Army Reserve hopes to improve re-enlistment incentives
ARLINGTON, Va. — Retention in the Army Reserve is lagging behind goals for the first half of fiscal 2004, prompting service leaders to seek re-enlistment bonuses and more flexible sign-up windows, similar to those offered to active-duty soldiers.
Retention in the Army National Guard, meanwhile, was 130.8 percent for the first quarter of 2004, with retention highest among soldiers just back from Iraq, according to Guard officials. Second-quarter statistics are not yet available.
From Oct. 1, 2003, through March 31, the Reserve goal was to retain 8,020 soldiers, according to figures provided Tuesday by the Army Reserve.
A total of 7,494 troops re-enlisted during that time, or 93.4 percent of the goal.
The pace of retention is not appreciably different than in fiscal 2003, when 13,749 soldiers re-enlisted — 93.3 percent of the year’s goal of 14,730 troops.
Although Reserve officials “would like to see retention be a little better,” the shortfall is not large enough to provoke alarm, according to Al Schilf, a spokesman for the Army Reserve.
“The bottom line is end-strength, and we are at 210,000 [soldiers], which is 5,000 more than our congressional authorized end-strength,” Schilf said.
Forecasting end-strength and the numbers needed for retention is “a highly complex exercise,” and such apparent conflicts are common, he said.
Yet although the Reserve is “in a pretty robust situation overall,” Schilf said, “there are some tools we don’t have that we’d like to have, and some parity issues” with the active Army.
For example, unlike active-duty soldiers, who can receive bonuses as high as $20,000 to re-enlist for three years, Reserve soldiers are offered a maximum of $2,500 to re-enlist for three years, or $5,000 to re-enlist for six years, Schilf said.
And while active-duty soldiers can receive a significant portion of their re-enlistment bonuses in an immediate lump-sum payment — as much as $10,000 — Reserve soldiers only receive their bonus money in equal increments over the period of the re-enlistment, Schilf said.
Another factor that Reserve officials believe is affecting re-enlistments is the tighter window for Reserve soldiers to decide to re-enlist.
Active-duty soldiers become eligible to re-enlist one year before their contract expires. But Reserve soldiers aren’t eligible to re-enlist until three months before that time.
In fact, retention officials “aren’t even allowed to discuss re-enlistment” with reservists until the three-month mark, Schilf said. “And by the time three months comes around, most people have already made up their minds whether or not to leave.”
Army Reserve leaders have asked the Army to consider changing these inequities in order to boost retention, Schilf said.
The National Guard, meanwhile, is enjoying better-than-expected rates of re-enlistment for the first quarter of fiscal 2004, according to Reginald Saville, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau.
From October 2003 to December 2003, Army Guard officials hoped 10,340 soldiers would re-enlist, Saville said in a Tuesday telephone interview.
Instead, 13,529 signed contracts, or 130.8 percent of the goal.
Statistics for the second quarter 2004 (January through March) are not yet available for the Guard, Saville said.
In fiscal 2003, the percentage of re-enlistment in the Guard was 105 percent of goal, Saville said.
Guardsmen most likely to sign up again in the first quarter of 2004 were those who have just returned from Iraq, Saville said.
Saville said that personnel specialists have no hard evidence of why the spike in retention occurred among Iraq veterans, but they are almost certain that the principal reason is “a heightened sense of patriotism and a sense of mission.”
“It’s that ‘Band of Brothers’ thing working,” Saville said. “They feel better connected [to the Guard] than before they left [for Iraq].”