Retention strong in time of war: 1st Cav. keeps troops in boots
July 3, 2008
FORT HOOD, Texas- As the U.S. Army hits another milestone with 35 years as an all-volunteer force and as the Global War on Terrorism continues into nearly seven years, reenlistments in the 1st Cavalry Division are on the rise.
In contrast to wars of the past when volunteers numbered fewer than the thousands of U.S. citizens, who through no choice of their own, were conscripted through the draft into military service, 1st Cav. Div. Soldiers are willingly raising their right hands to stay Army in record numbers, according Houston, Texas native Sgt. Maj. Derek Dahlke, the 1st Cav. Div. retention sergeant major.
Despite deployments to Iraq, the reenlistment trend for the 1st Cav. Div. continues to flourish, according to Dahlke, explaining that in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) Rotation 06-08, which encompassed a 15-month deployment from October 2006 to January 2008, about 6,500 of the division's Soldiers reenlisted whereas in OIF II (in 2004 to 2005) just over 4,000 Soldiers raised their right hands again.
The division continues to see success with Soldiers staying Army in 2008.
"The 1st Cav. Div. was the top division (for retention) in FORSCOM last year and we are also doing extremely well this year," said Dahlke.
"We've been reenlisting about 50 to 60 Soldiers per week," added Dahlke. "We're having no retention problems and Soldiers continue reenlisting at great rates."
There are many varied reasons for why the division is able to keep troops in boots seven years into the Global War on Terror and five years into Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"Much of what we're seeing can be attributed to the high quality of Soldiers we have from the newest, to the mid-termers and the careerists who are reenlisting in the most demanding time our Army has seen, and it really makes us proud," said Dahlke. "The successes can also be attributed to great Army leadership. They understand how important retention is to our nation and our force so that we can defend freedom while at the same time taking care of Soldiers."
"We see high retention rates due to their (the leadership's) genuine care and concern for Soldiers," added Dahlke.
Along with that, the quality of life for Soldiers is another reason for why 1st Cav. Div. Soldiers are continuing their military careers.
"Quality of life in the Army continues to evolve and improve," said Dahlke. "We continue to raise the bar to get better and we are getting better in all areas of Army reenlistment options and incentives."
"Those areas include options, benefits, medical and dental care, housing, the noncommissioned officer education system, education benefits and family readiness groups," added Dahlke. "Every single program has improved and as they've improved, Soldiers and their families want to stay Army."
Although cash bonuses have increased greatly for reenlisting Soldiers, Dahlke added that it's not the main reason Soldiers reenlist.
Some of the incentives that Dahlke said have been popular with 1st Cav. Div. troopers include stabilization, which is the ability for troops to stay at Fort Hood and in the 1st Cav. Div.; station of choice, where Soldiers can choose another duty station either in the continental U.S. or overseas; or the ability to change their military occupational specialty by choosing another career in the Army.
Along with these, they may also decide to choose special skill identifiers such as the opportunity to go to Airborne School and earn their jump wings.
"There's a high number of Soldiers who choose stabilization because they want to continue serving in the Cav. and they love what we do here," said Dahlke. "Others do what they want to do by choosing to do something different like choosing another MOS."
One of the ways in which Dahlke has seen improvements in the way retention offices do business involves how the Retention Management Branch of the Human Resource Command assists Soldiers in ensuring new assignments and training opportunities are available.
"Their efficiency and what's offered has improved 100 percent," said Dahlke.
"HRC has streamlined the process so when Soldiers ask for assignments, it's fast and the Soldiers are able to make decisions based off of what's available to them."
For Soldiers who are considering either reenlisting or getting out of the Army, Dahlke imparted a little advice about making informed decisions.
"I would tell them three things with the first being to see their career counselor," said Dahlke. "The second is to make sure the career counselor has all their options and incentives laid out. With the third thing being to make an honest comparison of their current pay, benefits to include medical and dental, and their overall quality of life to what's being offered in the civilian sector, keeping the cost of living in mind."
"Most Soldiers would be surprised to see the number of Soldiers who separate from the Army and then come back in," added Dahlke. "In some cases Soldiers who were being stop-lossed or those who separated from the Army thought they would be better off in the civilian sector but found out that the civilian market is not what they thought it was and that they would have a better quality of life the Army and be part of the Army team."
One of the biggest boons to Army retention, according to Dahlke has been well-informed Soldiers.
"You don't sell the Army, the Army sells itself," he said. "The career counselors and retention noncommissioned officers lay out all the options making sure Soldiers are educated and informed of those options. In doing that, Soldiers continue to serve because we have good options and benefits in the Army."
But why would someone who has seen two tours in Iraq, want to reenlist'
For El Paso, native Sgt. Hamurabi Torres, a petroleum supply specialist for Company A, 115th Brigade Support Battalion of the 1st Cav. Div.'s 1st Brigade Combat Team, who reenlisted June 30, a major reason to reenlist was getting to be stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas which is in his old hometown and is also where his family currently resides.
"I'm looking forward to being where my family is," said Torres. "I've been away from them for nearly five years."
Yet, reenlisting for Torres wasn't just about getting to be based at his station of choice, he also reenlisted for a reason, he says, that is much bigger than himself.
"Reenlisting isn't something you just do for yourself, sometimes you do it for someone else and in the Army, it's about taking care of the men on your left and right," said Torres. "It's about taking care of Soldiers and the camaraderie that comes with that."
"I like the Soldiers and how it makes me feel to see them grow and develop," he added. "Sometimes it's like watching your kids when you see them grow from being a private to being a private first class and then being a specialist. It's about helping them when we have to go to Iraq."
Torres also passed on some advice to young Soldiers who might consider reenlisting or continuing their military careers.
"There are a lot of good opportunities out there for you and it's just about you doing the right thing, staying out of trouble and making good decisions for your life," added Torres.