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DOD Trying To Retain Special Operators
By Lisa Burgess
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

March 17, 2004,

ARLINGTON, Va. A post-Sept. 11 boom in the civilian security sector is worrying Defense Department officials, who are trying to forestall an exodus of highly experienced special operators by developing a package of new retention incentives.

U.S. Special Operations Command's leader, Army Gen. Bryan Brown, said Thursday that he called together a special "Tiger Team" of senior enlisted members last December to work on the package.

The team is looking at a range of "educational benefits, retirement benefits, and special pays," Command Chief Master Sgt. Robert Martens Jr., the Air Force's senior enlisted adviser to the U.S. Special Operations Command, told members of the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on terrorism, unconventional threats and capabilities Thursday.

The team is supposed to report its recommendations during a commander's conference to be held at the Pentagon in late March, Brown told the committee.

Seasoned special operators have always offered skills that make them highly employable after they retire from the military, Brown said.

"But the environment after Sept. 11" has dramatically boosted the number of positions security firms are trying to fill, resulting in "a new impact on special operations forces in the last couple of years," Brown said.

The drain primarily is affecting special operators with 20 or more years of military experience, Brown said.

The differences between government salaries and civilian pay can be stark, the special operations officials said.

An operator with 22 to 24 years in the service who is at the grades of E-7 or E-8 makes about $50,000 in base pay.

Private security firms, meanwhile, offer annual salaries of $100,000 "to upwards of $200,000" to such servicemembers, Martens said.

There is "no way" DOD will ever be able to match civilian salaries, Martens said.

But since "job satisfaction is very high," among senior operators, a package of carefully balanced incentives might help tip the balance in SOCOM's favor when private firms come knocking, Martens said.

Meanwhile, the government's civilian intelligence agencies in particular the Central Intelligence Agency are also offering tempting compensation packages to experienced special operators, Thomas O'Connell, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, told the House subcommittee.

Such intergovernment poaching "in my view is starting to become a significant problem," O'Connell said.

The subcommittee chairman Rep. Jim Saxon, R-N.J., pledged his support to SOCOM officials in addressing "this extremely important issue."

"This committee will act quickly" to try and approve any retention initiatives SOCOM officials present to Congress, Saxon said.

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars & Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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