,
66 percent of reserve component members indicated a desire to stay
in the National Guard and Reserves, down 7 percentage points from
May 2003; a decline led by Army National Guard (down 8 percentage
points to 62 percent), and the Army Reserve (down 10 percentage
points to 59 percent). Within the Regular Army 57 percent of service
members indicated a desire to stay - down 4 percentage points from
March 2003; that category was led by Army members in pay grades
E-5 through E-9 and O-4 through O-6.
The trend, however, is evident in all pay grade groups (down 5
to 8 percentage points) and particularly among Operation
Iraqi Freedom (OIF) participants (down 13 percentage points
to 54 percent).
Lt. Spicer, who recently returned from 14 months in Iraq
after serving as a platoon leader in Missouri's 203rd Engineer Battalion,
claims the decline in either enlistments or morale isn't occurring
because the soldier's service is particularly rough in-country.
Despite the daily reports of combat, most soldiers in Iraq have
three hots and a cot, daily PX privileges, showers, unlimited communications
through telephone exchanges and the Internet with folks back home,
as well as a 15-day leave midway through their tour of duty, she
"People join and stay for a variety of reasons," Spicer said. "Personal
and family patriotism, a paycheck, school, and financial perks like
tax-free income while serving in Iraq [keep them in]."
Spicer also said the 90-day "stop loss" policy in place in Missouri
allowed cooler heads to prevail upon the soldier's return from Iraq
and provided many of them the opportunity to reconsider the benefits
of ANG service before deciding whether to stay or leave after returning
home. Many opted to stay in the MOANG upon further reflection, she
Moreover, she added, the Army has instituted a myriad of policies
aimed at easing soldiers' and families concerns for family, financial
and health care burdens that both regular Army and citizen-soldiers
are experiencing by family member's deployments to the war zones.
She identified "family readiness programs," strong employer support,
and special recruiting and retention incentives as successful means
that the military is using to counter sagging reenlistment and retention
However, the study's participants do not fully support Spicer's
optimistic conclusions. During the same period Spicer was serving
in Iraq, soldiers were reporting that family members and significant
others are growing disheartened and dissatisfied with their loved
ones being away for what seems to be indeterminate amounts of time
as the need for boots on the ground in Iraq continues.
Cline concurred. He said financial hardships, particularly among
part-time soldiers who left lucrative jobs, is causing widespread
financial hardship among families left behind.
According to the study, only 60 percent of spouses and significant
others now support their loved one's sacrifice, down 15 percent
from a year ago, and the trend is equally apparent in all other
active and reserve branches and components, showing a decline of
between 10 and 17 percent since May 2003. Similar numbers are reported
among family members, civilian supervisors and employers, and even
As early as last January, an "informal" Army National Guard study
revealed cracks in the citizen soldier's morale. That report cited
a National Guard Bureau survey of 5,000 volunteers from 15 states
that indicated the number of Guard soldiers who choose to leave
the military could jump to 20 to 22 percent a year among those who
have served long overseas tours. At the end of 2003, the figure
was only 16 percent.
At the same time, the American Forces Press Service on Jan. 23,
2004 quoted Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Dan Stoneking as pooh-poohing
the report. "First, this is a 'voluntary' survey," Stoneking said.
"If you have a survey at a dining facility about the food, who is
going to fill it out?" The Army spokesman did say the National Guard
deserves some credit for conducting the survey and anticipating
problems. "This gives them time to put together a program for recruiting
and retention," Stoneking added.
In California, former Guard commander Maj. Gen. Paul Monroe said
the California National Guard's long deployment cycle in Iraq and
caught his units by surprise. Better prepared for earthquake relief
and similar natural disasters, the aftermath of 9/11 was a tremendous
shock, he said.
"The conditions there are just indescribable," King told reporters
last year after returning from a fact-finding trip to Iraq, Kuwait,
and Afghanistan. "I've heard about them, I've read about them, but
until you see it, you just cannot believe it."
The California National Guard has sent four military police units,
four truck companies and a military intelligence battalion to Iraq.
Besides those individual units, large elements of the San Diego-based
40th Infantry Division are also serving in Iraq.
The retention problems that Monroe worried about after his Guardsmen
returned home from tours as long as 16-months have ripened to fruition.
A May 2004 study by Annabel R. Chang and Professor Michael Wadle
of California State University ("California National Guard: Addressing
Recruitment and Retention"), showed that long deployment times have
adversely impacted both individual members and the entire Army National
Guard in that state. The researchers concluded:
"Since the War on Terror began, the California National Guard has
had many of its weaknesses magnified, such as issues of wage compensation,
training, and equipment. As a result of these greater U.S. military
commitments, California National Guard members are also faced with
longer deployments and a less desirable operational tempo. All of
these factors combined together have had a detrimental impact on
the ability of the California National Guard to sustain necessary
recruitment and retention numbers."
These "constant, recurring long deployments" have begun to take
a toll on the attitudes of many of the troops towards their National
Guard obligations, the two researchers determined.
One California Guardsman said in the study that "it's just like
being on active duty .… We've basically returned to active duty,
and that's not what we're in for. It's too much to ask."
Monroe said that Guardsmen "have to think if they stay in [the Guard],
how many times will they be mobilized? That's paramount on their
minds, and that has never been paramount on their minds," told reporters
after his fact-finding mission.
Cline said that a growing number of citizen-soldiers returning from
long deployments are discovering they no longer have civilian jobs.
Despite the protections offered by the Service Members Civil Relief
Act (the updated version of the old Soldiers & Sailors Relief Act
adopted during World War II), jobs that have been eliminated or
outsourced leave former employers with no obligation to rehire those
soldiers coming home.
"If their positions have been eliminated the employer has no obligation
to rehire them," Cline confirmed.
Moreover, long deployments affect the citizen-soldier's ability
to be promoted in his or her civilian job, and if this individual
is out of circulation for a year or more from his or her civilian
job, the Guard member will likely be passed up for promotions, the
CSU study found.
"Before 9/11 and the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, deployments were
for at most six months and often accommodated for the schedule of
the individual," the researchers said. "The traditional schedule
of a Guard member allowed much more flexibility for a citizen soldier,
but now deployments have become both unpredictable and extensive
- both strong deterrents in re-enlisting or enlisting in the Guard."
Unfortunately for the country, the California study appears to be
an accurate benchmark for the nation as a whole. The current policies,
once dubbed "the back-door draft" by former presidential candidate
Sen. John F. Kerry, are causing many citizen-soldiers to vote with
their feet, and the direction they are taking is not on the path
to the recruiter's door.
(Editor's Note: Three recent surveys on Army personnel morale are
currently posted at SFTT.org, and can be accessed by clicking on
the highlighted word here.)
Contributor Nathaniel R. "Nat" Helms is a Vietnam veteran, newspaper,
television and radio reporter and combat correspondent living in
Missouri. He is the author of two books, Numba One - Numba Ten and
Journey Into Madness: A Hitchhiker's Account of the Bosnian Civil
War, both available at www.ebooks-online.com.
He can be reached at email@example.com.
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